John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 21:11, 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.

//Jesus, newly-resurrected, appears to his disciples as they are fishing in Galilee. He tells them to draw in the nets and cast them over the other side of the boat (it is not enough to skootch the boat over a little, or just turn it around) and when they do, they net 153 fish.

153? Who sat there and counted them all? What does this number signify? This is a question that has intrigued commentators since the early centuries of the church.

Add up all the integers from 1 to 17, and you get 153. Does that shed any light on the puzzle? Hmmm, probably not.

St. Augustine proposed that the number allegorically provides a symbol for the Trinity. But I can’t follow his logic.

St. Jerome explains that there are 153 kinds of fish (such was the belief of Greek zoologists) so as “fishers of men” the apostles are learning to catch every kind of man.

If you’ve been following my posts about gematria and the number 666, you may wonder if similar numerical wordplay might describe the number 153. Yes, there have been several suggestions; the most likely being the Hebrew phrase “children of God,” which sums to 153.

In the end, we’re likely to never uncover John’s hidden meaning. One more long-lost mystery of scripture.

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