You can see it anywhere: on someone’s jacket, in a newspaper advertisement, on the back of the car ahead of you in a traffic jam. It is the identifiable Christian Fish symbol or the Jesus Fish that resembles a hand-drawn fish that seldom includes a cross for the eye or the name of Jesus in the middle of it. The Christian fish symbol re-emerged in popularity in the 1960s. The symbol, also known as Ichthys, has historic characteristics attributed to the spread and unity of Christianity religion long before it was popular in today’s society.
These five facts of origin should inspire you to see differently when you see Christian fish out and about in course of the day. It may cause you to be appreciative of the persistence of fish in our lives for centuries or astounded that such a simple figure could have had as much effect on Christian faith as it has.
1. THE SYMBOLISM OF THE FISH ORIGINATED FROM THE GREEKS, ICHTHYS.
The fish, which several people may have seen, originates from the Greek word for fish, “ichthys/ichthus.” This word is further described in the acrostic IXNYy (with N flipped) which translates to:
I – Iota or Iesous (meaning Jesus)
X – Chi or Christos (meaning Christ)
N – Theta or Theou (meaning God)
Y – Upsilon or Yidos / Huios (meaning Son)
Y – Sigma or Soter (meaning the Savior).
Essentially, the fish is the phrase “Jesus Christ, the Son of God is the Savior.” Some research had suggested that the symbol of the fish appeared in the first century or even before the death of Christ on the cross, but there hasn’t been any confirmation as to when the symbol and its meaning initially began.
2. THE FISH (ICHTHYS) WAS USED AS A CODE TO MEET THE PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS.
During the time when the Romans were persecution the Jews in the first centuries, the symbol of fish was used by the Christians in hiding to display the places where everyone could meet and worship. They could be seen on trees or gateways or even tombs, and at the same time, the fish symbol was often used by some pagan religions, so that no one could guess what religion it was.
3. THE FISH (ICHTHYS) COULD BE USED TO DETERMINE WHO WAS A CHRISTIAN AND AN ENEMY.
A tale about the fish symbol says that the fish was used as a means of differentiating anyone who was a Christian and someone who was trying to persecute Christians. Whenever two people meet each other, one of them who is a Christian would draw the first half of the fish in the sand to see if the other person can correctly draw the remaining half of the fish, to determine whether the other person is a fellow Christian or not. If when drawn and the other person did not complete the drawing of the fish, it would look like an innocent person was drawing in the sand. It also represented a way for Christians to stand up against the sin of idol worshipping, which was prevalent among the Roman Empire and other cultures at the time.
4. CHRISTIAN FISH REFERS TO SEVERAL BIBLICAL REFERENCES TO FISH IN THE BIBLE.
Several people may recall references in the Bible to fish, such as Jesus feeding five thousand with just five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:34-44). Also, Jesus called His disciples “fishers of men,” when He appointed them as disciples to help propagate to the gospel to others so that they might know that Jesus is their Savior (Matthew 4:19). The kingdom of heaven is also liken unto a net that gathers all kinds of people into the kingdom of God and that conveys the example of fishing (Matthew 13:47). We should not also forget that Jesus cooked fish for His disciples and proved himself to be their Lord after His resurrection from the grave (John 21:9-14).
What all these verses of the Scriptures relay is the notion that fish is a significant element in the Bible, where it wasn’t only used to bring fellowship and love of Jesus to all but also to present the Kingdom of God visually and powerfully to believers. The verses include the belief that when we show the grace and love of Jesus to others (like a net), we will bring lost people who need the savior’s love into the fold of Christ.
5. THERE ARE SEVERAL OTHER FORMS OF FISH USED TODAY.
Just as the Christian fish symbol became well known again in the 1960s and beyond, those who believe otherwise from the Christian faith have made their beliefs clear through alternative displays of Christian fish.
Evolutionists (those who believe that we have evolved from the earth, not God), Star Trek fans, and even those who worship pasta, have changed the Christian fish to represent their beliefs instead of what the Christian fish symbol stands for. When you come across someone who has these “unique” symbols on their cars, bodies, or in any other places, choose to pray for them so that they will recognize what God is trying to tell them and find the peace they need in the Savior.
It is an iconic representation of the faith that we hold dear to our lives, the belief that God has sent Jesus to earth to show the love of God and died for our sins, so we can all be reunited with God through the acceptance of Jesus and the Holy Spirit—just having Christian fish on your shirt, at the end of your email, or on your business card isn’t enough to take the place of a relationship with Jesus that you can have through faith.
What is expected is that by seeing this Christian fish symbol around, you will remember Jesus and His desire for everyone to be “fishers of men.” Take this understanding of the Christian fish to heart and let it influence your life and your daily choices. Remember those who used this symbol worshipped their Lord even in the face of trial, tribulation and death; be astounding in knowing that the simple design of a fish has kept Christianity alive and well during the dark times of history. As you learn more about the truth behind this memorable symbol, we hope is that you will find yourself drawn to be a fisherman who will lead others to Christ and to the love of God who never disappoints.
