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A Basic Introduction to Christian Symbols

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Easter is coming soon and you will see various symbols related to it. One of the most frequent is the Easter egg. Christians adopted the egg as a symbol of Jesus' resurrection from the dead very early. As the egg's shell appears lifeless and a live chick comes out of it, so also the sealed tomb broke open and Jesus emerged alive.

The eggs are colorfully decorated as an expression of joy at the resurrection and the confident hope it gives Christians that they, too, shall rise.

Not only will you see various Christian symbols in churches; but you will also see them on greeting cards, decorations, jewelry, and on gravestones in cemeteries. It helps to be a bit familiar with Christian symbols and their meaning.

(The images used in this Instructable are from Google Images.)
 
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Step 1: Some Easter symbols are not Christian

Picture of Some Easter symbols are not Christian
The familiar Easter bunny is not a Christian symbol. For Christians Easter is properly "the Festival of Our Lord's Resurrection from the Dead," but that is a mouthful and Christians usually just say 'Easter.' The word "Easter" properly refers to springtime, fertility, and new life associated with the passing of the deadness of winter and the rejuvenation of the earth. Rabbits multiply rapidly and the Easter bunny is really a symbol of fertility. Bunnies and fertility have more in common with a pagan worship of the earth than they do with a Christian celebration of Easter.

Step 2: Another symbol of Easter

Picture of Another symbol of Easter
The butterfly is also a Christian symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. A cocoon appears lifeless, and yet a beautiful butterfly emerges alive.
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soulgarou1 month ago

Sigh...hello all..I am a pagan..A celtic shaman to be more accurate...and I've read thru all the comments and debates on this instruct able and have come to 3 conclusions:

1: This is a very good instructive if u take it for exactly what it is...The explanation of why Christianity makes use of specific symbols..Their meanings (for christians) and a basic study of WHY..sadly it seems it's been turned into more of an excuse to attack christians of "stealing" pagan symbology for their own purpose....which brings me to the next point...

2: christians didn't "steal" anything...or borrow...or however u want to put it...they used a symbol that was familiar to them at the time to express a thought or idea in a way they felt was appropriate for them...just as pagans did as well...The simple shape of a fish was found on cave paintings long before even Wiccan or other pagan religions ever existed...and as for images like the triquetra well it to has origins long before recorded history...and has appeared in many cultures independently of the others throughout history...humans are visual beings...and a symbol helps us learn a concept faster then mere verbal or even written teachings...no one OWN these symbols..so there's no "theft".

3: What difference would it make anyway? Who cares? I support a christians right to believe or represent that belief how they see fit...just like a TRUE Christian would by the very nature of Christianity. ..respect my right to do the same...so yes I do like this instructable. ..UT gave me insights into Christian symbolism I didn't have before. .and I think I may post one on pagan symbology as well...not as an argument or disagreement with this one..but as a simple and straightforward explanation...Bravo on this instructable!!

Phil B (author)  soulgarou1 month ago
Thank you for your very fair and perceptive comment.
Moltroub10 months ago
Phil,

Today I received an instructables email with this instructable. I took the time to read all the comments. Anytime someone can make others think and become passionate on that thought is a wonderful thing. Amusing people assume underlying reasons for clearly stated purpose. I had forgotten much of what you explained here, thank you for reminding me!
Phil B (author)  Moltroub10 months ago
I am quite puzzled why that notification was sent. I did that Instructable quite some time ago. I have not revised it in any way. I have also received half-a-dozen notifications on the same Instructable someone else did. Meanwhile, two I did in '09 are no longer available for public view, but ended up in my Drafts folder. I am not sure what is happening.

Thanks for your words of appreciation. In retrospect, had I understood exactly how it is done, I think I would have flagged some of the angry comments as "not nice."
Kiteman Phil B10 months ago
There was some sort of glitch in an update - some folk had some projects unpredictably unpublished. Just republish, you should be fine.
Phil B (author)  Kiteman10 months ago
Thanks. Someone at Instructables got back to me and said essentially the same thing.
I think their mail robot wants a raise. I had not seen this instructable anyway, and I enjoyed it.
Phil B (author)  emerson.john10 months ago
Thanks.
jbyrd310 months ago
I just stumbled across this "ible" and I think it's awesome! My wife and I have prayerfully decided to home-school our kids due to (among other reasons) some of the things being taught in today's public school system. When I read this I thought it would be awesome to incorporate in some of their later studies (preferably after they learn how to read, haha). Thanks!
Phil B (author)  jbyrd310 months ago
Thank you. I wish you well with the home schooling. At the time our kids were in school not many were doing that. Now, I wish at times we had, although I do not know how we would have managed.

