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?
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:
As D. A. Carson observes,
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.
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:
Given John's background as a fisherman, details like this would probably have been natural observations.
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. The bread is his body, on the cross. And since "man does not live by bread alone", 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.
 Mt 14:17, Mt 15:34
 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.
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
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.
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.
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
I think the 153 might symbolize the total of 120 (12, just 10 times) with Jesus’ 33 added.
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