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The Fish Sign

I'm sure many of you have seen the fish bumper sticker on the back of many cars and other places. Often times there is an IXOYE in the middle of the fish too. What on earth does this all mean?





During the reign of Emperor Nero in Rome a persecution had broken out against the Christians living in that city. It caused them to flee to the catacombs to meet in secret and to use code words for things of a Christian nature. That symbol is what you may have seen with an "IXOYE" inside of it on the back of someone's car. This was a secret symbol Christian's used to identify each other then. The letters "I", "X", "O", "Y", and "E" are actually an abbreviation in Greek letters standing for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.

 

 

(...take2)

Among the symbols employed by the early Christians, that of the fish ranks probably first in importance. The earliest literary reference to the symbolic fish is made by Clement of Alexandria, born about 150, who recommends his readers (Paedagogus, III, xi) to have their seals engraved with a dove or a fish. Indeed, from monumental sources we know that the symbolic fish was familiar to Christians long before the famous Alexandrian was born; in such Roman monuments as the Capella Greca and the Sacrament Chapels of the catacomb of St. Callistus, the fish was depicted as a symbol in the first decades. It is known that in the 1st century when Christians were more openly persecuted the simple "fish symbol" could be scratched in the dust with ones staff. Pagans did not recognize it but believers would, thus many an early Christian was able to discern friend from foe.

 

The symbol itself may have been suggested by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes or the repast of the seven Disciples, after the Resurrection, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John, xxi, 9), but its popularity among Christians was due principally, it would seem, to the famous acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (IXOYE), which words briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and His claim to the worship of believers: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. (See the discourse of Emperor Constantine, "Ad coetum Sanctorum" c. xviii.) It is not improbable that this Christian formula originated in Alexandria, and was intended as a protest against the pagan apotheosis of the emperors; on a coin from Alexandria of the reign of Domitian (81-96) this emperor is styled Theou Yios (Son of God).

 

(....take 3)

The fish outline is a logical symbol for the early Christian church to adopt. Fish are often mentioned in the gospels. This is what one would expect, if Jesus did most of his teaching in the Galilee. The synoptic gospels state this, although the Gospel of John denies it. Fish were a staple in the diet of Galilee.

Some gospel verses which mention fish are:
Mark 1:17: "Come after Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."

Matthew 12:40: "...Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

Matthew 14:17: "And they said to Him, 'We have here only five loaves and two fish.'"

Luke 5:6: "And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking."

Luke 24:42: "So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb."

John 21:6: "And He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish."

1 Corinthians 15:39: "All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds."

Some Christians believe that a second link between their religion and the fish symbol is seen in the Greek word for fish (ichthus, spelled: Iota Chi Theta Upsilon Sigma). That is an acrostic which has many translations in English. The most popular appears to be "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior"

Iesous (Jesus) CHristos (Christ) THeou (God) Uiou (Son) Soter (Savior)

or the acronym.....

 I=Jesus; X=Christ; O=God's; Y=Son; E=Savior

 

 

To clarify.....

  • Iota is the first letter of Iesous (Ιησους), Greek for Jesus.
  • Chi is the first letter of Christos (Χριστóς), Greek for "anointed".
  • Theta is the first letter of Theou (Θεοῦ), genitive case of Θεóς "God".
  • Upsilon is the first letter of Huios (Υἱός), Greek for Son.
  • Sigma is the first letter of Soter (Σωτήρ), Greek for Savior.

 

An acrostic is an "arrangement of words in which the first letter of each line ordinarily combines with others to form a word or words or the alphabet.

The Apostles were often referred to as "fishers of men". Followers of Christianity were called Pisciculi; the root of this Latin word is "fish". The symbols of "sacramental fish, with wine and a basket of bread represents the Eucharist and the Last Supper in Christian art." 2 The symbol was simple to draw and was often used among Christians as a type of password during times of persecution by the Roman government. If two strangers met and were unsure whether each other was a Christian, one would draw an arc in the earth like:  ). If the other were a Christian, they would complete the symbol with a reverse arc: (), forming the outline of a fish.

According to Albatrus.org: "When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish symbol to mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes."

In modern times, the fish outline symbol is experiencing a comeback. It is commonly seen in the form of a bumper sticker or casting mounted on the trunk lids of cars. The body of the symbol may be empty, or may contain a name ("Jesus" or "ICTUS").