Do the 153 fish in John 21 count for anything?

There has been quite a lot of discussion online about the significance (or otherwise) of the 153 fish mentioned in John 21.11, which comes in the lectionary gospel reading for this Sunday coming. There seem to be no end of possible meanings for the term; here is a sample:

1. The catch of fish tells us of the salvation of humanity, but humanity cannot be saved without keeping the 10 commandments. But, on account of the fall, we cannot even keep the commandments without the help of grace and the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the number 7 signifies holiness, since God blessed the 7th day and made it holy (Gen 2:3). But 10 plus 7 equals 17, and if all the numbers from 1 to 17 are added together (1+2+3…+17), they equal 153. Hence, the 153 fish signify that all the elect are to be saved by the gift of grace (7) and the following of the commandments (10). (St Augustine, Commentary on John, 72.8)

2. 153 consists of 100 (the great number of gentiles to be saved), plus 50 (the smaller number of Jews to be saved), plus 3 (the Trinity who saves all) (St Cyril; this kind of reading is very similar to that of his brother Methodius in reading the number 1260 in Rev 12). Others follow St. Cyril, but modify this as follows: 100 (the multitude of married lay faithful in the Church), plus 50 (the many faithful who commit themselves later in life to continence either living as widows or living with their spouse in a brother-sister relationship), plus 3 (the precious few who commit their whole lives to celibacy as virgins) equals 153 (the whole Church taken together as a single body).

3. It was thought at that time that there were only 153 species of fish in all the world. Hence, the disciples caught 153 fish, signifying that people of every class and time would be saved through the Gospel. (St Jerome, Comm. Ez. 47.6-12).

4. Pythogoras was associated with catches of fish, and he had calculated that 153 is the denominator of the closest known fraction to the square root of 3 (265/153), and this was also the ratio of a fish shape drawn between two overlapping circles which are centred on each other’s circumference. This shape is therefore known as the vesica piscis or the mandorla and the ratio was called by Pythagoras the ‘measure of the fish’. If the two circles represent God and humanity, then the overlap represents Jesus as God incarnate, along with his followers, whose sign becomes the sign of the fish.

5. 153 written in base 120 is 18,360 days, which indicates the delay in the coming of the Millennium, but means that September 2017 will be a significant date in the ‘end times’ calendar.

What may occur on September 11, 2017 is speculation. Is it a final hit on the United States to prepare the way for the invasion into Israel? Will it at least be a warning that the coming “Flood” is about to come upon the world? We shall see…

We shall indeed!

6. The square root of 153 is 12.369, which is the number of lunar months in a solar year, and it therefore points to the moon which waxes and wanes, which is visible one minute and hides itself another. Just as the moon can hide itself, in Isaiah 8 the Lord spoke of hiding his face from Israel and binding up his testimony among the disciples.  The fish and the number 153 are for signs and symbols.  “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion” (Isaiah 8:11-18).

7. My favourite: fishermen are prone to exaggerate. Thus the writer of the Fourth Gospel tells us the exact number of the catch, so that we can believe that it was a miraculously large catch of fish, and we don’t dismiss it merely as Peter’s exaggerated claim!

How do you respond to these theories? You might think (as I am inclined to) what fun it is, and how creative people have been in their reading of this single text! On the other hand, you might also come to the same conclusion as Raymond Brown in his commentary on John (with which I also have some sympathy):

One cannot deny that some of these interpretations (they are not mutually exclusive) are possible, but they all encounter the same objection:  we have no evidence that any such complicated understating of 153 would have been intelligible to John’s readers (Gospel according to John XIII-XXI, 1075).


When teaching on numerology in Revelation, I begin not with any of these at times esoteric theories, but in proposing three principles for how we read any text. After all, making sense of a particular number in the text is nothing more than a special case of how we interpret texts generally, and what we allow ourselves to do will depend on how we understand what texts are, and what we are doing when we read them. These are my ‘Principles for avoiding crazy readings’:

  1. The claim made must fit the data of the text. This might sound like a very obvious principle, but it is in fact amazing how often people claim that a text says something when, on closer examination, the text says nothing of the sort.
  2. The reading must have been a possible meaning for the author of the text and its first readers. This is the principle that Raymond Brown is assuming—but it depends on understanding Scripture as both ‘God-breathed’ and the product of human authorship at the same time. That is, it depends on a specific understanding of Scripture as the inspired writings of particular people, in quite a different way (for example) from the way that Muslims generally view the Quran.
  3. Any ‘deep’ or ‘hidden’ meaning must cohere with the ‘surface’ meaning of the text. I think this principle is less obvious, but again it depends on an assumption about the way God communicates with us. Whilst Jesus taught in parables as a strategy to challenge his listeners to think again about God and the kingdom, it is a serious Christian conviction that God wants to communicate with us and make things clear, and not play tricks on us and tease us with esoteric codes and hidden meanings. Christianity is not gnostic, and the Bible is not a code book in the way that Kabbalism (and other esoteric traditions) treat it.

