Why 153 Fish in John’s Gospel? The Jewish Answer from Mark Drogin

Mark Drogin tells us why the Apostles caught exactly 153 fish in St John’s Gospel:

The beginning of the final Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. and the Word became flesh.” The entire Gospel focuses our attention on the Living Word of God: Jesus of Nazareth. The Evangelist also reveals that this Living Word of God is the Living Bread of Life. The Living Bread is the Living Word.

Matthew begins by telling us that Jesus the Messiah is the Son of David; John, in sharp contrast, does not tell us that Jesus is the Son of David. Matthew alone includes the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ famous Jewish statement: “I did not come to destroy Torah.” (Mt 5:17) In First Century Judaism, “Torah” and “Word of God” were synonyms: Torah is the Word of God. Again we see John taking the synoptics to a higher level, taking us deeper into the Gospel. Jesus promised to bring Torah to its completion (cf Mt 5:18); the final Gospel reveals that Torah has become flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.

At the end of his life, “when Moses had written down this Torah,” he gave this order: “[Every seven years] you shall read this Torah aloud in the presence of all Israel.” (Deut 31:9-11). Over the centuries, an annual cycle of readings was adopted to fulfill this requirement. The cycle of Torah readings – or “portions” – varied from century to century and place to place.

The 1910 Jewish Encyclopedia reports that a three-year Torah cycle used in Palestine around the First Century had 153 Torah portions. “The 153 parts into which the Torah was divided in the cycle of three years, which prevailed in Palestine till the exiles from Spain brought their customs into the Holy Land, are known as ‘sedarim’.” (“Parashah,” Cyrus Adler, Lewis N Dembitz)

Mark Drogin has a Masters in Theology from the University of Dallas and has written extensively on the Jewish roots of the Gospel and the Church. His parents and grandparents were atheistic, socialistic Jews. In 1974, at the age of 28, Mark was baptized; then he met Father Arthur Klyber, CSsR, a Jewish Catholic priest who had been ordained in 1932. Mark helped Father Klyber found Remnant of Israel in 1975 and worked closely with him for over 20 years. Today, Mark continues Father Klyber’s work as Managing Director of Remnant of Israel. He welcomes your comments at droginmark@yahoo.com

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  • Vince Contreras

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing– I’ll be sharing it with others.

  • brad ferguson

    Awesome !