The fish has been an important symbol for Christians for a very long time. This symbol has been traced back to the times of intense persecution upon the early church. Why would they use the symbol of a fish? Was it because some of the disciples were fishermen? Or because Jesus told them that they would be fishers of men? Surprisingly, the reason has nothing to do with the fishermen references, but the Greek word for fish.

An Ancient Acrostic

An acrostic is a word that has special meaning attached to each letter of the word. For example, we often refer to grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. It is an easy way to remember the meaning of grace.

The Greek word for “fish” is an ancient acrostic about who Jesus is. The Greek word is “ΙΧΘΥΣ”, pronounced “ichthus”. I always thought that was just the Greek word for Jesus. It is the word for fish, and the early church assigned meaning to each letter.

Greek Letter Greek Word English Word
Ι Ἰησοῦς Jesus
Χ Χριστός Christ
Θ Θεου God’s
Υ Υἱός Son
Σ Σωτήρ Savior

An Ancient Identification

When the church experienced severe persecution in the Roman Empire, the fish symbol also became useful for identifying other Christians. When a Christian met someone new and thought that person might believe in Jesus, they would casually draw an arc on the ground. If the other person completed the fish sign then they would know that they both believed in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, as their Savior.