Jesus Fish!

Ah the Jesus fish. Each person will have a slightly different reaction when they see one of those driving down the road. I have pretty mixed feelings about them myself. I also have mixed feelings when I see the many “reactions” to the Christian fish.

No FishWhere does the fish come from? Aside from the “fisher’s of men” language and the feeding the multitude miracles, the fish take on additional meaning during Roman persecution. Nero started “state sponsored” persecution of Christians but that was largely cenetered around Rome. It wasn’t really until Domitian (reigned 81-86AD) and Trajan (reigned 98-117AD) that state sponsored persecution of Christians was carried throughout the empire. During these times (and other times of persecution) Christians would use the fish as a sort of password. When people got together and wanted to make sure another person was a Christian they would draw in arc (in the sand or in their pudding, whatever) and if the other person was a Christian, they would draw an opposite arc to complete the fish.

What does “ichthus” mean and what does it have to do with anything? Well simply put, ἰχθύς is the Greek word for “fish”. You may recognize it better as ̓ΙΧΘΥΣ́ whish is just ἰχθύς in capital letters. “Well I thought that ̓ΙΧΘΥΣ́ was an acronym and that is why it is put in the fish!” Well, yes, sort of. Later, ἰχθύς took on deeper meaning.

IchthusἸ - Ἰησοῦς - Jesus
Χ - Χριστός - Christ
Θ - θεός - God
Υ - υἱός - son
Σ - σωτήρ - savior

So “fish” or “ἰχθύς” took on new meaning as an acronym: Jesus Christ, God’s son, savior.

When I was thinking about this entry I did a google search and came across this article at and I just thought, they do not understand at all.

But contemporary Jesus worshippers might be surprised, even outraged, to learn that one of their preeminent religious symbols antedated the Christian religion, and has its roots in pagan fertility awareness and sexuality. Barbara G. Walker writes in “The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects,” that the acronym pertaining to Jesus Christ was a “rationale invented after the fact… Christians simply copied this pagan symbol along with many others.” Ichthys was the offspring son of the ancient Sea goddess Atargatis, and was known in various mythic systems as Tirgata, Aphrodite, Pelagia or Delphine. The word also meant “womb” and “dolphin” in some tongues, and representations of this appeared in the depiction of mermaids….

Humm… right. I don’t have a problem if Christians reclaimed pagan rituals as their own, it is likely that Christmas is one such reclamation. But this suggestion is pretty far off base. Jesus always used language of fishermen because those are the people he talked to. Ichthus was “rationale invented after the fact”? No, icthus just means fish and it also happened (?) to be a good acronym.

There have (obviously) been many variations and reactions to the Christian fish logo. The Darwin was the first and seems to be the most popular (although I think there have been other, more clever versions - I personally like the alien one and the T-rex is pretty original). Many Christians see this as an attack on belief because it suggests that Evolution is better than Christianity. This is not what my beef with the Darwin logo is. My beef is that it is completly disrespectful of where the logo came from and what it means. Christians were killed for their faith and it was a sign that would help save them and join in community with other Christians. These were real people that had to deal with perscution that we will probably never know and we should not belittle that like the “mock” fish do.

This also means that I think Christians should take it more seriously and not just put it on every single free space they have available. I am not a big fan of them on cars because Christians screw up and often times aren’t the best “witnesses” on the road. As a good friend has said, many Christians should have the fish on the inside dashboard and not the outer bumper. If you don’t understand that, figure it out, it could be revalatory.

It is late in the am and not sure if this is making any sense so I should stop here.
God Bless and Shalom

And by request…


Categories: Religion
  1. TheWife
    May 6th, 2005 at 06:31 | #1

    Well, Matt, you have definitely edumacated me. This was really interesting - thanks!


  2. May 6th, 2005 at 09:30 | #2

    You left out my favorite- the gefilte fish.

  3. May 6th, 2005 at 12:18 | #3

    This one I didn’t really understand! I don’t know much aboud Judaism. It seems that gefilte is a pupular Jewish fish dish so the Gefilite Fish was the Jewish response to the Jesus Fish?

  4. Becky
    May 6th, 2005 at 15:21 | #4

    Was that Angie that said that? I remember you telling me someone said that, because I think I asked about you about the whole fish idea, and what you thought about it. :) Thanks for the historical explination!

  5. May 7th, 2005 at 01:18 | #5

    It was indeed Angie that said that. Wise woman she is!

  6. May 7th, 2005 at 04:49 | #6

    Thanks for the article, Matt. That was right on!

  7. May 7th, 2005 at 07:40 | #7

    Great post, very interesting. I agree that persecuted people should not be mocked… But you have to admit that all the variations of the Jesus fish are very entertaining. I particularly enjoy the irony of the truth fish eating the Darwin fish… it’s all very… Darwinian!

  8. salmypal
    May 7th, 2005 at 17:59 | #8

    In their pudding (whatever)…hahahahahaha…

  9. May 8th, 2005 at 02:33 | #9

    Heh, there is nothing like puddin’ from the ancient near east! ;)

  10. Pastor Scott
    May 11th, 2005 at 12:22 | #10

    There is also Buddha fish and my personal favorite, being Norwegian, “Lutefish”.

  11. November 18th, 2005 at 19:07 | #11

    You also left out the Satan fish.