THE NECESSITY OF THE EARLY SYMBOL USED
The early Christians were persecuted both by the government and by the religious leaders of their day. Roman emperors frequently regarded themselves as gods and demanded that people worship them accordingly. The Christianity religion, in which Jesus Christ is worshiped, was a challenge to these emperors and their rule. Because of this, these believers in Christ had to keep their faith hidden from the government.
The Jews also believed that these Christians worshiped a false god. Because Christians followed Jesus Christ, Jewish religious leaders tried to squash what they believed to be a new and blasphemous religion. As a result, Christians had to hide from the Jewish leaders that they were followers of Christ.
The fish symbol was a means with which Christians could identify with each other without the recognition of the government or religious leaders. Upon meeting a new person, the believer would draw half of the fish symbol on the earth, and the other person would either complete the other half of the symbol, thus revealing himself or herself as a Christian, or would not recognize the action of the believer, thus revealing himself or herself as an unbeliever. Since the unbeliever cannot put meaning to the believer’s actions, the religious beliefs of the believer would remain hidden.
WHAT ELSE IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE FISH?
The Greek character for alpha is similar to the fish symbol, so also is the omega when rotated by 90°. This may also have had some impact on the decision of Christians to adopt the symbol since Jesus Christ calls himself “the Alpha and the Omega” – the beginning and the end.
SINK OR SWIM
The cross became a more familiar symbol for Christians in the 4th century, and the symbolism of the fish gradually vanished.
In recent years, some Christian groups have tried to offer a fresh new look to their faith by reviving fish as an alternative icon. Some claim that this is a rational ‘downgrading’ of the cross, which they say should not be regarded as a deity (being mindful of not giving respect to the image of the fish). Other groups prefer the cross because the fish’s symbol does not directly reflect the sacrifice of Christ. Luckily for Christians, they will make their own choices.
DOES FISH SLEEP?
Sure, fish sleeps. But it does not close its eyes, neither does it snore, nor steal a blanket from it partner. If they dream, we don’t know what they dream about. Fish sleep differs from human sleep such that when a fish sleep it reduces it activity and metabolism, although several fishes keep moving to keep the flow of oxygenated water through their gills, enabling them to breathe.
Because their eyes are constantly surrounded by water, they don’t need to moisten them like we do when we blink, so most fish don’t have eyelids. The association of fish with religion is that with ever-open eyes, the fish reminds us that God is always watching what we do.
PRESENT DAY USAGE
The importance of the fish symbol in the United States appears to be more decorative than anything else. American Christians do not worry that they we will be put to death or jailed for their faith, so the symbol stuck in cars and other objects serves to identify the user as a believer of Jesus Christ.
A word of caution for those who learn about this symbol: first of all, one is not a Christian by merely spotting a fish icon on his or her car. One is a Christian if he or she knows him or herself to be a sinner, repented of that sinful way, and committed his or her life to Jesus Christ. A life lived for Jesus is a much better witness than a plastic fish in a car.
Second, be sure to take a close look at any fish symbol you’ve noticed in public. There are several parodies and mockeries in existence. Evolutionists, Pastafarians (a joke religion that pretends to worship pasta), and even Trekkies (avid fans of Star Trek) have shaped the Christian fish symbol to express their interests because you see a fish symbol on someone’s vehicle doesn’t mean that they’re your spiritual brother or sister in Christ.
WHY THE FISH AND NOT THE CROSS?
Early Christians did not need a reminder of how Jesus died; they saw it too often in its most hideous form. Also, in the fish symbol, an X-shaped cross can be seen in the tail.
In the miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes, the fish is a symbol of baptism and, as such, an appropriate symbol to be adopted by Christians. Fish swim in deep water but do not drown; indeed, they need to be immersed in water to survive. In the same way, to live spiritually, we need to be baptized by immersion in the waters of Christ’s love, the love he displayed by dying on the cross.
After Christ’s crucifixion, his disciples were persecuted, and the image of the fish was used as an identification mark that fellow Christians would know, but other unbeliever would not decipher. Christians may then communicate with each other using a secret code, such as a fish symbol, without exposing themselves to the oppressors.
The fish was considered significant enough to be mentioned several times in the Bible, and more recently, there have been many additional thoughts about the early use of this symbol.
The Christian fish symbol seen in cars and other places is a sign of Christianity. It was originally designed to allow Christians to identify each other while also preventing those hostile to Christianity from identifying believers. Today, in America and most parts of the world, the symbol can be displayed without fear of government persecution. The Christian fish symbol should be displayed to remind the Christian to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, show other Christians that they are not alone, and call upon non-believers to consider Christianity’s claims.