meaning and significance of the measure of the draught of
153 large fish. Significance of 153 fish catholic Father’s
Why 153 Fish in
John 21:11 ?
There are well over a dozen independent reasons listed
below that support the following conclusion that “153 fish”
is a metaphor for wisdom. There is a high degree of certainty that
this answer is correct.
There are too many converging reasons all pointing to
this answer for all of them to be coincidental. No other answer, that
has been presented, gives any evidence that Saint John could have
expected his readers to infer any other explanation.
But, a detailed
examination of Greek culture makes clear the Greeks of this place and
time, of John’s writing, would have recognized the correlation between
153 and Archimedes’ most influential work, his work on Pi.
A thorough examination of this investigation raises
several questions. But, there is only one answer, given here, that
can offer a satisfactory explanation to each of these questions.
John explains his purpose for using
the metaphor of “153 fish” immediately before this account of the
miraculous catch. He states :
“Now Jesus did many other signs … that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is
the Messiah, the Son of God…”
John was writing in Greek to a Greek audience from the Greek city of
So, we must ask what was the obstacle that kept the Greeks from
accepting the Gospel.
The cultural context in which John
the Evangelist lived and wrote is the key to understanding to what he
was alluding to by the reference of 153 Fish in John 21:11. The
simplest explanation is the most probable.
“For Jews demand signs and
Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and
to Gentiles, but … Christ the power of God and the
wisdom of God.” NAB
Above all else the
Greeks esteemed Mathematics,
Wisdom and Philosophy. It was their
guide to living a good life.
Their greatest mathematician was
Measurement of a Circle
he calculated the value of Pi. It was his most
useful, and therefore, his most influential work.
The unusual number of
figured most prominently in that work.
John lived and
wrote his Greek Gospel in the Greek city of
As a Pastor, he knew they
falsely believed the Gospel of Jesus was
and in contradiction to their wisdom. John
includes the detail of 153 fish in John 21:11.
The Greeks would have
immediately recognized how his use of the number
153 alluded to the wisdom
and the work of their esteemed
and by extension to all Greek wisdom.
They would have understood
that John was claiming that Jesus, who is God, is the
source of all the fish,
and by extension He is
the source of all wisdom.
The Net Does Not Tear
The same net which contains
all the fish, and by extension all the wisdom, both Greek (natural
wisdom) and Christian (wisdom of revelation), does not tear because
there is no inconsistency between these two types of wisdom.
were separated from John the Evangelist by time
and space. They lived in a different culture than John. Most
likely they had lost familiarity with Archimedes’ actual text.
Without that context
they would not have been able to see
to what John was alluding.
And, we can conclude that the reasons the Church
Father gave for the meaning of “153 fish” could not have been John’s
primary intention for another reason.
St. Jerome, St. Augustine,
St. Gregory the Great, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and Evagrius Ponticus
each write out an explanation for what that metaphor stands. And
they each give a different explanation for the meaning of “153.”
Why do they each write out their explanation?
Because the Fathers knew that their own particular explanations were not
in the minds of their readers until those readers had the chance to read
those explanations the Fathers wrote.
But, we know that John the
Evangelist was an effective communicator, par
So, why does John
not explain his meaning for 153 fish ?
Since John gives no reason, we can reasonably conclude John knew that no
explanation was required by his readers. His meaning must have
been obvious to them.
have no reason to think that John’s
readers would have been thinking what the Fathers’
explained, other than pure speculation, and since not even
the Fathers’ expected their meanings to be so obvious that
no explanation was necessary, we can reasonably
conclude that none of the Fathers’ explanations could have been John’s
John must have known the context of time and
place would have been sufficient to make his meaning clear. And
therefore, no explanation need be given. And so, unlike the
Father’s explanations, none was given by John.
John shows that not only does Jesus not contradict natural wisdom,
He is the source of all wisdom.
more on why John desired not to explain his metaphor and how he knew
its meaning would be obvious to the Greeks ...
Below are the list of arguments
supporting the conclusion of this website. We might suppose that
some are just coincidental, but it is very difficult to suppose that
they ALL are just coincidental. Click on the hyperlinks below for
One of John’s over all themes in his Gospel was wisdom.
“ … and the sayings of Jesus
have been woven into long discourses of a > quasi-poetic form
resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.”
Introduction to John’s Gospel in the NAB Bible
So, if John was using “153 Fish” as
a metaphor for wisdom that would have fit perfectly with his theme.
John wrote his Greek Gospel in the Greek city of Ephesus. He lived
with and pastored the Greeks,
He would have surely desired to show that their natural
wisdom did NOT mean Jesus’ Gospel was foolishness (1
on the contrary that Jesus was the source of All Wisdom, (153 Fish.)
As their pastor John was surely motivated to address this issue.
That this is John’s goal - to bring non-believing Greeks into the Gospel
- seems to be confirmed by John’s explicitly stated his reason for
writing his book. In the passage just before this account of the
miraculous catch of fish in John 20:31 he writes :
“But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the
Messiah, the Son of God…”
It is addressed to non-believing
Greeks so that they “may come to believe.” And so, a metaphor to
the wisdom would be perfectly in line with their greatest need and his
stated goal. That is, an understanding that Christian wisdom is not
foolishness [Corinthians.] But in fact, the Gospel of Jesus was
compatible with their natural wisdom.
