Did Christians ever come up with "secret" ways of knowing who other Christians were? I don't mean exactly a handshake, because I get that sometimes people don't (or can't) shake hands. Seems like it might be a bit pointless, like a joke you have with friends or something. But did they?

  • 2
    You need more context here. I assume you're looking for historically significant examples rather than just two friends identifying themselves to each other. Based on the questions and the tags I think you're talking about early Christians and the sign of the fish. But why be cryptic. This isn't a quiz show.
    – wax eagle
    Feb 25, 2013 at 17:48
  • 11
    ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A start
    – svidgen
    Feb 25, 2013 at 20:42
  • 1
    Not since the Covid-19 pandemic. :)
    – user47771
    Apr 3, 2020 at 16:30
  • They wouldn't remain secret if we told you... Apr 3, 2020 at 21:49
  • For interest check out the various uses of the word shibboleth. Apr 4, 2020 at 17:29

3 Answers 3


The Sator square was likely used to secretly advertise a house as Christian to other Christians in the first century.

  • 1
    There is no historical proof that the Sator squares were even remotely used as a secret sign to advertise a house as being Christian to other Christians of the first century.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 4, 2020 at 1:19

The idea of the ICTHUS (or Christian fish) symbol was an early example of this. It wasn't pointless, as it was used to identify each other in a society where persecution of Christians was extremely common. One person would draw one arc of the fish, probably in the dirt, and another would draw the other if they were a Christian as well. This wasn't done just for fun, but for protection, in much the same way as how WWII Allied soldiers would whisper "flash!", and another Allied soldier would respond with "thunder!" in order to identify themselves.

  • 4
    Any source other than a myth propagated by sermons?
    – user3797
    Feb 26, 2013 at 1:32
  • 1
    You might want to try asking questions that don't assume facts. "Do you have any sources?" may be a good alternative way to ask the question without being argumentative. That being said, I looked it up, and I can't immediately find any evidence, so you may actually be right in your sideways statement disguised as a question. Feb 26, 2013 at 1:59
  • 2
    It's also worth nothing, that, if the story were true, it probably woundn't be documented, so the answer to the question, more than likely, is, nobody knows. Feb 26, 2013 at 2:09
  • It is in a movie about Christians made in 1950s
    – user3797
    Feb 26, 2013 at 19:06
  • 1
    The fish sign is also featured in a highly researched price of historical fiction of the same name. librivox.org/quo-vadis-by-henryk-sienkiewicz
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 28, 2013 at 4:13


It is very easy to shoehorn in an obscure Bible verse into a conversation, without attribution. And it is easy to tell if another person recognized that verse (because if they either smile or acknowledge it openly or respond with another biblical phrase). Can be in a college lecture or study group, with a Christian uni professor low-key sermonizing the class. Or in the workplace, a stranger at a coffee shop type of conversation, or a new neighbor who just moved in. Or a match from a dating site.

There are other ways, for example, name-dropping a lesser-known Christian rock band that doesn't have an overtly religious name. ("What music do you like?") Or asking about a person's network of acquaintances: "Do you know Mr. Davids or Mr. Lee or Mrs. O'Nell?" where Davids, Lee, or O'Nell are the lead pastors, associate pastors, youth-group pastors, or pastor's wives of the various churches in the area, or a mega-church of a nearby big city. Everybody knows the pastor's wife; she is always on the phone with people's problems.

And then there is the dreaded "Christianese". The (ugh) "fellowship" rather than more colloquial "hang-out", "blessed" rather than "lucky" or "happy", the semi-insulting "I'll pray for him/you" rather than the more succinct "bless your heart" of Southern provenance. An insightful idea becomes a "word of knowledge", a likely prediction becomes a "prophecy", and constructive criticism becomes a "word of correction". Agreeable personality or good character becomes "fruit". The Bible, the Sunday Sermon, or God Himself becomes "the Word". A sense of purpose or moral resolve to help out in some way becomes a "calling". "I felt called." "You are called." Good personal judgment becomes "discernment" or "discerning of spirits", which can be the supernatural ability of the Christian to determine the will of God, but also the practical street-smarts to avoid falling for scams and the like. Ordinary Christians, friends, family, acquaintances, even youtube characters are ascribed supernatural, super-hero identities: it is said, manner-of-factly, that so-and-so is a prophet. So-and-so is a priest, an apostle. That person's alleged angel sightings, or spiritual insights (which can be as simple as two memorized verses with one sentence of original commentary), are proof of this.

