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John 21:11

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.

Is there any significance to the number 153? Or was it counted simply to quantify the miraculous catch?

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I found a GREAT answer at this website.....very interesting :) Praise God!!! home.earthlink.net/~bobseller1/id89.html –  user519 Apr 10 '12 at 15:40
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I would strongly recommend getting Richard Bauckham's "The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple" and reading the last chapter, "The 153 Fish and the Unity of the Fourth Gospel." The other chapters are great too but this last one would give you much food for thought. It did for me, anyway. –  Mallioch Apr 15 '12 at 1:52
    
Does the 153 have any significance in light of gnostic beliefs? –  Onorio Catenacci Jan 31 '13 at 1:30
    
The number 153 has a key multible numerical value, found in the mathematics of the Pyramids in Giza. Trying to find the link if any! –  user3086 Dec 12 '13 at 0:12
    
Another 'off the wall' but interesting answer. Strong's "153" in Hebrew is 'edra' or 'a force'. Obviously, neither John nor James Strong 'coincided' '153' with any particular meaning, but both of them recognized it was the 'force' of God to give them 153 fish. –  Tau Sep 12 at 0:43

7 Answers 7

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Short Answer: Many have come up with various numerological interpretations of the number 153 in John. I believe this to be reading into the text things not intended by the author.


As the two previous answers to this questions illustrate well, this numerological method allows for several different interpretations of the same passage. Each of the words in the Bible, both Greek and Hebrew, adds up to a number. It is no wonder that of these over 10000 words (most with several different tenses/forms), one can use arithmetic to derive one word/number from other words/numbers as one sees fit, and read meanings into it.

To illustrate my point, here are some other numerological interpretations of 153:

  • Jerome claimed there were 153 species of fish, thus the catch became a symbol of a fruitful mission as fishers of men.

  • Emerton notes that the streams of living water flowing from the temple in Ez 47:9-10, will have fishermen standing along the shore, from En Gedi to En Eglaim. "Gedi" has the numerical value 17, and "Eglaim" has the numerical value 153, and 153 = 1+2+3+4+.....+17. Thus the number represents all the fishermen.

  • Augustine also noted that 153 = 1+2+3+4+.....+17. 17=10+7, which is the ten commandments + the seven spirits of God.

  • Gregory the Great reaches 17 the same way, but multiplies it by 3, the number of the trinity, to get 51, and by 3 again, unto perfection, to get 153.

  • Others break 7 further down into 4+3, the number of walls in the new Jerusalem + the trinity

  • Yet others observe that 17 is the number of loaves of bread in the feeding of the 5000 + the number of baskets picked up after (=12+5).

  • Others note that 153 is the numerical value of the phrase "The church of love" or "the children of God" or "Cana G" (+ "Cana in Galilee").

  • Some see the number made up of "Simeon, Bar, Jonah, Kephas".

  • Thoma finds 153 to be a reference to ICTHYS (a common early Christian acronym, standing for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior").

Conclusion

As D. A. Carson observes,1

"Large quantities of ink have gone into explaining why there should be 153 fish. At the purely historical level, it is unsurprising that someone counted them, either as part of dividing them up amongst the fishermen in preparation for sale, or because one of the men was so dumbfounded by the size of the catch that he said something like this: ‘Can you believe it? I wonder how many there are?'"

I agree: this event made such a lasting impression on John, that he remembered the exact number of fish they picked up. Just as he remembered the name of Malchus, whose ear Peter severed. I read no more into 153 fish, than I do into the 2000 donkeys in 1 Chr 5:21.

1 D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar NT Commentary; Eerdmans, 1990), p. 672.

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Thanks, Jas, it's much more readable now! –  Niobius Dec 16 '13 at 21:32

While some have argued for some kind of symbolism in the number shown here, there is no direct support from the text. The notes from the Net Bible indicate the following direct implications:

  • This may have been a larger-than-average catch (especially in context of the following phrase - the net didn't tear under the load)
  • This may be indicative of blessing in following obedience to Jesus
  • The precise number is indicative of an eye-witness account

Given John's background as a fisherman, details like this would probably have been natural observations.

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I'd add to this that when they earlier caught a great catch at Jesus' command, the nets broke. This time they did not. –  Frank Luke Feb 1 '12 at 16:30
    
The mention of "153" large fish is simply part of a sentence intended to remind the reader of the miracle; that "although there were so many, the net was not torn." –  Jas 3.1 Dec 7 '13 at 3:35

Peter was not yet reconciled with Jesus. He was fishing in the dark (requiring grace), naked (sin exposed) and on the left side (in the flesh) ... all not good signs.

Jesus asks if they have meat, an invitation to a meat offering, which is a fellowship offering. He is offering reconciliation to Peter.

Jesus always served bread and fish.[1] The bread is his body, on the cross.[2] And since "man does not live by bread alone",[3] the fish represent "every word which proceeds from the mouth of God."

Peter was instructed to feed the sheep. What was he to feed them? Jesus had Peter alone pull the 153 fish to shore, when all the other disciples together couldn't handle the net. Peter was to feed the sheep "every word which proceeds from the mouth of God".

So why 153? It is a fellowship meal. 144 is for the dual-natured bride of Christ (Israel and the church). The remaining 9 are for the fellowship of the persons of the Godhead with each other. 144 + 3x3 = 153. Each person of the Godhead is fully God as represented by 3.

