The Dove are perching birds, which along with the pigeons belong to the taxonomic family Columbidae. They are perhaps best known as birds of gentle nature, but are also popular game birds. The symbolism of a white dove (though most "white doves" are actually white homing pigeons), has been used for peace, purity, and innocent love.
As a Symbol of Peace
A white dove is generally a sign of peace in Christianity and Judaism. This symbolism comes from the Old Testament when after the flood, Noah released a dove in order to find dry land. When the dove finally found an olive tree, it came back with an olive branch it its beak, which indicated that the waters were abating. Thus implicating that God had withdrawn His wrath and was at peace with mankind again. (Genesis 8:11)
Occurrences in the Bible
The dove has been considered as one of the most important bird mentioned in the Bible. The dove, along with the raven, is the first bird mentioned in the Bible other than the general references to fowls in connection with the creation story. In the Old Testament the dove or pigeon was also the required sacrifice specific sins.
After the flood
At the end of the rain for forty days and nights, Noah sent out two birds, a dove and a raven to seek dry land. Both birds found no dry land and hence nowhere to light, so they came back to the ark. After seven days Noah again let the dove out and "in the evening" she came back carrying an olive branch in her beak. Noah waited seven more days to let the dove out a third time, and she did not return to the ark signifying that the flood waters had completely receded. (Genesis 8:6-11)
The dove as a trespass offering
The dove is closely associated with the lamb in gentleness and purity. The dove was the substitute sacrifice if a man (Leviticus 5:7) or woman (Leviticus 12:8) could not acquire a lamb to offer as a trespass offering. Jesus, the lamb of God, offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins, much like the lamb and dove would be offered for man's sin.
In the poetic books
The dove was referenced to several times in the books of Psalms and Songs of Solomon, and is depicted as graceful, pure and lovely. In Psalms, David especially referred to the wings of the dove in both (and only) verses:
"I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest-" Psalms 55:6 (NIV)
"...the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold." Psalms 68:13 (NIV)
In the Song of Solomon, Solomon referred to his lover as "my undefiled dove." In these verses the dove represents purity, love, and gracefulness.
"O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely." Song 2:14 (KJV)
"I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night."" Song 5:2 (KJV)
"My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her..." Song 6:9 (KJV)
The Holy Spirit as a dove
After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove. All four gospels record this special event. The dove which symbolizes an animal of temporal atonement for man's sin, lighted upon The Greatest Sacrifice, Jesus Christ who fulfilled the eternal sacrifice of man's sin.
- Symbols of peace by Wikipedia
- Birds of the Bible Study by Dr. Joe Temple
- The Symbols of Christianity: Birds of the Bible
- Birds of the Bible - Doves and Pigeons by Lee's Birdwatching