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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Simon Peter went up.—The better reading inserts “therefore”: Simon Peter therefore went up—i.e., because of Christ’s command. He went up into the ship now lying on the shore with one end of the net fastened to it, and drew the remainder of the net to the shore.
Full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three.—The greatness and the number are dwelt upon because in any ordinary haul of fish a large proportion would be small and valueless, and be cast into the lake again (Comp. Matthew 13:47 et seq.). These were all “great,” and their size and number led to an exact account being taken of them. This would be talked of among the Apostles and their friends and fellow-craftsmen, and is, with the picturesque exactness which is characteristic of St. John, recorded here.
We have no clue to any mystical interpretation of this number, and it is probably not intended to convey one. The various meanings which men have read into it, such as that it represents one of every kind of fish known to the natural history of the day; or that one hundred represents the Gentile nations, fifty the Jews, and three the Trinity; or that there is a reference to the 153, 600 proselytes of 2Chronicles 2:17; or that it expresses symbolically the name of Simon Peter, take their place among the eccentricities of exegesis from which even the latest results of criticism are not free. Still, as all the more spiritual interpreters, from St. Augustine downwards, have seen, the differences between this and the earlier miracle (Luke 5:1-11) are too striking to be unintentional. That represents the visible Church, containing good and bad; the net is cast without special direction as to side; the net was broken and many escaped. This represents God’s elect, foreknown by Him; all are good; the net is brought to shore, and none are lost. (See Notes on the parable of the Draw-net in Matthew 13:47-50, and comp. especially Trench, Notes on Miracles, §§ 3 and 33.)
Yet was not the net broken.—Comp. Note on Luke 5:6. This is again one of the details which point to an eye-witness as the writer.
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—The manifest reference here to the former miraculous draught (Lu 5:1-11) furnishes the key to this scene. There the draught was symbolical of the success of their future ministry: While "Peter and all that were with him were astonished at the draught of the fishes which they had taken, Jesus said unto him, Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men." Nay, when first called, in the act of "casting their net into the sea, for they were fishers," the same symbolic reference was made to their secular occupation: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4:18, 19). Here, then, if but the same symbolic reference be kept in view, the design of the whole scene will, we think, be clear. The multitude and the size of the fishes they caught symbolically foreshadowed the vast success of their now fast approaching ministry, and this only as a beginning of successive draughts, through the agency of a Christian ministry, till, "as the waters cover the sea, the earth should be full of the knowledge of the Lord." And whereas, at the first miraculous draught, the net "was breaking" through the weight of what it contained—expressive of the difficulty with which, after they had 'caught men,' they would be able to retain, or keep them from escaping back into the world—while here, "for all they were so many, yet was not the net broken," are we not reminded of such sayings as these (Joh 10:28): "I give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand" [Luthardt]? But it is not through the agency of a Christian ministry that all true disciples are gathered. Jesus Himself, by unseen methods, gathers some, who afterwards are recognized by the constituted fishers of men, and mingle with the fruit of their labors. And are not these symbolized by that portion of our Galilean repast which the fishers found, in some unseen way, made ready to their hand?See Poole on "John 21:10"
drew the net to land full of great fishes; not alone, but others of the disciples with him; though he only is mentioned, being the leading person in this affair; an emblem of the whole number of God's elect being brought safe to shore, to Christ, and to heaven, through various tribulations and afflictions in the world, fitly signified by the waves of the sea. What mystery there may be in the number, I know not. The conjecture of Grotius, that it is a figure of the proselytes in the days of David and Solomon, seems to be without foundation; since they were not only so many thousands, but six hundred over. And as little to be regarded is the thought of others, that the larger number, one hundred, regards the converted among the Gentiles, and the lesser those among the Jews; much better is the observation of others, that it may design a collection, out of all sorts of people, to Christ, and his church.
And for all there were so many; in number, and these so large and big, and the weight of them so great. The Syriac reads "with all this weight", or "burden", and so the Persic; but the Arabic, "with such a number"; both ideas of number and weight are to be preserved, to make what follows the more observable:
yet was not the net broken; which must be ascribed to the divine power of Christ; and is an emblem of the power of God attending the Gospel to the regeneration, conversion, and salvation of his people, and of the great usefulness of it, however mean and despicable it may be in the eyes of men, and of its permanence and duration, until all the elect of God are gathered in by it.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)11. went up] Better, with the best texts, went up therefore: the meaning probably is ‘went on board’ the vessel, now in shallow water. The details in this verse are strong evidence of the writer having been an eye-witness: he had helped to count these ‘great fishes’ and gives the number, not because there is anything mystical in it, but because he remembers it.
The points of contrast between this Draught of Fishes and the similar miracle at the beginning of Christ’s ministry are so numerous and so striking, that it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the spiritual meaning, which from very early times has been deduced from them, is divinely intended. Symbolical interpretations of Scripture are of three kinds: (1) Fanciful and illegitimate. These are simply misleading: they force into plain statements meanings wholly unreal if not false; as when the 153 fishes are made to symbolize Gentiles, Jews, and the Trinity. (2) Fanciful but legitimate. These are harmless, and may be edifying: they use a plain statement to inculcate a spiritual lesson, although there is no evidence that such lesson is intended. (3) Legitimate and divinely intended. In these cases the spiritual meaning is either pointed out for us in Scripture (Luke 5:10), or is so strikingly in harmony with the narrative, that it seems reasonable to accept it as purposely included in it. Of course it requires both spiritual and intellectual power to determine in any given case to which class a particular interpretation belongs; but in the present instance we may safely assign the symbolism to the third class.
