In John 1:32, the Greek text states,

ΛΒʹ καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ὅτι τεθέαμαι τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡσεὶ περιστερὰν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν TR, 1550

ΛΒʹ καὶ ἐμαρτύρησεν Ἰωάννης λέγων ὅτι τεθέαμαι τὸ πνεῦμα καταβαῖνον ὡς περιστερὰν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἔμεινεν ἐπ’ αὐτόν NA28

  1. What is the distinction in meaning between «ὡσεὶ» and «ὡς»?
  2. Does one (or both) suggest that the Holy Spirit became a dove in appearance/form?

1 Answer 1


Textus Receptus aligns with commentaries of the Church Fathers. For example, the use of ὡσεὶ in this passage (instead of ὡς) suggests that the Holy Spirit was not a dove, but appeared AS IF a dove. That is, the Greek adverb ὡσεὶ suggest the more analogous rather than literal comparison. Several Church Fathers make this distinction.

For example, St. Ambrose makes the following observation.

But if they believe not the Son, let them hear the Father also saying that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Christ. For He says to John: “Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending from heaven and abiding upon Him, He it is Who baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.” God the Father said this to John, and John heard and saw and believed. He heard from God, he saw in the Lord, he believed that it was the Spirit Who was coming down from heaven. For it was not a dove that descended, but the Holy Spirit as a dove; for thus it is written: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven as a dove.” (Emphasis added)

St. Augustine made the same observation.

If, therefore, He is said to be sent, in so far as He appeared outwardly in the bodily creature, who inwardly in His spiritual nature is always hidden from the eyes of mortals, it is now easy to understand also of the Holy Spirit why He too is said to be sent. For in due time a certain outward appearance of the creature was wrought, wherein the Holy Spirit might be visibly shown; whether when He descended upon the Lord Himself in a bodily shape as a dove, or when, ten days having past since His ascension, on the day of Pentecost a sound came suddenly from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and cloven tongues like as of fire were seen upon them, and it sat upon each of them. This operation, visibly exhibited, and presented to mortal eyes, is called the sending of the Holy Spirit; not that His very substance appeared, in which He himself also is invisible and unchangeable, like the Father and the Son, but that the hearts of men, touched by things seen outwardly, might be turned from the manifestation in time of Him as coming to His hidden eternity as ever present. (Emphasis added)

Farrar makes the following summary.

The text does not say that the Spirit actually took the form of a dove. The σωματικῷ εἴδει, of Luke 3:22, does not necessarily imply more than a visible appearance. It seems more in accordance with other analogies to suppose that like the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:7) the appearance was “like as of fire” (comp. Matt. 3:11). The dove was indeed a fitting emblem of innocence and gentleness. . . .

In summary, the use of the Greek adverb ὡσεὶ in Textus Receptus suggests the more analogous rather than the literal reference, which might be inferred by readers if only the adverb ὡς had appeared. During the time of Ambrose and Augustine, the Arian and Pelagian heresies, respectively, were issues touching on the divinity of Christ and sin, respectively, and distinctions of nuance between the dichotomy between “literal” and “spiritual” were important. In other words, ὡσεὶ is less ambiguous than ὡς and therefore there was no literal dove descending on Jesus but only the appearance of the dove (because the Holy Spirit is invisible in the literal sense).


Ambrose of Milan. (1896). Three Books of St. Ambrose on the Holy Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, & H. T. F. Duckworth (Trans.), St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 10, p. 136). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Augustine of Hippo. (1887). On the Trinity. In P. Schaff (Ed.), A. W. Haddan (Trans.), St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (Vol. 3, pp. 41–42). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Farrar, Frederic W. (1900). The life of lives further studies in the life of Christ. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.

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