The Meaning of ICHTHUS

icthus-illustrationThe Meaning of ICHTHUS/ichthus as an adopted Christian symbol.

In ancient Greco-Roman times, ICHTHUS was the Greek word for “fish.” In the early church sometime near the end of the first century, the word was made into an acronym or a word formed from the first letter of several words. As such, ichthus compiles to “Jesus Christ, God’s son, Savior,” based on this configuration:

  • Iota (i) is the first letter of Iesous (Greek for Jesus)
  • Chi (kh) is the first letter of Khristos (Greek for Christ)
  • Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (Greek for God, or “God’s)
  • Upsilon (u) is the first letter of Huios (Greek for Son)
  • Sigma (s) is the first letter of Soter (Greek for Savior)

Known colloquially as “the sign of the fish,” it is reported that in early times it was used by Christians as a secret symbol that all would recognize, whether scratched on walls, rocks, or sand. The simple symbol of the fish is made of two intersecting arcs, the ends extending beyond the meeting point so as to resemble the profile of a fish. It has been suggested that when a Christian met a stranger on the road, he/she sometimes drew one arc of the fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company! The symbol may have also been used by early Christians to mark tombs or even meeting places in a house church.

The illustrated symbol featured on this website of an ancient tiled art piece with a very old text of ICHTHUS in ancient capital letters was interpreted in stipple line art by illustrator Randal Birkey from an unknown source.