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The bible talks all about joy.

Romans 15:13 (NIV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And it seems that joy is something we can attain by having the Holy Spirit in our lives:

Galations 5:22-23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

However, if we look at the dictionary, joy seems to mean "happiness".

But, it sounds like we're not promised happiness:

John 16:33 (NIV)
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Matthew 16:24 (NIV)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

What is being promised to us when the Bible speaks of joy? And how is joy different from happiness?

Finally, is the word "joy" a bad translation of the original Greek there? Or should we expect intense happiness (per the meaning of the word in English)?

If there is a difference, I'm seeking a mainline protestant viewpoint and exegesis of this text

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4 Answers

Happiness can come and go based on our circumstances. However, biblical joy does not depend on circumstances and should be experienced at all times.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:22

The joy spoken of by Jesus here is a joy based on the fact that they would see Him again after He had "gone away". He was going away to die on the Cross. The significance of them seeing Him again was that it would be after His resurrection. Then they would know that death had been defeated, the sacrifice was complete, Jesus would reign, and men and women could truly be declared righteous.

That's why Paul could say:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Joy (or rejoicing) is still present in the midst of suffering, even when you're not happy about your circumstances.

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Joy and Happiness can mean the same thing. In the verses you linked to, joy is linked to spiritual happiness, not happiness here on earth.

We are most definitely not promised an easy life once we become a Christian. Quite the opposite, we're promised trials and tribulation. (John 16:33, James 1:2-8) Yet in Romans 8:18, Paul says (KJV)

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Our joy comes in our expectation of what the next life will be like, when we will dwell with God in Glory, and in knowing that we are saved from eternal damnation.

If you've never heard it, Ray Comfort has a teaching called "Hell's Best Kept Secret". In it, he uses an illustration of two passengers being given a parachute on a plane.

  • The first is told to put it on because it would improve his flight. (Akin to telling people that becoming a Christian will bring you happiness here on earth.)
  • The second is told to put it on because any minute, he'd be jumping feet from the plane.

In it, the first one eventually takes it off because it does nothing to improve his flight. It's uncomfortable, heavy, and the other passengers laugh at him.

The second one barely notices the weight of the parachute, or the uncomfortableness. Instead, his mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen if he had to jump without it, and as a result he barely notices the other passengers mocking him, and he has a deep rooted sense of joy and peace, knowing that he's safe from sure death.

When I read of Joy in the new Testament, I think of that second passenger. The joy comes from gratefulness to God for salvation, not a lack of trials or an "easy" live here and now.

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Interesting fact: at 50k feet, you'll be conscious for less than 10 seconds before you pass out. –  Richard Oct 4 '11 at 12:04
    
You're right. I of course. The number was wrong. I was mis-quoting from memory on something I heard a longtime ago on very little sleep. Feeling foolish –  David Stratton Oct 4 '11 at 12:11
    
Oh no, don't feel foolish. Stories often use hyperbole. 50k feet makes perfect sense. I just thought it was an interesting side note. (ie, feel free to flag these as "too chatty".) –  Richard Oct 4 '11 at 12:34
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Joy" is not an ideal translation of the original Greek here because it doesn't quite cover the original meaning.

A better translation would be "rejoice" or "rejoicefullness" (if that were a word).

Let's take a look...

Greek

The Greek word used in these passages is chara (also transliterated khara).

If we look at Vines Expository Dictionary of the New Testament, we see that this word means "gladness". While Strong's Concordance shows that this word is often translated (in the KJV) as "joy".

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However, if we look at the root word, we see word chairō (or khiro). Vines has this word meaning "rejoice, be glad". Also, Strong's Concordance shows that (in the KJV) the word is usually translated as "rejoice".

English

The translation of this word as "joy" is not a poor choice, by any means. However, the English definition falls short:

joy
1. a. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.
b. The expression or manifestation of such feeling.
2. A source or an object of pleasure or satisfaction: their child was their pride and joy

This definition falls short of the original meaning of "rejoice, be glad". A more accurate translation of this would be "gladness".

glad
1. a. Experiencing or exhibiting joy and pleasure.
b. Appreciative

We can see that there is definitely a component of happiness here, but there's also a sense of appreciation.

If we compare this to the Greek root "rejoice", we can clearly see that a better translation would not be "joy" as in happiness, but "joy" as in appreciation, thanksgiving, and rejoicing (or more accurately, a combination of those words). "Rejoicefullness", if that were a word, would be the best translation.

In context

We also see this word being used here:

Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)emphases added
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In verse 12 there, we see the word translated as "Rejoice".

This very clearly shows that while we may not be happy, we can still rejoice. The "joy" that God will give us is not entirely based on happiness, but it is based on rejoicing.

Summary

The original Greek word used here does not always mean that we will be happy. Rather, it means that we will find appreciation and rejoicing. "Rejoicefullness" would be a better, more accurate translation, if that were even a word.

Essentially, it means that the fruit of the spirit will be a spirit of rejoicing.

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+1! Obviously my word study didn't go nearly deep enough. –  a_hardin Oct 4 '11 at 13:21
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I think joy can be equated to happiness, but the problem as you pointed out may be what we consider to be happiness. I like to think of joy as spiritual happiness.

The world views happiness as having what you want. Joy as used in the verses you referenced means being happy in having what you need spiritually. In a spiritual sense, what we need is to be in a relationship with God.

By pursuing worldly needs, we may be able to make ourselves happy for a time, but we won't be fulfilling our spiritual needs. By pursuing God we will fulfill our spiritual needs and can experience true joy.

From another perspective, when someone is unhappy, it's usually because they are lacking something they want. When you stop wanting the worldly goods, you will have no reason to be unhappy! You can be filled with perfect joy!

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