Although some want a totally secular environment, it always amazes me how many times I see something in the public setting that has biblical or Christian roots. Look at place names we all know, like Corpus Christi or San Diego (and all of the other mission stations on the California coast or common expressions, like scapegoat or Judas or good Samaritan. These things are part of our everyday culture and they are unintelligible until one understands the biblical or Christian background of each.

I am mystified as to why this notice went out now. I published the Instructable a few years ago and have not revised it in any way. I am glad you found it, though.
WrshpMzshn1 year ago
Is the "P" part of this symbol also indicative of the shepherd's crook?
Phil B (author)  WrshpMzshn1 year ago
That is an interesting deduction to make, and it would make an interesting connection, even if somewhat allegorical. "P" in this case is actually the standard Greek letter "rho," which corresponds to our "R," whether in lower case or in capital. These are simply the first two letters of Christ in Greek. Thank you for looking and for asking.
cfullerton3 years ago
What about the scripture that says "No Images"??? How do you respond to people that use that scripture?
shikaku3 years ago
yeah, sorry dude. My little brother went on my computer yesterday, he's in a philosophy class with a liberal teacher, and so he thinks he knows what he's talking about. Ignore those, sorry. I am however going to leave the upside down cross comment, as it is relevant, and you did take care of that in your comment.

Again, I apologize, and I'm not allowing him near my computer for a while.
Phil B (author)  shikaku3 years ago
Thank you for the clarification. I am deleting my responses to your brother's posts.
shikaku3 years ago
Also, why not have the upside down cross on here? It's a christian symbol. Of when Peter was crucified upside down cuz he didn't feel worthy of being killed in the same way as jesus. so in more ancient times it was more pious to carry aroud an upside down cross, to show that you weren't worthy of jesus. it's only recently been misconstrued into a satanist symbol, while it's really not.
Phil B (author)  shikaku3 years ago
I tried to keep to more common Christian symbols a person is likely to encounter on an everyday basis. While the upside down cross does represent Peter's alleged crucifxion, it is not frequently encountered.
Mirime3 years ago
Or my fav. the Darwin fish holding a hammer
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skunkbait4 years ago
Phil, Another great ible! How did I ever miss this one?? I guess I grew up with an aversion to Christian symbols. (It's been soooo many years, but) I think I was taught that they were perilously close to "icons" and thus linked to idolatry. But as I've matured, I see that that was certainly not the original purpose or intent. About 15 years ago (before it became so mainstream), I got an "Ichtys" tattoo on my shoulder. It was done in New Guinea, in the traditional way, with soot from a fire being used as ink. Some folks would see that as a breach of Lev. 19:28, but in that context, the markings were "for the dead". My Ichthys is for the LIVING......Jesus!
Phil B (author)  skunkbait4 years ago
Thanks, Barry. Back in the 9th Century there was actually a controversy over whether symbolism is appropriate or a form of idolatry. I just did a little Internet search to refresh myself and found they ended it by making a distinction between using an image as an object of worship versus letting it serve as a mere reminder. I know similarities to that controversy can be found in some parts of North American Christianity. It seems that if 1st Century Christians could make use of the fish or Ichthus symbol as they did, images as reminders should not be a big problem.
Is this a true Christian symbol?  Perhaps it's just a figment of Monty Python's imagination?

"Oh no! Bad, bad Zoot! She has been setting light to our beacon, which, I've just remembered, is Grail shaped. It's not the first time we've had this problem."
;-)

holy_grail_660.jpg
Phil B (author)  Jack A Lopez4 years ago
The chalice is a Christian symbol, sometimes referred to as the Grail.  In my experience it is not as widely used as some of those I showed here.  I did not follow Monty Python, but did they not do a film called, "Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail?"
There is indeed such a film. The quote in my comment is taken from a scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"   It was produced by the Monty Python crew in 1975, and IMHO one of the funniest movies of the twentieth century, or even all time.  IMDB summary here:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071853/

Regarding the use of the Grail, or a 2D projection of it, as a Christian symbol, I haven't seen too many of them in the wild, not nearly as common as crosses, or fish symbols.  In fact, the only instance I can think of, is that of me seeing one in the form of an actual metal chalice, as part of a Catholic Communion ritual.

