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Bible Dictionaries
Fish, Fishing

Holman Bible Dictionary

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Animals living in water and breathing through gills; the profession and/or practice of catching fish to supply a family or society's need for food. Fish abounded in the inland waters of Palestine, was well as in the Mediterranean.

Old Testament Fish are mentioned often in the Bible but not by the different kinds. Fish were a favorite food and a chief source of protein (Numbers 11:5; Nehemiah 13:16 ). The law regarded all fish with fins and scales as clean. Water animals that did not have fins and scales were unclean (Leviticus 11:9-12 ).

Methods of catching fish included angling with a hook (Job 41:1 ), harpoons and spears (Job 41:7 ), use of dragnets (John 21:8 ), and thrown hand nets (Matthew 4:18 ). Fish caught in the Mediterranean were brought to ports such as Tyre and Sidon. The Sea of Chinnereth or Galilee was also a fishing center. The fish were preserved in salt and brought to Jerusalem where they were sold at a specially named “Fish Gate” in the city. The strong currents of the Jordan River carried many fish to the Dead Sea where they died (Ezekiel 47:7-11 ).

References to fishing as an occupation are rare in the Old Testament because, for the most part, in Old Testament times the Mediterranean coast was controlled by the Philistines and Phoenicians. The Israelites depended largely on foreign trade for their fish (Nehemiah 13:16 ). Two Old Testament texts (Song of Song of Solomon 7:4; Isaiah 19:10 ) speak of fishpools and fish ponds, possibly an indication of commercially raised fish or of fish farming.

The job of fishermen included catching the fish, salting and marketing the fish, mending nets, and keeping fishing boats in repair (Ezekiel 26:5; Mark 1:19 ).

The most famous Old Testament fish was the great fish of the Book of Jonah (Jonah 1:17 ), one God prepared especially for the occasion and one whose species the Old Testament does not indicate.

New Testament During New Testament times commercial fishing businesses were conducted on the Sea of Galilee by fishermen organized in guilds (Luke 5:7 ,Luke 5:7,5:11 ). Fishermen were hard workers, crude in manner, rough in speech and in their treatment of others (John 18:10 ). Fishermen owned their ships, took hirelings into their service, and sometimes joined to form companies (Mark 1:20; Luke 5:7 ).

Fish provided food for the common people (Matthew 14:17; Matthew 15:34 ). The risen Lord ate fish with the disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:42 ) and by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:13 ). The primary method of preparing fish was broiling (John 21:9 ). The most famous New Testament fish was the one used to pay the Temple tax for Jesus and Peter (Matthew 17:27 ).

Theological The Bible contains numerous figurative uses of fish and fishing. Human helplessness is compared to fish taken in a net (Ecclesiastes 9:12; Habakkuk 1:14 ). Fish caught in a net symbolized God's judgment (Psalm 66:11; Ezekiel 32:3 ). Jesus mentioned fishing when He called disciples to be witnesses (Matthew 4:18-19 ). Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a net thrown into the sea and loaded with fish of many varieties (Matthew 13:47 ).

In early Christian churches, the Greek word for fish (ichthus ) came to be interpreted as a cipher for Jesus. The first letter of each of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” spell ichthus . We do not know when this cipher was first used; but once the identification was made, the fish became a standard Christian symbol.

Gary Hardin

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Fish, Fishing'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​f/fish-fishing.html. 1991.
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