    I read in National Geographic about an ancient church recently found, and somewhere I also saw that apparently the fish symbol predates the cross as a sign for Christianity.

    And regarding your comment, you’ve already established that you’re a dork - did you need to prove the geekiness too? Feel free to drop by my relocated personal blog too. :)

  12. November 18th, 2005 at 20:58 | #12

    Hummm, I haven’t seen the Satan fish before…

    I have no doubt the fish was used before the cross. The cross would be an obvious connection to Christianity and so probably wasn’t really used until Christianity became an “official” religion of the state. That is a cool National Geographics article, thanks for the link!

    Heh, I guess I have been found out: I am a geek and and dork! Oh well, I have a feeling most people already knew. ;)

  13. Clarity
    November 19th, 2005 at 21:47 | #13

    Interesting blog, thank you for your perspective. As a practioner of a persecuted religion I understand the sentiment you expressed but since the roots of the fish symbol can be traced rather back to a representation of the Goddess, fertility, sex etc I feel that the “GODDESS” fish that I have on the back of my car is appropriate as I am, in a way, reclaiming that symbol for myself and making a statement for myself. Had I chosen something like “Witch” or “Wicca” or a fish with a pentacle for an eye I think it may have been a bit more disrespectful. I do hope my expression would never offend anyone.

    By the way, I also agree that that dictionary had a poorly written and expressed view on the origins of the fish as a religious symbol. I have always enjoyed the “religious” articles as they are well researched and seemingly unbiased. Check it out if you have time/interest:

    Thanks again for your article!

    A Fellow “Vancouverite”

  14. Karlarei2003
    April 28th, 2006 at 07:37 | #14

    Hey, I just randomly came across this article wilst browsing the internet at work (while I was suppose to be working naturally), and I’ve got to give you two thumbs up man. It’s very well written and very informative, Kudos to you!

  15. justin
    May 23rd, 2006 at 05:34 | #15

    I’m more of a Satan fish kinda guy. Not that I’m claiming any religion or anything. I just like to park next to the church whenever possible

    June 8th, 2006 at 15:34 | #16

    Thanks for the info on variations of the car fish symbol. I saw a car with several and the words “school of philosophy” and started noticing all the variations. Saw an “X” rated one the other day. Haven’t seen the alien one or the T-Rex either.
    Kind of makes driving more fun to look for them.

  17. July 11th, 2006 at 09:35 | #17

    Actually, I have to be honest with you - from what they’ve found in Jerusalem, the fish was only part of the symbol the apostolic fathers used. The original was known as the Messianic seal (do an image search at Google)… it was the fish intertwined with the Menorah - you know, the Old covenant completed by the New covenant. It wasn’t until later that the Old covenant was dropped, and the fish came to stand on its own, forsaking half of God’s Truth and claiming that ‘we don’t need that part’ anymore.

    Which is why I have a Messianic seal on my car, and not EVER a fish. I can’t throw out two thirds of the Truth… Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

  18. July 11th, 2006 at 16:14 | #18

    The messianic seal would have been used when they thought they were still Jewish. Then they realized they weren’t. Jesus came to fulfill the law, that doesn’t mean we are Jewish (or that the early church fathers thought of themselves as Jewish either). The fact that the fish symbol came to stand on its own does not imply that Christians are somehow forsaking the OT. It is the affirmation that we are Christians, distinct from and not Jewish.

    You say you can’t throw out two thirds of the Truth. What exactly do you mean by this? Does that mean you are Kosher? Practice sacrifices (blood or otherwise)? The OT is extremely important for the Christian faith and should not be neglected but that does not mean that it is prescriptive (for us anyway, it was for the Jews), but descriptive. I am not trying be an ass here, I think it is fine if you feel you need to follow all OT law, but Paul didn’t feel that way.

  19. Angie
    July 13th, 2006 at 09:18 | #19

    Awesome blog on the Jesus Fish! I’ve always wondered what it meant. Seinfeld did an episode on it and I guess I’ve never gotten around to reading it :)

    thanks for the info!


  20. Cathy
    July 21st, 2006 at 18:24 | #20

    You are right on the mark. I think that any Christian that needs to advertise that they are one, might need to worry more about advertising through their actions. Actions speak louder than symbols!

  21. tttmmy
    September 25th, 2006 at 21:23 | #21

    jk that was really good keep it up

  22. julia
    January 20th, 2007 at 23:04 | #22

    Congrats! you got the fact right! I’m sure I could never have guessed about the acronym. very good! I am very impressed!

  23. rvacco
    March 23rd, 2008 at 13:05 | #23

    is there a reason why the fish faces the left?

  24. rvacco
    March 23rd, 2008 at 13:06 | #24

    btw…great article…love the “inside on the dash” comment!

  25. Marisa
    March 25th, 2008 at 10:44 | #25

    Thank you so much for putting up the alien one. My mother and I saw it on a car and we did not know what it ment. God Bless

  26. qbsmd
    April 1st, 2008 at 12:54 | #26

    I think the fish are very useful. I’ve noticed a statistical correlation between them and people who drive thoughtlessly or dangerously. They are like a warning that this car may swerve into my lane or cut me off at any time.

  1. October 14th, 2005 at 04:27 | #1
  2. November 19th, 2005 at 09:09 | #2

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