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Why 153 Fish in
John 21:11 ?
the significance, meaning, or symbolism, that John’s Gospel records how
Jesus and the disciples caught 153 large fish in the miraculous catch of
John 21 in the Bible ? What is the Catholic Church Fathers tradition ?
153 large fish is metaphor for wisdom.
Church Fathers : Sts. Jerome, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Cyril A.
No Reason ?
Why Church Fathers’ Answers Could Not Be John’s
Problems with Square Root of 3 Answer
Context Points to the Answer : An Explanation That Works
Archimedes : Context of Time and Place
Greeks and Wisdom
Calculating the Measure of the Fish
Why Church Fathers Did Not (could not?) Give John’s Idea
Click on Blue text for details.
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
“Now Jesus did many other signs … that are not written in this book.
31 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.
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
“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
Mathematics, Wisdom and Philosophy. It was their guide to living a good
life. Their greatest mathematician was Archimedes.
Measurement of a Circle he
calculated the value of Pi. It was his most influential work. The unusual
number of 153 figured most prominently in that work.
John lived and
wrote his Greek Gospel in the
Greek city of Ephesus. As a Pastor, he knew they
falsely believed the Gospel of
Jesus was foolishness 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 cultural hero, Archimedes
and by extension to all Greek wisdom. They would have
understood that John was claiming that Jesus, who is God, is the
of all the fish, and by extension He is the source of all wisdom.
The Net Does Not Tear
same net which contains all the fish, and by extension all the wisdom, both Greek (natural
Christian (wisdom of revelation), does not tear because there is no inconsistency between these two types of wisdom.
The Church Fathers 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 could not 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 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 the readers until those
readers had the chance to read those explanations the Fathers wrote. We know that John the Evangelist was an
effective communicator, par excellence.
So, why does John not explain his
meaning for 153 fish ?
Since John gives no reason, we can safely conclude John knew that no
explanation was required by his readers. So, we can reasonably
conclude that none of the Fathers’ explanations could have been John’s
intended meaning. 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.
So, by gentle analogy John
shows that not only does Jesus not contradict natural wisdom, He is the
source of all wisdom.
Read more on why John desired not to explain
his metaphor and how he knew its meaning would be obvious to the
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 more details.
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,
have surely desired to show that their natural wisdom did NOT mean
Jesus’ Gospel was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:22), and 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
could not have
been John’s primary explanation for 153 fish.
“Children” seems to be an allusion to (the need)
“153” is an allusion to the wisdom of
Archimedes because 9 out of his 10 equations end with that number 153.
eightfold 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
final number is 153. Therefore, there is an
implied connection between John’s reference to “153” and the symbolic
meaning of the fish.
method 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 wisdom.
The eightfold repetition of fish as well as
eight references to its measure suggests the numbers
8 and 2 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 2nd
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
11. Third Person of Trinity, and therefore to
12. Pi, π , which has Biblical value of 3 (1
13. √3 which when expressed in a rational
approximation ends with number 153.
14. Archimedes 3rd Proposition
where 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
metaphor. John’s meaning for his reference to 153 fish
must have been unmistakably clear to his readers, as he offers no
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 revelation.
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 explanation of why
Saint John would switch from one style of Greek to another in this final
If “153 fish” does not mean what is
stated above in statement 14 then we are pushed toward the following two
20 A. Saint John the Evangelist, one of
the chosen four by God, has failed to communicate what he meant by
20 B. We have no record of John addressing
the most pressing issue for the Greeks who were directly under his
Each of these positions is 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 fish, its
measurement, as well as the
reference to the
number 3 it is clear that the evidence is
overwhelming. “153 fish”
meaning as a metaphor for wisdom. And this is not to mention the
insurmountable difficulties 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
explanation. 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
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, verse
6. 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
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
John 21:11 - A Verse, A Piece of Wisdom,
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 abandoning wisdom and guidelines that go back
thousands of years on issues such as love, truth,
happiness, freedom, and self worth. This new worldly “wisdom” is contrary to the
natural law and to 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. And sadly,
a redefinition of these values and what our culture is based on will
mean that the most innocent and the
most vulnerable, the little children, will suffer the most.