What is the meaning of the ‘fish’ symbol?
Perhaps you’ve seen those magnetic fish symbols on car trunks, or smaller version crafted into items of jewellery. Sometimes you may have noticed odd lettering within the design. You may have wondered just what is the significance of the fish and the lettering?
The first four disciples Jesus called were all fishermen by trade: the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, and the two brothers James and John. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matt. 4:19). Likewise Jesus commissions all believers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). So it is not surprising that the fish came to represent the early Christians.
The simple fish symbol is comprised of two crescent arcs. Because of this it was possible for two persons to meet face-to-face and one could with a stroke of his walking stick draw an arc on the sand or soil. If the other individual was also a believer he could respond in like manner by drawing an arc in such a way as to complete the fish symbol. If he was not a believer the first person’s marking would not have given him away. Remember, this was a time of great persecution.
Today the “fish” symbol is also sometimes represented by keyboard strokes:
I CH TH Y S, or I CH TH U S are English transliterations of the five Greek letters which in that language spell the word “fish.” These five Greek letters also comprise an acrostic which translates “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” [Iota or Iesous (Jesus), Chi or Christos (Christ), Theta or Theou (God), Upsilon or Yidos/Huios (Son), and Sigma or Soter (Savior)]. In English “ichthyology” means the study of fish.
Interestingly the first letter of the Greek alphabet, “Alpha,” looks very similar to the symbol, and the last letter “Omega,” is also somewhat like it tipped sideways. in the book of Revelation Jesus is described as “the Alpha and the Omega” The One “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8), “the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).
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