The Other Jesus Fish

jesus fishYou have probably seen the well-known Jesus fish symbol. We see it on t-shirts, on car decals, on necklaces, etc. The Jesus fish was an early symbol for Christianity. The reason that the fish became an early symbol of Christianity was because the Greek word for fish, ichthus (ichthus), was actually an acronym for the identity of Christ: ichthus acronym, which means Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. Often, when Christianity was still illegal in the Roman empire, Christians would greet one another using the Jesus fish. One person would draw the top curve of the fish in the ground, and the other person would draw the other curve, completing the symbol. It worked like a secret handshake of sorts, letting Christians identify one another.

While Darick and I were on our trip to Turkey and Hungary, we had the opportunity to visit the ruins of Ephesus, a once-great Roman city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In the early expansion of Christianity, Ephesus was a significant city. The apostle Paul spent over two years in Ephesus working to spread the gospel. He got into a bit of trouble, nearly inciting a riot from the silversmiths who made their living by selling crafted shrines for the goddess, Artemis, who was the primary object of worship in Ephesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ was a direct challenge to the worship of the gods and goddesses of Rome as well as the worship of the emperors, who elevated themselves to god-like status before the people. To be a Christian in this time and place was a dangerous thing because worship of Christ as the only God subverted the will of the Roman empire and denied the deity of the other gods and goddesses. Christians often had to meet in secret, so as to not draw unwanted attention from the Roman empire.

jesus wheelAs Darick and I were walking through the absolutely incredible ruins of Ephesus, imagining what this city would have been like at its height of power, we noticed a symbol carved into the wall that looked a little bit like a wheel. We had seen other kinds of symbols carved in indicating things like doctors or brothels, but we hadn’t seen this symbol before, and it was more crudely made. We asked our guide, Mahmet, what it was. He proceeded to tell us that it was a secret symbol of early Christianity. He drew the symbol in the ground for us, and showed us, that this symbol, in fact, is another Jesus fish. In the circle and lines, you can spell the Greek word for ichthus, so this wheel-like symbol is a covert way of naming the identity of Christ:
jesus wheel 1ichthus color

This symbol was a commonly used version of the ichthus to designate the presence of Christianity and to let other believers know that Christians were present in Ephesus. Today, we don’t need secret symbols. We don’t have to hide our faith or meet in the darkness. We can meet freely and openly share what it is to be a follower of Christ. In broad daylight, we can claim that we believe Jesus Christ is the son of God, and our Savior. Today, may your faith be openly seen by all.

~Cindy+

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