The King, The Dove And The Spirit (john 1:32-34)

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

In vs. 32 John evokes a powerful image of a dove landing as a sign. It is usual to concentrate on the symbolism of the dove in connection with the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt, such an obvious connection exists. But we will be remiss if we do not also recall one of the greatest stories of the Hebrew Bible. This is the story of the dove that, after having been released by Noah several times, finally came to rest on dry ground. The dove became a symbol of safety, hope, peace and future.

At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the dove rested once again on the ultimate symbol of safety, hope, peace and future in the Christian tradition – Jesus Christ Himself. This is not the only time in this Gospel something of enormous symbolic significance, like the dove in vs. 32, rests on Jesus.

The dove-resting symbolism is also important in the context of Jesus’ role as Israel’s King, its good shepherd. A 17th century Christian collection of questions and answers asks the following question: “How does Christ fulfill the office of a king?” A succinct and clear answer is provided for believer’s instruction: “Christ fulfills the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” This answer is profoundly accurate when it comes to highlighting one of the most important functions of an Israelite king – to conquer and defend in order to provide safety. The dove-related imagery in the Bible symbolizes safety, hope, peace and future – exactly the kind of things that Israel’s king was meant to provide for his people. It is in connection with this idea that the Gospel tells us that John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the Royal Son of God. (Jn.1:34)

In Jn.1:51 Jesus said to Nathaniel, whom interestingly enough he did not call a true Jew, but a true Israelite. This terminology was perfectly fitting for a Samaritan audience as well as for other Israelite, but non-Judean, movements: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” You will remember of course that in the dream of Jacob’s ladder the angels were ascending and descending upon the location that became known as Bethel, or the House of God (Gen.28:10-19).

Bethel in Samaritan tradition was their ancient center of worship. In fact, they believed that Mt. Gerizim and Bethel were one and the same place. The Samaritans, who were themselves Israelites, believed that Bethel, and not Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, must forever be the spiritual capital of the people of Israel. The fact that they were concerned for the spiritual future of Israel demonstrates that they were Israelites –  but not Jews like Jesus and his followers. Their center of worship was in Samaria and not in Judea.

The particular interest in topics that appeal, though not exclusively, to Israelite Samaritans is characteristic of this Gospel (to read more about it click here). This may point to the fact that the Gospel was first meant for various inter-Israelite groups; a major part of which were Israelite Samaritans. It may also explain why the author uses the Greek word Hoi Ioudaioi (translated usually as simply “the Jews”) in the way he does. To Israelite Samaritans, the Jerusalem-centered authorities and their religious subordinates outside of Judea were simply – “the Jews.”

Important Note: Though we cannot be certain, it is likely that the technical term “Holy Spirit” was coined in the Qumran Community; and if so, in its widespread affiliate – the Essene movement. Its use in the Hebrew Bible is infrequent. This term is widely used in Qumran Collections (Dead Sea Scrolls) and assumed in the New Testament.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. Charissa

    I am not certain the place you’re getting your information,
    but good topic. I must spend a while studying more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for excellent info I used to be on the lookout for this info for my mission.

  2. Tatien Nduwimana

    Dear Eli

    Be blessed for the very important point you have made about the curse of babylonian tower.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Tatien! Dr. Eli

  3. Ernie Heavin

    What do you think it means that Jesus will baptize in the Holy Spirit?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      There are many many important aspects, but THE most important one is that Jesus reverses the great curse placed on humanity at the Babylonian Tower-related events (languages confused, peoples don’t understand each other?) Jesus stops the curse of Babylonian Tower bringing in God’s favor instead (hence the languages are (though for now only partially) unified and understood again (Acts 2 and 10).

      1. Ernie Heavin

        Never thought about that. Thank you

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Ernie, you are most welcome. Most Christians miss this point and concentrate instead on peripheral issues instead. Theological wars are the result :-). This is the central thought that must and can easily be accepted by all.

  4. Eric Rodríguez

    BS”D

    Shabat Shalom! after reading the post and the commentaries, I must say about these actors (The King, the Dove and the Holy Spirit) the following things:
    1) In Talmud Bavli, Séder Zra’im, Maséchet Brachot, 3A guemará’, is writen:
    ואמר לי בני מה קול שמעת בחורבה זו ואמרתי לו שמעתי בת קול שמנהמת כיונה ואומרת אוי לבנים שבעונותיהם החרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין האומות
    And he said me: My child, What voice did you hear at thise ruin? I said him: I heared Bat Qol whispering like a Dove and saying: Awe! for the sons by whose iniquities I destroyed my house, burned my temple and carried them away among the nations.
    So, we can notice here the Bat Qol (a revelation/declaration from Heavens, sometimes like “voices in my head” 🙂 ) “whispering like a dove” (heb.: menahémet keyonáh…) Then is a common terminology… Jews had the capacity of understanding naturally these words, Bat Qol is a new commandment or divine expression. In seder Neziqin, masechet ‘avot, 3:3 it’s writen:
    “אבל שניים שהיו יושבין, ועוסקין בדברי תורה–שכינה עימהם, שנאמר “אז נדברו יראי ה’, איש אל ריעהו”
    “But two men that use to set down (to be fixed) and dealing with the words of the Torah, Shchinah is with them, for was said: Then, shall speak the YHWH’s fearers one another…”

  5. Michelle

    Dr. Eli,

    Since the technical term “Holy Spirit” is not used in the Old Testament, what is the Hebrew wording in Psalm 51:11 and Isaiah 63:10? I’m still learning how to read Hebrew, and interlinear versions aren’t helping me much.

