Christianity Knowledge Base

The ichthys or fish symbol represents Christianity

Ichthys (Greek: ἰχθύς; also transliterated and latinized as ichthys, icthus, or ikhthus), is the Greek word for "fish." It refers to a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs resembling the profile of a fish, used by early Christians as a secret symbol and now known colloquially as the "Jesus fish."


While some fish symbols predate Christianity, relating to fertility, female genitalia, and fish, this particular symbol seems to have been used primarily by early Christians to inform one another of their particular faith.

It is believed that societies of Christians in the early Roman Empire, prior to the Edict of Milan, protected their congregations by keeping their meetings secret. In order to point the way to ever-changing meeting places, they developed a symbol which adherents would readily recognize, and which they could scratch on rocks, walls and the like, in advance of a meeting. Another story suggests that the ichthys was used as a sort of secret handshake: one person would draw with a staff a single curve, (half of the ichthys) in the sand, and another person could confirm their identity as a Christian by completing the symbol. Alternatively, one would draw the symbol, and another person would confirm their faith by drawing an eye on it.

There are several hypotheses as to why the fish was chosen. The most probable is that it is a reference to the scripture in which Jesus miraculuously feeds 5000 people with fish and bread (Matthew 14:15-21, Luke 9:12-17, and John 6:4-13). The ichthys also may relate to Jesus as a "fisher of men," or an acronym of the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ (Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma) to the statement of Christian faith "᾿Ιησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ" (Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior").

Though there is no direct evidence, the ichthys may simply be an adaptation of the mystic/mathematical symbol known as the Vesica piscis. The length-height ratio of the vesica piscis, as expressed by the mystic and mathematician Pythagoras, is 153:265, a mystical number known as "the measure of the fish." In the biblical story in which Jesus aids his disciples to catch fish, Jesus catches exactly 153 fish.

Other reasons include the fact that the Apostles of Christ were often referred to as "fishers of men" (Mark 1:17: "Come after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.") Some other sources also suggest that fish symbol was chosen because the Hebrew pronounciation of "Christ" is very similar to that of "fish" in Hebrew.

Some theories about the Historicity of Jesus suggest that Christianity adopted certain beliefs and practices as a syncretism of certain mystery religions, and this may be the origin of the Icthys into Christian circles. However, there is very little evidence of such mystery religions surfacing until after the rise of Christianity.

Adaptations of the symbol[]

The ichthys symbol has been re-adopted by modern Christians as a badge, often with the word "JESUS" in the center of the symbol. Applied to the rear bumper of a car, the symbol is used to indicate to the world that the owner is a Christian. Historically, this adaptation was based on an earlier symbol which included a fish with the Greek letters "ΙΧΘΥΣ" or "ΙΧΘΥΣ" or a small cross. These letters are sometimes confused for the Latin letters "IXOYE".

Local businesses in some areas will incorporate the symbol into their logo.

It is important to note that not all cars displaying this symbol do so for Christian reasons. Certain car manufacturers (for example some in the UK), use this symbol on certain brands of car (for example, the Alfa Romeo).

This badge may also be seen in email signatures with the symbols "<><".

Another adaptation of ichthys is a wheel which contains the letters ΙΧΘΥΣ superimposed in such a way such that the final collection looks like a common wagon-wheel.

Other symbolism associated with the fish[]

The constellation Pisces comprises a set of dim and scattered stars that trace the images of two widely separated fish joined by a knotted cord. One fish, swimming upward, faces east toward Aries, while the other fish swims westward toward Aquarius along the plane of the ecliptic. The directions of motion of the two fish form a cross, the symbol of the Christian religion -- the upright line of the cross representing spirit and the horizontal line signifying matter.

See also[]

External links[]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).