Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thursday Theme=Fish, the Symbol of Christianity

The fish was an early symbol of Christian faith that endures today on bumper stickers and businesses as a sign of Christian faith.

The fish is thought to have been chosen by the early Christians for several reasons:
  • the Greek word for fish (ICHTUS), works nicely as an acrostic for "Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.
  • The fish would not be an obvious Christian symbol to persecutors
  • Jesus' ministry is associated with fish: he chose several fishermen to be his disciples and declared he would make them "fishers of men."
It is said that during the persecution of the early church, a Christian meeting someone new would draw a single arc in the sand. If the other person was a Christian, he or she would complete the drawing of a fish with a second arc. If the second person was not a Christian, the ambiguity of the half-symbol would not reveal the first person as a Christian.

The second fish symbol is the ICHTHUS fish, with the Greek word for fish written out to emphasize the symbolic acrostic described above.
Although the word looks like IXOYE, the letters are from the Greek alphabet, so the "I" is actually an iota, the "X" is actually a chi, the "O" is actually a theta, the "Y" is an upsilon, and the "E" or "C" at the end is a sigma. Taking the first sound from each of these Greek letter names, we get the transliteration into our alphabet of ICHTHUS.

Today, when Christians (in the West) do not need to worry about persecution, the Christian fish symbol often has "Jesus" written inside or includes a cross symbol. And of course, there have been many spoofs and variations of the popular Christian symbol, such as the famous "Darwin fish" (with legs).

The fish is also a symbol of baptism, since a fish is at home in the water.

Patricia S. Klein, Worship without Words: The Signs and Symbols of Our Faith (2000).
Carolle E. Whittenmore, ed., Symbols of the Church.
George Wells Ferguson, Signs & Symbols in Christian Art.
Frederick Rest, Our Christian Symbols.


Skybridge Studios said...

I had not heard the story about the lines in the sand! Interesting...

Megan said...

I hadn't heard that either! What a sneaky little code that is!

Yay, Theme Thursday! I always learn a lot on Thursday!

Dot-Com said...

Thanks for sharing, I sure learned something new.

Now on to read your scrapbook post. Should be fun, as I'm a scrapbooker too :-)

Debo Hobo said...

Speaking of which, lent begins in two weeks. Only fish on Fridays for me, after that for forty days.

Coffee Messiah said...

I'll draw a line right here and say Thanks for joining in!


Auntie, aka cagny said...

Thanks for the lesson in fish. I learned some new tidbits.
And I like the way you cite your sources of information.

Kris said...

Should they have gone with a fish instead of a cross?

"Fishtions" does have a nice ring to it!

Anonymous said...

I did visit you early on Thursday (British time) but your post was not up- so here I am back again.

I was just saying on Roy's post how I had been thinking about the symbolism of fish- how the shape of the animal makes it perfect for being a symbol- simple lines, easily recognisable.

The early Christians certainly used this in a very clever way.

I cannot call myself a Christian, but I do know and love the many stories in the Bible which involve fish!