    And thank you so much for pointing out the connection to the dove resting on land after the flood! You’re right, most of the emphasis in Christian circles is placed on the dove being a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and not on the fact that the dove rested. In the flood, the dove rested on the dry ground (adamah) and in this story, the dove rested on Jesus the man (adam). I honestly can’t remember any pastor I’ve heard preach make this connection between these two stories.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Michelle, thank you for your contribution. I adjusted the wording in the blog. You can see how it has taken your point about several times that Holy Spirit as a phrase was used in the OT. I also gave a link to an article on the subject by F.F. Bruce.

      1. Michelle

        You are very welcome. But you were correct in saying it wasn’t used, if you were referring to the Torah. From what I have read so far, God used only physical representations of His Spirit in those books, such as fire and cloud.

        Well, wait. Do I have that right? Was the pillar of fire by night a representation of His Spirit? A manifestation?

        Gosh, my questions are veering far away from the Book of John. Sorry!

  6. Nathaniel

    What does it mean when the NT uses the phrase Holy Spirit? Is this usage similar to Qumran uses? It seems that Holy Spirit in NT is qualitatively different than the same term found in much later rabbinic writings. In other words, John’s “Holy Spirit” is expressed more like the Baal Shem Tov, then Rashi.

    Thanks for the great blog!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I do not know for sure what do you mean by “In other words, John’s “Holy Spirit” is expressed more like the Baal Shem Tov, than Rashi.”, though naturally I know who both men were. About the part of the question that I did understand :-).

      NT assumes/uses as a given the technical term “Holy Spirit” that can be so often met in the ancient pages of Qumran collection. Though it does not mean that Early “Christians” were Essene or Qumranite, it surely point to the connection between them on some level.

      1. Nathaniel

        Thank you — I’ll clarify:

        I don’t know what the Qumranite / Essenes meant when they used the term Holy Spirit. I sense that the NT usage is broad — to receive the Holy Spirit is to have a higher awareness of the Divine, to have access to Supernal wisdom, to conquer demons through prayer, to work miracles, even to forgive sins, etc. These are the usages I find in the Gospels and the Letters.

        This reminds me of the chassidic miracle workers and the early kabbalists. Not characteristic of works that are closer in time period such as Midrash and Mishna / Baraitas.

        Even when I read Rashi or Ramban, I mostly get the sense that Holy Spirit = wisdom. But can also mean minor prophecy (intuition) or “lively prayer.” — certainly NOT miracles, Supernal revelations, etc.

        So when the early writers of our Gospels / Letters use the “technical term ‘Holy Spirit'”, what do they mean exactly? And how did this usage evolve?

        I hope this helps. Thanks for your insightful responses.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Dear Nathaniel,

          I afraid to answer your thoughtful question a special study must be done that would concentrate on such a topic. However, the question is indeed excellent and must be studied further. If there is no such study done already, perhaps, you should undertake it as a graduate research project?

          Eli

          1. Nathaniel

            Research project — I’d have to ask wife, kids, and boss first (:

            You mention that Holy Spirit is technical term. What do you mean? Rather, what does IT mean?

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            What I mean is that Holy Spirit as a joined term seems to have been aboundatly used from Qumran on.

  7. Jerry Christensen

    Perhaps you might comment on the Jewish mikvah as it relates to baptizing. When looking at various Jewish blessings recited at a mikvah, some indicate santification is a result of the event. For conversion to Judaism, a mikvah is customary. Then there’s the concept of cleansing/sanctification by the רוח קודש – ruach kodesh. That is another discussion in and of itself.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think your insightful comment would suffice here.

  8. Pedro Ortiz

    In regards to your i.e. note. Doesn’t this hint us that the Baptist had Essene influence
    along with the rest of the Jesus movement due to Essene beliefs in 2 Mesiahs and apocaliptic scenarios?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      There is no question that both John the Baptist and Jesus breathed the same spiritual traditions-wise air that would have included Essenes. The question of influence is a difficult one, because it is not always possible to tell who influenced whom and whether both were influenced by a third party. This is so because of the sources. For example, Hillel lived before Jesus. Jesus quotes Hillel (“do unto others…” (Jesus) and “don’t do unto others” (Hillel)). Well… Maybe. We don’t really know, because our knowledge of what Hillel said (Mishnah – early 3rd century) is actually later than Jesus (Gospels – mid to late first century).

  9. Wendell

    I love the article and Yochanan is my favorite book of the Bible. What role does the “Bat Kol” (The Daughter of the Voice) play in this important set of scriptures and setting? To me, this major event is Yeshua being anointed as Mashiach!” I love the things that you write and it gives me, a Goy, a deeper understanding and love of Mashiach ben David! This article adds even more depth and meaning to who Yeshua really was, is and will always be!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Don’t be so hard on your self. God loves you just as he loves everyone else. Not more, but not less… in every respect! 🙂