In this article, we will continue our study of animals and look at fish in the Bible. We will explore their references, symbolism, and more. So, grab your Bible, and let’s learn…
It’s been such a fun journey learning about different animals, and our next focus will be on fish! Which scripture has a good selection of passages on!
Have you ever noticed we seem to have many expressions that involve fish?
You may have heard that there are plenty of fish in the sea. You may have felt like a small fish in a big pond on your first day of school, but you behaved like a big fish in a small pond by your last day of grade school.
One sometimes feels like a fish out of water when thrown into a new situation. Sometimes you do not have time to worry about the small things because you have bigger fish to fry.
I mean, we can go on and on…
Almost everyone can relate to these expressions, and we easily catch the expressions’ meanings. Perhaps that is why we have many stories and parables in the Bible about fish.
Despite the many varieties of fish to be found, they are simplistic. The Bible seems to teach us quite a few lessons with the help of fish.
Let’s find out what God wants us to learn when He speaks about fish in the Bible.
Fish In The Bible: What Does The Bible Say About Fish?
The Bible often uses fish as a symbol and metaphor in its teachings. One of the most well-known stories involving fish is the miracle of the loaves and fishes, found in all four Gospels:
- Matthew 14:13-21
- Mark 6:31-44
- Luke 9:10-17
- John 6:5-15
In this story, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, symbolizing God’s providence and abundance.
Fish also play a significant role in the story of Jonah, who was swallowed by a “great fish” or “whale” and remained in its belly for three days and three nights as a form of divine punishment and eventual redemption (Jonah 1:17).
In the New Testament, fish are used as a symbol for the followers of Jesus. Many of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, and He often used fishing as a metaphor for their mission.
In Matthew 4:19, Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” meaning that their role was to spread the Gospel and bring others into the Kingdom of God.
The Greek word for fish, “Ichthys,” was used as an acronym in early Christianity, where each letter represented a word: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.“
Overall, fish in the Bible symbolizes faith, abundance, provision, people in general, and the followers of Jesus. They serve as a reminder of God’s providence and the mission of believers to spread the Gospel.
However, to understand the purpose of fish mentioned in the Bible, you must look at the context in which fish are mentioned to interpret the intention, meaning, or symbolism.
Fish Symbolism In The Bible
Fish symbolize a lot of things in the Bible as I have mentioned in Fish Dreams: The Biblical Meaning of Fish in a Dream. Here are some of the key points to keep in mind:
- Fish represent abundance and prosperity: In several stories, including the feeding of the 5000 and the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5, fish serve as a symbol of God’s abundance and blessing. They are a reminder that God’s provision is more than enough.
- Fish also represent evangelism and discipleship: When Jesus called his disciples, he promised to make them “fishers of men,” meaning that they would be catching people for the Kingdom of God. This metaphor captures the idea that Christians are called to share the good news of Jesus with others, just as fishermen cast their nets to catch fish.
- Fish are a symbol of baptism: Many early Christians used the image of a fish to represent baptism, since the Greek word for fish (ichthus) looks similar to the Greek acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” (Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter). This is why you might see fish symbols on baptismal fonts or other Christian artwork.
- Fish represent resurrection or even process: In the book of Jonah, the prophet is swallowed by a fish and spends three days in its belly. This story is often seen as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, since Jonah emerges from the fish’s belly to preach repentance and salvation to the people of Nineveh.
Let’s dig a little deeper and learn more about the spiritual meaning of fish…
While we know that fish were created on the fifth day, God does not mention them in Genesis 1. Whales are mentioned specifically, and fish are included with all the living creatures in the water.
We read about fish for the first time in Genesis 9:2, when God gives Noah dominion over all the animals, birds, and fish and declares them as food.
From this encounter, we learn that fish were provided as food. Fish can symbolize provision when you read about them elsewhere in the Bible.
The next time fish are mentioned in the Bible, it also talks about provision but carries a lesson for the Israelites in the wilderness.
In Numbers 11, we read that the Israelites murmured about the food they had. Mind you, they had manna, but they wanted fish or meat.
When God told Moses, He would provide meat for all the people for a month, Moses was taken aback. Moses pointed out that the meat needed for the nation would be all the fish in the sea, entire flocks, or herds of animals.
Of course, God was true to His word, and the nation got meat to eat. God is faithful and able to provide, but He also teaches us a lesson about greed in this encounter.
The people showed greed and a lack of faith in God’s provision by collecting more than they could eat. As a result of this greed, many died.
Spiritual Warnings Learned From Fish
In the book of Ezekiel, we read two accounts where God uses fish and fishing nets as part of the symbology to warn enemies of Israel. In Ezekiel 26: 5-17, God sends the coastal city of Tyrus a warning that includes a fishing net.
As Tyrus is in the Mediterranean, they understood that God meant no city would remain, only bare rocks for fishermen to dry their nets.
In Amos 4:2, God warns those who oppress the poor that He will remove them and their future generations with fishing hooks.