This was the third appearance of Jesus after the resurrection to the disciples. The first one he was heard, the second he was seen (examined his scars), and the third one he walked with Peter down the beach. This is the same hearing, seeing walking theme we see so often.

[1] Mt 14:17, Mt 15:34

[2] Mr 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.

[3]

Mt 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Lu 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

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As far as I can find out, this is the only time "153" appears in the Bible. I searched through some of the apocryphal books too.

Here's a wiki page on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/153_(number)#In_the_Bible

I don't really care for all the square-root-of-the-triangular-circle-number woowoo stuff, but the fact that

It has also been noted that the Tetragrammaton occurs 153 times in the Book of Genesis.

Is interesting.

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Jesus was having breakfast with seven disciples, soon to be apostles who were among the only eleven men told that they would be the ones to get the ball rolling prior to Jesus's ascension. Why 153? There is only one other place where that exact number is used, 2 Kings 1. Three sets of fifty and their captains of fifty. 153 exactly. I believe Jesus pointed to that part of the Scriptures to basically "dump" the disciples at the place where they should begin to fulfill their commission; a place that surrounds them in "before" and "after" chaisms between Elijah and Elisha, the center of the huge chain or chaistic structure being 2 Kings 2:11, something easy to miss but incredibly important; "as they were walking along and talking together..."

The contrast between Elijah and Elisha are quite stunning. Elijah was a prophet of God's judgments against the northern kingdom. Except for the Gentile widow's son's resurrection, Elijah was an instrument God used to execute judgment or deliver bad news prophesies to kings, mostly to Ahab; the very last being the Ahaziah death episode in 2 Kings 2. Two sets of 51 were judged, but the last set were shown mercy; 153; two judgments and one act of mercy; the hairy guy WENT DOWN with the last set of 51 to prophesy to Ahaziah that a dirt nap was in his immediate future.

That's where I think Jesus sent the disciples, specifically to that location in Scripture. The very next chapter after the untypical act Elijah performed (mercy) begins the "this is how you do it now" contrast between the law, obedience to it and judgment (Elijah and the old way) and continual demonstrations of undeserved grace to mere, scant demonstrations of others' faith (Elisha and the new way).

And look at how the new way began, right off the bat at Jericho. Salt (covenant) in a NEW bowl, hint, hint thrown into the source of cursed water makes the water pure. Isn't that what we have now in this age? A new covenant, a new age or as Paul says in Ephesians, a dispensation of grace.

As the life of Elisha is followed, more and more examples of grace are demonstrated (axe head floating, poisoned pot fixed, Naaman, the barren woman plus her son's resurrection, resurrection of the enemy soldier who simply touched Elisha's bones); all very different than Elijah.

Anyway, that's just a tiny example of why I believe Jesus used that number specifically. The disciples, especially the seven (and most certainly three of the seven) met intimately with Jesus shortly before His ascension and session. Although it isn't mentioned in John, I would imagine there was a pregnant, "So now what do we do Lord?" And like Jesus, he makes you think it out for yourself like He did so many times throughout the gospels. "153 fish? Hmmm, I wonder why that exact number popped out of the net? I wonder if that number means anything to the only eleven people in the world who were told to make disciples? Hmm, I wonder. I wonder if Jesus is trying to tell us something and where would we find what He is trying to tell us? Where else is that exact number, if at all, is used in the Septuagint?" Well, I wondered for years myself and by studying and looping 1 Samuel through Esther in my GoBible for almost three years during my daily workouts, I think that's why 153 is significant. The new covenant is illustrated and contrasted between Elijah and Elisha in that part of the Scriptures and the seven disciples (and we now) need to know and understand the differences.

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Hi Ken, welcome to the site. This was a very interesting answer... you seem to be an intelligent person and devoted Christian. However, this site is a bit different than Christianity.SE. Take a look at our tour page when you get a chance. We don't handle doctrine, opinions, sermons, or "truth-claims" (unless build solidly from the text). On this site we look for answers that are firmly founded in the text in question, show their work, and cite credible sources wherever possible. To improve this answer, consider editing it to aide non-Christians in following your logic exegetically. Thanks! –  Jas 3.1 Dec 15 '13 at 3:57

153 represents all teh types of fishes in the Tiberious at that time. It simply means if you consciously fish you an catch all types of fishes. Or christianity will be able to accomodate all types of people and still it can stay un-broken.

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How do you know that the Tiberious contains 153 types of fish, and not 42 or 216 or 1024? –  Gone Quiet Dec 18 '13 at 20:06
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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! We're a little different from other sites. Please cite a reliable source for this information - we expect answers to 'show their work.' –  Dan Dec 18 '13 at 21:09

Some of the previous thoughts on numerological interpretations are very good ones; as someone else has said “there is no direct support from the text”. I believe there are numerous times in Scripture where certain numbers are used symbolically, to emphasize, and those include 10’s, 12’s, 100’s, and 1000’s being used in calculations.

At this point in John’s last chapter, Jesus having died at the calculated age of 33, the new 12 need to take over for him, with Simon Peter leading.

Within a few verses is John 21:15-17

John 21:15-17 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (KJV)

I think the 153 might symbolize the total of 120 (12, just 10 times) with Jesus’ 33 added.

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protected by Gone Quiet Dec 18 '13 at 21:15

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