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FISH SYMBOL


Photo By Lonnie Paulson ©www.lonniepaulsonphoto.com

What is the origin of the Christian Fish Symbol?

In first century Christianity fish was very popular as a source of food; it has been recorded that there were many commercial fishing boats on the sea of Galilee at that time. First century Jewish historian Josephus wrote that 330 fishing boats were in operation on the Sea of Galilee.1 The Galilean fishing industry was so successful that it produced a thriving export business.2 Some of the disciples of Jesus were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to Peter and his brother Andrew to follow Him.“And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”  (Matthew 4:19 NKJV®)


Sea of Galilee

Jesus did many miracles which involved fish. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread. He also fed 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish. Jesus tells Peter to pay the temple tax with a coin that he finds in the first fish that he hooks. (Matthew 17:24-27)

After the resurrection Jesus visits seven of His disciples on the sea shore. He asked them if they have any food. They tell Him no. Jesus said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did this they were not able to draw the net in because of the multitude of the fish. (John 21:4-6)

During the first century there was a lot of persecution of Christians. Christians would use this fish symbol to mark places where they would meet for Christian fellowship. While traveling, when a Christian met a stranger on the road he would bend down and draw an arc in the dirt of the road. If the other stranger was a Christian he would know that arc is part of the Christian identifying symbol and would finish the drawing by adding the second arc. This symbol attracted less suspicion then a drawing of the Roman cross.



One of the most common languages spoken in the Roman empire during the first century was Greek. These Greek speaking Christians used five words: Ιησους, χριστος, θεος, υιος, and σωτηρ. They made an acrostic from these five words. Together the five Greek letters, ΙΧΦΥΣ (upper case) ιχθυς (lower case) spell the Greek word for fish. Ιχθυς is where we get our word ichthyology which is a branch of zoology for the scientific study of fish.3

FISH SYMBOL PAGE:END NOTES

1. Lawrence O. Richards, Ph.D., General Editor & Writer; The Revell Bible Dictionary; Fleming H. Revell a division of Baker Book House Co. Grand Rapids, MI 49516 (1990) [Josephus wrote that 330 fishing boats were operational on the Sea of Galilee] p 413.

2. John J. Bimson, Consulting Editor; Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places; Baker Book House Co. Grand Rapids, MI 49516 ©1995 Inter-Varsity Press; [produced a flourishing fishing export trade] p 138.

3. Justo L. González, The Story Of Christianity Vol. 1; HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 10022 (1984) [Christian fish symbol] p 100.