Joy in the New Testament

Written by William G. Morrice Reviewed By I. Howard Marshall

Dr Morrice, who is New Testament tutor and librarian in St John’s College, Durham, wrote his Ph.D. thesis on ‘Joy in the New Testament’ at the University of Aberdeen under the supervision of A. M. Hunter. One part of the thesis was the basis of an earlier publication by the author: We Joy in God (London: SPCK, 1977), and the present work is based on other material in the thesis. In his earlier book Dr Morrice gave a biblical theology of the concept of joy in the New Testament, showing how it was based on various aspects of the Christian doctrine of God and salvation and how it found expression in song, in living for Christ and as joy in the midst of suffering.

This new book tackles the theme from two other angles. First, it offers a detailed study of the vocabulary of joy in the New Testament, examining in turn eleven word-groups which are used to express the idea. Altogether the author traces some 362 uses of the vocabulary of joy in the New Testament, a fact which illustrates that this is indeed a key concept whose importance might be overlooked by anybody who was not aware of the full range of the vocabulary used. Each of the word-groups is examined against its background in Greek usage, and there are helpful statistical tables of usage and expositions of key texts.

Second, Dr Morrice looks at the figure of Jesus himself as ‘The Man of Joy’, and then at the major New Testament writers to see how the concept of joy is expressed by each of them. Thus the distinctiveness of each of the New Testament contributions to an understanding of the nature of joy is brought out.

By this comprehensive treatment Dr Morrice has given a model of the use of the various types of approach to biblical theology—lexicography, the study of the distinctive teaching of the different authors, and systematic summary. The whole is presented in a clear and simple style, and here Dr Morrice shows himself to have imbibed well the spirit of his teacher. The treatment is throughout based on good scholarship and adopts a conservative approach to the text. The book does not contain any surprises for the reader; its value lies rather in the way in which the author has brought together the New Testament teaching in such a comprehensive and easy manner. Students might perhaps have appreciated some fuller documentation and discussion in the footnotes. And it is a pity that Dr Morrice divided his material between two books; one complete treatment would have been preferable.

Dr Morrice’s book, then, is not an earth-shaking, original contribution to biblical scholarship. But it is an excellent guide to a vital aspect of Christian living, and preachers will bless him for this useful tool for exposition.

I. Howard Marshall

I. Howard Marshall
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK