The Rev. Know it all’s Wonderful World of Words! (Continued)
Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I have a word for you: ἰχθύς. What does that mean? My strange pastor has just put up a sign in front of the church which has the church name, a line drawing of a fish with that word inside the fish and at the bottom of the sign there are five words “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.”
I can never understand why this guy won’t just speak English.
Your pastor is clearly a well-educated and cultivated scholar. What he has done is to place the most ancient Christian Creed on the sign in front of the church. “ἰχθύς” is a Greek word that means “fish,” but the first Christians used it as an acrostic, also a Greek word which means, “A series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a word. The letters of the Greek word for fish (ἰχθύς) can be used as a secret code to say “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Here’s how it works.
Iota (ἰ=i in English) stands for Iēsous, Greek for “Jesus”.
Chi (χ=kh or ch) stands for Christos, Greek for “anointed” or Messiah.
Theta (θ=th) stands for Theou, Greek for “God's”.
Upsilon (y or u) stands for ‘yios, Greek for “Son”.
Sigma (s) stands for sōtēr, Greek for “Savior”.
It’s like the old barber shop quartet song “M” is for the million things she gave me, “O” is for the other things she gave me… put them all together they spell “Mother.” In this acrostic of “I, ch, th, y, s” they all spell “fish.” A bit of a letdown, until you understand the symbol. The fish made the early Christians think of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes which was a symbolic allusion to the Holy Eucharist. It also reminded them of the sign of Jonah in the belly of the whale, thus reminding them of the resurrection after Jesus’ three day in the tomb.
In the first centuries of the church’s life, it was against the law to be a Christian then as it frequently still is. When a Christian saw the sign of the fish he knew he was in good company. The fish symbol was a secret way to express the earliest creed of Christians. It was in use at least a century and probably much longer than the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, both of which appear around 300 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord. We see the fish symbolism all over the catacombs in which the first Christians buried their dead in the hope of the resurrection. Fish are all over the New Testament, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection and the subsequent fish that Jesus cooked for the disciples on the beach that day. Jesus says they will be fishers of men and don’t forget the fish with the tax coin in its mouth.
The Gospels have fish swimming all through them. And fish was the food of the poor. Only the rich ate beef, and other meat was eaten rarely, but anyone with a pole, a line and hook could go down to the river or the sea and catch a fish. So too, the Gospel is food for the poor. When you see fish bumper stickers or fish jewelry, fish ornaments and decorations, understand that the first Christians are still reminding us of the faith for which they lived and died the faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and the savior of the world.
the Rev. Know-it-all