The Church Father’s explanations
not have been John’s
primary explanation for 153 fish.
seems to be an allusion to (the need) for
“153” is an allusion to the wisdom of
Archimedes because 9 out of his 10
equations end with
that number 153.
repetition of fish and its measurement
is a subtle clue
that a metaphor is being employed.
calculate the “Measure of a Fish”
into a rational number
number is 153.
Therefore, there is an
implied connection between John’s reference to “153” and the symbolic
meaning of the fish.
by which one calculates the “Measure of a Fish”
employs the wisdom and mathematical achievements of Pythagoras, Euclid,
and Archimedes. And therefore, this is an allusion to Greek
The eightfold repetition of fish as well as eight references to its
measure suggests the numbers
could imply a special meaning. The wisdom of Christianity could be
summarized by its most distinctive teaching. That God became Man. That
Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity took on a
nature. And the most distinctive miracle that authenticated Jesus’
teachings is that He rose from the dead on the
reference to the number 3
could be an
allusion to :
11. Third Person of
Trinity, and therefore to Wisdom.
12. John could have been
completing a parallel with Jesus' first miracle.
13. Pi, π , which has
Biblical value, or approximation, of 3 (1 Kings 7:23.)
14. √3 which when
expressed in a rational approximation ends with number 153.
15. It is in Archimedes’ 3rd
Proposition that he calculates the value of Pi, π.
John’s use of an
unexplained metaphor suggests the possibility that he is correcting
someone else’s error.
Fathers assumed that precise and unique reference to “153 fish” was a
meaning for his reference to 153 fish must have been unmistakably clear
to his readers, as he offers no explanation.
The only explanation for “153 fish” that is suggested so far, that
could have been clearly obvious to John's readers is that
“153 fish” is a specific reference to the natural wisdom of the Greeks
and a general
reference to all Wisdom. And that Jesus is the source of all
wisdom. And therefore, there is no contradiction between the
Greeks' wisdom and the spiritual wisdom of Jesus and His
See a detailed discussion on the importance of the number 153 in Greek
culture. Read :
The Number 153 Was Very
Prominent and Recognizable in Ancient Greek Culture
And this interpretation of “153 Fish” lends itself to a very natural
why Saint John would switch from one style of Greek to
another in this final chapter 21.
If by using “153 fish” John meant something other than what is proposed
at this web site, then we are left with the conclusion that it is
impossible to determine with certainty what John meant. And we are
pushed toward the following two consequences:
21 A. Saint John the
Evangelist, one of the chosen four by God, has failed to communicate
what he meant by 153 fish.
21 B. The Greeks, to whom
John was writing at Ephesus excelled at natural mathematical wisdom.
1 Corinthians 1:22 tells
us that the Greeks thought the revelation and wisdom of Jesus, the
Gospel, was foolishness and contradicted by their own wisdom.
And, so we would have no record of John addressing the most pressing
issue for the Greeks who were directly under John’s pastoral
Each of these last two positions
above are most problematic and very difficult to hold.
When we consider John’s
decision to include the conspicuous reference to the Apostles as
and most importantly how Archimedes used the number
and the secondary clues of the use of the word
as well as the reference to
it is clear that the
evidence is overwhelming.
special meaning as a metaphor for wisdom. And this is not
to mention the
we have today in trying to defend
the position that John could have safely assumed that one of the early
Father’s positions was
already on the minds of his readers and that it was so prominent that it
need not be mentioned by John.
In fact, there seems to be no
evidence Anywhere that Anyone made the particular connections to the
number 153 that the
made before they themselves wrote out their own particular
And the conclusion that 153 is a metaphor for wisdom
is confirmed when we consider the
that John the Evangelist would have had in regards to the Greeks since
he lived among them and was their pastor.
It seems impossible to imagine
that John would not have addressed their misperception that their wisdom
precluded acceptance of the Gospel.
Clearly, “153 fish”
is a reference to wisdom.
Jesus can command that some be brought to Him - even
though He already has some - because He is the source of all wisdom.
The Apostles struggle to haul it in because the quantity was so great,
Yet Peter alone seems to master the load well enough by
himself in verse 11. Peter has a singular gift in defining what is
or what is not true wisdom.
There is only one conclusion that fits all the data.
John was using the event of the 153 Fish as a metaphor to refer to
Archimedes, his work on Pi, and hence to all wisdom.
The same net
which contains all wisdom does not tear because their is no
inconsistency and no contradiction between the wisdom Jesus teaches and
the natural wisdom of the Greeks. John explains away the objection
the Greeks had to the Gospel.
21:11 - A Verse, A Piece of Wisdom, for Today
This scripture passage is
one of the most important verses for today’s world to consider. Our
culture and our world is on brink of adopting a new worldly wisdom.
new “wisdom” abandons
the wisdom of natural law and Christian revelation. Conversely,
John 21:11 implies that all true wisdom is compatible with Christian
revelation, where the net which holds them both does not tear.