The Miraculous Draught of Fish. That’s what it’s called by many. The episode appears once in the Synoptic Gospels, in Luke (5:1-11) and in the Gospel of John (21:1-14). The narrative is fairly straightforward and its mysteries found easily enough. The tough nut to crack in this pericope is that number – 153. 153 fish. Christians have been pondering and offering up explanations for that number since, presumably, the first time it was read by someone other than the author. Now John’s writings have a mystical slant to them anyway and that seemingly meaningless number thrown in begs interpretation. Of course, it could be that that is the actual number of fish caught, but very few Scripture scholars believe that.

Saint Jerome, who was a holier man than I – even if he was a grouch – maintained that the 153 refers to the total number of species of fish that were know of at the time. He was off by less than 30,000 – barely less than 30,000. So, no, I don’t think that’s really the answer.

Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, another man much holier than I, claimed that the 153 referred to the number of Hail Marys said in a rosary, even though the the rosary wasn’t to be composed for another 1200 years. So, no, I don’t think that’s the answer either.

And then there are the legions of interpreters who are convinced that the number has to do with Sacred Geometry, referring to all the wonderful things one can do with the number by dividing, comparing, adding, etc. Come ON! The man was a fisherman! Yes, he was definitely infused with the Holy Spirit, but higher mathematics is a bit much to expect from the Holy Spirit when one is writing Scripture. (Many believe that John was the first to actually realize he was writing Scripture at the time he was writing it).

I believe the answer is much simpler. I’m convinced that Luke’s and John’s 153 recalls the 153,600 resident aliens who were conscripted to construct Soloman’s Temple in 2nd Chronicles (ch. 2:17-18). Obviously, everyone, even devout followers of the Christ, would scoff at a catch of 153,600 fish – much too ridiculous, but 153 is believable and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative, so Saint John abbreviated. His message is that as 153,600 men built up the original Temple so 153 – those the fishers of men will bring into the fold – will build up the True Temple, the Church. It’s really very simple.


The simplest explanation is that the number is merely an accurate reporting of the miraculous catch, and that the number isn’t the intended point.

In both Gospels, the important part is that Peter, Andrew, James and the other fisherman Apostles were having a lousy catch that day. In both Gospels it’s reported that they had caught absolutely nothing. In both cases, an apparent stranger appears, who bid they give it one more try. And THAT’S when the miraculous catch happens. Because they trusted in Christ, they received a bounty that beggared the imagination. The number is immaterial, other than to suggest a mind-boggling bounty of fish that Jesus allowed the Apostles to catch to establish who He was.

Mulling over the meaning of the number is IMO a little like looking at Monet’s magesterial paintings of Notre Dame, counting the dots of paint and not noticing the interplay of light in the whole painting. :slight_smile:


I think D. A. Carson states it the best

“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?’”

On the spiritual significance, I think it’s possible to come up with numerous explanations and that’s fine. It makes interesting discussions, but no real way of knowing what exactly (if any) spiritual significance it has.


I’ll respond to both Pat & Spider in 1 post if that’s alright. First, thank you both for your well thought-out responses. I’ll get back to you on this - have some work I need to do.
Br. Mark


It is interesting to note that 153 is the numeric value of the expressions: ‘The Passover (Ha Pesach),’ and also of the words ‘Sons of God (Bene Ha Elohim).’ We are the ‘sons of God’ who need to take the message of Jesus our Passover lamb to all the peoples of the world. It’s also amusing to note that the numeric value of the Greek words ‘fishnet’ and ‘fishing’ are also both exactly 8 x 153. In the Bible, the number 8 always refers to the Anointed One (Christ or Messiah) and to the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if this is a hint." petersteffens.com/articles/teachings/the-significance-of-the-153-fish.html

“Numbers have a special significance for Jews1. In both the Hebrew and Greek alphabets the letters served as both letters and numbers2 and every; word can also be a number. In writing and explaining the Bible, Jews regularly make use of the numerical values of words. This is evident in various places in the Bible. The book of Proverbs contains exactly 375 proverbs from Solomon (Proverb 10:1 and 22:16) which exactly matches the numeric value of his name ‘Solomon’ in Hebrew. Proverbs 25:1 to 30:1 consist of 140 proverbs gathered and edited by the appointment of King Hezekiah. The numeric value of Hezekiah’s name is 140. The number 666 from Revelations is probably one of the most well known examples of the numeric value of a word or name.” same source as above


They way I heard it is that St. Jerome said 153 represented the number of known “Peoples” (i.e. nations) at the time of Christ. So Peter’s catch signified that the Church would be “catholic” - i.e. for all the world.


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