The early church fathers offered different meanings for the “153 Fish.”
They used good theology, however closer examination shows that it is
highly unlikely that the meanings they chose for “153 Fish” could have
been John’s meaning.
No 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 father’s disagree amongst themselves, we are not
required to agree with them. This is
more closely explained further down on this web site.
First, we need to look at the context to which the
Bible points us.
John is writing his Greek Gospel in the Greek city
of Ephesus in which he lived. Understanding this cultural context in
which John wrote points us to his purpose.
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
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 of being true.
Primary Obstacle For The Greeks
“For Jews demand signs and
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 Gentile Greeks rejected the Gospel as foolishness because it
seemed to contradict their natural wisdom, in which they took much
pride. 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 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 will 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.
This is demonstrated at this web site. See
Calculating the Size of the Fish
In the analogy, the Apostles have no fish until Jesus appears. Jesus
is the source (and master) of the 153 fish. Jesus could command Peter
to bring him some fish because Jesus is the rightful owner, and the
source of all the fish which represents all wisdom. The Greek Gentiles
had thought that their own wisdom precluded them from accepting the
message of Jesus which appeared as a contradiction to their wisdom. They
saw the Gospel as foolishness. But, 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.
Because 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.”
John was not just communicator, he was also
an Evangelist, par excellence. He recognized the spiritual needs of the
By having 153 fish
swim into the net, Jesus was enabling John to use his skills as an
evangelist. John, being the ultimate evangelist, knew how to meet his
prospective converts where they were at and to acknowledge the 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 metaphor.
How did John know that his Greek readers in Ephesus
would make the connection between “153 fish” and wisdom?
To see the answer to this question we need to
understand the cultural context in which John wrote. We need to
understand the importance of Archimedes in that culture. We need to examine his most
important work – the work most widely used by others – where he derives
a new and accurate method for calculating the value of Pi.
When examining that
work we should not examine it 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 their limitations to
express mathematical concepts.
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. So, a portion of a whole number would have to be expressed as a
ratio (a fraction) of two numbers. And this would be expressed in
a linear or
horizontal format. For example
1:8, not vertically ⅛ and definitely not
See more below why this fact is so important.
See more on
Archimedes’ work on Pi.
Brief Summary of Meaning of 153 Large