The main points are these. The two Miraculous Draughts represent the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. The one gathers together an untold multitude of both good and bad in the troubled waters of this world. Its net is rent with schisms and its Ark seems like to sink. The other gathers a definite number of elect, and though they be many contains them all, taking them not on the stormy ocean but on the eternal shore of peace.John 21:11. Ἰχθύων μεγάλων, of great fishes) which just now the great Lord had called, little fishes, John 21:10. It was thus (by fishing) that they had their livelihood (whilst in Galilee) up to the time of their journey into Judea.—ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα τριῶν, a hundred and fifty-three) It is wonderful that the actual number should be thus expressed in tin’s passage, as contrasted with Luke 5:6 (the ratio of which number might have affected the disciples more then than now), although the completely round number one hundred and fifty was so near, to which ὠς might have been also added for accuracy, as in John 21:8, “about two hundred cubits.” The number cliii., is memorable. Jerome, on Ezekiel 47 : [9, 10, “There shall be a very great multitude of fish—their fish shall be according to their kinds”], “They who have written of the natures and peculiar qualities of animals, who have learned ἁλιευτικὰ, as well in the Latin as in the Greek language, of whom Oppian, a Cicilian, is the most learned poet, assert that there are one hundred and fifty-three kinds of fishes, all of which were taken by the apostles, and not one remained uncaptured; whilst both the noble and base-born, the rich and poor, and every class of men, are being drawn out of the sea of the world to salvation.” Comp. Matthew 13:47, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.”—οὐκ ἐσχίσθη, was not broken) A new miraculous circumstance.Verse 11. - Then Simon Peter went up. Here again Simon is first in action, as John is the more rapid and real in his mental processes. The other disciples may have aided him, following his lead; but the singular verbs are used on both occasions (ἀνέβη and εἴλκυσε). In like manner, though the twelve apostles took part in the transactions of Pentecost, Peter opened his mouth to speak. On other occasions, while John spake by the eloquent glances of his eye, and the rest of the disciples joined their leader in testimony and prayer, Peter's voice was that which conveyed the mighty exultation of their common heart (Acts 3:12, etc.; Acts 4:8, etc.; Acts 8:20, etc.; Acts 10:34-11:30; 15:7-11). The word ἀνέβη, "went up," must be explained by the fact that ἀναβαινεῖν is used of embarking in a vessel (John 21:3; Mark 6:51; Acts 21:6), though in each case there is some difference in the manuscripts, with reference to the text, as there is also here. If the vessel was drawn up on the shore, with the net attached to it, the form of expression is explicable. Peter went up into the boat for the lines of the net, and, having secured it, he drew the net to the land, full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three. Various efforts have been made from early times to give some symbolic meaning to this enumeration. Canon Westcott has detailed several of these strange guesses. Cyril of Alexandria set the example, and was followed by Ammonius the presbyter, who both in different ways regarded the 3 as representative of the Trinity, the 100 + 50 representing, in different proportions, the success of the apostolic ministry among Gentiles and Jews. Augustine observes that 10 is the number of the Law, and 7 the number of the Spirit, 10 + 7 = 17; and the numbers from 1 + 2 + 3 + 17 = 153; so that the number represents all who are brought to God under every dispensation of grace. Gregory the Great reaches the value 17 in the same fashion as Augustine, but, says he, it is only by faith in the Trinity that either Jew or Gentile ever reaches the fullness of salvation; 17 is therefore multiplied by 3 = 3 x 17, which produces 51, which is the number of true rest; multiplied again by 3, which completes the glory of the perfected, it is 153. Hengstenberg, following Grotius, supposes a reference to the 153,600 Canaanitish proselytes who were received into the kingdom in Solomon's day (2 Chronicles 2:17)! though the odd 600 certainly confuse the reckoning. Jerome refers to the opinion of a learned naturalist of the second century, Oppian, who is said to have ascertained that there were 153 different kinds of fish in the seas, and that the apostles took of every kind, revealing the ultimate success of the fishers of souls with every kind of man - an allegory based on false science and insecure data, and involving a stupendous miracle, if it be meant for an historical fact. Several of the modern Tübingen school, in various but unsatisfactory ways, see in the number one made up by the letters composing the name of Simeon (71) bar (22) Jonah (31) Kephas (29); and here even Keim follows suit. Thoma finds the number in the mystic ΙΧΘΥΣ, "Jesus Christ the Son of God, Savior." Reuss discourages mystical or occult meaning. The remark of Baumgarten-Crusius, that the number is simply an index of the authenticity of the narrative, and of the fact that the fishes were counted on the occasion, is eminently sensible (so Godet and Meyer). The fact that it is not a round number adds to the probability of this statement, and enters a caveat against allegorical interpretation. And for all they were so many, the net was not rent. This is obviously a point of contrast with the first miraculous draught of fishes, when the nets brake and the boats began to sink. This does form a probable allegory of the success with which the final ingathering of souls shall be effected.
Into the vessel.
To land (ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς)
Strictly, upon the land.
All authorities agree as to the abundance of fish in the Lake of Galilee. M. Lortet, cited by Dr. Thomson, says that two castings of the net usually filled his boat. Bethsaida (there were two places of that name on the lake) means House of the Fisheries. The fame of the lake in this particular reached back to very early times; so that, according to the Rabbinical legend, one of the ten fundamental laws laid down by Joshua on the division of the country was, that any one might fish with a hook in the Lake of Galilee, so that they did not interfere with the free passage of boats. The Talmud names certain kinds of fish which might be eaten without being cooked, and designates them as small fishes. So ὀψάρια is rendered in John 6:9. Possibly the expression great fishes may imply a contrast with the small fishes which swarmed in the lake, and the salting and pickling of which was a special industry among its fishermen.
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