“… They all encounter the same
objection: we have no evidence that any such complicated
understating of 153 would have been intelligible to John’s
(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
(Carson, The Gospel According to John
(Pillar New Testament Commentary), 673)
was one of the four great evangelists. He spent his life communicating
his message, not hiding it.
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.
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.
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
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.
they had mistakenly thought that their natural wisdom contradicted and
precluded the possibility of the supernatural wisdom of Jesus’
revelation as being true.
“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
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
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.
“ … 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
John was not just
a 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 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
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 ⅛ 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.
Brief Summary of Meaning of 153 Large