Do you know what that Christian sign of the fish really means?

Regardless of where we are, in any Christian store we go we can buy those signs of the fish (sometimes called Jesus fishes) that are sold to be stuck on cars or anywhere else we want to. Everyone knows that it is a symbol of Christianity but interestingly enough there are only few who know why.

In order to clarify this interesting issue, we’ll address this simple question in our chat today: how the sign of the fish and Christianity relate to each other? Let’s begin showing the symbol we’re talking about:

ichthusIn all occasions I talked about the Jesus fish with some people in USA as well as in other countries, most of them said it was the symbol of Christianity because it refers to what every Christian should be: a fisher of souls. Those who said that had certainly in mind what the Apostle Matthew wrote in his Gospel:

And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4: 18-19)

I personally think this is a very beautiful answer, and certainly it also brings important benefits to our Christian life because the sign of the fish would always be reminding us to be fishers of men. In other words, the sign of the fish would always be reminding us of our duty as Christians to reach out more people for message of Christ.

The problem is that, if we really want to know the historical point of view about the relationship between the sign of the fish and Christianity, the right answer would be quite another one. In order to explain this, let briefly talk about the ancient Church.

As we know, Christians were terribly persecuted, tortured, and killed for simply be followers of Jesus Christ. The Roman imperial persecution intensified in the reign of Nero (middle of 1st Century) and continued until the beginning of the 4th Century, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the State official religion. After his time, the persecution grew up again and continued until today, as we are aware of what is going on in many places on the planet. As history tells us, there were more Christian believers killed during the 20th Century for their faith than there were in all of the other centuries taken together.

The fact is that, as Christians were persecuted in the early centuries, and as they needed to get together to worship God, they found themselves in the necessity of developing a code to identify themselves as Christians. As a result, among other things, they created a symbol that identified them as the people who worshiped Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

Now I ask you to consider that, in Greek, the sentence “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” is written as the following: “Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ ͑Υιός, Σωτήρ”. Doing the transliteration into the characters we use in our language, we have this: “Iēsous Christos Theou Yios Soter “.

What does all this have to do with the sign of the fish? Here’s the answer: when they made an acronym with the first letters of aforementioned sentence, they came up with the name “fish” in Greek. Isn’t it interesting?

Making it even clearer, keep in mind that fish, in Greek, means “ἰχθύς” (in capital letters, we have “ΙΧΘΥΣ” or Ichthus, as many say), which is the acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”. Therefore, if someone, for exemple, drew the sign of the fish it would mean that he or she was a believer in Jesus, a believer in the fact that Jesus was the son of God, and that he is also the Savior. That Jesus fish represented the central elements of Christianity and served to identify Christians.

In order to identify themselves, it was common for Christians to draw a line on the ground and wait for the other person to do the same, as a sign or a code meaning that both were Christians and therefore were safe.

ichthus1_77Here’s the other one completing the drawing and mutually identifying themselves as followers of Christ.

ichthus2_77

In conclusion and responding right away the original question, it could be said that the little fish is a symbol of Christianity because the initials of the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”, when written in Greek, form the Greek word “ΙΧΘΥΣ” which is translated into English as “fish”.

Having said that, there is one more thing I’d like to tell you. There is another very interesting way to visually represent what the sign of the fish means. Do you know know? It’s simple: all we have to do is just overlapping all letters “ΙΧΘΥΣ”. This was also done in the ancient times, as you can see in the picture below. It shows the symbol engraved in a marble that was found in the ruins of Ephesus, in Turkey.

ephesus-ichtys

For clarity sake, the didactic image below shows how the symbol above can be written just overlapping the letters of “ΙΧΘΥΣ”:

roda_77Finally, it is important to clarify that the symbolism in the Jesus fish has historical value, has aesthetic value, but that’s it. What we as Christians have to value the most is that we have the Spirit of God within us, giving us strength and courage to wisely spread the Gospel all over the world, reaching out every  creature we can to the message of love and hope in Christ Jesus.

God bless,

Tassos Lycurgo