Christianity Symbols Illustrated Glossary

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Christian Cross

Latin Cross
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Latin Cross. Images © Sue Chastain

This collection of Christianity symbols includes pictures and descriptions of the most easily recognized symbols of Christianity.

The Christian cross or Latin cross represents Christ's victory over sin and death through the sacrifice of his own body on the cross.

The Latin cross, referred to as the Christian cross, is the most familiar and widely recognized symbol of Christianity today. It was most likely the shape of the structure upon which Jesus Christ was crucified. Though various forms of the cross existed, the Latin cross was made of two pieces of wood crossed to create four right angles. The cross today represents Christ's victory over sin and death through the sacrifice of his own body on the cross.

The Roman Catholic depictions of the cross often reveal the body of Christ still on the cross. This is known as the crucifix and brings emphasis to the sacrifice and suffering of Christ. Protestant churches tend to portray the empty cross, emphasizing the resurrected, risen Christ. Followers of Christianity identify with the cross through these words of Jesus (also in Matthew 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23):

Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me." (NIV)

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Christian Fish or Ichthys

Christian Fish or Ichthys
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Christian Fish or Ichthys. Images © Sue Chastain

The Christian Fish, also called the Jesus Fish or Ichthys, was a secret symbol of early Christianity.

The Ichthys or fish symbol was used by early Christians to identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ and to express their affinity to Christianity. Ichthys is the Ancient Greek word for "fish." The "Christian fish," or "Jesus fish" symbol consists of two intersecting arcs tracing the outline of a fish (most commonly with the fish "swimming" to the left). It is said to have been used by early persecuted Christians as a secret symbol of identification. The Greek word for fish (Ichthus) also forms the acronym "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior."

Followers of Christianity identify with the fish as a symbol because fish frequently appeared in the ministry of Christ. They were a staple in the biblical times diet and fish were often mentioned in the Gospels. For example, Christ multiplied the two fish and five loaves of bread in Matthew 14:17. Jesus said in Mark 1:17, "Come, follow me ... and I will make you fishers of men." (NIV)

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Christian Dove

Dove
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Dove. Images © Sue Chastain

The dove represents the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.

The dove represents the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost in Christianity. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove when he was baptized in the Jordan River:

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." (NIV)

The dove is also a symbol of peace. In Genesis 8 after the flood, a dove returned to Noah with an olive branch in its beak, revealing the end of God's judgment and the beginning of a new covenant with man.

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Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Crown of Thorns. Images © Sue Chastain

The crown of thorns represents the sin and suffering carried by the King of Christianity.

One of the most vivid symbols of Christianity is the crown of thorns, which Jesus wore before his crucifixion:

Matthew 27:29
... and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. (NIV)

In the Bible thorns often represent sin, and therefore, the crown of thorns is fitting—that Jesus would bear the sins of the world. But a crown is also fitting because it represents the suffering King of Christianity—Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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Trinity (Borromean Rings)

Trinity (Borromean Rings)
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Trinity (Borromean Rings). Images © Sue Chastain

The Borromean Rings represent the trinity.

There are many symbols of the trinity in Christianity. The Borromean Rings are three interlocking circles that symbolize the Christian trinity. The word "trinity" comes from the Latin noun "trinitas" meaning "three are one." The trinity represents the belief that God is one Being made up of three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal, co-eternal communion as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The following verses express the concept of the trinity: Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; John 14:16-17; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Acts 2:32-33; John 10:30; John 17:11&21.

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Trinity (Triquetra)

Trinity (Triquetra)
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Trinity (Triquetra). Images © Sue Chastain

The Triquetra symbol represents the trinity.

There are many symbols of the trinity in Christianity. The Triquetra is a three-part interlocking fish symbol that symbolizes the Christian trinity. The word "trinity" comes from the Latin noun "trinitas" meaning "three are one." The trinity represents the belief that God is one Being made up of three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal, co-eternal communion as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The following verses express the concept of the trinity: Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19; John 14:16-17; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Acts 2:32-33; John 10:30; John 17:11&21.

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Light of the World

Light of the World
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Light of the World. Images © Sue Chastain

Candles, lamps, light and flames represent the manifest presence of God as the Light of the World.

