History and Origin
The fish as a symbol in Christianity is nearly as old as the Christian faith itself. The sign is seen in the past on things like art and architecture and today it endures on things like bumper stickers and business cards 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 as an acrostic for I = Jesus, C = Christ, TH = God's, U = Son, S = Savior (Also see Christian beliefs about Jesus Christ)
- The fish would not be an obvious Christian symbol to persecutors; 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. (Also see Christian history and Christian beliefs and Christian fast facts)
- Jesus' ministry is associated with fish: he chose several fishermen to be his disciples and declared he would make them "fishers of men." (Also see the New Testament and the Book of Matthew)
The second fish symbol (to the right) 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.Related Bible Verse
"As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him."
~ Mark 1:16-18
On Christian symbols
Christianity has always incorporated symbols - that is, visual representations and signs - into its practice, as valuable expressions of truth. The depiction of an important element of the faith, by means of an animal or color, for instance, can be powerful and encouraging. What words cannot say, sometimes symbols can. While Christians are known for being people of faith, the religion has produced some of the most beautiful art in history. Whether they be carved on first-century tombs or tattooed on twenty-first century bodies, symbols matter in the Christian religion.
Christians believe that God created human senses - sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. Of course faith is of utmost importance in Christianity, but the physical abilities God gave people aren't unimportant. It is helpful to understand that the Christian worldview doesn't teach that immaterial and the material are in competition with each other or opposed to each other. in fact, faith experiences can be supported by a sensory experience such as when the Apostle Paul laid hands on people when he prayed for them (Acts 19:4-6).