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A search on the web shows that this expression occurs mostly in religious texts. However, I have not been able to find meaning and origin of the phrase. It sounds as if it came from the Bible, but so far I have not found a verse where it is used. Why a cup? Is this expression taken from the Bible?

The Bible talks about cups and joy, BUT NOT TOGETHER. How did all these cups became the fixed expression cup of joy?

These are some examples, taken from Google Books:

Be filled with the spirit of God, and let your cup of joy overflow.

He carried up Golgotha's hill for us. He bore them there so that we might have a cup of joy.

Our cup of joy was nearly full when we received your welcome letter informing us that four other mssionaries and their wives would soon sail for the shores of Syria.

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    Maybe a reference to Psalm 23, although joy is not mentioned specifically. Depending on what version you favour, "my cup runneth over" or "my cup shall be full". – Kate Bunting Mar 1 '17 at 17:10
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Cup of joy = The symbolic value of wine in the Bible, per this measured Presbyterian explanation.

Over and again wine is seen as a tangible reminder and evidence of God’s goodness to us and his blessing upon us. The Psalmist says: "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man…"

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    I edited in a brief excerpt so people would not need to click the linked article for it's support. Link rot and all that. Please feel free to revert if you think it unhelpful. :) +1, btw. – anongoodnurse Mar 1 '17 at 17:52
  • @medica - Good idea. Bless you, Marge. Let me know how fleeting my life is (Psalm 39:4), and I am not Presbyterian. – Yosef Baskin Mar 1 '17 at 17:55
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+50

No, it's not in the Bible.

(Side note about searching for Bible passages: if I'm unsure which translation I'm thinking of, I usually just google it.

https://www.google.ca/search?q=cup+of+joy+Bible yields no obvious passages. https://www.google.ca/search?q=cup+of+anger+Bible , by contrast, gives three results from Jeremiah 25 without even having to follow the links.

You may be getting slightly different results, as Google search results are different for everyone.)

I suspect the 23rd Psalm is the key, given its high profile at least in the Protestant traditions that I'm familiar with. (Those are, I think, close enough to the Protestant traditions that have affected Anglophone thought over the past centuries).

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

The contents of the cup, which appears in verse 5, are unspecified. Nonetheless, to me, the picture painted by the Psalm—a picture of blessing, protection, peace, and plenty—looks a lot like happiness.

The earliest instance of the phrase I could find in Google books was on page 22 of The Signs of the Times. A sermon preached before [...] the Lord-Mayor [etc.] by Edmund Massey, 1721. Whether this was influential and trend-setting, I couldn't say.

  • Like @medica, above, I've added an excerpt to make mathieu's answer even clearer. – EleventhDoctor Mar 7 '17 at 14:16
  • The comment by KateBunting looks like the same idea as my answer, though I don't remember having seen that comment before. Difficult to prove, though; making this answer community. – Mathieu K. Mar 7 '17 at 17:49
  • Unless this is really a question about English as opposed to any other tongue, rather than the actual meaning of the words, may I just ask how tightly this spiral is meant to coil, please? If the question really doesn’t answer itself with the examples taken from Google Books then who on Earth could ward off an endless cycle of ‘where did that come from’ in response to any attempt at a detailed explanation? – Robbie Goodwin Mar 7 '17 at 22:42
  • @RobbieGoodwin: is this directed at me, or at the OP? – Mathieu K. Mar 8 '17 at 2:46
  • I spoke to the words alone and for you, Mathieu, I hope the cap doesn't fit… Others might not and I for one do find it astonishing how often people will ask whether the fact that black is black, or is not white, changes the nature of grey… – Robbie Goodwin Mar 9 '17 at 1:37
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In Biblical Theology, the word 'cup' can depict several ideas. Throughout Scripture, as in the ancient Near East, the cup functions as a metaphor for an individual's fate. In Psalm 16, the psalmist credits the Lord with assigning his "portion and cup" in life. Psalm 23 equates an abundant life with an overflowing cup, a potent image in a semiarid world. The culmination of the positive image of the cup is in Psalm 116. Here the psalmist raises the cup of salvation as a thank offering to God, in effect offering the sum of his life to his lord.

The metaphor of the cup, like life itself, can also be negative. In numerous prophetic works, the cup retains its role as a representative of fate, but on a national level. The cup can function as a cup of wrath, a vessel pouring out God's judgment on the nations. The nations drinking from the "cup of his wrath" are often depicted as lost in drunkenness. Isaiah 51:17 personifies Jerusalem as a woman who drained the cup of wrath to its dregs. God takes pity on his city and intervenes. "See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger the goblet of my wrath" (v. 22). This cup is then given to the tormentors, indicating that they will suffer in their turn.

In a vision of destruction recorded by Jeremiah ( 25:15 ), God will force all the nations to drink from his cup and stagger to destruction. None are able to refuse it; all humanity will be judged and the wicked put to the sword. Ezekiel returns to the image of the cup of Jerusalem in a brutally explicit passage depicting Samaria and Jerusalem, representing the people of God, as two sisters who are prostitutes (chap. 23). The prophet calls the cup that Jerusalem drinks from the "cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria" (v. 33). For Ezekiel, the cup stands for the destruction of the two kingdoms.

Zechariah uses the image of the cup of wrath to depict the fate of the enemies of Jerusalem. He adds a twist to the metaphor by making Jerusalem itself the cup ( 12:2 ). The author of revelation returns to the dark image of the cup of wrath, threatening all who follow the beast with the wine of God's judgment ( 14:10 ).

For the church, the cup has come to represent the central events of Christianity, the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ returns to the fundamental meaning of the cup as a representative of fate. In his prayer, the cup symbolizes the pain, degradation, and death that will be required of him. He prays that the cup might pass undrunk, but it is Jesus' fate to drain it to its dregs. Christ becomes all the nations of the world, taking on their fate, and drains the cup of wrath. By drinking of the cup God placed before him, Christ transforms the cup of wrath into the cup of life. This transformation is foreshadowed at the last supper, where the cup of the new covenant, like the cup of wrath, is for all to partake of.

  • What I gather from this is that the answer to the question is no. Hmm? – Mathieu K. Mar 7 '17 at 7:21
  • That's right. How did all these cups became "a cup of joy"? – Juan M Mar 7 '17 at 7:36
  • @MathieuK. I think this answer addresses the question in the title and the portions of the question body in bold, regarding how cup came to be related to joy in "cup of joy". (It's not focused on the OP's secondary question of whether the phrase cup of joy occurs in the Bible.) – Lawrence Mar 8 '17 at 3:05
  • @JuanM The thrust of this answer is that cup came to symbolise how one viewed their life. The examples were predominantly negative, but the first paragraph suggests a more positive example. Cup of joy fits this pattern. – Lawrence Mar 8 '17 at 3:14

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