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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.
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.
And there was another pastoral reason
why John does not make the meaning of 153 fish explicit.
John lived with the Greeks and he knew that the Greeks held their natural wisdom in the highest
esteem and that they even identified themselves by it. He knew
about the problem St. Paul recounted above in his letter to the
Corinthians. John knew the Greeks needed to accept that their
wisdom had its foundation in Jesus Christ. The Greeks
had mistakenly thought that their logic precluded the possibility of the
Christian Gospel as being true. They valued their wisdom about natural
things, but denied Jesus had any role in it. They were guilty of
the sin of pride.
“Humility is the mother of all virtues," but the sin of pride puts
roadblocks into one's journey towards God. A humble person will
accept correction, but a proud man looks down on those who correct him
and enjoys dismissing corrective words without any serious examination.
John was not just a communicator. He was a pastor. He would
have know that most overly proud people will reject correction without
serious consideration of ideas that contradict or diminish the false
value they place in themselves. A better way to get such a person
to examine an idea is to get them to think that a particular idea is
their own. One way to plant such an idea into another person's head is
by using a gentle metaphor.
So, as a pastor,
John wants to be as gentle as possible when pointing out to the Greeks
that their wisdom was faulty. This is why John uses a subtle and
gentle metaphor of 153 fish. And this explains why John does not explain his
meaning. He knows his idea that Jesus is the source of all
153 fish, and therefore the source of all wisdom, will surely be
perceived by the Greeks. And he does not want
to rub the Greeks noses' in the fact that their wisdom, their logic, was faulty in initially rejecting
A Proof ?
John lived with the Greeks. So, he had to know about their
misperception that their wisdom was in compatible with the
Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24. And as a pastor he must have
wanted to do something about it. The best pastoral approach
would have been to use a gentle metaphor. Using “153 fish” to
suggest to the Greeks that their own natural wisdom had its
source in Jesus Christ would have been a brilliant idea.
Therefore, guided by the Holy Spirit John must have done so.
Father Bob Stine’s answer is like a piece of a
jigsaw puzzle that makes all the other pieces fit together. It answers
all the questions without leaving any loose ends, unlike all the other
proposed answers that really do not fit and could not be John’s primary
St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory, and St. Cyril all offer
ideas which are good theology, and which are plausible secondary
meanings. However, their ideas were all
different and their is no real evidence that any of their ideas
would have been obvious to John’s readers.
Therefore, we can safely
conclude that neither St. Jerome’s,
nor St. Augustine’s nor St. Gregory’s
St. Cyril’s idea could have been John’s primary intention.
Read more details on
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.
1. The Church Father’s explanations could not have
been John’s primary explanation for 153 fish.
2. “Children” seems to be an allusion to (the need)
3. “153” is an allusion to the wisdom of
Archimedes because 9 out of his 10 equations end with that number 153.
4. The eightfold repetition of fish and its
measurement is a subtle clue that a metaphor is being employed.
5. If you calculate the “Measure of a Fish” into
a rational number the final number is 153. Therefore, there is an
implied connection between John’s reference to “153” and the symbolic
meaning of the fish.
6. The 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.
7. 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 reference to the number 3 could be an allusion
8. Third Person of Trinity, and therefore to
9. Pi, π , which has Biblical value of 3 (1
10. √3 which when expressed in a rational
approximation ends with number 153.
11. Archimedes 3rd Proposition
where he calculates the value of Pi, π.
12. John’s use of an unexplained metaphor suggests
the possibility that he is correcting someone else’s error.
13. John’s meaning for his reference to 153 fish
must have been unmistakably clear to his readers as he offers no
explanation. And if we suppose that “153 fish” is not a reference to
wisdom then we are left with the conclusion that the great Evangelist
Saint John the Apostle has failed in regards to communicating his
point. That is hardly an acceptable position to hold.
14. The only explanation that could have been
clearly obvious is that “153 fish” is a specific reference to the
natural wisdom of the Greeks and a general reference to all of Jesus’
15. Since John lived with the Greeks, He would
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.
16. And, if this is not the answer here, then we
have no record of John addressing his most pressing problem in
Evangelization. And that is a problem.
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.