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Symbols in the Bible: Interpreting Olive Oil, Lambs, and More

Many principles of the Christian faith are based on the contents of the Bible, as it’s believed that the Bible contains messages directly from God, sent to people through different messengers.

The Bible uses various symbols and symbolism to convey these messages, which is why Bible experts warn readers to not take what they read at face value and to always look for the deeper meaning of every statement. While there are many symbols in the Bible, here are some of the more well-known.

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Bible Symbols

1. Olive Oil

While Christians believe in one God above all, they also claim that God is embodied in the trifecta of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit (God’s Power).  The Bible uses these references several times in both the Old and the New Testament, often using symbols.

olive oil a symbol mentioned in bible

In the Old Testament, olive oil was often used to represent the Holy Spirit. This is to distinguish it from the ccrude, unrefined oil that came from underground. While olive oil was a familiar sight during the time before Christ and was often seen as a sign of good health and zest for life, Christians used it as part of a ritual. 

When conferring blessings or healing the sick, Christians would wipe olive oil on the person, usually on the forehead or on the body part that was sick, a symbolic passing of the power of the Holy Spirit to wash away that person’s disease or to ward off evil spirits.

2. Doves

Another representation of the Holy Spirit in the scripture is the dove, particularly in the New Testament. During the baptism of Jesus, all four gospels describe the appearance of a dove as the presence of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus.  

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doves in Christianity

In the Old Testament, doves were used to signify purity or peace. One representation features the dove holding an olive branch in its beak as it flies back to Noah and the Ark, announcing both the end of the great flood and the calming of God’s anger. In the books of Psalms, Solomon, and Genesis, doves are used to represent brides, specifically in terms of their innocence and loyalty.

3. Lamb

Often referred to as sacrificial animals used for religious rituals and pagan practices, lambs are mentioned many times throughout the Bible. Jesus Christ himself was often referred to as the “Lamb of God”, since his existence was meant as a sacrifice to save the world from eternal damnation.

Jesus is sometimes also referred to as the “Good Shepherd”, and his followers the herd of sheep that He has to lead to the right path.

4. Rocks or Stones

The scriptures often refer to stones or rocks when symbolizing strength or endurance, particularly in the prophesies in the Old Testament. Most often, these are used to describe how God is steadfast in his promises to the people, or how he provides support and stability in times of worry.

One example can be found in Book 2 of Samuel 22:2–3, where David says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress… my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge”.  Another example can be found in the book of Isaiah, 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste”.

In the New Testament, rocks were used to describe not only God, but also his loyal followers.  Peter, in particular, is described as the rock upon which the Church would be built.

5. Rainbow

Pretty to look at and considered a wonder of nature, the unpredictable appearance of rainbows in the skyline is always awe-inspiring.  But for Christians, it has an even deeper meaning as a direct message from God. 

Rainbows are first mentioned after the great flood, as a representation of God’s promise to the people.  In this covenant, God told Noah that never again would he use floods as a punishment for all living beings or means of cleansing the earth, and the rainbow would serve as a reminder to himself. This story can be found in Chapter 9 of the Book of Genesis.

Other references to the rainbow can be found in the books of Ezekiel and Revelations, where it is used to describe the majesty of the Lord, and the beauty of his kingdom.

6. Honey

More than just a sweet treat, honey is used as symbol to represent prosperity, abundance, and the promise of a better life.

In the Book of Exodus, the Promised Land is described as “a land flowing with milk and honey”. In Proverbs 24:13, a father tells his son to eat honey “for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”

In this way, honey represents good things in life, as it’s sweet, wholesome, and not always easy to come by.

Important Themes in the Bible

Themes imagery in bible

1. One God

A common theme in the scriptures is the presence of an all-powerful being who created the universe by himself.  This is very different compared to pagan and polytheistic beliefs where worship is spread over multiple gods who are only in charge of area of responsibility at a time.

2. The Importance of Hard Work

In many instances, the Bible places emphasis on the value of hard work. Even God Himself worked straight for 6 days and 6 nights to create the universe. It is why humans were given talents and skills so they can work for themselves, in whichever area they were made to excel within.

3. Remembering to Give back

As people work hard, they must also remember to place service at the core of everything they do.  This includes giving back to the community and to their church, as it is a common practice for Christians to regularly send donations to their ministry, or what they call a “tithe”.

4. The Power of Silence and Meditation

The Bible teaches Christians that when they are faced with a challenge that feels insurmountable, or when they feel that they have lost their direction, they only need to sit quietly and pray for guidance.  It is said that God communicates to people directly, but they just miss out on it because they are too busy living their lives.  The only way to receive the message clearly is to clear your mind of noise and distraction from the outside world.

5. Acts of Grief and Humility

As used in different narrations throughout the Bible, notable characters would tear their cloths to demonstrate remorse or anguish.  Some examples can be found in the stories of Jacob in the Book of Genesis, and of Mordecai in the Book of Esther, both in the Old Testament.

Bowed head, clasped hands, and closed eyes on the other hand, indicated humility, especially in prayer.  This signifies that you are lowering yourself before the Lord, and is often used to describe a person in prayer such as stories found in the books of Exodus, Chronicles, and Nehemiah.

6. Imagery and Personification in The Bible

The Bible uses metaphors, imagery, allegories, and various other literary tools which make the writings rich with symbolism.  For example, Israel has been described at times as a son, the bride of God, or sometimes as an unfaithful wife.  The church itself has been described in various scriptures as the body of Christ, as a harvest of fruits or crops, or a loaf of bread.

Allegories are also used in most of the parables and fables interspersed within the Bible, especially those told by Jesus. For example, the parable of the prodigal son talks about God’s love and forgiveness for sinners.  Another example is the parable about the wise king Solomon, which emphasizes the power of sacrifice and a mother’s love, but also talks about the ability to make judgments during a time of crisis.


The Bible is rich with symbolism, symbols, and imagery that represent the values and concepts that Christians hold dear. As there are numerous interpretations of such symbolism, there can be debate over what these symbols may mean.

Bible symbols list
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As she grew up reading books on mystery, mythology, fantasy, and adventure, Olive developed an urge to explore the world as an adult. After completing a degree in Mass Communications, she built a career in marketing for the past two decades but has spent most of her vacations backpacking through different countries. During her trips, Olive likes to immerse herself in the local culture to further expand her understanding of other people and their lifestyles, which she now uses to aid her writing.