The church congregation or any two Christians together become "the Body". Not to be confused with unsatisfied libido, known as "the Flesh". (Unmarried Christians always "struggle" with "the Flesh".) And you also hear words like "outpouring", which "rains down". "Outpourings" that "rain down" don't refer to anything in particular. Same with "spiritual warfare"; prayer, meditation, affirmations, music, poetry, dance, exorcisms (where people spasm and scream, like in the movies), getting sick, getting well, having a difficult customer-service job, earning good grades, dealing with a lawsuit, firing an incompetent employee, disciplining disobedient children are all ways of "fighting" "spiritual warfare". Just listing what all counts as "spiritual warfare" in practice could be the subject of thousands of books, and it has. St. Paul would have reworded a couple verses in Ephesians if only he knew. Bless his heart.

Any and all disagreements with a non-churched person (or a person of unknown faith affiliation), if the disagreements are potentially important enough to have consequences or require a resolution, become "persecution". Christians who normally might use cuss words in casual conversation won't use them with another Christian, because of the "accountability" (another Christianese cliche). Greek and Hebrew words get dropped into conversation. "Shalom". "Parakleet", "logos", "agape". Then come the book-club recommendations and the dreaded "Would you like to visit our Wednesday-night home study group?" Or, worse yet, a multi-level marketing scheme. "Would you like to become a vessel for the Kingdom to financially bless others?"

Ironically, finding another practicing Christian out in the wild doesn't necessarily mean that the two Christians will get along or become good friends. Two random Christians from different churches or faith traditions might find that they don't have the same theology or practice; speaking "Christianese" with another random Christian can sometimes lead to conflicts of opinion. Things like opinions about the validity of healing-and-miracle ministries in the present day, Genesis literalism, or the likelihood of a biblical end-times scenario in one's own lifetime. The question of whether or not it is acceptable for a Christian to desire to become wealthy and successful (like Job! like Joseph! like Solomon!). Or, of course, whatever latest activist-involved kerfuffle that the latest big-name TV preacher has fallen into.

There is, of course, also the fact that two Christians might not form a friendship simply because one or both of them have an obvious personality flaw that make it difficult to get-along with. Unrelated to any Christian beliefs or practices.

If you aren't a practicing Christian, don't intentionally use any of these secret-handshakes. There's no prize for "catching" one of us out in the wild. And if you are a Christian, please, please stop.

Source: am American evangelical, from the relatively secular, pagan outpost of San Francisco, California.

  • What a mind confusing answer. I am lost where you are going with it. Do you have any sources of information to link to your response.
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 3, 2020 at 14:19
  • The questions was "do" Christians (present-tense) have a "secret handshake" so obviously it wouldn't be documented anywhere. I speak from personal experience. And since the question is present-tense, a secret handshake from past centuries wouldn't qualify, because the secret would leak out eventually. The Christian fish symbol, for example, is no longer a secret, is it? Apr 3, 2020 at 14:27
  • Just as the "fish" was originally an allusion to biblical verse, stripped into every-day context, the same can be done today with other verses. Networks-of-acquaintance are also valid secrets, both then and now; the identities of Christian church leaders were tightly guarded secrets back in the day. Today they are simply lesser-known in a non Christian context. Apr 3, 2020 at 14:30
  • Just as biblical phrases can be repurposed as social markers, and used in daily life, so, too, over-used expressions in the modern evangelical movement can be repurposed as social identity markers. Apr 3, 2020 at 14:31
  • The content of the question, and the semi-serious and non-theological-scholarship-based phrasing it was asked with, seemed to be asking for Christians to, perhaps, "spill the tea" (to use modern millennial parlance). And I happly obliged. Apr 3, 2020 at 14:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .