John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 21:11 Why 153 Fish?

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

//Most of you know this story, how the disciples, disheartened after the death of Jesus, decide to go fishing. They have no luck at all. But suddenly a mysterious stranger appears (it’s Jesus, of course) and tells them to cast out one more time. They do, and net 153 fish.

Numbers are significant in the Bible. So what does the number 153 signify? Are we really supposed to believe that somebody sat down and counted all the fish, then recorded the number for preservation in our Bible? Or is the author of John’s Gospel telling us something meaningful … something that, probably, no contemporary reader, distanced by nearly two millennia from the readers this gospel was written for, can ever make sense of?

Some time ago, I posted a few guesses about the meaning of this number. At the time, I wrote this: “Add up all the integers from 1 to 17, and you get 153. Does that shed any light on the puzzle? Hmmm, probably not.”

Well, maybe it DOES mean something. The twelve loaves and five fishes of Jesus’ miracle feeding are highly significant numbers. And twelve plus five equals seventeen, the magic number we started with. This sort of numerology is common in the Bible.

But what is the ancients’ fascination with numbers in the first place? We’ll probably never know.

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