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No. 82: Like a Dove

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 82
February, 1996
Copyright 1996 Biblical Horizons

The gospels tell us that at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him "in bodily form like a dove" (Luke 3:22 & parallels). Biblically sensitive commentators have associated this event with three Old Testament parallels: (1) the hovering of the Spirit over the creation in Genesis 1:2; (2) the dove of Noah; and (3) the hovering of God as eagle over Israel at the exodus from Egypt in Deuteronomy 32:11.

Less sensitive commentators have objected that because these parallels and analogies are either (a) not perfect or (b) not expressly identified in the text, they therefore are not correct. Against such arguments we must say that (a) no Biblico-theological analogy is perfect; rather, all analogies are typological; and (b) all the Scriptures speak of Christ, so it is puerile to limit typology only to matters specifically identified; rather, we should learn the principles of typology from the types that are specifically identified, and then apply those principles to the events that are not identified.

In this brief essay, I argue that the closest typological analogy to the Spirit-dove at Jesus’ baptism is the dove of Noah. Here alone do we actually find a dove mentioned. Accordingly, the Spirit’s appearance as a dove seems designed to cast us back to Noah.

The Spirit hovered over the first creation (Gen. 1:2), and the dove hovered over the second, after the Flood. Noah was a second Adam, and so is Jesus. In the first creation, there were not yet any animals, birds, plants or anything else for the Spirit to appear as; thus, it was simply as the Spirit that He hovered over the creation. The new creation, however, is a transfiguration of the old. The Spirit does not start from scratch, hovering as Spirit, but starts with the material of the first creation, hovering as dove.

(For further meditation: The Spirit appears as a 5th Day creature, pointing to Jesus, a 6th Day man, who brings humanity to the Father’s 7th Day sabbath. Is there anything to this?)

Accordingly, for the Spirit to hover as dove points to a new creation, analogous to the post-Flood new creation. Notice 2 Peter 3:5-7, where the new creation after the Flood is compared to the new creation of the gospel. Moreover, we are specifically told in 1 Peter 3:20-21 that the Flood was a baptism, as if that were not obvious.

Now let us briefly set out the typological parallels.

1. The Ark was baptized in the water. Jesus was baptized in water.

2. The Ark rested on land and land became visible (Gen. 8:4-5). Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan onto the land (Mt. 3:16).

3. Noah sent out a raven (unclean bird) that did not return to him. Then he sent out a dove (clean) that returned to the Ark (Gen. 8:6-9). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, and returned to hover over Jesus.

4. The dove found no place to put its clean foot (Gen. 8:9). The Spirit came upon Jesus because only Jesus was sinless and clean.

5. Noah sent out the dove again and it returned with an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11). The Bible expands typologically on the olive at great length. Olive oil signifies the lightening work of the Spirit consecrating priests and Tabernacle. The great cherubim in the Holy of Holies of the Temple were made of olive wood. Now that we have made the connection to Noah’s dove, we can see that the descent of the Spirit on Jesus was His anointing with olive oil, which made Him a new human cherub-guardian of God’s throne (which was what the priests were).

6. Finally, a careful study of Genesis 8 shows that it is a recapitulation of creation week. Overall, then, the appearance of the Spirit-dove at Jesus’ baptism points to Him as captain of the new creation.

The parallels between the Flood and the exodus, the baptisms in the Flood and in the Red Sea, mean that the hovering eagle of the exodus is another typological layer to this whole matter; but that is for another study. The direct analogy is from the dove of Noah to the baptism of Jesus.