Ichthys: The Meaning of the Christian Fish Symbol
Understanding Christian symbols often requires going back further than the time it was adapted into the religion 🕵️♂️. The Ichthys or the fish symbol is no exception to that.
This Christian symbol is believed to have been around for far longer than it has been used just in the Christian religion, and we’ll explore just how it’s managed to evolve over time and become a truly important piece of the puzzle.
We’ll look at a little more of the origination of both the symbol and the word, and how these two things were able to allow Christians to meet in safety throughout a period when Christianity was banned ✝️.
1) Ichthys – The Origin of the Symbol
The original origin of the fish symbol was actually in Greek culture, back in the first century AD. In fact, at that time the symbol was used to represent fertility and was considered a pagan talisman. In fact, during those times the symbol was used to mean ‘vessel of fish’ and the culture considered ‘fish’ and ‘womb’ to be nearly the same word 🐟.
As a result, the image of the fish was actually a representation of the female sexual organ and was used as a representation of all female goddesses and likewise of women in the general world as well.
The Christian fish symbol, known more commonly then as Vesica Piscis, was used to represent the strength and power of the feminine kind ♀️.
It was used as an exclusive representation of women, fertility, and sexuality. In fact, it’s a well-known fact among many Christian scholars that this symbol was synonymous with the power of female fertility and the female body 👱♀️.
While those who practice Christianity may not always understand the origination of the symbol, it has been found repeatedly in ancient text and what we know of the ancient world. In fact, the familiarity that there was with the symbol and its prevalence during that time frame were the main reasons that the symbol has been adapted as it was.
2) Ichthys – The Greek Etymology
The word ‘ichthys’ is actually a Greek word 🇬🇷 for fish and was therefore adopted to go along with the symbol. You can also see in this symbol an inscription with Greek letters: IXNYY (with the N flipped) representing the acronym for :
- I – Iota or Iesous in Greek for Jesus
- X – Chi or Christos in Greek for Christ
- N – Theta or Theou in Greek for God
- Y – Upsilon or Yidos/Huios in Greek for Son
- Y – Sigma or Soter in Greek for Savior
These letters from the Greek alphabet represent the sentence “Jesus Christ God’s Son is Savior”
A. Ichthys or Ichthus?
The word itself has been seen spelled in several different ways, though the original Greek shows it spelled either ‘ichthys’ or ‘ichthus.’ It seems, in the research of the Greek language, that ‘ichthus’ may be the more authentic version, though both have been used interchangeably.
B. How to Pronounce "Ichthys"?
In ancient times this would have been pronounced by the Greeks as ICK-thous though it is more commonly pronounced as ICK-thees in more modern adaptations 🗣️. This is likely because of changes to general pronunciation within the common English language versus the ancient Greek.
3) The Fish Symbol in Christianity
The fish first became associated with Christianity in around the second century AD., when it became a secret symbol used by Christians to meet 🤫. In fact, Christians felt that, as Jesus was a ‘fisher of men,’ the symbol was most fitting in telling fellow Christians that they wanted to get together and helping them to determine the time and place of the gathering.
The symbolism of the fish 🐟 was also widely used in a number of different religions, early churches, and organizations. As a result, it was one that seemed safe for those who wanted their gathering to be kept a secret.
A.The Fish Symbol as a Code for Persecuted Christians
In the 1st century, during the Roman persecution of Christians, the fish symbol was used by Christians in secret to indicate meeting places and worship. They could be seen on trees, doors or even graves. This symbol was also used by some pagan religions, so it did not arouse suspicion about what it really was 🤔.
Even more, the ichthys symbol could be used to determine whether someone else was a fellow Christian or an enemy 👍🏻.
Christians would draw out half of the fish into the sand and wait for the individual that they were with to respond. If nothing happened it meant the other person was not a Christian, but the symbol in the sand looked like nothing. If the other person completed the image of the fish in the sand then it was clear that they were also a Christian and that the two could communicate safely 🙂.
Over time, however, the symbol has grown to mean even more within Christianity today. it is still used to symbolize a follower of Christianity, appearing on car decals, bumper stickers 🚗, shirts and a number of mass market goods. Christians use the symbol in a number of different ways, and it has become a symbol of more than just a secret meeting.
Rather, it is a symbol of Christian beliefs and faith. It is a symbol of Lord Jesus Christ himself and many Christians believe that it is representative of much more than even the humble origins of its role in early Christianity 🙏🏻.
4) Reference to the Fish in the Bible (Ichthys)
When we look to the Bible we see a number of references to fish and the importance of them within the Christian faith. In fact, this symbol of Christianity appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in several places throughout the Bible 📕.
This seems to make it even more apparent that the ichthys symbol has a great meaning within the Christian faith and has always had a strong meaning within the beliefs of followers as well. In fact, each of these sections of scripture shows the way in which Jesus has used the Christian fish to draw his followers and to show them the power of himself and of God ✊🏻.
Specific Bible verses that mention the power of fish within the Bible and to the Christian faith are below:
And they said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish."
He said, "Bring them here to Me."
Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.
So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained.
But He answered and said to them, "You give them something to eat." And they said to Him, "Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?"
But He said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." And when they found out they said, "Five, and two fish."
hen He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.
So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.
And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.
So they all ate and were filled.
But He said to them, "You give them something to eat." And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people."
For there were about five thousand men. Then He said to His disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of fifty."
And they did so, and made them all sit down.
Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.
So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.
"There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?"
Then Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.
So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."
Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind"
Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.
Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught."
Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.
Jesus said to them, "Come and eat breakfast." Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, "Who are You?"--knowing that it was the Lord.
Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.
🔍 Understanding the fish symbol and the way in which it relates to the Christian faith helps us to better understand the ancient aspect of faith and the ways in which followers have used it for centuries.