Word Study #93 — Rejoice!

Although seldom used today in ordinary conversation, the concept of “rejoicing” is pervasive in the New Testament writings. Traditional translators have used the same English word for four different “word families”, varying primarily in their intensity, except for one, which does not seem to fit with the others at all.

Agalliao, with its noun form agalliasis, appears a total of sixteen times, frequently translated with the modifiers “exceeding” or “exceedingly.” This is in harmony with the classical definition, “to rejoice exceedingly, to glorify, or to exult.” In the LXX, it was often used in connection with a celebration at the inaugural anointing of a king, and in other classical writings, of paying honor to a god.
In the New Testament, it speaks of the joy of those who have become faithful (Ac.2:46, 16:34), and it is usually connected with a recognition of the hand of God at work (Lk.1:44, 1:47, 10:21; Jn.5:35, 8:56; Ac.2:26, Heb.1:9), as well as anticipation of his activity (I Pet.1:6, 8; 4:3; Jude 24, Rev.19:7).

The fifteen total uses of euphraino, and the noun euphrosune, on the other hand, while occasionally connected to God (Ac.2:28 and 14:7; Rom.15:10, Gal.4:27), are usually used on a more mundane level. Classically, these referred to any sort of “festivities, mirth, or merriment”, often including luxurious feasting. This is clearly the situation in two major New Testament accounts, both parables, where it is used of the “rich fool” (Lk.12:19) selfishly planning to celebrate his plenty, and the feasting (and subsequent complaints) at the return of the “prodigal son” (Lk. 15:23,29, 32). It also appears describing the partying (Rev.11:10) of the people committed to their “dwelling on earth”, after the killing of God’s faithful witnesses.

Interestingly, it is also the response advocated, for the faithful, to the fall of Babylon (Rev.18:20)!

The anomaly of the group (7x “boast”, 4x “rejoice”, 22x “glory”) is kauchaomai, with kauchema and kauchesis. In the classical writings, these words virtually always have negative connotations, referring to loud, boisterous boasting or bragging, and in the noun form, to pride or superiority. I would be curious to ask Paul why he used it as he did, unless it was simply to contrast his attitude with that of the more common idea. The negative flavor does appear in the New Testament (Jas.4:16, Rom.2:17,23, and 3:27, I Cor.15:31), but it is not dominant. Paul makes heavy use of these terms in II Corinthians: to leverage the response of the group to relief efforts (7:4,14; 9:2), (“Don’t make me sorry I had bragged about your generosity”); to encourage their obedience to his teaching (10:8,13,15); and (12:1) to illustrate the emptiness of bragging abut one’s “spiritual experiences”. Occasionally, he uses it of satisfaction at having faithfully executed one’s responsibility (II Cor.1:12, 11:16; I Thes.2:19, Gal.6:4, Phil.2:16), but also to remind his readers that it is inappropriate (Eph.2:9) to claim personal credit for what the Lord has done.
Nevertheless, Rom.5:2, Phil.1:26, 3:3; Heb.3:6, and Jas.1:9 suggest that kauchaomai is not always out-of-line, which makes one wonder at the translators’ (and the writers’) choice of words. Similar questions arise where kauchaomai is translated “glory” (see W.S.#74).

By far the most frequently used word is chairo (“rejoice”42x, “be glad”14x, “joy” – as a verb – 5x, and 12x as a greeting or farewell.) Its noun form is chara, “joy”, 53x. Chairo may represent a sort of median between the exuberance of agalliao and the more ordinary enjoyment of euphraino. L/S lists “to take pleasure in, to express joy, laughter, to be glad to hear something, or to delight in doing something.” Bauer adds that a hoti clause may give the reason for the rejoicing, and a participle may describe what one is delighted by. He points out that a prepositional phrase with en, as noted in the previous post, is circumstantial, and not causal. In the imperative or vocative forms, chairo serves as a greeting or farewell.

Chairo and agalliao appear together in Mt.5:12, Lk.1:14, I Pet.4:13, Rev.19:7, intensifying the thought.
and euphraino are joined in Ac.2:26 and Rev.11:10, leaning toward celebration.
Actually, the term represents quite a spectrum of responses. It can refer to casual curiosity (Lk.23:3) or even connivance in wrongdoing (Lk.22:5, Mk.14:11). Positive uses range from the simple pleasure of meeting brethren, or receiving good news (Mt.18:3, Lk.13:7, 15:5; Ac.13:48, Rom.12:15, I Cor.7:30, 13:6, 16:7; II Cor.7:7,9,16; Phil.2:28, II Jn.4, III Jn.3), to grateful recognition of the grace of God (Jn.8:56, 14:28, 16:20,22; 20:20; Ac.11:23, Rom.16:19, I Pet.4:13).

Chairo is the only one of the four words that consistently applies specifically to life “in the Lord”, and requires seeing beyond immediate, often unfavorable circumstances.
Mt.5:12 and Lk.6:23 record Jesus’ words regarding the faithful (or “blessed” – W.S.#89) response to persecution. Notice that in each case, he specifies that the abuse is “for the sake of – heneka – the Son of Man” (Lk.) and “for my sake” (heneken emou) (Mt.). Clearly, this must have been a necessary caveat, since Peter (I Pet.4:13-15) later also found it prudent to add a blunt warning that readers be sure that the “persecution” was for faithfulness, and not deserved, for some less noble reason!
Jesus also offered another guideline for his disciples’ rejoicing – it should not be because of the powers granted to them for ministry, but simply because of their inclusion in the Kingdom and its work! A similar theme occurs in Jn.4:36, and Paul picks up the same idea in Phil.1:18 and Col.1:24-25, where he identifies the price paid for Kingdom service as contributing to the Lord’s own efforts, a statement similar to Peter’s noted above.

The faithfulness of fellow disciples (Col.2:8, I Thes.3:4), even when it involves personal cost (Phil.2:17-18), is a cause for celebration. A generally celebratory, joyful demeanor comes with the territory of becoming truly united in one Body (I Cor.12:26), in concern for one another. Concern for the welfare of the faithful is probably also the motive behind Jesus’ saying that he was “glad” he was not there when Lazarus died (Jn.11:15), so that his followers could be fully convinced of his power / identity. Paul’s statement regarding his own weakness in II Cor.13:9 is similar.

“As for the rest, my brothers – be constantly rejoicing in the Lord!” (Phil.3:1)
“Keep on rejoicing in the Lord! Again, I’ll say, keep on rejoicing!” (Phil.4:4)
“Always keep rejoicing!” (I Thes.5:6)
“Continue to love him, whom you have not seen, being faithful toward him … and celebrating with indescribable and glorious joy!” (I Pet.1:8)

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