Let’s Go Fishing!

Christians have a long history of persecution. They lost their jobs and their homes and were forced to flee. Can you imagine escaping to a new city in a new country and not knowing who to trust? One of the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish. It was a simple design: two arcs intersecting.

It served as a sign and a countersign. If you encountered a stranger but suspected he might be a Christian, you could take your walking stick and casually scribe an arc in the dust. If the stranger smiled and drew another arc over yours – making the fish – you breathed a sigh of relief and rejoiced to have found the family. The symbol was also put-on buildings that served a secret purpose as a meeting place for Christians and marking Christian graves.

But why a fish? Like doves and lambs, fish have long served as a Christian symbol. Do you remember when Jesus called his disciples to become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16 – 18)? Likewise, the Lord multiplied loaves and fish to feed the hungry (twice!) He told parables about catching fish (Matthew 13:47 – 50) and performed two miracles of miraculous catches of fish. In Matthew 17, Jesus tells Peter to catch a fish, and the apostle found a coin in its mouth to pay their taxes. 

The best explanation of the symbol is found in the Greek word for fish: ichthus. (ἸΧΘΥϹ See the Third Century Funerary stele below.) Like news (north – east – west – south), radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging), or NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), ichthus is an acrostic (in Greek):

  • Iota (i), Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), “Jesus”
  • Chi (ch), Christos (Χριστός), “anointed”
  • Theta (th), Theou (Θεοῦ), “God’s,” the genitive singular of Θεóς, Theos, “God”
  • Upsilon (y or u), (h)yios[8] (Yἱός), “Son”
  • Sigma (s), sōtēr (Σωτήρ), “Savior”

— Wikipedia

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In the early 1970s, the fish symbol became popular for Christians once more. Sadly, you see it most often on the bumpers of cars blasting by you on the freeway.

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