Symbols of Christianity
Find out the most common symbols of Christianity and the history behind them.
My kids and I recently had a discussion about world religions, and my son was amazed at how many major religions there are, let alone all the offshoots and sects. Each one has so many different symbols and rituals that it can be overwhelming to try to understand any one faith. Christianity is a major world religion and the one most professed by Americans. Understanding the symbols of Christianity will give you an overview of the faith and its basic tenets.
Of course, the most prominent symbol in the Christian faith is the cross or crucifix. Jesus Christ is the central figure in the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He was crucified on a cross for the sins of the world. He then rose from the dead on the third day. The empty cross is the prominent symbol of evangelical Christians; the crucifix (a cross with a figure of the crucified Jesus affixed to it) is a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church.
There are many symbols for Jesus Himself: a lamb, a shepherd, a candle and a fish are some of the most familiar.
- Lamb: In the New Testament book of John, chapter 1, verse 29, John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. This symbol goes back to the Old Testament story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Because the Pharaoh would not let the Israelite slaves leave, God visited 10 plagues upon Egypt. The final plague was an angel of death that passed over all the houses in Egypt, killing the firstborn children within. Moses instructed the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When the angel of death saw the lamb's blood, he would pass over that house, leaving the firstborn untouched. Christians see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus dying on the cross and his blood rescuing the believer from death.
- Shepherd: Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd in John 10:14, saying that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
- Candle: In John 8:12, Jesus calls Himself the Light of the World, saying that those who follow Him will not walk in darkness. Christians are also called the light of the world by Jesus in Matthew 5:14.
- Fish: The fish as a symbol for Jesus comes from the time in the history of the church when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. The Greek word for fish is Ichthys, and its letters are an acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. The simple line drawing of a fish was used to mark the homes and businesses of Christians so that other believers could find them.
There are many other symbols in Christianity that are not as prominent. These include: the Alpha and Omega, the apple, the Borromean rings, the Burning Bush, and the Chi Rho.
- Alpha and Omega: In Revelation 1:8, God calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who was, who is, and who is to come. This is a reference to the Greek alphabet, of which alpha is the first letter and omega is the last. Alpha looks like a capital A, and omega looks like an upside-down U or horseshoe shape.
- The Apple: In Genesis, Eve eats the forbidden fruit that is offered to her by Satan, in the form of a serpent, thus bringing sin into the world. Although the Bible does not say what the fruit was, the apple is typically used to represent the forbidden.
- The Borromean Rings: This symbol consists of three linked rings. The rings are linked in such a way that if you remove any single ring, the other two will no longer be linked. The Borromean Rings is a symbol of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
- The Burning Bush: In the book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses from a bush that burns, although the fire does not consume the bush. From the bush, God commands Moses to return to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery to the Egyptian pharaoh.
- The Chi Rho: Chi and Rho are the first two letters of Christ in Greek. They resemble a capital X and capital P, and they will often be super-imposed one on top of the other.
Although all of the above are symbols of Christianity, the cross remains the most important and prominent symbol of the Christian faith.