Not clear on the biblical definition of joy? I did the research for you and outline the two main definitions of joy as used in the Bible. Click to read.

Joy: A Biblical Definition

Before starting my blog about pursuing joy, I spent time gaining a deeper understanding of biblical joy. And while I shared a brief summary of my findings (read here), I wanted to start the new year by laying out foundations for biblical joy. Today we will look at the biblical definition of joy.

The Basics

25 different Hebrew words and 10 Greek words make up over 150 references to joy in the Bible.

(Ever had a hard time defining biblical joy? This explains why!) Within the 35 different words for joy, two main definitions emerge.


Not clear on the biblical definition of joy? I did the research for you and outline the two main definitions of joy as used in the Bible. Click to read.

2 Main Biblical Definitions of Joy

1. Gladness (in the Lord)

If asked to define joy, most people would give a word similar to gladness, such as happiness, contentment, or delight. While these words define the emotion of joy, none reflect the source of the emotion.

Author and minister S.D. Gordon does a good job explaining why joy is uniquely defined, and how it differs from happiness:

“Joy is distinctly a Christian word and a Christian thing. It is the reverse of happiness. Happiness is the result of what happens of an agreeable sort. Joy has its springs deep down inside. And that spring never runs dry, no matter what happens. Only Jesus gives that joy. He had joy, singing its music within, even under the shadow of the cross.”

Simply stated, happiness is tied to our circumstances while joy is not.

Think of verses like Matthew 5:11-12 and James 1:2-3 which tell us to find joy in trials and suffering; this is only possible because joy comes from gladness in the Lord alone.

2. Rejoice

Rejoicing describes the outward expression of our internal joy.

In the Bible, rejoicing takes the form of leaping, shouting, singing, playing music and dancing. The Psalms in particular describe forms of rejoicing.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.” Psalm 27:6

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Psalm 33:1-3

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Psalm 47:1

Notice how the two main definitions of biblical joy are connected; rejoicing flows out of gladness in the Lord and our gladness in the Lord increases the more we rejoice.

With an understanding of the biblical definition of joy, we can now explore what the Bible says about joy. Join me next week for part 2 in foundations of biblical joy.

Are you looking for more on this topic? (Or just wondering where I found this information?) Check out Blue Letter Bible which offers a free online concordance, lexicon, and dictionaries. 

Read part of foundations in biblical joy next: What Does the Bible Say About  Joy?

Linking up at Grace & Truth

Share this post!

11 thoughts on “Joy: A Biblical Definition

  1. And we thought love was confusing with its 4 root words!!! This is amazing!! Thank you! I really appreciate the connection between the two kinds of joy – one flows out of the other, and the other develops as we practice the one. I love the picture starting to form in my mind……

  2. I love the thoughts you come up with here, so different to what I came up with and yet so rich, and yes there are sooo many words to sort through for joy!

    • Thanks Lizzy! I definitely went for the big picture here rather than digging into individual definitions, which I believe is what you did (if I remember correctly).

  3. Thanks for these two main definitions, Kira. Joy is one of my favorite themes, so I enjoyed reading this. I didn’t realize there were so many different Greek and Hebrew words for joy!

  4. This is insightful! I never thought about the fact that “gladness” is a closer synonym for “joy” than “happiness” is. Our society needs to realize this! I often watch and listen to my middle schoolers in order to learn the current “norms” of society. I hear them use the word “happiness” often, but almost never the word “glad”! Maybe I should try to train them to be glad….

    • Happiness has definitely become a key value for our society, and it is causing a lot of problems. I may write about it at some point ;). What made a big difference for me is understand joy is gladness in the Lord, which is how we can have joy in all circumstances.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *