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One of the earliest, and most common, symbols used by the Christians was the Ikthus, or Fish. We see used it today in its plainest form, two swooping lines, and in more elaborate forms with the inclusion of a small cross, the word JESUS, or the Greek ΙΧΘΥΣ within the classic fish shape. There’s more than one reason the Early Christians chose the symbol of a fish.
FISHERS OF MEN
The use of the fish symbol reminds one of the familiar scene in Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 1:17 and Luke 5:2-11. In all of these passages, Jesus, who has returned from his 40 days of preparation in the desert, begins to gather his first disciples. While walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Gennesaret as the Jews called it, Jesus encounters Simon and his brother, Andrew and invites them to become his followers with enigmatic phrase, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Luke elaborates on the scene a bit and places the men in their boat after a night of luckless fishing. Jesus tells them to put down their nets for a catch, they do, and the nets fill to the point of bursting. True to form, Simon’s responds by saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
THE ACROSTIC OF THE FISH
An acrostic is a word or phrase in which each letter stands for a word. We’ve all heard the song that spells mother by starting with, “M is for many things she gave me…” Acrostics are closely related to acronyms, which are an abbreviation formed from the initial components of a word or phrase…for instance, OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Association), the dreaded FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and so on. There’s probably a vacation travel game lurking in our penchant for acronyms. It surely beats license plate bingo, but we digress.
The Greek word for fish is IKTHUS, spelled ΙΧΘΥΣ. Using those five letters, we can develop a phrase in the following way:With the Iota, we create the word Ιησονς…Iesous.
Using the next letter, Chi, yields the word Χριστος…Christos.
The Theta yields Θεος, Theos…God.
With the Tau, we make Υιος, Uihos…Son.
And the Sigma, gives us Σωτηρ, Soter…Savior.
As the song says, put them altogether and you get Iesous the Christos, God’s Son and our Savior.
A MEANS OF COMMUNICATION
The simple image of the fish, or ikthus, became a means of identification for members of what the Romans considered a subversive cult. We find this simple symbol so rich in meaning scattered throughout the earliest examples of Christian art.
|An Ancient Grave Carving Using the FISH|
No one knows for sure who created it or when. However, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that it was in Antioch that the believers were first called Christians. Antioch was a thoroughly Greek city and former capitol of the Seleucid Empire. In the First Century it quickly became a leading center of the Early Church. It was the place from which Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Silvanus and others left on their earliest missionary journeys. It was also the place to which they returned to rest, re-energize, and prepare for the next trip.
This coupled with the fact that the fish relies upon a Greek spelling of the word to convey its message, tends to lead one to the assumption that it, like the word Christian, originated in or around Antioch of Syria. Think about that the next time you see the symbol on the back of someone’s car.
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.
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