With so many references to God being "light" in Scripture, representations of light such as candles, flames and lamps have become common symbols of Christianity:

1 John 1:5
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (NIV)

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (NIV)

Psalm 27:1
The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? (NIV)

Light represents the presence of God. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and to the Israelites in the pillar of flame. The eternal flame of God's presence was to be lit in the Temple in Jerusalem at all times. In fact, in the Jewish Feast of Dedication or "Festival of Lights" we remember the victory of the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple after being desecrated under Greco-Syrian captivity. Even though they only had enough sacred oil for one day, God miraculously causes the eternal flame of his presence to burn for eight days, until more purified oil could be processed.

Light also represents the direction and guidance of God. Psalm 119:105 says God's Word is a lamp to the feet and a light to our path. 2 Samuel 22 says the Lord is a lamp, turning darkness into light.

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Christian Star

Star
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Star. Images © Sue Chastain

The Star of David and the five-pointed star are both symbols associated with Christianity.

The Star of David is a six-pointed star formed by two interlocking triangles, one pointing up, one pointing down. It is named after King David and appears on the flag of Israel. While predominately recognized as a symbol of Judaism and Israel, many Christians identify with the Star of David as well.

The five-pointed star is also a symbol of Christianity associated with the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ. In Matthew 2 the Magi (or wise men) followed a star toward Jerusalem in search of the newborn King. From there the star led them to Bethlehem, to the very location where Jesus was born. When they found the child with his mother, they bowed and worshiped him, presenting him with gifts.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called the Morning Star (Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16).

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Bread & Wine

Bread and Wine
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Bread & Wine. Images © Sue Chastain

The bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ.

Bread and wine (or grapes) represent the Lord's Supper or Communion.

Bread symbolizes life. It is the nourishment that sustains life. In the wilderness, God provided a daily, saving provision of manna, or "bread from heaven," for the children of Israel. And Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry." NIV) Bread also represents the physical body of Christ. At the Last Supper Jesus broke bread, gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body given for you…" (Luke 22:19 NIV).

Wine represents God's covenant in blood, poured out in payment for mankind's sin. Jesus said in Luke 22:20, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (NIV) Believers partake of communion on a regular basis to remember Christ's sacrifice and all that he has done for us in his life, death and resurrection. The Lord's Supper is a time of self-examination and participation in the body of Christ. For more about Communion, visit What is Communion?

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Rainbows in the Bible

Rainbow in the Bible
What Do Rainbows Symbolize in the Bible?. Jutta Kuss / Getty Images

In Scripture, rainbows are a symbol of God's faithfulness.

 

Rainbows Are a Sign of God's Covenant

The Christian rainbow is a symbol of God's faithfulness and his promise to never again destroy the earth by flood. This promise comes from the story of Noah and the Flood.

After the flood, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth and all living creatures by flood:

And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:   I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." (Genesis 9:12-16, NIV)

"In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the Lord, your Redeemer. "This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:8-10, ESV)

God's Covenant of Grace

The rainbow, by arching high over the horizon, shows the all-embracing expanse of God's faithfulness through his work of grace. God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ isn't only for a select few souls to enjoy. The gospel of salvation, like a rainbow, is all-encompassing, and everyone is invited to behold it:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, NIV)

Rainbows Describe the Glory of God

Writers of the Bible used rainbows to describe the glory of God: 

Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28, ESV)

The Pulpit Commentary: Ezekiel (Vol. 1) by Spence-Jones, H. D. M. beautifully interprets:

"All colours are present in the rainbow, ranged in perfect order and blending where they meet without any harshness of contrast. There is rich variety in the glory of God. Each may find there his favourite hues of the perfect character. Some may select the true blue of faithfulness, others may prefer the glowing red of love. To one the golden splendour of perfection is most entrancing, to a second the imperial purple appears as the supremely important colour, to a third the green that reminds him of sweet fields of nature and earthly beauty may seem most attractive. All are present in the rich pleroma of glory. And all are in harmony."

A Rainbow Around the Throne in Heaven

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John saw a rainbow around the throne of God in heaven:

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. (Revelation 4:2-3, NIV)

As believers, when we see a rainbow, we ought to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, his all-encompassing grace, his glorious beauty, and his holy and eternal presence on the throne of our lives. 

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Christian Circle

Circle
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Circle. Images © Sue Chastain

The Christian circle represents eternity.

