December 11th: “Joy to the World” Pentatonix

The words of the hymn are by English writer Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98, 96:11-12 and Genesis 3:17-18. The song was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. The paraphrase is Watts’ Christological interpretation. Consequently, he does not emphasize with equal weight the various themes of Psalm 98. In stanzas 1 and 2 Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. An interlude that depends more on Watts’ interpretation than the psalm text, stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin. The cheerful repetition of the non-psalm phrase “far as the curse is found” has caused this stanza to be omitted from some hymnals. But the line makes joyful sense when understood from the New Testament eyes through which Watts interprets the psalm. Stanza 4 celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.”. The nations are called to celebrate because God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world.

Watts’ 1719 preface says the verses “..are fitted to the Tunesof the Old PSALM-BOOK” and includes the instruction “sing all entitled COMMON METER”. In the late 1700’s Joy to the World was printed together with music several times.

The version of this carol usually heard today is from the edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848), his fourth revision of the tune he named ANTIOCH and attributed as “arranged from Handel”. This tune has the first four notes in common with the chorus Lift Up Your Heads from Messiah (premiered 1742), and the third line recalls the ariso Comfort Ye from the same oratorio, but this resemblance is dismissed as ‘chance resemblance’ by Handel scholars today. A 1986 article by John Wilson showed ANTIOCH‘s close resemblance to a predecessor titled COMFORT and associated With Weley’s hymn “O Joyful Sound”, with one publication firmly dated 1833, three years earlier than Mason’s first version.


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