Joy to the World


Performance Notes:

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1-3 = Ps. 98
st. 2 = Ps. 96:11-12
st. 3 = Gen. 3:17-18

Isaac Watts wrote this text as a paraphrase of Psalm 98. He published it in his Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading “The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom.” 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.

Liturgical Use
Christmas Day, but also at any other time of year in relation to Psalm 98. Raised eyebrows at singing "Joy to the World!" in July will lower as soon as the relationship to Psalm 98 becomes clear.

Tune Information:

ANTIOCH borrows ideas from two choruses and a tenor recitative from Handel's Messiah–"Lift Up Your Heads," "Glory to God in the Highest," and "Comfort Ye My People." The hymn tune is essentially an adaptation and arrangement by Lowell Mason, published in his Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes (1836). Mason named the tune ANTIOCH after the New Testament city in which the "followers of the Way" were first called Christians.

With its exuberant air and melodic repeats and sequences, requiring the repetition of textual lines, ANTIOCH has become an enduring favorite for the Watts text. Sing Stanzas 1 and 3 in harmony and give tenors and basses solid accompaniment on their entries in the third line. Sing stanza 4 in unison, possibly with an alternate harmonization on full organ.

Other Resources:

  • Visit for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, ANTIOCH.

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Burkhardt, Michael. As Though the Whole Creation Cried. Morningstar MSM-10-555 [2001]
  • Cassler, G. Winston. Organ Descants for Selected Hymns. Augsburg 11-9304 [1972]
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ. bk. 2 Ludwig O-07 [1983]
  • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H W Grey GB 644 [1978]
  • Powell, Robert J. Free Hymn Accompaniments. Abingdon APM-513 [1979]
  • Wyton, Alec. New Shoots from Old Roots. SMP KK 279 [1983]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Hopson, Hal H. The Creative Use of the Piano in Worship. Hope 8392 [2008]
Song Audio: 
Psalm 98
Song Number: 
Projection and Reprint Information: 
  • Words and Music: The Words and Music are in the Public Domain; you do not need permission to project or reprint the Words and Music.
Public Domain