I'm not all that familiar Christian symbols and rituals, but somehow I thought the Grail/Chalice shape, as a symbol, might be worth mentioning as a comment to this 'ible.

Also I thought it was worth mentioning just because the quote from MPATHG was really funny. 
;-)

By the way, I probably wouldn't have found my way to this 'ible at all if it weren't for a robot-suggested "related" link in a sidebar of this question:
http://www.instructables.com/answers/Is-there-any-actual-proof-that-Jesus-was-a-real-hu/
The holy grail refers to the chalice that Jesus drank from during the last supper.It was a common quest for the knights of the middle ages to find and drink from it to receive ever lasting life.

The most popular reference of the grail itself that  I can think of is the Indiana Jones movie the last crusade.

but the HPATHG quote was funny ;) 
JohnJY unihope4 years ago
I thought the holy grail was the cup in which the water and wine that had spilled from Jesus side, when the stabbed him, was caught in.
agis684 years ago
Also the Lion and the 2head eagle
Norm1015 years ago
Nike was an ancient Greek goddess... I find it interesting how this religion has co-opted, changed, and outright stolen images from other religions and cultures, yet they are the "defining" images of the belief system. To me, that merely says that the entire belief system is an amalgamation of other, older beliefs.
Phil B (author)  Norm1015 years ago
Yes, Nike was a Greek goddess, but you do not need to go that far to find a reason for its use by Christians. It is also a word meaning "victory" that occurs several times in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:57 it refers to Jesus' victory over death through the resurrection. If you give serious consideration to its use in the New Testament, you should also reconsider your assumption that "the entire belief system is an amalgamation of other, older beliefs." By the way, that assumption grows out of the History of Religions movement of a century ago, and it has been pretty much discredited in the meanwhile.
Norm101 Phil B5 years ago
So the early Christians appropriated ancient Gods, traditions, other religion's holidays, symbols, meanings, and celebrations and you expect people to believe this was innocuous? It is an obvious attempt to incorporate so-called "pagan" beliefs in an attempt to bastardize Christianity to make it more palatable to those around. They increased their numbers by adopting other religions under the guise of evolving Christianity. They took phrases and celebrations that had been around for thousands of years so as to make them familiar to others. It is nothing new, nor unique, despite the attempt to call it the one "true" word. Constantine made up most of the rituals and holidays in an attempt to appease the pagans while trying to convert them. Conveniently, he kept their holidays and traditions, but just gave them new names. Like Saturnalia, being renamed to be Jesus' birtday, Easter, etc. So they kept celebrating their own holidays while their meaning was changed. A few generations pass and everyone thinks they've always been that way. Nice bit of Orwellian "Eastasia/"Eurasia". And I challenge you on your statement that this has been discredited. In fact, quite the opposite. The myths told in the Bible are directly comparable to MANY other mythological figures, like Hercules, Egyptian gods, Krishna, etc. ALL of which are recorded long before Jesus was supposedly born. That can't be discredited.
Ok so while you may be correct in stating that most of these symbols have been adopted from other religions. You cannot just declare the bible as myths. Everyone presumably bundles the Catholic and Christian religions together stating that they are the same. And while the majority of all common denominations stem from Catholicism this is not how the true christian religion is supposed to be. And really the only religious text older than that of the Judaic is the Sumerian text.
Norm101 Phil B5 years ago
Despite your statement that you aren't proselytizing, it has become obvious that is exactly what you are trying to do. You've made the statement that early Christians essentially wrote-over other's holidays, yet that isn't something that matters. Somehow, despite the fact that the actual meanings and symbols of Christian holidays can be traced back long before Jesus and to non Judaic belief's, you persist in arguing that their creations and origins don't matter until Christians used them belies your repeated statements of non-preaching. This is the same flaw that your reference used. This is not the place for your preachings. This is not an instructable. If it were you would use a less biased basis. This is nothign more than a sermon.
Norm101 Phil B5 years ago
"..but you do not need to go that far to find a reason for its use by Christians." I would argue that for more than 400 years, people had been praying to Athena Nike, and that is a FAR more logical reason for early Christians to adopt that. How convenient that they take a religious figure, one that is actively celebrated and worshiped, and use it to refer to a new entity, another so-called deity. That isn't coincidence, nor is it merely semantic. Your argument that a word like Nike can be taken and used without any meaning is without merit. There is no way a common usage phrase that has existing religious meaning can be co-opted and used without carrying with it the original meaning. And your whole argument is based upon this. As if ignoring the past and TRUE origins of something somehow makes the end-result pure. Since you only cite one reference and use it almost exclusively in your arguments, I started reading it. The author makes staements that actually strengthen my point. In the foreword from March 31, 1958 he states "The radiation of liturgy has created many symbols, customs, and traditions that have enriched the observance of festive days and seasons in home and community, and remnants of a pre-Christian lore have, in most cases, assumed new meanings and motivations through the influence of liturgical thought and celebration." The author HIMSELF argues my point. The pre-Christian myths have been used but have been given new names and "meanings". In fact, all of the earliest Christian traditions and holidays are taken from other religions and local celebrations. The author also make the illogical arguments that Church Law (which didn't exist that the time of Constantine) wasn't a motivation for Constantine's actions. Well of course not. It was his action, by taking other religion's holidays, that laid the foundation of Church Law. It is as though saying that the author of a book could not have been motivated by the book he was yet to write and using that as an argument that the author's prior actions are somehow unrelated to the product of his actions that he will somehow inspire. Though I am not finished with this book, I must say that, so far, is rife with logical errors. There is a distinct lack of chronology given, which when trying to make an arugment about the origins of holidays, is nothing less than disreputable. He gives dates AFTER the birth/death of Christ, but when referring to things that he is using as a basis for his "research", those of a more ancient nature, he is glib and unspecific.
Thanks! I am going to print out your well done instructable and share it with my students. (if that is o.k with you) I know they will find it interesting and informative
Phil B (author)  porcupinemamma5 years ago
Thanks for your interest. Feel free to use it.
I for one found the information interesting and informative, and to tell the truth, I found the discussion equally so. There was even more information, informed views, interesting viewpoints and interaction that was as informative as the original work. While some may disagree, this has been a most rewarding instruct-able, and learning is what this is all about. While not a new idea for building a Steampunk Catapult or a new circuit to pull power off the phone lines, it taught, and I liked that. Thanks for the posting and thanks to all who added to this one.
Norm1015 years ago
For the REAL history of the Easter celebration and egg:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg

