The Role of Fish in Biblical Stories: Scales and Fins

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Christian and Inspirational, Jesus Christ | 0 comments

Photo by Manel and Sean

Hosea by Joseph Descans is a modern retelling of the Biblical story of Hosea and Gomer. Within the pages of the story, there is a particular focus on fish, so what is the role of fish in Biblical stories?

Seemingly ordinary animals that live within water, fish hold a surprisingly significant place within the Bible and the history of Christianity. Their appearances throughout scripture carry symbolic weight, representing God’s creative power, provision, and the message of Jesus Christ.

The Role of Fish in Biblical Stories

Fish in Genesis

The very first appearance of fish in the Bible occurs in the creation story (Genesis 1:20-21). Here, fish are part of God’s creative act, teeming within the vast waters alongside other living creatures. This initial encounter establishes fish as a testament to God’s dominion over nature and the abundant life He brings forth.

Signs of Provision and Abundance

The theme of fish as a symbol of provision is held throughout the Old Testament. 

In the story of Jonah, a disobedient prophet is swallowed by a large fish and miraculously saved after three days (Jonah 1:17). This experience serves as a reminder of God’s power to preserve even in the direst circumstances.

Fish also represent God’s abundant care for His people. During the Exodus, when the Israelites escape from Egypt, they rely on manna from heaven and quail for sustenance (Exodus 16), but in the New Testament, Jesus feeds people with fish many times. 

Two notable miracles involve the multiplication of fish. 

In the first instance (Matthew 14:15-21), Jesus feeds a multitude of five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish. This act symbolizes the overflowing abundance of God’s grace, capable of providing for even the greatest needs. 

The second miracle (John 21:1-11) occurs after Jesus’ resurrection, where He tells his disciples to throw their nets towards the right side. Following his instructions, they catch a large number of fish, demonstrating Jesus’ continued presence and power even after His death.

A Call to Discipleship

Jesus uses the role of fish and fishing metaphors to illustrate his call to discipleship. He famously tells Peter and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).

Here, Jesus likens the act of spreading the Gospel message to the skilled work of catching fish. Disciples, like fishermen, are entrusted with the task of sharing the message of salvation and bringing people into the fold of Christianity.

A Secret Symbol of Early Christianity

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of fish in Christianity lies in the Ichthys symbol. The Greek word for fish, “Ichthys” (pronounced ick-thoos), forms an acrostic that spells out a powerful affirmation of faith: 

Ἰησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ

Iēsous Christos Theou Yios Sōtēr

The phrase above translates to “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

During the first few centuries of Christianity, a time of significant persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys symbol served as a secret badge of faith for Christians. 

Its simplicity and ambiguity allowed believers to identify with one another without attracting unwanted attention. The symbol could be discreetly drawn on walls, etched on rings, or displayed in homes, functioning as a silent yet powerful sign of fellowship.

Joseph Descans is the author of “Hosea: The Prophet Who Married a Prostitute,” a modern retelling of the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer. He has a BA in Literature and minored in Spanish at Point Loma Nazarene University. He currently resides in San Diego with his four kids and a medley of cats and hens.

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