A Quick Bible Study, Vol. 170: What the New Testament Says About Birds

A Quick Bible Study, Vol. 170: What the New Testament Says About Birds

Thanks for joining our second installment discussing birds in the Bible. If you missed last week’s study, “What the Hebrew Bible Says About Birds,” now is an excellent time to catch up. Meanwhile, I repeat the commentary quote I used last week that concisely frames the significance of the Bible’s winged creatures:

“Throughout Scripture, birds are used to teach us about the nature of God and his relationship with humanity. As we learn about the different meanings of these bird symbols, we can deepen our understanding of the Bible and find new ways to apply its teachings to our lives.”

Given that the New Testament (NT) is all about Jesus — who He is, how He fulfills the Hebrew Bible’s Messianic prophesies, His life, death, resurrection, and what He did for us on the cross — it fits that the following verses record the NT’s first bird reference:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:16-17).

That is a monumental passage. First, the Holy Trinity — the triune God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit (represented by the dove) — are all present at Jesus’s baptism. Second, His baptism is the opening act of His adult ministry (See Vol. 84 about baptism).

Considering today’s topic, we focus on the dove. In last week’s study, I mentioned the dove wins the “Most Often Mentioned Bird in the Bible” award —referenced 47 times.

Starting in Genesis, with Noah’s story (again, see last week’s study), the dove symbolizes the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Noah and how his family’s future was assured after their ordeal. However, Genesis does not specify that the dove represents the Holy Spirit. Whereas at Jesus’s baptism, Matthew makes the explicit connection: “…He [Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him…”

Thus, as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the dove can also symbolize peace, comfort, and fulfillment of promises.

Jesus also mentions doves in the context of challenges His disciples will face when He sends them out into the world to preach in His name, saying:

“‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves'” (Matthew 10:16).

In another famous bird reference, Jesus elaborates upon Psalm 84:1-3. See last week, teaching us why we should not worry and trust God for our needs:

“‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’”(Matthew 6:25-31). (Some free life-coaching advice — tape it to your bathroom mirror.)

Continuing in Matthew, Jesus speaks of sparrows while teaching about fear of God and that only God controls our destiny, not Satan:

“‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care’” (Matthew 10:26-33). (Read the entire passage in context.)

Now let’s discuss three bird-related passages specific to Jesus’s life.

First (and briefly mentioned last week) was the event when Jesus was eight days old, known as the Presentation:

“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:21-24).

The after-birth purification laws are from Leviticus 12, with exceptions for those unable to afford two lambs or two doves for the sacrifice and burnt offering. Thus, Mary and Joseph did not offer lambs or two doves because both were costly. (Read the difference between doves and turtle doves). Interestingly, Jesus — conceived by the Holy Spirit but born into lowly economic status — was presented at the temple without the sacrifice of a dove that later represented the Holy Spirit that appeared at His baptism.

However, the Holy Spirit was present by the person of Simeon, who recognized Baby Jesus as the Lord’s Christ. (See Vol. 18). Ultimately, Mary and Joseph’s peasant status was part of God’s plan to bring neither white doves nor lambs since the Holy Spirit was already there, and about 33 years later, Jesus, the Lamb of God, would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

Second, we fast forward three decades, and Jesus is at the same temple. He is furious at those conducting commerce so that Jewish worshippers can satisfy the Laws requiring doves for temple sacrifice:

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:12-13).

Considering the dove represented the Holy Spirit, we can understand Jesus’s actions.

And here is a very famous and dramatic incident involving a rooster. Jesus correctly predicts that Peter will deny he knows Jesus on three occasions “before the rooster crows.” This critically important story is recounted with some minor differences in all four Gospels: (Matthew 26: 33-35)(Mark 14:29-31)(Luke 22: 33-34)(John 18:15-17).

We have only scratched the surface with birds in the Bible. I hope you will learn more about how God used His winged creations as symbols and to interact with us to further His Kingdom.

But wait, there’s more! My husband’s Bible study contribution is the hilarious 1963 hit song “Surfin’ Bird” – “Everybody knows about the bird..and the bird is The Word!” Amen!

Myra Kahn Adams is a conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. Her book, “Bible Study For Those Who Don’t Read The Bible,” reprints the first 56 volumes of this popular study. “Part 2,” with the same title, reprints Vols. 57-113. Order it here.   

Myra Kahn Adams

Myra Kahn Adams

Myra Kahn Adams is a media producer and political writer. She was on the 2004 Bush campaign's creative team and the 2008 McCain campaign's ad council. Writing credits include, National Review, Washington Examiner, World Net Daily, Breitbart and many others. Contact Myra at MyraAdams01@gmail.com


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