Symbols: Fishes and Wheels

We are in a series about symbols of the Early Church and what they mean for the Church today. Today’s symbol is fishes. Have you ever noticed the fish decal on the back of cars. If you’re a traditional church-goer, you might know what it is. In case you do not, it is a Christian symbol. The fish has had a few variations in the Early Church. The first expression was simply a fish. The other was the outline of a fish with the greek letters IXTHUS in it. Once again, it was not just a marker of the presence of the people who followed God, but also a descriptor of who Jesus is. It became one of the most nuanced symbols that showed the identity of the Church along with the purpose and power of God’s work on earth.

220px-Ephesus_IchthysCropWhen God sent his son to the earth, it was not just a random incarnation. God had a point to what He was doing. The early believers knew this to be the case. One of the earliest drawings they used among themselves was a greek acrostic for the identity of Jesus that formed the image of a wheel. The full description was iota christos, theos uios, soter, which mean Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. It also held the image of a cross, which represented a key part of the Christian story. These two things pointed to the purpose. Jesus was the Christ (messiah) according to Christian belief and he was considered God’s Son. Being God’s Son in the Bible was a title reserved for special people like kings. Israel would have clicked with this title since they had no legitimate king for hundreds of years. This led to the title savior, which in the Old Testament was connected to the idea of the king who was to come.

The acrostic, however takes a twist in including the cross. The cross, as we have noted earlier, was a sign of defeat. It meant death, which no one ever recovered from. According to popular belief, having a cross as part of your story meant that your movement was probably obsolete. This is not what christians think about the cross. Many early believers said they saw the risen Jesus. This turned the idea of the cross upside down. Instead of being an image of defeat, it was a symbol of what had been defeated. Death was done, the grave had no more power over people (1 Cor. 15:54, 55; Rev. 1:18). To Christians believed it was a power symbol. Even Saint Augustine once pointed out that the all the letters of the title found in the acrostic totals to 27 letters, or 3x3x3. This amount or this particular usage of the number 3 represented power to people of that day. Jesus, the King, had saved the world by defeating death, showing everyone that He was truly the most powerful force.

The symbol that most often accompanied the wheel was the fish. This was an interesting symbol to fish_clipartaccompany the wheel symbol, since there was no obvious connection between the two, but, there were reasons for using this emblem. One reason for the fish is the association with water, which Jesus seems to repeat along with the fish over and over again. From baptism, to the cleansing with water, to being fisher’s of men quote, the fish had a long-standing history of defining the way Christians are to live. The question is do we allow this perception of how to live spill into our own lives.

The questions we can ask ourselves is how powerful is the God we believe in? How does that affect the way we live? Do we live like the one who defeated death is powerful enough to save the world? Can we confidently say that the God has won His Kingship and is using it for our best interests? The end question is can God deliver. The early believers believed He was completely able to deliver. They believed He was powerful to save not just spiritually, but beyond every way imaginable.

So let’s live in the light of the powerful King who has called us into a mission to save the world and make it better.