Pondering John 21:1-14


You can click HERE to read the passage.

Spoiler alert – this post will be a bit different. It borders on comedy. It centers around the fact that John took the time to mention exactly how many fish were caught… 153. It got me thinking about one of my favorite TV shows. I confess that I am indeed a fan of The Big Bang Theory. There is an episode where Sheldon discusses why 73 is the perfect number…

Sheldon: “The best number is 73. Why? 73 is the 21st prime number. Its mirror, 37, is the 12th and its mirror, 21, is the product of multiplying 7 and 3… and in binary 73 is a palindrome, 1001001, which backwards is 1001001.”

Leonard: “73 is the Chuck Norris of numbers!”

Sheldon: “Chuck Norris wishes… all Chuck Norris backwards gets you is Sirron Kcuhc!”‘

As I was reading what some commentators said about this passage in John I found it kind of funny what explanations they came up with as to why John used the number 153.

(i) Cyril of Alexandria said that the number 153 is made up of three things. First, there is 100; and that represents “the fullness of the Gentiles.” 100, he says, is the fullest number. The shepherd’s full flock is 100 (Matthew 18:12). The seed’s full fertility is 100-fold. So the 100 stands for the fullness of the Gentiles who will be gathered in to Christ. Second, there is the 50; and the 50 stands for the remnant of Israel who will be gathered in. Third, there is the 3; and the 3 stands for the Trinity to whose glory all things are done.

(ii) Augustine has another ingenious explanation. he says that 10 is the number of the Law, for there are ten commandments; 7 is the number of grace, for the gifts of the Spirit are sevenfold.

“Thou the anointing Spirit art, Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.”

Now 7+10 makes 17; and 153 is the sum of all the figures, 1+2+3+4…, up to 17. Thus 153 stands for all those who either by Law or by grace have been moved to come to Jesus Christ.

(iii) The simplest of the explanations is that given by Jerome. He said that in the sea there are 153 different kinds of fishes; and that the catch is one which includes every kind of fish; and that therefore the number symbolizes the fact that some day all men of all nations will be gathered together to Jesus Christ. (William Barclay)

My explanation is much simpler. There were 12 disciples and there were 12 tribes of Israel. 12 x 12 =144. There were 5 books of the Law and 4 gospels. 144 + 5 + 4 = 153.

Okay, I jest! I think there really were 153 fish caught. Seems to me like the best answer… and the perfect number for John to use as he told his story.

Next Week’s Passage: John 21: 15-25

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