You might have seen a fish sign on some church doors, spotted a car with this sign, or knew a person with a fish tattoo. Most of these symbols have Jesus’ name written inside them, raising many questions about why people link the fish drawing to Jesus. This brings us to the question, “what does Jesus Fish mean?”.
Jesus’ fish, also called the Ichthys, is a Christianity symbol or a code, just like the cross. Early Christians started using this symbol in the 2nd century to represent their faith, a time in which they faced serious persecution from the Romans. Due to this, Christians could gather together in secret places with a ‘Jesus’ fish’ at its entrance. This way, a Christian could easily recognize where other Christians were and join them in worship.
So, where did Jesus’ fish come from? The Ichthys’ Symbolic meaning? What is the significance of fish in the Bible? How did early Christians use Jesus’ fish? How did the ‘Jesus Fish’ become a Symbol of Christianity? Was Jesus’ Fish always used as a symbol of Christianity? How is the Jesus fish used by Christians today? Stick around to know the answers to these questions.
Where did Jesus’ fish come from?
You might wonder why the early Christians chose the fish to represent their faith and not any other animal. Bible scholars from Got Question ministries suggest that the early Christians came up with this symbol, as they recognized Jesus by his name, ‘Jesus Christ,’ who he was, ‘Son of God’ and who he was to them, ‘Savior.’ They further argue that Jesus Fish originated from four Greek phrases, which were acronymed to one word.
These phrases were Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ’, meaning Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and Savior, respectively. When you take the first letter from each word and put it together, you will come up with ‘ΙΧΘΥΣ.’ When translated into English, the final word is a Greek word, which means fish. Since the early Christians knew Jesus by the three titles mentioned above, they saw it fit to use the fish as their symbol of faith when they could not openly practice their beliefs.
The Ichthys’ Symbolic Meaning?
The Ichthys’, which means Jesus Fish symbol, has a special meaning connected to Christianity. Blair Parke, a writer for BiblestudyTools.com, states that Ichthys’ is a Greek word usually accompanied by an inscription of five letters ‘IXNYY. The N is always flipped. These five letters have a representation that leads us to understand why early Christians associated this symbol with Christianity.
The first letter, ‘I,’ means lesous or Iota in Greek, which means Jesus when translated into English. The second letter, ‘X,’ means Christos or Chi, which means Christ when loosely translated to English. In addition, the third letter ‘N’ means Theou or Theta in Greek and God in English. ‘Y,’ the fourth letter, means Huios or Upsilon in Greek and Son in English. Lastly, the letter ‘Y’ means sigma or Soter, which is Savior when translated into English. When you arrange these meanings into a sentence, you will get (Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and Savior). The early Christians rephrased it to mean Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and Savior.
Significance of Fish in the Bible
While early Christians might have used the Jesus fish symbol to identify their fellows, the use of fish in the Bible has a deeper significance that any bible reader cannot ignore. When we read the Bible, we see different occasions in which Jesus was associated with the word fish.
For instance, in Mathew 4:18-20, we see that Jesus called his first disciples, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew when they were fishing. Jesus calls them to be his disciples and promises them that he will teach them how to fish people. This narration has significance to today’s Christians, as they are encouraged to stop focusing on earthly things (physical fish) and instead focus on expanding the Kingdom of God by spreading and teaching the word of God.
The second incident when we see Jesus interacting with fish is in Mathew 14:15-21 where Jesus feeds a total of 5000 people from the five loaves of bread and two fish he was given. Before he fed them, Jesus’ disciples had begged him to chase them away, as evening was nearing and the crowd was hungry. Instead of doing what the disciples requested, Jesus performed a miracle by multiplying fish and bread to feed all the people. This is significant to today’s Christians, as with Jesus’ act, Christians are encouraged to walk with other Christians and not abandon them in times of their needs. This way, the Kingdom of God will increase by numbers.
Another instance where fish is mentioned in the Bible is in John 21:9-14 when Jesus resurrected. Jesus is requesting some of the fish that Simon Peter had just caught. He invites his disciples to eat with him as part of the last meal they would ever share with him. Theologians have linked this scripture to how Jesus encourages modern Christians to unite and fellowship with each other.
How did early Christians use Jesus’ Fish?
Jesus’ fish was used in two main ways by the early Christians. First, religious scholars from Lord Guidance ministries have suggested that Jesus’ fish was used as a symbol for Christians to identify their secret places of worship and meetings. Christians were persecuted and killed by the Roman Empire during that time, so their lives were constantly threatened.
To keep themselves from being killed and still worshipping, they decided to meet in secret places, such as houses, where they would worship without being caught. For every Christian to identify this, a sign or symbol had to be placed at the entrance of any worshipping place for easier identification.
Another way that early Christians used the Jesus Fish was to communicate amongst themselves. The most common story about this is that the early Christians had the least options of knowing each other, which is why they resolved to use these symbols to know each other.
For instance, when a Christian meets a stranger on the road, they would quickly draw the first part of the fish and insist the other person complete the last fish drawing. If the stranger perfectly drew the remaining part of the fish, the Christian would automatically know that that is their fellow Christian and therefore interact.
How Did the ‘Jesus Fish’ become a Symbol of Christianity?
As explained earlier, Jesus’ fish mainly became a symbol of Christianity regarding how early Christians viewed Jesus Christ. Most early Christians were Greeks, so they used the Greek language in communication and writing. Early Christians identified Jesus as ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and their savior.’ This is why they took each first word from their famous four phrases and came up with one word that meant fish when translated into English.
Since they were being persecuted and wanted a way to identify themselves, they saw it fit to use the fish symbol to represent their faith in Jesus. Some Bible scholars also suggest that the early Christians decided to use the fish symbol as a representation of their religion, as many pagans were currently using it, therefore making it hard to recognize them.
During the persecution, the Romans could have sensed something was not right if they had woken up to a different or new symbol amongst themselves. This would have likely rose questions, and they would have been tempted to invade the places with this sign to know what was happening. Using a sign already being used, the Romans did not catch what was happening as it was impossible to differentiate the Roman fish symbol from the Christian fish symbol.
Was Jesus’ Fish always used as a symbol of Christianity?
Jesus’ fish was never a symbol of Christianity but was used by pagans. Religious scholars note that the fish symbol was being used by pagans early before Christians adopted it. The fish symbol represents fertility and is therefore considered a pagan talisman.
Additionally, this symbol represented female sexual organs and all women and goddesses. The early Christians also decided to adopt this symbol, as their symbol had a different meaning from the pagans, making it okay.
How is the Jesus Fish used by Christians today?
The Jesus fish is used by Christians today to acknowledge their faith in him and how they recognize him. Just as early Christians knew Jesus as their Savior, today’s Christians base their belief in him, and they continue to spread the word as they fellowship with one another as they wait for the Kingdom of God.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.