I would like to know the meaning and the importance of the word 'ICTHUS' among Christians. I have learned that this is some sort of symbol. Can anyone help me on this?

  • possible duplicate of Why is the fish often used as a symbol of Christ? – Narnian Feb 25 '13 at 17:06
  • This is really a duplicate of the question above. ICTHUS is the Greek word for fish, which is an acronym for (I) Jesus (X/C) Christ, (TH) God/theos/theology) (U) Son, (S) Savior. – Narnian Feb 25 '13 at 17:07
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    By the way, welcome to the site! – Narnian Feb 25 '13 at 17:08
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    I don't think it's a duplicate. He seems to be asking about the symbolic relevance of the word itself. Of course incidentally, it is also the word we use to refer to another symbol: "the fish symbol". – Alypius Feb 25 '13 at 17:12
  • I'd have to agree. I'm not sure that this is a duplicate either. – David Morton Feb 25 '13 at 17:21

The word means "fish" in Greek. The symbol of the fish was often used in the early church to distinguish believers from unbelievers where persecution was an issue. When meeting another person, one Christian would draw one arc, and if the other person completed the drawing of the fish by adding another arc, then the Christian would know that he or she was in the presence of another believer. In other words, it was a low key way to identify each other, reducing the risk of being found out as a Christian where to be found out may have cost them their lives.

You can read more about the term here:


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ΙΧΘΥΣ means fish in an old form of Greek. It now primarily refers to a particular Christian fish symbol. From Wikipedia:

Ichthys (also Ichthus or Ikhthus /ˈɪkθəs/), from the Koine Greek word for fish: ἰχθύς, (capitalized ΙΧΘΥΣ or ΙΧΘΥϹ) is a symbol consisting of two intersecting arcs, the ends of the right side extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish, used by early Christians as a secret Christian symbol and now known colloquially as the "sign of the fish" or the "Jesus fish."

The word itself has symbolic meaning, though. Saint Augustine gives the following symbolic explanation in City of God:

But if you join the initial letters of these five Greek words, ᾽Ιησοῦς Χριστος Θεοῦ υἰὸς σωτήρ, which mean, “Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour,” they will make the word ἰχδὺς, that is, “fish,” in which word Christ is mystically understood, because He was able to live, that is, to exist, without sin in the abyss of this mortality as in the depth of waters.

For the symbolic meaning of fishes and the "fish symbol", you could ask:










(of) God




Entry from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.):

Fish (Gk. ἰχθύς).In Christian art and literature the fish is a symbol of Christ, also sometimes of the newly baptized and of the Eucharist. It came into use in the 2nd cent., but neither its origin nor its meaning have so far been completely elucidated. It occurs in *Tertullian’s ‘De Baptismo’, where the writer compares the neophytes to little fishes, following the Fish, in connection with the idea of the second birth in the waters of Baptism. This image is found also in the ‘Shepherd’ of *Hermas, in the Inscription of *Abercius, in *Clement of Alexandria, and in many other old Christian documents; but it is doubtful whether the symbol is exclusively Christian or influenced by Babylonian and Indian mythology. Opinions are also divided as to whether the symbol is derived from the acrostic ΙΧΘΥΣ = Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ (‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’),or the acrostic from the symbol. The acrostic is frequently held to have originated in *Gnostic circles, since it is found in the ‘*Sibylline Oracles’. In the 4th and 5th cents. the fish became an emblem also of the Eucharist, and is frequently found in the paintings of the *catacombs in combination with bread and wine. In recent years, in some parishes of the Church of England certain associations willing to help those in need have adopted the symbolism of a fish.

SOURCE: F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 617.

Additional Resources: J. B. *Pitra, OSB, Spicilegium Solesmense, 3 (Paris, 1855), pp. 499–543 (‘ΙΧΘΥΣ, sive de Pisce Allegorico et Symbolico’); G. B. *de Rossi, ibid., pp. 545–84 (‘De Christianis Monumentis ΙΧΘΥΝ exhibentibus’); H. Achelis, Das Symbol des Fisches and die Fischdenkmäler der römischen Katakomben (Marburg, 1888); R. Pischel, ‘Der Ursprung des christlichen Fischsymbol’, Sb. (Berl.), 1905 (1), pp. 506–32; C. R. Morey, ‘The Origin of the FishSymbol’, Princeton Theological Review, 8 (1910), pp. 93–106, 231–46, and 401–32; 9 (1911), pp. 268–89; 10 (1912), pp. 278–98. I. Scheftelowitz, ‘Das Fisch-Symbol im Judentum and Christentum’, Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, 14 (1911), pp. 1–53. F. J. Döger, ΙΧΘΥΣ (vol. 1, RQ, Suppl. 17; 1910; 2nd edn., Münster i.W., 1928; vols. 2–5, ibid., 1922–43). L. Werhahn Stauch, ‘Christliche Fischsymbolik von den Anfängen his zum thohen Mittelalter’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 35 (1972), pp. 1–68. R. St J. Tyrwhitt in DCA 1 (1880), pp. 673 f, s.v., and pp. 625–8, s.v. ‘Eucharist (in Christian Art)’; F. Cumont in PW 9 (pt. 1; 1914), cols. 844–50, s.v. ‘Ichthys’; H. *Leclercq, OSB, in DACL 7 (pt. 2; 1927), cols. 1990–2086, s.v. ΙΧΘΥΣ; J. Quasten in NCE 5 (1967), pp. 943–6, s.v. ‘Fish, Symbolism of’; J. Engemann in RAC 7 (1969), cols. 1021–97, s.v. ‘Fisch, B. Christlich’.

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