“Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”
The family who lived in the large house down the road from where I grew up kept doves. So I thought I knew what doves were like. They were pure white, and gentle. They stayed home – they were not adventurous wanderers. Meanwhile, Piccadilly Square in Manchester was filled with pigeons which were quite dirty and smelly, but it was amusing to feed them with peanuts.
As I got older, I was taught that there is no significant difference between doves and pigeons. Indeed, the urban pigeons of my youth have now been officially renamed as rock doves.
So, I had difficulty understanding what it meant in the Bible when, at Jesus’ baptism, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove”. Commentators suggest, quite rightly, that the bodily form underscores the fact that the Third Person of the Trinity is a person and not a random force. Indeed, at the event of Jesus’ baptism, all three persons of the Trinity are present.
But if we accept, as I do, that the Holy Spirit’s appearance as a dove signified His personhood, this still leaves open the question – why a dove?
Perhaps it is because wild doves would fly into Israel from the wilderness, and fly away again. Hence, Jesus said this of the Spirit elsewhere, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
Prayer: Thank You for sending Your Spirit, Father, to be our comforter. Amen.
Author: Paul F. Taylor
Ref: Encyclopaedia Britannica, < https://www.britannica.com/animal/pigeon >, accessed 12/27/2019. Image: CC BY-SA 2.5 Unported.
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