The relationship between Christianity and the egg is amusing. it is obvious that the early Christians celebrated pagan holidays and tried to make connections to Jesus. It is pretty funny.
Headhunter5 years ago
Was not the Easter egg a remnant of the "Eostara" (for Ishtar) Holiday, which gives us the Anglicized name "Easter", whose other fertility symbol was the rabbit (i.e. Easter Bunny and Eggs)? Much like the symbolism of the "Christmas Tree" and Yule log borrowed from indigenous culture and integrated into Christian lore. Excellent compilation of symbology, well done Instructable. Headhunter
Phil B (author)  Headhunter5 years ago
I think you are probably correct. Early Christians had a habit of appropriating non-Christian symbols and events in order to invest them with Christian meaning. Some then regard the Christian event or symbol as proof of pagan origins. It always seemed more reasonable to me that the Christians sought to cover over the pagan aspects in order to bury them and replace them with Christian meaning. Thanks for the kind words. I tried to choose symbols one is likely to encounter in ordinary settings. I had the thought that it may be a bit like when you buy a particular model of automobile. Before that you never noticed them on the road much, but once you buy one, you see them all over.
Norm101 Phil B5 years ago
"It always seemed more reasonable to me that the Christians sought to cover over the pagan aspects in order to bury them and replace them with Christian meaning." Yes because they didn't want people to recognize how much they had stolen. since once people did, they would realize the similarities between Christianity and other mythology, and Christianity's complete plagarism.
kelseymh5 years ago
Well constructed and well researched, Phil. It'd be nice (speaking as a working academic) if you could provide at least one source for each of your explanations; but that's not critical. Congratulations on getting an explicitly Christian I'ble featured by an agnostic :-)
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