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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
Why does John want to allude to Greek wisdom?
“Greek mathematicians lived
in cities spread over the entire Eastern Mediterranean, from Italy to
North Africa, but were united by culture and language.…
the most important characteristics of the Pythagorean order was that it
maintained that the pursuit of philosophical
and mathematical studies was a moral basis for the conduct of life.
Indeed, the words philosophy (love of
wisdom) and mathematics (that which is learned) are
said to have been coined by Pythagoras.”
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
foolishness to Gentiles, but … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of
Above all else the Greeks esteemed wisdom. The Greeks rejected the
Gospel as foolishness because it seemed to contradict their natural wisdom.
And without the gift of faith, the idea of Jesus who is God, Who dies on a cross 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
natural wisdom 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 by the facts already seen in
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 wisdom. The
Greeks 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 net contains all the fish. It contains both the
wisdom that comes from Jesus as well as the natural wisdom of the
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
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
and to build on that. Compare how St. Paul built on the partial
truths of the pagans in Acts 17:23.
John went to the very heart of who and what the
Greeks are and to how they identified themselves. For a proud
person it can be hard to hear blunt statements like,
“You are wrong!”
So, by gentle analogy John
shows that not only does Jesus not contradict natural wisdom, He is the
source of all wisdom.
John sometimes refers to Jesus with the simple term
“kyrios” Strong’s number 2962.)
Here, in these passages after the catch of the
153 fish (John 21:7, 12) John
adds the definite article
“ho” Strong’s number 3588.)
John says in
“It is the Lord!”
This was the Hebrew way of referring to
“Yahweh.” Whenever the Jews would read the Divine Name they would
never actually pronounce “Yahweh.” The Jews would simply pronounce
“the Lord.” John is implying
here in a strong way that Jesus is not just another Greek god.
Rather, Jesus is the One True God, the only God, and therefore the
source of all wisdom.
Fr. Bob’s explanation shows what “153 fish” really
means. John lived with the Greeks in Ephesus. He had first-hand
knowledge of their mistaken notion that the Gospel was in contradiction to
It is very hard to imagine John not wanting to
address and correct the problem the Greeks had.