Dance in the New Testament

In the New Testament there are only five references to dancing, some of which are repeated in the Gospels. The father puts on a party with celebratory dancing because his prodigal son, whom he thought was lost, has returned (Luke 15:21-29). On Herod’s birthday Herodias’ daughter danced so well that he offered her anything she wanted and she demanded John the Baptist’s head on a platter (Matthew 14:6).

Lastly Jesus comments on the people of his time:

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.

(Matthew 11:16-17)

From the Bible then, we see that God accepts dancing, but this seems to be in a celebratory way, rather than in any liturgical sort of expression. He also stands against dancing which exalts false gods and idolatry. The style of dance shown in the Old Testament probably has a counterpart in the Jewish dancing of today, which is very joyful, spontaneous and usually accompanies such events as weddings, certain festivals and victories.

God himself ‘dances’ over his people with great joy. In Zephaniah 3:17 Scripture says:

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

The Hebrew word for ‘joy over’ is gheel, which means spinning around with exuberant joy as in a dance.