The Grammar of Rejoicing

Have you ever seen someone manifest in some seemingly excessive emotional way in a church meeting and wondered “Is that really the Holy Spirit or is that just them?” The biblical answer to that question might surprise you.

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21, ESV)

Jesus, in response to the reports about how his disciples had successfully ministered in kingdom authority through healing and deliverance, “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” It’s interesting to imagine what this must have looked like. He’s just instructed them about rejoicing:

Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”” (Luke 10:20, ESV)

The translators, in using the word rejoice in verse 20 to speak about the disciples, and again in verse 21 to speak about Jesus, give the impression that this is the same word in the original language. It’s not.

In verse 20, the word is chairete, which simply means “to rejoice, to be glad.” It’s the kind of rejoicing that likely shows up in your words and countenance. The disciples are supposed to direct their gladness not so much toward ministry results, but rather to their identity in and connection with God.

You might think that Jesus is giving them a somber warning about not getting too emotional. But nothing could be further from the truth. In verse 21, Jesus “rejoiced.” This is a different word: egalliasato. This is a rejoicing that goes beyond countenance and words. The prefix means “much.” The root, hallomai, means “to leap, jump.” Combined, Zodhiates defines egalliasato as:

egalliasato: To exult, leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping denoting excessive or ecstatic joy and delight. Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

What did it look like when Jesus “rejoiced?” It wasn’t just a smile. Jesus began to leap and dance and skip.

Verbs can be used to communicate very specific things about action. In Greek, aspects of the verb like tense, voice, and mood allow writers to very precisely convey action in a single word. In using egalliasato, Luke uses the aorist tense, the middle voice, and the indicative mood to describe this act of rejoicing. Here are some definitions of those terms in case you’re not super familiar (modified from the Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology by Heiser and Setterholm).

Aorist Tense: a snapshot event with no reference to process. Combined (as it is here), with the indicative mood, it’s a past tense event. It’s already occurred. It’s something Jesus did in that past moment.

Middle Voice: The subject is acting upon itself. In this case, Jesus is acting and is being affected by his own action.

Indicative Mood: The action is being presented by the writer as real. The writer isn’t saying that this might have happened, or could have happened, but rather that this in fact did happen.

Imagine it. Jesus, at this point in the past (Aorist/Indicative), really (Indicative) began to leap and jump about because he was so full of joy. This wasn’t passive. He wasn’t overwhelmed by some other force or influence. This wasn’t active, something he was doing to someone else. No, the middle voice lets us know that all this emotional jumping about was in fact an expression of self-control.

The very next words from Luke tell us that Jesus did this rejoicing “in the Holy Spirit.”

In a revival/renewal church culture, it’s not uncommon for people to display excessive emotion. Jesus did. It should come as no shock that his followers would too. When observing such displays of emotion, it’s very common for people to ask: “Is that really the Holy Spirit or is that just them?”

In Jesus’ case, the answer is “yes.”

Jesus’ rejoicing was, at the same time, an expression of self-control and also something he did “in the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ example is a safe filter for us in seeking to understand the various ways people respond to God’s presence and work. Most often when you see someone “rejoice,” it is neither fully them acting apart from the presence and work of the Spirit, nor is it fully the work of the Spirit without reference to their own will and action. It’s not either/or; it’s both.


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