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  • Writer's picturestephenstrent7

Christ and the Dove

The Baptism of Christ by Peter Paul Rubens, about 1605; 13 ft high x 22 ft wide, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. It is interesting that in this painting, as is the case with almost all Old Masters’ works, Christ is standing in the river, yet John is “baptizing” him by merely pouring water onto his head.


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: March 18-24; 2 Nephi 31-33

We are told in 2 Nephi 31:8, “Wherefore, after he [Jesus] was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.”


We read in Matthew 3:16, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him...” The Gospel of Mark (1:10) states, And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him…” Luke 3:2 states, “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him...” And John 1:32 says, “And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.”


Most modern Biblical scholars agree that the Gospels were written toward the end of the first century AD, with the Gospel of Mark perhaps as early as 66 AD and the Gospel of John as late as 110 AD. As was often the case back then, apparently the Gospels were written by anonymous authors and then named for well-known early Church leaders. Before they were written, the stories were likely passed down by oral tradition. Therefore, it is possible that none of the Gospel authors were actually eye-witnesses to Christ’s baptism. However, we do read in Acts 1:21-24 that when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot in the Apostleship, being a witness to Christ’s baptism was a prerequisite: “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast …” Later, when Paul was chosen to be an apostle — we are not told who he replaced — he apparently was not a witness to the baptism, nor was he with Jesus during His ministry, but was a witness of Jesus after His resurrection. Therefore, we may assume that at least thirteen of the original apostles had witnessed, first-hand, Christ’s baptism. Each apostle probably had his own account of what happened, and passed his testimony orally down to the members of the Church.


However, and whenever the Gospels were written, we have ended up with four accounts of Christ’s baptism and the appearance of the Holy Ghost. Two of the accounts (Matthew and Mark) say that Jesus saw the “Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him”. Those accounts do not say if anyone else saw the dove. The Gospel of John says that it was John who saw the Holy Ghost descend “in a bodily shape like a dove”. Only Luke makes a general statement about the Holy Ghost descending “in a bodily shape like a dove,” without qualifying who actually saw the dove.


Then we have the Book of Mormon account, Another Witness of Jesus Christ. Nephi saw the baptism of Christ in vision and, therefore, may be the only eye-witness account actually written by the witness himself. His account agrees most directly with that in Luke, stating that the “Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove,” rather than confining seeing the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove to just Jesus or John the Baptist.


I often have wondered what, if anything, I would have seen had I been there at the Savior’s baptism. Would I have seen, as the Gospel of Luke claims, “the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him...” or would I have seen “the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove,” as Nephi described — whatever that means. Or, perhaps like the majority of people standing beside the Jordan on that momentous day of days, I would have seen nothing — and therefore, as I do now, would have to rely on the witness and vision of others — which will have to be enough for me for now.     




Trent Dee Stephens, PhD




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