153 Fish.   Why 153 large fish in John 21 in the bible ?  What was the meaning and significance of the miraculous catch or draught of 153 fish?

Why  153  Fish  in  John  21:11  ?

Read the Answer which answers all the Questions.

In Luke 5:1-11 there is another, The Miraculous Catch)

Scholars have suggested numerous possible meanings for John’s reference to “153 Fish.” These suggestions are greatly varied, and tend to be extremely speculative. How could the Apostle John have expected his readers to see any of those connections? 

This article is based on two key principles.
1. The simplest explanation is the most probable.
2. Context is the key to interpretation.

The Bible points us to a context that holds the key as to 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 these suggestions. 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 meanings for the “153 Fish.” 

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 explained in more detail further down on this web site.

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”
(Gospel according 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,”
(Carson, The 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.

The reason there is so much disagreement as to what John meant by 153 fish is because people are trying to figure it out by looking from the standards and the perspectives of their own culture.

Judging by modern standards it can be difficult to see how 153 fish represented or alluded to Archimedes and his wisdom. But the key to figuring out what John meant is to study and learn the standards and the perspective of his culture - where he lived and worked - that is, the first century Greeks in Ephesus.

First, we need to look at the context to which the Bible points us.

John’s Purpose

What meaning did John intend by his reference to “153 fish” ?

John 20:31
“ … 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 Gospel. 

Primary Obstacle For The Greeks

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 as being true.

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

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 Greek Gentiles had viewed there to be a contradiction between their natural wisdom and the wisdom of Jesus’ revelation. They saw the Gospel as foolishness.  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 to 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  Archimedes, and 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.  Therefore, Jesus could command Peter to bring him some.  The 153 fish represents all wisdom.

And, 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.

John 21:11
“ … and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

See more on why it is unlikely that John was primarily intending the net not being torn as an allusion to unity among believers.

John was not just a communicator, he was also an Evangelist, par excellence.  He recognized the spiritual needs of the heart.

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 answer 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, his work on Pi –  where he derives a new and accurate method for calculating the value of Pi.

It would be a mistake to merely examine it as 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 the limitations they had in expressing mathematical concepts. 

For example, 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, they would have used the format “1:8”, but they would not have used the vertical format of   and they definitely would not have used  0.125.
See more below why this fact is so important.


See more on Archimedes’ work on Pi.

See Brief Summary of Meaning of 153 Large Fish



Sections :

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
John’s Purpose
Why Church Fathers Did Not (could not?) Give John’s Idea

The meaning and significance of the measure of 153 large fish.