So, why is the Holy Spirit symbolized as a dove in the Bible?
The Egyptian gods were often depicted as animals or were zoomorphic. Zoomorphism is a word derived from the Greek ζωον, meaning animal, and μορφη, meaning shape or form. The Holy Spirit was seen as a dove; however, this is not a zoomorphism. The Holy Spirit was seen “like a dove” and not as a zoomorphic appearance as a dove. That is, the Bible does not teach the zoomorphic appearance of God.
Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight." (Mark 1:9-11 NET)
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized. And while he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight." (Luke 3:21-22 NET)
Then John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. (John 1:32 NET)
Nevertheless, God chose to descend like a dove for a reason. How many know that God never says or does anything without a reason? That is, whenever God says or does anything… school is in session! Amen. Consequently, let us see what God the Holy Spirit (1) is teaching us through descending “like a dove.”
A dove has nine main feathers on each of the two wings which are utilized to provide lift and propel it forward. It also has five main tail feathers that act as a rudder to guide the dove in flight. The feathers of a dove are also unique in that they curl up and instead of down like other birds. Let us explore each of these characteristics of the dove.
Nine Main Feathers on the Starboard Side.
For those that do not understand the term “starboard” allow me to explain.
“Unlike left and right, “port” and “starboard” refer to fixed locations on a sea or air vessel. Since port and starboard never change, they are unambiguous references that are independent of a mariner’s [or aviator’s] orientation, and, thus, mariners [and aviator’s] use these nautical terms instead of left and right to avoid confusion. When looking forward, toward the bow of a ship [or airplane,] port and starboard refer to the left and right sides, respectively. In the early days of boating, before ships had rudders on their centerlines, boats were controlled using a steering oar. Most sailors were right-handed, so the steering oar was placed over or through the right side of the stern. Sailors began calling the right side the steering side, which soon became “starboard” by combining two Old English words: stéor (meaning “steer”) and bord (meaning “the side of a boat”). As the size of boats grew, so did the steering oar, making it much easier to tie a boat up to a dock on the side opposite the oar. This side became known as larboard, or “the loading side.” Over time, larboard – too easily confused with starboard – was replaced with port. After all, this was the side that faced the port, allowing supplies to be ported aboard by porters.” (3)
The Bible states that there are nine ministry gifts (1) of the Holy Spirit.
To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NET)
I chose to assign the nine gifts to the nine main feathers on the starboard or right wing because that is the direction a ship would head when leaving port and going to sea. That is, these gifts are given to us as the Holy Spirit decides (1) in order to make us effective witnesses and ministers of reconciliation as we go into the world (sea often represents the Earth’s population in the Bible).
Then Jesus came up and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 NET)
While he was with them, he declared, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4,5 NET)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NET)
Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4 NET)
And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (1) In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people's trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ's behalf, "Be reconciled to God!" (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NET)
Nine Main Feathers on the Port Side.
The Bible states that there are nine fruits (1) of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NET)
I chose to assign the nine fruits to the nine main feathers on the port or left wing because that is where the ship is connected to the port or dock. This is the side where the crew would relate to others in order to conduct commerce. That is, these fruits are developed in our lives in order to reveal Christ Jesus to the world. Through the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we live out before the world the highly desirable characteristics of Jesus in our relationships with God, mankind, and ourselves.
Five Main Feathers on the Stern
The Bible states that there are five office or positional gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men." (Ephesians 4:7,8 NET)
It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God– a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 NET)
They are to direct and correct the church so that we stay on the mission the Holy Spirit has given to us. Ensuring we do not get ahead of or behind, nor enter into the left or right ditch as we walk the narrow road of His will.
The five main stern or tail feathers provide a perfect picture of the fivefold offices or positions gifts of the Church. They are the Apostle, Prophet, Pastor, Teacher, and Evangelist. The five office or positional gifts are not to do all the ministry of the church but rather to equip the saints for the work of ministry. That is, they are to build up the body of Christ balanced in fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – mature persons attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
Both the port and starboard wings are necessary for the dove to achieve sustainable flight. That is if we develop in only the gifts or only the fruit of the Holy Spirit we will be unbalanced (1) and not able to soar on the Holy Wind. (1) When all the gifts and fruits are working together in harmony there is a perfect balance. If only the gifts or fruit are operating then the Church is trying to fly straight with only one wing which results in inefficient flight and accomplishing less for the Kingdom of God. If only the gifts are operating, the church is more like a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-3) Juxtaposed to a church with fruit but without the gifts will not be able to sound the clarion call that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power! (Hebrews 13:8. Acts 1:8)
“Tails are actually integral to bird flight. But if a bird’s wings produce the lift, where do the tails come in? Well, its tail feathers are analogous to the rudders of ships and boats. They help them steer and maneuver while flying, as well as provide stability as they take-off and land. By twisting its tail, the bird can change its direction mid-flight. To help the bird slow down, the tail flares out downward, creating more drag and decrease the bird’s velocity. The tail also helps a bird balance when it is perched on a branch. And while the bird is soaring, it can spread out its tail feathers behind it to create additional lift and stability.” (4) Likewise, the five positional gifts are to direct and correct the church so that we stay on the mission the Holy Spirit has given to us. Ensuring we do not get ahead or behind, nor enter into the left (license) (1) or right ditch (legalism) (1) as we walk the narrow road of His perfect will.
Lastly, the dove is unique from other birds in that instead of its wings pointing downward toward its tail they curl upward toward its head. This represents that the Holy Spirit does not speak of Himself but points believers to the Lord Jesus Christ (1) our Great High Priest (1) and the Head of the Church.
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase in order to open another article in a new Tab with greater detail.
(2) Jaroslava Brychtova and Stanislav Libensky, DOVE, 1980