Many people often wonder how Christianity came to have a fish (ichthus, ichthys) as one of its symbols. Where did the fish symbol come from? How did the fish symbol become tied to Christianity? The truth is the fish has been a part of Christianity even before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ started His Ministry.
The book of Matthew gives us the first glimpse into the Ministry of Christ with reference to the fish. Let us document that fact and discover the history of the fish within Christianity by turning our Bible too,
18 “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.”
19 “And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Christ’s Words were simply, “Follow Me.” We should note, it is not known if the rest of the Disciples who later became the Apostles were fishermen or not. However, we do know Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9-13).
20 “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”
These ordinary fishermen were converted to fishers of men as were the other Apostles. Peter and Andrew asked no questions, instead they did as Christ instructed and that is our example today as well. When we share the Word of God with others we should consider the ways of fishermen.
We should present spiritual food which is the Word of God before the fish who are the people of the world. When they become hungry for that spiritual food we feed them our Father’s Word. Some of these fish will embrace that nourishment and seek out more leaping right into our ships. It is these ships that have embarked on an epic voyage. A voyage that leads to the harbor of our Father and His Eternal Kingdom. Remember the story of Noah my friends, those who entered the ship were saved.
From the day of Christ’s simple statement, “Follow Me,” the fish would be a part of Christianity forever more. The fish is also tied to one of the many miracles Christ performed. Please turn your Bible with me to.
15 “And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.”
16 “But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.”
17 “And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.”
Matthew 14:21 will document the crowd consisted of five thousand men not counting the woman and children.
18 “He said, Bring them hither to me.”
19 “And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”
Take note of the order Christ laid out for us. Everything is orderly. Christ had everyone sit down on the grass. He then looked to our Father to thank Him for the bread and fish and then gave it to His Disciples to feed the multitude. The point is Christ will provide, but we must do the work to bring that spiritual nourishment to the people, we must become fishermen.
20 “And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.”
We are talking about a crowd of well over ten thousand souls when we factor in the men, their woman and children. This is an amazing miracle, all feed by five loaves of bread and two fish. We should always remember, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in, “with God all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:26).
I would like to bring forward one more example of Jesus Christ and the fish. Please turn your Bible with me to,
1 “After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.”
2 “There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.”
3 “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.”
They caught nothing. Why? Christ will make the point if the Disciples listen to Christ they will become great fishers of men.
4 “But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.”
5 “Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.”
6 “And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.”
As we read, simply adhering to the Words of Christ can truly reap a bountiful harvest. Christ never said fish on the left side of the boat, He said fish from the right side and that my friends is where we should also cast our spiritual nets as well… As the Disciples were fishers of men, so are we.
The Use of the Fish Symbol
The use of the fish symbol by early Christians dates back to about the first century (AD). Early Christians created an acrostic from the Greek word “Ichthus” (ichthys) which means “fish” in English.
ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthus) is an acronym/acrostic for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”, (Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr), which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour“.
- Iota (i) is the first letter of Iēsous (Ἰησοῦς), Greek for “Jesus”.
- Chi (ch) is the first letter of Christos (Χριστός), Greek for “anointed”.
- Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Θεου), Greek for “God’s”, the genitive case of Θεóς, Theos, Greek for “God”.
- Upsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)uios (Υἱός), Greek for “Son”.
- Sigma (s) is the first letter of sōtēr (Σωτήρ), Greek for “Savior”.
I would like to point out; in times of old, it was very dangerous to be a Christian. Due to that reason, it is believed the symbol of the fish was used to identify Christians in early times. On a lonely path when two strangers meet one person might draw one of the arcs that make up the fish symbol and if the other party recognized the mark they would finish the arch completing the symbol of the fish. This would have been a sure way to identify good company.
The Time of Jonah
It is true the fish has been a symbol used by pagans since times of old. History seems to indicate the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia, specifically during the time of Jonah believed in Dagon the fish god.
Is it any wonder then that our Father caused Jonah to be swallowed by the great fish He created and then expelled out onto the shore where fish god worshippers could witness the miracle? I believe this is exactly what happened. Jonah 3:1-10 will document Jonah went to Nineveh and immediately there was a complete conversion of the great city which was the largest in Assyria. This conversion included the king who made a degree that all should turn from their evil ways and turn to our Father in Heaven. Pagan fish god worshippers would not have converted so quickly unless they were convinced by the miracle of Jonah.
But the account of Jonah goes far deeper than this. You see Jonah died in the belly of the great fish that was prepared by our Father. Please turn your Bible with me and listen to the words of Jonah.
6 “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.”
Jonah is explaining that he drown in the sea. Our Father prepared this great fish to swallow Jonah’s body in order to bring him to shore. This word “corruption” (Strong’s word: 7845) means, “destruction, ditch, grave, pit.” Jonah had indeed passed on for three days and after those three days our Father brought life back into Jonah’s flesh body.
Christ would document this fact in a conversation He had with the Pharisees. Please turn your Bible with me to,
39 “But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:”
Christ has just stated Jonah would be a sign…
40 “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Christ has just stated that He would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights just as Jonah was in the whale’s belly. Every Christian knows Christ in the flesh died and was placed in the tomb for those three days. Christ just documented that Jonah died as well. Further, as Jonah was the sign for Christ, we know Christ rose three days after His death which documents to us Jonah rose three days after his death as well. Just as Jonah and the fish were a sign of Christ, Christ and the fish became a sign to us.
41 “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”
Notice Christ also documents for us the men of Nineveh repented. They immediately repented after they witnessed Jonah being expelled from the mouth of the great fish onto the shore. What a miracle that must have been to behold.
While many think Jonah was a coward and ran from God, nothing could be further from the truth. Jonah was chosen (Elect) by our Father for a purpose, yet Jonah was willing to sacrifice his life and soul to save his people. We should understand it was prophesied long ago Nineveh would destroy Jonah’s people and take them captive. So the last thing Jonah wanted to do was save Nineveh (Assyria), but disobeying God can bring forward the destruction of one’s soul. In the end, however, Jonah did exactly what God had instructed Him and truthfully it was God who lead Jonah down the road he traveled all along.
Our Father had the account of the fish from Jonah to Christ all planned out long before the events ever took place. Whether we know it or not, God’s way is the right way even if we do not realize it at the time. We should take this example to heart on our voyage through these end times. While the waves of the sea rage which are the events of our world we should understand our Father is right beside us leading and guiding us just as He was for Jonah. Let His Word be the compass that navigates us through this stormy world.
In closing, I hope this study has given you a much deeper insight into the history and origins of the fish symbol within Christianity. We can see the fish has not only been a part of Christianity since the time of Christ, but the foundation was set long ago.