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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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DOVE (περιστερά).—Its gentle nature makes the dove a frequent simile in ancient literature. Christ bids His disciples to be harmless as doves, and to unite with such gentleness a wisdom like the serpent’s (Matthew 10:16). Meyer, in loc., takes this to mean, ‘Be prudent in regard to dangers in which you are placed, quick to see and avoid dangers; and always be full of uprightness, never taking any questionable way of escape.’ As the serpent is the most cunning of the beasts of the field, so should the Lord’s disciples have wisdom to understand the subtleties of Satan; but no evil is to mix with such wisdom. Along with it there must be found a purity and simplicity of heart of which the harmless, gentle dove is the symbol. The truest wisdom for the Christian is to keep always the simplicity of the dove. A nature purified by the Spirit of Christ will have wise penetration enough to defeat all the wiles of Satan.

The dove, the emblem of perfect innocence, is used (Matthew 3:16 and parallels) as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who is the power and wisdom of God, acting on the spirits of men. When the dove appeared to sit on the Saviour’s head, it denoted the Divine recognition of His holiness (Matthew 3:17), and His official consecration to the Messianic ministry. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, ‘He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners’ (Matthew 7:26).

It has been thought that the dove had a sacrosanct character among the Hebrews. Though it was a favourite food with some neighbouring peoples, it was not eaten in Palestine. Young pigeons and doves were offered in sacrifice, where no sacrificial meal was involved. So we find in the temple courts them that sold doves (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:14; John 2:16),—no doubt for such sacrifices,—whom Christ drove out, along with the money-changers. In Palestine the dove was considered sacred by the Phœnicians and the Philistines, and the Samaritans were often accused of worshipping it. There were holy doves at Mecca; and, according to Lucian (Dea Syria, 54), doves were taboo to the Syrians; he who touched them being unclean a whole day.

In Christian Art in representations of the Lord’s Baptism, the presence of the Holy Spirit is indicated by the dove. In churches in early times the figure of a dove appeared in the baptisteries, a golden or silver dove being suspended above the font. Lamps, too, were sometimes made in the form of doves. In later times pyxes were sometimes made of gold and silver in the shape of a dove, and used for the reservation of the host.

Exclusive of the turtle-dove, four species of dove are found in Palestine: Columba palumbus, the ring-dove, or wood-pigeon; Columba aenas, the stock-dove, found in Gilead and Bashan and the Jordan Valley; Columba livia, the rock-dove, abundant along the coast and in the uplands; Columba schimperi, closely allied to the preceding, and found in the interior.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v.; Thomson, Land and Book (1878), p. 268 ff.; Expositor, 1st ser. ix. [1879] p. 81 ff.

David M. W. Laird.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dove'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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