Scholars have suggested numerous
possible meanings for John’s reference to “153 Fish.” These suggestions
are greatly varied, and tend to be extremely speculative. How could the
Apostle John have expected his readers to see any of those connections?
The Bible points us to a context.
And this context is the key to understanding what St. John meant by 153
large fish. The fact that John does not offer an explanation for
the 153 fish highly suggests that he knew his meaning would have been so
obvious to those whom he was writing that no explanation was required.
This web page examines all the
traditional proposed explanations for 153 Fish. And, it explains
how we can see a reasonable proof that there is only one answer that we
know John could have expected his readers to recognize.
The early church fathers offered many
different meanings for the “153 Fish.”
sustainable argument has been presented that defends or explains how
Saint John could have known his readers would have made the connections
that the early church fathers did.
When the early church
fathers disagree amongst themselves, we are not required to agree with
them. This is explained in more detail further down on this web
Raymond Brown explains
“… They all encounter the same
objection: we have no evidence that any such complicated
understating of 153 would have been intelligible to John’s
(Gospel according to John XIII-XXI, 1075.
Theologian D. A. Carson concludes that:
“If the Evangelist has some
symbolism in mind connected with the number 153, he has hidden
(Carson, The Gospel According to John
(Pillar New Testament Commentary), 673)
was one of the four great evangelists. He spent his life communicating
his message, not hiding it.
reason there is so much disagreement as to what John meant by 153 fish
is because people are trying to figure it out by looking from the
standards and the perspectives of their own culture.
by modern standards it can be difficult to see how 153 fish represented
or alluded to Archimedes and his wisdom. But the key to figuring out
what John meant is to study and learn the standards and the perspective
of his culture - where he lived and worked - that is, the first century
Greeks in Ephesus.
First, we need to
look at the context to which the Bible points us.
What meaning did John intend by his
reference to “153 fish” ?
“ … these are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
John was fully engaged at trying to
help the Greeks convert to the Gospel.
Primary Obstacle For The Greeks
The Greeks excelled in natural wisdom.
And they took pride in their great accomplishments. They even
looked to mathematical wisdom as the key on how to live. See more
details at this web site below.
However, they had mistakenly thought
that their natural wisdom contradicted and precluded the possibility of
the supernatural wisdom of Jesus’ revelation as being true.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
“For Jews demand
Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ
crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and
foolishness to Gentiles, but … Christ the power of
God and the wisdom of God.” NAB
Above all else the Greeks esteemed
wisdom. The greatest mathematical minds of antiquity were all Greek.
There was Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras, and not to mention Plato.
Plato the philosopher had an inscription carved over the archway of his
Academy: “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here.”
The Greek Gentiles had thought there
was a contradiction. So, they saw the Gospel as foolishness. And
without the gift of faith, the idea of Jesus who is God, Who dies on a
cross for sinners is hard to accept from a worldly point of view.
So, St. John as a pastor wants to
correct this impasse, this seemingly logical contradiction between the
natural wisdom the Greeks possessed and the wisdom Jesus came to reveal.
So, John uses the analogy of “153 fish”
to represent all wisdom.
The Greeks would have recognize “153
fish” to symbolize first and foremost Archimedes’ work on π, but in a
secondary way all Greek Wisdom including the Pythagoreans and Euclid.
In the analogy, the Apostles have no
fish until Jesus appears. Jesus is the source (and master) of the
153 fish. Therefore, Jesus could command Peter to bring him some.
The 153 fish represents all wisdom.
according to John’s analogy, the one net contains all the fish. By
analogy it contains both the wisdom that comes from Jesus as well as the
natural wisdom of the Greeks.
miraculous catch the nets (plural) were tearing. But, John is
using a different analogy. In his analogy the one net does not
What did it mean that the net did not tear ?
there is no inconsistency or conflict between these two wisdoms the same
one net which contains them both does not tear.
“ … and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
See more on why it is unlikely that John was
primarily intending the net not being torn as an allusion to unity
John was not
just a communicator, he was also an Evangelist, par excellence. He
recognized the spiritual needs of the heart.
By having 153 fish swim into the net,
Jesus was enabling John to use his skills as an evangelist. John
knew how to meet his prospective converts where they were at and to
acknowledge their natural strengths, their natural wisdom, and to build
on that. Compare how St. Paul built on the partial truths of the
pagans in Acts 17:23.
See more on reasons
why it was
beneficial for John to use an unexplained
did John know that his Greek readers in Ephesus would make the
connection between “153 fish” and wisdom?
To answer this
question we need to understand the cultural context in which John wrote.
We need to understand that culture and
look from the same perspective as those in it. Doing this enables
us to see the allusion that would have been obvious to them.
We need to understand
the importance of Archimedes in that culture. And, we need to
examine his most important work.
important work was the one that was most applicable, most widely used,
and most needed. It was his work on Pi. He devised a new method to
calculate the value of Pi that was very accurate.
The section where
Archimedes calculates Pi to be approximately 3 1/7 is very short.
Archimedes gives 10 equations. Each one is based on the previous one.
And he adds very little additional text. The striking peculiarity of his
work is that the first 9 of these 10 equations end with the number 153.
It would be a mistake
to merely examine it as written in modern notation. Rather, we
need to see it from the same style in which John and his readers, the
Greeks, would have seen it. So,
we need to understand the limitations they
had in expressing mathematical concepts.
For example, the
use of the decimal point to express fractions of a whole number would
not be introduced to this area until hundreds of years later. The
same is true of the horizontal fraction bar. They would have used
the format “1:8”, but they would not have used the vertical format of
⅛ and they definitely would not have used 0.125.
See more below why these facts are so important.
See more on
Archimedes’ work on Pi.
Calculating the Size of
Recognizing the Number
Summary on Recognizing John’s Analogy of 153 Large Fish