A third warning that includes fish is sent to the pharaoh of Egypt in Ezekiel 29: 3-5 because of his ill-treatment of Israel.
We find a different kind of warning involving fish in Ecclesiastes 9:12, where we read that we do not know when our time here on earth will end. We may come to a sudden end, just like fish caught in a net.
This is a very sobering thought and a reminder to live ready. If we have a close relationship with God, an unexpected end does not mean everlasting death. It is just the start of a new eternal life.
While there are warnings associated with fish and fishing in the Bible, the messages we remember best about fish are found in the New Testament.
Jesus Taught Fishermen To Fish
One of the best-known symbolic meanings of fish compares mankind to fish. Seven of Jesus’ twelve named disciples were fishermen by trade before becoming fishers of men’s souls.
Jesus used regular folk like me and you to do His Kingdom work, and there is so much to learn from the Great Fisherman. Just as Jesus called His disciples two thousand years ago, He still calls us to fish for Him today.
In Mark 1: 16-20, we read how Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to leave the earthly fishing industry to join Him.
It must have taken great faith, as fishing was how they made a living, yet they left everything behind to do God’s work on earth. Spreading the Gospel and lifting men out of the depth of darkness into the possibility of hope and eternal life through the salvation that Jesus offers is a big job.
Through Jesus’ ministry on earth, the disciples learned to love and care for people by following the example that Jesus set. Jesus took every opportunity to teach people about the Kingdom of Heaven. This is how He taught the disciples to fish and draw people into the Kingdom.
One of the parables that Jesus told reinforces this symbolism when He likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a fishing net. In the parable, men are the different kinds of fish being drawn in.
Just as many types of fish are in the net in this story, we must remember that we are surrounded by many different types of people daily.
We must live in a manner that shows people what Jesus did in our lives. By witnessing to people through the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, we can forward the Kingdom and become fishers of men.
The Miraculous Provision Of Fish
While learning from Jesus, the disciples witnessed many of Jesus’ miracles. Among these miracles were a number of occasions where Jesus affirmed the message of provision through fish.
We read in Mark about two accounts where Jesus feeds thousands of people with only a few fish and some bread.
On one occasion, a few small fish and seven loaves fed four thousand people. On another occasion, five loaves and two fish fed five thousand people.
God was faithful in providing nourishment to His people in the Old Testament. In the same way, Jesus showed that God still provided for those in need. The people came to be filled with Jesus’ message.
They came to eat the Bread of Life but were provided for physically. Just as Jesus used what little was available to provide for many, God can use us to show His love for those around us.
Jesus Fills The Disciples’ Nets With Fish
We learn about three miraculous catches of fish in the gospels. On the first occasion, Jesus instructs Simon to throw in his nets for a catch, despite not succeeding all night. Out of obedience, Simon casts his net again, not expecting to catch any fish.
To Simon’s astonishment, there were so many fish in the net that it started to brake. Simon needed help from James and John to help him with the haul of fish.
On another occasion, the disciples were close to shore after an unfruitful night at sea. Jesus calls them to cast in the net on the righthand side of the boat. The net was filled with one hundred and fifty-three large fish when they obeyed.
Despite the big haul, the net did not break on this occasion.
Though not a large catch of fish, there is another miraculous instance that involves a fish. Peter and Jesus are confronted by the men who collect temple tax.
Jesus instructs Peter to fish in the sea with a hook, and Peter retrieves the needed money from the mouth of the fish he catches. Miraculously, the fish has a coin to the exact value required to pay what was due for both of them.
What do we learn from these miracles? We learn that we are able to accomplish more when we have Jesus leading and guiding us.
Each time, Jesus performed the miracles at the hands of the disciples so they could learn to walk in obedience. With Jesus in their lives, they could perform more in a few minutes than in many hours of toil in their own strength.
We learn that no situation is too big or too small for God. Whether providing for a whole nation, a few thousand people, or a few coins, God can provide for every need.
Early Christians Followed A Fish Trail
For the early Christians, the fish became a symbol of hope and unity. During the period of persecution, the new Christians would use the fish as a symbol to indicate their faith and as a way to mark secret places of worship.
Like a secret handshake, a follower of Jesus would draw half of a fish. If the person being greeted was also a follower, he would complete the drawing.
Greek was the dominant language spoken during this time of persecution. The Greek word for fish, ichthus, became an acronym for Jesus’ followers’ statement of faith.
In Greek, ichthus became an acronym or acrostic, meaning Jesus Christ is God’s Son and our Savior. The simplicity of this symbol has endured through the ages, as many Christians still use the symbol of the fish to show their faith in God.
Fish in the Bible mainly symbolizes a warning, provision, or salvation. Just as fish are pulled from the depths, we, as mankind, need to be pulled from the sinful world into God’s Kingdom. As fish provide food that sustains us, God provides for all our physical and spiritual needs. We need to share the message of salvation with others freely.
We may doubt our ability to be fishers of men, but with Jesus at the boat’s helm, we can accomplish so much more than we can do on our own!
More Animals In The Bible
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…