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Why 153 Fish in
John 21:11 ?
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
Context Points to the Answer
: An Explanation That Works
Wikipedia also states :
Theologian D. A. Carson discusses this and other interpretations
and concludes that
“If the Evangelist has some symbolism in mind connected with the
number 153, he has hidden it well,” (Carson, The Gospel According
to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 673). while other
“No symbolic significance for the number of 153 fish in John 21:11
has received widespread support.” (Dictionary of Biblical
Imagery (Fish), InterVarsity Press, 1998, p. 290) …
However, I disagree with Carson’s statement above
that John has hidden his meaning. John was a most effective
communicator and evangelist. John was giving us clues left and right.
We just do not recognize his clues today because we fail to see his
What did John mean by 153 fish? And why did
all the church fathers disagree about what it meant? Context holds the
key to both answers.
None of the answers given by the early Fathers
works as an explanation as to why John specifically included this unique
number of 153. So, we need to reexamine his text to find John’s clues.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any fish?’”
Jesus calls the Apostles “children.” The fact
that this seems so out place should raise our curiosity and perhaps a
red flag or two that John’s (and therefore God’s) message might
not be obvious on the surface level. Why does John include a
detail that does not seem to fit? He must have done so
intentionally since we do not normally think along those lines.
And that is our first big clue. We just need to dig a little
deeper. Jesus never
sinned, so He could not have been being rude. So, we can ask why does
Jesus call them children ? To answer that we must ask, “What are
Children are those who lack the wisdom that comes
2:52, Job 12:12, Sirach 25:5-6, and 2 Maccabees 6:21-31 (Jesus
calls the disciples children because of their relationship to Him is one
of student to Teacher. Also, in John 13:33)
Father Bob Stine, if memory serves me correctly, told me about
40 years ago that the key to understanding what children are is to see
it from a Christian Biblical context.
Context of the story
In Christian theology Jesus must somehow fulfill
His mission. Therefore, the Apostles, through their encounter with
Christ, must somehow acquire all they need to fulfill their role in leading
the Church now that Jesus will be shortly ascending into heaven. In this passage they must transition from being
like children and without
wisdom, symbolized by having empty nets, to acquiring all the wisdom
they need. This is symbolized by having their nets filled to
overflowing. Therefore, the consistency of the analogy leads us to the
conclusion that what filled their nets must symbolize this
wisdom they needed to acquire. Therefore, 153 Fish symbolizes wisdom.
However, this logical conclusion leads us to two
1. Why does John use “153 Fish” to symbolize wisdom
2. How did John know that his readers, at his time
and place, would recognize that “153 Fish” represents wisdom?
The answers to our questions of why John included
this reference to 153 fish will be found by understanding the context
of the time and place that John wrote his Gospel.