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Question:  What is the meaning of the Christian fish symbol; what is it's history, original use, etc.?

Answer: The following meaning given on pages 8-9 in Our Christian Symbols (The Pilgrim Press, 1982) by Friedrich Rest:

The Fish: In the days when it was dangerous to be a Christian, the followers of Jesus resorted to secret signs and symbols to keep from exposing themselves unnecessarily to the foes of Christianity. For example, a man sometimes drew the picture of a fish in the sand while talking with another. If the figure was recognized to signify more than an unconscious movement during the course of a conversation, the two would identify each other in the Christian faith.

During the days when Christians had to worship in secret, visiting Christians could find their way to the worship center in the long underground passageways by simply looking at the fish on the wall pointing in the direction in which they were to go.

The strange symbol of the fish has an intricate background. The Greek for fish (pronounced ichihus) is formed by using the first letter of each of the words in Greek (pronounced, but not spelled, Yasous Christos Theou Hyos Soter), which stand for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” It was precisely because the symbol was difficult to understand that it was precious. It was a protection from non-Christians.

While the single fish represents the Savior, several fishes represent faithful Christians. In Matt. 4:19 the beginnings of the development of the symbol can be seen: “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”

A conventionalized form of the fish is the vesica piscis, Latin for the bladder of a fish. It is a pointed oval figure.

The fish as a symbol does not appear often today. But whenever we see it, we think of an heroic time when Christians underwent persecutions and trials for their faith and succeeded in spreading the gospel despite many obstacle.

While pagans have given occult meanings to the fish and the vesica piscis shape, we need to remember that all of creation belongs to God. If He inspired the persecuted Christians to give special meaning to the fish symbol, I don't believe we need to reject it -- or allow the the world to define it for us. However, I would not use or appreciate the quartered circle, hexagram, spiral or any of the other clearly occult symbols of our times. See Symbols and their meaning.

Question: Our youth pastor wants to call the youth group "Criss-Cross," and I'm not comfortable with it. She had seen a metal [jewelry] cross molded in such a way as to be one piece, and was called the criss-cross. I've been stressing with her that names should first have meaning, and the symbol or logo should follow that. This is a paragraph from your site:

"However, like the cross and the lamb, this particular shape did not originate with Christianity. Earlier, it had been drawn and used by by pagans to represent the Wiccan female trinity and by Jewish mystics in their kabbalistic rituals. To the latter, it represented purity."

What do you think about "criss-cross"?

Answer: First, look at the Random-House dictionary definition of criss-cross:

  1. to move back and forth
  2. to mark with crossing lines
  3. to be arranged in a criss-cross pattern

Here are some explanations for the criss-cross symbol [variations of x ] from Dictionary of Symbols by Carl Liungman (1991, pages 139-140):

"The diagonal cross with arms of equal length is an extremely old sign. ... It has been found engraved on the walls of pre-historic caves of Europe. In early Chinese ideography it stood for the number 5. As an Egyptian hieroglyph it meant divide, count, and break into parts....

"The very similar x, however, a rune used in some of the old Nordic rune alphabets, is named gif or geba and means gift, especially a gift from a chief to a loyal warrior or subject.

"This sign has a wide spectrum of meanings from opposition, opposing powers, obstruction, and mistake to unknown, unfamiliar, undecided and unsettled....

"The diagonal cross is sometimes used as a symbol for Christ. It also stands for the number 1,000 in ancient Greece and even represented Chronos, the god of time and the planet Saturn in Greek and Roman mythology.

"When the diagonal cross appears as a closed or filled sign, x, it stands for the cross of St. Andrew. According to tradition, St. Andrew was too humble to allow himself to be crucified on the same type of cross as Christ."

It seems to me that most of these meanings clash with Christianity.

Question: Searching the Internet for Bible literature. I came across a  web site claiming the emblem on some of the New King James Version Bibles are satanic. Can you comment?

Answer: The symbol on the NKJV is the triquetra, meaning "three-cornered" in Latin. To early Christians, it symbolized both the Trinity and fish  ("pisces")  -- in this case, three fishes. During the times of persecution, the fish symbol became especially important as a way for Christians to find and identify each other.  Without saying a word, the Christian who displayed the little symbol sent a a wonderful greeting: "I am a fellow believer!"  

However, like the cross and the lamb, this particular shape did not originate with Christianity. Earlier, it had been drawn and used by by pagans to represent the Wiccan female trinity and by Jewish mystics in their kabbalistic rituals. To the latter, it represented purity.

The problem with defining symbols is that meanings change.  It's natural for people in any culture to draw a simple shape or design illustrating what they believe. The meaning  of the symbol is established by those who embrace it.  Symbols take on cultural significance when a large part of the population accept a common meaning. For example, when I wear a cross, I identify myself with Christ, my Lord.  During the last 200 years in America, the cross generally identified Christians.

But that is changing. Pagans are increasingly using and reclaiming variations variations of the cross, because they carry historical significance within the earth-centered cultures they have chosen to embrace. That doesn't mean that Christians must relinquish the cross as a pagan symbol. However, it does challenge us to be alert, understanding that we can no longer assume that familiar symbols carry the old familiar message we have taken for granted. 

Some symbols have always never been linked to Christian beliefs and are less confusing. The swastika which was a common Hindu symbol, became Hitler's logo. Today it generally identifies neo-nazi and white supremacy groups.

Previous comments on this topic: Part 1 (2000-3002) | Part 2 | Part 3

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