There were, perhaps, several reasons for Christians using the “fish symbol.” The main reason is derived from the Greek word for fish, which is “ichthys.” There are actually five Greek letters that form this word and Christians made an acrostic from it. The first letter represented JESUS; the second CHRIST; the third and fourth GOD’S SON, and the last SAVIOR. Thus it was an ideal symbol letting people know that they believe that “Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the Savior.”

It is well-known that in the first few centuries Christians were persecuted severely for their faith in Christ, even to the point of death. This is why the Apostle John encouraged believers to be faithful in Revelation 2:10: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Because of the Roman Empire’s persecution of the church many believers went underground; that is, they met secretly to worship their Savior. They used the “fish mark” for their meeting places to let fellow-believers know where they were and that it was safe to meet there. The story is told that when a Christian met a stranger in the road he would draw one of the arcs of the fish in the dirt and if the stranger drew the other arc, both would know they were in good company and they could have fellowship together without fear of persecution.

As intimated above, there may have been other reasons for the fish symbol. We know that when the Lord Jesus chose His twelve Apostles He purposely chose several FISHERMEN and He even told them “Follow me, and I will make you FISHERS OF MEN” (see Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17). The fish symbol in this context represents SERVICE, and especially EVANGELISM.

One also thinks of the many other references to FISH in the Gospel accounts, such as the “feeding of five thousand with five small loaves and TWO FISH” (John 6:1-11); the “parable of drawing FISH into the net” (Matthew 13:47-50); when “Jesus paid taxes with a coin taken from the mouth of a FISH” (Matthew 17:24-27); the time “Jesus ate FISH with His disciples after His resurrection” (Luke 24:41-43); and when “Jesus had His disciples cast a net in the sea and they caught 153 FISHES” (John 21:1-11).

Today the “fish symbol” is still used to identify Christians. It is often seen on car bumper stickers and business cards. I like to remind people who use this symbol that since they are publicly declaring themselves believers in “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior,” they are responsible to represent Him by obeying all traffic laws and by being honest, polite and law-abiding in their businesses. (259.7) (DO)