In the creation story, God created birds on the fifth day. Though not specifically broken down in terms of species and families, doves must have been amongst them. In the later chapters and books of the Bible, we see doves featuring prominently.
The bible uses the dove in different situations to convey messages to help readers understand what God is saying in his word. Here are some of the symbols the dove represents in scripture.
What You'll Learn Today
We encounter the dove for the first time in the bible in the events around Noah’s ark. In the book of Genesis 8, Noah first sends out the raven to check if some dry land had started appearing as the flood subsided. Unfortunately, the raven never came back.
Thereafter, he sent the dove for the same mission of checking how the rains were and whether dry land has started appearing. In the first mission, the dove came back since there was no where to patch.
In the second round, it came back 7 days after with an olive branch as a sign that the tops of some trees had started appearing above the water. When Noah sent the dove for the third time, it never came back which signified that it had found a new home and that dry land had appeared.
The dove therefore symbolized not only a faithful messenger, but also one obedient to his master.
Symbolism of the Holy Spirit
In the Book of Matthew 3:16, the Bible says,
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
In all the four gospels (St. Luke, St. Mark, St. Matthew, and St. John) the Bible narrates how the Holy Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. This was after the baptism by water conducted by John the Baptist.
The picture painted here is not only vivid, but also very beautiful. If you think through this symbolism, you will find some parallels between the dove and the Holy Spirit.
In most species, doves come white in color which in the Holy Spirit interpretation represents purity. Doves are also gentle. Research has it that doves do not retaliate or fight back even if their nests are under attack. However, they cry in distress.
The Holy Spirit as explained to us through scripture is gentle and kind as well. Believers filled with the spirit are warned against vengeance and retaliation. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in times of trouble just like the dove in distress.
Symbol of Purity and Holiness
As mentioned above, doves are portrayed as white in color which is the color of purity. White is a color that is easy for us all to understand and is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testament. Every time the color white is mentioned or used, it paints the picture of righteousness, holiness, and purity.
The dove that was sent out by Noah brought in an olive branch. In the Bible, olive oil was used for sanctification and anointing. Those anointed were set apart for the work of the Lord and were meant to observe holiness.
Symbol of Devotion
The dove was used as part of Levitical offering specifically burnt offerings. In the Bible, an offering was part of worship and devotion to God. In the Book of Song of Solomon, we see both the lover and the beloved describing their love and devotion to each other through the symbolism of a dove.
In Song of Solomon 4:1, the Bible says,
“How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead.”
The devotion as portrayed in this book runs through from beginning to the end. This shows the enduring nature of the dove.
A Symbol of Peace
In the Book of Romans, the Holy Spirit who is symbolized by the dove is said to be the agent of peace in our lives. In Romans 14:7, the Bible records,
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Again, in the times of Noah, after 40 days of rain, we see the dove bringing in the good news of hope and peace for the world. In Genesis 8:11, the Bible says,
“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”
Symbol of Innocence
Warning his disciples and by extent all Christians, Jesus speaks of persecution that will come especially to those that believe in him. However, he also says that believers must be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.
In the Greek root, the word harmless is derived from akeraios which simply means harmless, innocent, and less complex.
In Matthew 10:16, this is what Jesus says:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Symbol of Newness of Life
We read from the Song of Solomon that doves can signify the coming of the spring season. It talks of the appearance of flowers, the time of singing, and the sweet voice of the turtle dove.
In our Catholic lives, we go through different seasons and some of these seasons wear us down. Therefore, when we read of the dove being a symbol of new life and renewal, we get encouraged and become hopeful. In the Song of Solomon 2:12, the Bible reads,
“Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.”
The dove therefore plays a significant role in the Bible whether metaphorical or otherwise. Depending on the context used, the dove could represent the Holy Spirit, purity, devotion, peace, innocence, beauty, holiness, the renewal of life among other symbols.
The more you read about the dove, the more you get to understand the central role it plays in the Bible. For more biblical symbols, read our guide to cranes in the Bible.