Background on Joy

Joy (שִׂמְחָה, simchah; χαρά, chara). Closely related to gladness and happiness, although joy is more a state of being than an emotion; a result of choice. One of the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22–23). Having joy is part of the experience of being a disciple of Jesus.

Biblical Relevance

In the Old Testament, joy is closely related to victory over one’s enemies. For example, in 1 Sam 18:6 when David returned from killing the Philistine, he was met with joy and dancing. It is also associated with religious acts and feasts, including sacrifices in Psa 27:6 and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (2 Chr 30; Ezra 6).

“Joy” also occurs frequently in songs of praise, most frequently in the book of Psalms (1 Chr 16; Pss 20; 33; 47). The prophets speak of joy, both its being taken away on account of exile (Ezek 24:25; Joel 1:12) and of the joy that will return when the people are restored (Isa 35:10; Jer 31:13).

In the New Testament, “joy” is still used for victory, as shown by the disciples returning with joy since even the evil spirits listened to them (Luke 10:17). However, the victory focuses more on salvation (Luke 15:7)—the presence of the Messiah, the bridegroom, gives reason for joy (John 3:29). In the New Testament letters, joy is a desired attribute of the disciples. Paul expressed frequently the joy he had regarding the salvation of those he was writing to and prayed that they might be full of joy.


A significant number of words in the Bible have been translated as “joy.” The most common are:

The Hebrew שִׂמְחָה (simchah)—meaning “joy,” “mirth,” or “gladness” along with the closely related verbal adjective שָׂמֵחַ (sameach).

The Greek χαρά (chara)—meaning “joy” or “gladness” and the closely related verbal form, χαίρω (chairō), meaning “to rejoice or be glad.”

Other words commonly used for “joy” are:

Hebrew חֶדְוָה (chedwah), meaning “joy” and “gladness”; its verbal form, חָדָה (chadah).

Hebrew רִנָּה (rinnah), translated as “ringing cry of supplication or joy or praise”; the closely related Hebrew verb, רָנַן (ranan), translated as “giving a ring out or shout out for joy” (except in the hithpolel).

Hebrew verb, גִּיל (gil), meaning “rejoicing” or “exceedingly glad” in the noun form and “to rejoice, be glad” when used as a noun (גִּילָה, gilah, in the less frequently found feminine variation).

Hebrew שָׂשׂוֹן (sason), meaning “gladness”, “joy” or “exultation”; the closely related verbal form, שׂוּשׂ (sus), “to exult or display joy.”

Greek ἀγαλλίασις (agalliasis), meaning “extreme joy” and the closely related verbal form, ἀγαλλιάω (agalliaō), meaning “to rejoice”.

Greek εὐφραίνω (euphrainō), meaning “to gladden or be joyful”; the less common noun form εὐφροσύνη (euphrosynē), meaning “joy” or “gladness.”


Emotions in the Old Testament were generally connected to various body parts — the heart could have emotions and thoughts, while the gut or liver were also of importance for emotions. Smith explains, “Israelites associated emotions with the internal organs where the emotions were perceived to be felt physically” (Smith, “Israelite Emotion,” 431). While anger is often associated with a burning of the nostrils, the heart is the center for joy. However, joy does not remain in the heart, but is part of a movement towards appropriate action, explaining the relevance of joy in religious activities (Smith, “Israelite Emotion,” 435–36).

In the New Testament, Paul emphasized the place that joy was to have in the lives of the disciples. Although he used the general form of Greek letters at the time, he adapted them to suit his needs—in particular, he used joy as an important element, especially in the beginning and ending of his letters. White argues that whereas ancient Greek letters had an element in the greeting where the writer would elaborate on their relationship with the recipient, Paul adapted the form of the letter to include a “joy expression” (White, “Introductory Formula,” 95–97).

Cultural Relevance

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit; it is expected of the disciples of Jesus because it is the natural result of having received salvation. The joy comes because of what the Messiah has done, irrelevant of whatever other circumstances are happening in one’s life.

Source: Lexham Bible Dictionary

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