My dissertation analyzes joy and the conditions—that is, the dispositions, circumstances, commitments, practices, and the like—that lead to joy in Luke-Acts. Drawing on my background in literary studies, the body of my dissertation offers a close reading of Luke-Acts’ portrayal of joy in relation to other aspects of the life of discipleship. This integrative approach sheds light on the link between joy and factors such as hope, obedience, and the experience of divine intervention.
By attending to the interconnection of joy with other components of discipleship, my holistic description of joy-according-to-Luke helps to make sense of the fact that—notwithstanding the tendency of many today to view joy as a spontaneous response over which one has little or no control and for which one can hardly be held responsible—Luke attaches moral weight to whether and why people rejoice. For Luke-Acts, I argue, one’s joy(lessness) in a given situation can indeed be praiseworthy or blameworthy, at least insofar as this reflexive response evinces faithfulness (or a lack thereof) in the whole life of discipleship. Moreover, through its nuanced depiction of joy and what facilitates it, Luke-Acts offers resources for fostering joy also today.
As others writing about emotions in biblical literature have argued (e.g., Spencer 2017), interdisciplinary study is essential for the intellectual integrity of this subfield. Accordingly, building on the interdisciplinary approaches evident in the work of scholars such as Matthew A. Elliott, Anke Inselmann, and others, my Introduction reviews the “cultural encyclopedia” in which Luke’s portrayal of joy was written and initially received, and it critically surveys current debates about “emotions” in fields such as philosophy, psychology, and neurobiology.
However, I seek to situate this contextualizing work within a tradition-based, rather than encyclopedic, approach to moral inquiry (cf. MacIntyre 1990). Without denying the importance of studying both first-century conceptions of “joy” and cutting-edge research about emotions today, I take the Christian theological tradition’s reception of Luke-Acts and reflection on joy to be equally essential for illuminating what, according to Luke-Acts, facilitates appropriate and durable joy. For this reason, my Introduction interacts both with recent theological reflection on joy (e.g., Volf and Crisp 2015) and with earlier treatments of joy from within the Christian tradition (e.g., Thomas Aquinas; Pope Paul VI). Further, my Conclusion draws out the potential normative implications of my descriptive exegetical work, reflecting on how my study as a whole might inform attempts to nurture joyfulness in Christian communities in the present.