This article is
based on two key principles.
simplest explanation is the most probable.
Context is the key to interpretation.
Scholars have suggested numerous possible meanings for John’s
reference to “153 Fish.” These suggestions are greatly varied, and tend
to be extremely speculative.
The Bible points us to a context. And this context is the key
to understanding what St. John meant by 153 large fish.
The fact that John does not offer an explanation for the 153
fish highly suggests that he knew his meaning would have been so obvious
to those whom he was writing that no explanation was required.
This web page examines all the traditional proposed
explanations for 153 Fish. And, it explains how we can see a reasonable
proof that there is only one answer that we know John could have
expected his readers to recognize.
The early church fathers offered many different answers.
For more details see link below.
However, no sustainable argument has been presented that
defends or explains how the
Apostle John could have expected his readers to make those connections
Scripture scholar Raymond Brown explains
“… They all encounter the same objection: we have no evidence
that any such complicated understating of 153 would have been
intelligible to John’s readers”
to John XIII-XXI, 1075.)
Theologian D. A. Carson concludes that:
“If the Evangelist has some symbolism in mind connected with
the number 153, he has hidden it well,”
Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 673)
But John was one of the four great evangelists. He spent his
life communicating his message, not hiding it.
What meaning did John intend by his reference to “153 fish” ?
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the
disciples, which are not written in this book”
So, John must have had reasons for making room for including
what he did.
“ … 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
Primary Obstacle For The Greeks
The Greeks looked to mathematical wisdom as the key on how to
live. See more details at this web site below.
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 God.” NAB
Understanding the Greek Culture
Above all else the Greeks esteemed and excelled in natural
wisdom. The greatest mathematical minds of antiquity were all Greek.
There was Archimedes, Euclid and Pythagoras.
“Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here” was the
inscription carved over the archway of Plato’s Academy.
The Greek Gentiles had thought there was a contradiction
between their natural wisdom and the wisdom proclaimed by Jesus. So,
they saw the Gospel as foolishness. And without the gift of faith and
from a worldly point of view, God dying for sinners is hard to accept.
So, St. John as a pastor wants to overcome this impasse, this
seemingly logical contradiction between these two wisdoms.
Below it will be shown how we can know with reasonable
certainty that the Greeks of John’s time and place would have recognized
“153 Fish” as a metaphor for wisdom.
But first, let us continue the study of why it was so
beneficial and arguably even necessary for John to make a reference to
wisdom to help the Greeks.
The Apostles have no fish until Jesus appears. The “153 Fish”
represent all revealed wisdom. And, Jesus is shown to be its source.
That is why Jesus could command Peter to bring him some.
And, according to John’s analogy, the one net contains all of
the 153 Fish. So, by analogy it contains, all wisdom, both the wisdom Jesus
revealed as well as the natural wisdom of the Greeks.
Luke’s miraculous catch is a completely different. In Luke
the nets (plural) were tearing.
But, John refers to a different miracle. He uses a different
metaphor to make a different analogy. He is teaching a different
“ … and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”
But, why did John point out that the one net did not tear ?
Above, John wrote that he had limited space in his scroll. So, it is
very unlikely that he would be repeating his teaching about Church unity
with a weak metaphor here when he had already declared it more explicitly,
and much more authoritatively in Jesus’ prayer to the Father. John
John was implying there is no inconsistency or conflict
between these two wisdoms. That is why the same one net which contains them
Therefore, the Greeks should recognize Jesus as the source
of their wisdom and to see that the Gospel is Not foolishness.
John the Evangelist was a communicator par excellence. He
recognized the spiritual needs of the heart.
The Gospel says that the net contained 153 Fish. This implies
two separate facts. God caused that number of fish to swim into the
And secondly, John purposely chooses to include that detail.
Therefore, it has meaning. See St. Augustine’s strong assertion of this point at web page below.
John knew how to meet his prospective converts where they were
at and to acknowledge their 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.
John wrote his Gospel in Greek in the Greek city of Ephesus.
How did John know his audience would recognize the connection
between “153 Fish” and wisdom?
To answer this question we need to understand the cultural
context in which John wrote. We need to look from their perspective and
to view things through the same lens they did.
This will enable us to see the unmistakable connection that
was so obvious to them that John knew he did not have to explain it.
First, let us consider some obvious connections we have in our
modern American culture.
If someone says,
“That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for
then we can be sure that the listeners will be thinking about
the American Hero Neil Armstrong and the first landing on the moon in
The numbers 9-1-1 also have obvious connections. And
dedicated sport fans will make a quick mental association with their
heroes when they encounter numbers associated with them, e.g. 16 - Joe
Montana, 30 - Steph Curry.
As mentioned above the Greeks excelled in wisdom and
especially in mathematical wisdom. For example Euclid’s book on
geometry was used up until the 1700’s, and the geometry that is studied
in high (secondary) school is called Euclidean Geometry.
The heroes of that culture were its mathematicians. This
includes Pythagoras and Euclid, but the greatest mathematician of
antiquity was Archimedes. So, arguably he was their greatest hero.
Archimedes most important work was the one that was most
applicable, most widely used, and the one most needed. It was his work on Pi.
He devised a new method using mathematics to calculate Pi as
accurate as one wanted.
The first section was the most important one because it was
there that he arrives at the answer, the fraction, which was most
commonly used. Archimedes calculates Pi to be approximately 3 1/7.
This section is very short. Archimedes gives 10 equations.
Each one is based on the previous one. And he adds very little
additional text. The striking peculiarity of his work is that the first
9 of these 10 equations end with the number 153.
The Greeks would have recognized “153 Fish” to symbolize first
and foremost Archimedes’ work on π, but in a secondary way all Greek
Wisdom including the
Pythagoreans and Euclid.
See more at web page below.
It would be a mistake to examine his work in modern notation
only. We need to examine Archimedes’ work in the same format that he
and Saint John would have used and seen. That way we can see what the
early Greeks saw.
They did not have the decimal system, so they had to use
fractions to express portions of whole numbers. They did not have the
horizontal fraction bar, so they had to express these fractions as
ratios in a horizontal or linear format, e.g. 1:8 rather than
When Archimedes’ work is expressed in modern notation the
number 153 gets lost amongst all the other numbers. And it
disappears completely when his work is converted into the decimal
However, in the format
he used the number 153 is undeniably prominent. The first 9 of
Archimedes’ 10 equations end with 153 as the final number.
That is why John did not have to explain it. He knew his
audience was familiar with their greatest hero’s most important work.
The Greek’s would have recognized that John was claiming that
Jesus is the source of all wisdom, and that there is no contradiction.
And therefore, the Gospel is not foolishness, but true.
See more details below.
Archimedes’ work on Pi.
Calculating the Size of
Recognizing the Number
Summary on Recognizing John’s Analogy of 153 Large Fish