The unending circle or wedding ring is a symbol of eternity. For Christian couples, the exchanging of the wedding rings is the outward expression of the inward bond, as two hearts unite as one and promise to love each other with fidelity for all eternity. Likewise, the wedding covenant and the husband and wife relationship is a picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church. Husbands are urged to lay down their lives in sacrificial love and protection. And in the safe and cherished embrace of a loving husband, a wife naturally responds in submission and respect. Just as the marriage relationship, symbolized in the unending circle, is designed to last forever, so too will the believer's relationship with Christ endure for all eternity.

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Lamb of God (Agnus Dei)

Lamb of God
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Lamb of God. Images © Sue Chastain

The Lamb of God represents Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless sacrifice offered by God to atone for the sins of man.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. He is the sacrificial lamb, offered by God to atone for the sins of man.

Isaiah 53:7
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter ... (NIV)

John 1:29
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (NIV)

Revelation 7:10
And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (NIV)

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Holy Bible

Holy Bible
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Holy Bible. Images © Sue Chastain

The Holy Bible is the Word of God.

The Holy Bible is the Word of God. It is the Christian's handbook for life. God's message to mankind—his love letter—is contained in the pages of the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness... (NIV)

Matthew 5:18
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. (NLT)

The Bible is comprised of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The Bible was written throughout a period of 1600 years, with more than 40 authors. It's interesting to note, not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year, every year.

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Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Ten Commandments. Images © Sue Chastain

The Ten Commandments represent the laws of God for spiritual and moral living.

The Ten Commandments or the Tablets of the Law are the laws that God gave to the people of Israel through Moses after leading them out of Egypt. In essence, they are a summary of the hundreds of laws found in the Old Testament Law. They offer basic rules of behavior for spiritual and moral living. The story of the Ten Commandments is recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

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Cross & Crown

Cross & Crown
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Cross & Crown. Images © Sue Chastain

The cross and crown represent the heavenly reward that awaits believers who first must suffer the trials of life on earth.

The Cross and Crown is a familiar symbol in Christian churches. It represents the reward awaiting in heaven (the crown) that believers will receive after the suffering and trials of life on earth (the cross).

James 1:12
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (NIV)

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Alpha & Omega

Alpha & Omega
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Alpha & Omega. Images © Sue Chastain

The Alpha and the Omega symbols represent the eternal nature of Jesus Christ and God.

Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. Together these two letters form a monogram or symbol for one of the names of Jesus Christ, meaning "the Beginning and the End." The term is found in Revelation 1:8: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (NIV) Two more times in the book of Revelation we see this name for Jesus:

Revelation 21:6
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. (NIV)

Revelation 22:13
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. (NIV)

This statement by Jesus is very important to Christianity because it clearly means that Jesus existed before creation and will continue to exist for all eternity. He was with God before anything was created, and therefore, took part in creation. Jesus, like God, was not created. He is eternal. Thus, Alpha and Omega as a Christian symbol signifies the eternal nature of Jesus Christ and God.

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Chi-Rho (Monogram of Christ)

Chi-Rho (Monogram of Christ)
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Chi-Rho (Monogram of Christ). Images © Sue Chastain

The Chi-Rho is the oldest known monogram for Christ.

Chi-Rho is the oldest known monogram (or letter symbol) for Christ. Some call this symbol the "Christogram" and it dates back to the Roman Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-337). Though the truth of this story is questionable, it is said that Constantine saw this symbol in the sky before an important battle, and he heard the message, "By this sign, conquer." Thus, he adopted the symbol for his army. Chi (x = ch) and Rho (p = r) are the first three letters of "Christ" or "Christos" in the Greek language. Though there are many variations of the Chi-Rho, most commonly it consists of the overlaying of the two letters and oftentimes is surrounded by a circle.

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Monogram of Jesus (Ihs)

Ihs (Monogram of Jesus)
Christian Symbols Illustrated Glossary Ihs (Monogram of Jesus). Images © Sue Chastain

Ihs is an ancient monogram of Jesus.

Ihs is an ancient monogram (or letter symbol) for Jesus that dates back to the first century. It is an abbreviation derived from the first three letters (iota = i + eta = h + sigma = s) of the Greek word "Jesus." Scribes of that time period wrote a line or a bar over the letters to indicate an abbreviation.