The Christian Fish
The Christian fish became an early secret symbol for the persecuted Christians as they lived their lives in constant fear of the then hostile government of the Roman Empire. Although the single original motivation for its adaptation as a Christian symbol may never be known, the symbol is certainly appropriate and biblically relevant. Jesus called his first disciples directly from the fishing trade and declared that they would become fishers of men (Matt. 4:19; Mark 1:17; cf. Jer. 16:16). Two fish (and five loaves of bread) were miraculously multiplied by Jesus to feed five thousand people (Matt. 14:17-21). The Kingdom of Heaven itself was declared by Jesus to be like a dragnet that is cast into the sea to gather creatures of every kind (Matt 13:47). And, Jesus regularly ate fish and bread with his disciples (Luke 24:42; John 21:13).
Acronyms are words that are formed from the first letters of a multi-word name or phrase. Their use in our day is common. Some examples are "RADAR" (from the words: "RAdio Detecting And Ranging"), "NATO" (from the words: "North American Treaty Organization"), and "Qantas" (from the words: "Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service). Those Christians of the first century were equally familiar with acrostics.
The fish symbol is known to be an acrostic of an early Christian confession that Jesus Christ was God's Son and a Savior. The Greek word for fish is "ichthus," and is spelled with five letters: Iota, Chi, Theta, Upsilon, and Sigma. Each of these letters also happens to be the first letters of the major words of the early Christian confession: "Iesous Christos Theos Huios Soter." Therefore, the symbol was used as a means of identifying each other as Christians who profess the Lord Jesus as God's Son and Savior.
A Pagan Symbol?
It is often argued that the Christians stole this symbol (and others) from paganism, and that therefore either the early Christians are pagans or Christianity itself is pagan. This is a terribly flawed argument, however, which assumes the same motivations in Christian use as in Pagan use. It can easily be seen above that Christian representations of the fish share nothing with Paganism's uses of the fish throughout the centuries. For sure, the Christian fish was never used by Orthodox Christians to represent God, the offspring of God, the sexuality and fertility of a "Great Mother," or anything of the like. The Christian adaptation had original and biblical meaning, regardless of who used a fish as a symbol for whatever purposes prior to Christ. A symbol as simple and generic as a fish may be used by an unlimited quantity of individuals or groups in independent and unrelated ways. Arguing to the contrary would be like claiming StarKist Tuna is a pagan company because it (in 1961) began using Charlie the Tuna as a symbol for its product line. The absurdity of this is made plain by considering the "fish wars" of today's Christians and Darwinists who use the symbol for diametrically opposed objectives.
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