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Religious Symbols as Bridges

 As the previous examples suggest, religious symbols (especially presentational symbols) function as a kind of bridge between the sacred and the profane. Livingston notes that religious symbols serve to bridge or bring together three important aspects of the religious life. Religious symbols:
  • Bring together the sacred and the ordinary
  • Bring together and sustain a sense of community
  • Brings together a variety of events and meanings
An example of how symbols bring together a variety of concepts and even bring together a community is the fish symbol of Christianity. The fish symbol was used by the early Christian to identify themselves as part of the Christian community. This common symbol thus brought together and sustained a sense of community. A closer examination of the symbol demonstrates the variety of meanings found in the symbol. The Greek word for fish is ichthus. This word served as an acrostic; that is each Greek letter stood for a particular word or phrase:

Greek Letter

Greek Word

English Translation.
















Thus, the fish “brought together” the affirmation: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” The symbol, however, had many other layers of meaning. For example, fish live in water – which represents baptism, creation, and birth. Jesus also used the image of a fish in speaking of his own resurrection when he compared his death and resurrection to the story of Jonah and the fish. Moreover, one of the resurrection stories tells how Jesus and his disciples shared a meal of fish and bread. A fish may also symbolize discipleship: Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen who were called to be fishers of men. Finally, the fish is used in some of Jesus’ parables as well as in the story of his miraculously feeding multitudes of people. Thus, this one symbol, brings together all of the stories at many different levels of meaning.