Per certain church teachings, the early church used the Icthus symbol as a recognization tool for other believers. The gospels as written also feature a large amount of fish imagery.

Does this support a later and/or symbolic reading of the text where the symbol was worked in? Or am I reading too much into the fact that fish was just a natural part of daily life in the Eastern Meditation?

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2 Answers 2


We could also probably argue the inverse of your question - that it became a symbol because of its usage in the Gospels, vs. being used in the Gospels because of its symbolism.

Note that at least four of Jesus' disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) came from a background of professional fishermen, and this was an extremely common profession in the region of Galilee and along the Mediterranean coast.

Jesus is also credited with at least three miracles (the feeding of the 5,000 - Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-15, the feeding of the 4,000 - Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9, the temple tax - Matthew 17:24-27) that directly involved literal fish.

I saw one source that pinned the symbol to the timeframe of Nero's rule, which was from 54-68. Given that we don't have precise timeframes on the Gospels, this would already put the symbol within the earliest expected dates for them.

The underlying question, then, is "which came first?" In other words, where did the symbol come from? If the symbol influenced the Gospels, where did it originate? At the least, we'd assume that it must have been based on some earlier teaching or document. Or, did both develop simultaneously?

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    Jesus fed bread and fish and said that the bread was his body, and that we do not live by bread alone (the cross) but by every word. Therefore fish = 'every word which proceeds from the mouth of God" Those who lived by every word adopted the fish. Since Jesus is the Living Word, he is the ultimate ante-type of the fish.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 23:44

It is also possible that he roots of the association of this symbol lie with the pagan religions that existed prior to the first century Christians. For example according to this source used in the wikipedia article, this symbol actually has roots in pagan religions of the area where Christianity spread in the 1st century.

This point of using symbols for worship conflicts with the second commandment for many according to the Mosaic Law. The use of religion icons with roots in pagan religion is something for Christians to think about for themselves today in many aspects of modern life.

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