Just like every other religion, there are numerous ancient Christian symbols. The different symbols and figures often help distinguish one religion from the other.
For most religions, the evolution of their religions have given life to various symbols attached to them. This is not so different in the case of the Christian religion
From time immemorial, there have been a lot of symbols attached to the Christian religion. Many of these symbols were either passed down from preceding religions or were inculcated into the Christian religion via unsavory means. Some symbols have evolved in meanings and interpretations, while others have remained stoic in their symbolism.
Ancient Christian symbols have impacted the outlook of the Christian religion. These symbols have also helped to mark the religion apart. Ancient Christian symbols have also helped to mark the distinct rich culture of the Christian religion.
Like many other religions, there are a few symbols that are much more recognized as part of the Christian religion. These symbols seem to scream out “Christianity” when they are seen anywhere. Others hold deep significant meanings, which are not quite as popular yet have polarizing effects on the Christian Faith.
Here are 10 ancient Christian symbols
1. The Cross
Without a doubt, this ancient symbol cannot be omitted when it comes to Christian symbols. The Cross is one with a very rich history. To a lot of Christian faithful, it might even be the single most important symbol in the Christian religion.
It is quite commonplace, to see a person sporting a necklace with the cross on it, and many churches have a replica of Christ hanging on a cross somewhere within the church premise. There are even churches built with the shape of the cross. It is easy to see that the cross is one symbol that cannot be easily removed from the Christian religion.
The Christian cross symbolizes the crucifixion, and by association symbolizes salvation
The fish is a sacred Christian symbol. In Greek, the first letters – Iesous Christos, Theou Yios, Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior) make the word ‘ichthys’ – fish, with a strong symbolic association of Christ with fish.
This symbol was used primarily amongst Christians of the early church years (1st and 2nd century A.D.) The symbol was introduced from Alexandria, Egypt; which at the time, was a very heavily populated seaport. It was the port in which many goods were brought over from the European continent. Because of this, it was first used by the peoples of the sea as a symbol of a familiar deity, in this case, Jesus Christ.
The symbol was also said to be used as a code by the early Christians for identifying each other in times of persecution.
The symbol of purity and meekness, the dove has been recognized as a symbol or Christ in his meek form. Luke 3:22 – “And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.”
The dove was originally a symbol for the goddess Venus. It is now much more associated with the person of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Staurogram, or Tau-Rho, is a Greek tau (T) combined with a Greek rho (P) and was used in the early church as an abbreviation for the Greek word for cross.
Ephrem the Syrian in the 4th-century explained these two united letters stating that the tau refers to the cross, and the rho refers to the Greek word “help” (Βoήθια; proper spelling: Βoήθεια) which has the numerological value in Greek of 100 as the letter rho has. In such a way the symbol expresses the idea that the Cross saves
5. IH Monogram
The first two letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, iota (Ι) and eta (Η), sometimes superimposed one on the other, or the numeric value 18 of ΙΗ in Greek, was a well-known and very early way to represent Christ.
6. Jerusalem’s Cross.
The Crusaders used the Jerusalem Cross as an emblem; bearing the symbol on the papal banner given to them by Pope Urban II. It was adopted by Godfrey de Bouillon as his coat of arms. He was one of the leaders of the Crusades and became the first ruler of Jerusalem (he refused the title of “king”) after successfully driving out the Moslems during the First Crusade in 1099.
Popular interpretations of the Jerusalem Cross:
- The central cross stands for Christ and the four smaller crosses stand for the 4 evangelists John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew.
- The large cross represents Christ as the strength at the center of Christianity and the smaller crosses as the 4 corners of the earth to which the faith spread.
- The crosses represent the wounds that Christ suffered when He was crucified; the central cross for the wound on His side, and the 4 smaller crosses for the wounds on His hands and feet.
- The 5 crosses represent the five nations that figured in The Crusades: Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.
7. The Star of Bethlehem
The star of Bethlehem is a reference to the star that was present at the birth of Jesus. The star by which the Wise men found the manger.
The star is seen as the fulfillment of prophecy, and it is very common during the Christmas periods, celebrating the birth of Christ.
The pelican is a bird that is willing to injure itself to provide sustenance for its young. This has been likened to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
In the ancient world, anchors symbolized safety. The author of the Hebrews adopted this symbol for the hope Christians have in Christ: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 6.19-20)
10. Alpha and Omega.
Jesus is seen as the Alpha and Omega. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says of himself, “I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev 22.13)
The Greek letters for Alpha and Omega are mostly used to represent Jesus as the alpha and Omega.
A quick summary
Many ancient Christian symbols have meanings that are deeply rooted either in Christ or in the history of the church. Sometimes understanding these Christian symbols would help to give perspective to how believers and non-believers view the Christian religion.