I started Robert Grant’s 1952 book, Miracle and Natural Law in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Thought. In this post, I’ll talk about John 21:11, which states (in the KJV): “Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.”
Why does John 21:11 mention 153 fish? Grant proposes that we compare this story with a story in Porphyry’s Life of Pythagoras. (Porphyry lived in the third century C.E., and Pythagoras lived in the sixth century B.C.E.) In Life of Pythagoras 25, we read:
“Meeting with some fishermen who were drawing in their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, he predicted the exact number of fish they had caught. The fishermen said that if his estimate was accurate they would do whatever he commanded. They counted them accurately, and found the number correct. He then bade them return the fish alive into the sea; and, what is more wonderful, not one of them died, although they had been out of the water a considerable time. He paid them and left.”
According to this story, Pythagoras knew how many fish the fishermen had caught, before they even counted them. Is that what we see in John 21? There are some parallels, such as the statement that the nets are full of fish, and something about the number of fish that were caught. But there is no statement in John 21 that Jesus predicted the number of fish that were caught, and that he turned out to be right.
So why does John 21:11 mention 153 fish? My guess is that it mentions the number to highlight that a lot of fish were caught, and yet the net was not broken. What better way was there to show that there were a lot of fish in the net, than to mention a specific large number?