With these principles in mind, what then are we to make of the 153 in John 21.11, and the various theories above? Some can be dismissed outright, such as the end-times timescale; here the number is simply a jumping-off point into a theory that has no connection with the text, with the Fourth Gospel, or with the first-century world. The three patristic ideas, of Augustine, Cyril and Jerome, are more difficult to evaluate; was it important to the writer and his readers that 153 was a ‘triangular’ number (the sum of successive integers) and did they believe that 153 signified all the fish in the sea? Here we are sharply reminded that, whilst Scripture is ‘close’ to us, in that we hear God speaking to us through it by his Spirit, as it gives testimony to the Son, at another level to read the Bible is to go on a cross-cultural journey, since we think of numbers in quite a different way from first-century people.


There are not very many large numbers mentioned in the New Testament: this is one; Luke mentions that there are 276 people who are saved from the shipwreck in Acts 27.37; and the number of beast in Rev 13.18 is 666. It is striking mathematically that all three of these are ‘triangular’ numbers, as several of our theories note, which is a much more important thing in a world where you primarily count using physical objects, rather than in our world where numbers are more like abstract concepts. In fact, the word in the New Testament for ‘to calculate’ (psephizo) derives from the word for ‘pebble’ (psephos).

If 153 as the triangle of 17 is important, then perhaps we need to think about the significance of 17 itself. Commentators struggle to make much sense of the list of regions whose residents were at Pentecost in Acts 2.9–11; Ben Witherington in his socio-rhetorical commentary (pp 136 to 137) notes the anomalies, and the failure of things like astrological theories to make any sense of the list. But, taking the ‘Jews and proselytes’ from Rome as two groups, we have a list of 17, and perhaps Luke here is simply communicating that people hear the message from all over the known world. (Luke is clearly interested in numerology himself; the late Martin Menken pointed out that Peter’s Pentecost speech consisted of two halves of 444 syllables each, the total 888 being the gematria value of Jesus’ name in Greek. And Joel Green draws on Menken’s work to note that, in stories like the raising of the widow of Nain’s son, the word for ‘compassion’ comes at the numerical centre of the narrative.)

The connection with the nations of the world is also suggested by a connection with Ezekiel 47, which is the context for Jerome’s reflection.

In Ezekiel 47, we see baptismal waters flowing from the overturned Bronze Sea of the Temple, flowing out to the boundaries of the Land. Remember that Jesus claims to be the source of such living waters. In Ezekiel 47:9, we are told that “very many fish” will live in the (formerly) Dead Sea as a result of these living waters. In verse 10 we read, “And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from En-Gedi to En-Eglaim there will be a place for spreading of nets. Their fish will be acording to their kinds, like the fish of the Great [Mediterranean] Sea, very many.”

The Dead Sea is the boundary of the new land after the exile, and a place of contact with gentiles. The fishes are clearly gentile nations. The fact that the sea is formerly dead and now is brought to life surely indicates the influence of Restoration Israel over the nations before Christ, and points to the greater influence of the Kingdom after Pentecost.

Now, it is well known that Hebrew letters are also numbers: the first nine letters being 1-9, the next nine being 10-90, and the last five being 100-400. “Coding” words with numbers is called gematria. If we substract the “En” from En-Gedi and En-Eglaim, since “en” means “spring,” then the following emerges:

Gedi = 17 (ג = 3; ד = 4; י = 10)

Eglaim = 153 (ע = 70; ג = 3; ל = 30; י = 10; מ = 40)

Again, this seems too close to the mark to be a coincidence. Once again, we have the number 17 (Gedi, mentioned first) and its relative 153 (Eglaim, mentioned second) connecting to the evangelization of the gentiles, symbolized by fishing.

Conclusion: The number 153 represents the totality of the nations of the world, which will be drawn in the New Creation.

This connection is also made by Richard Bauckham, in what is perhaps the most comprehensive study of this issue in print, in the final chapter of his The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. (It is worth noting the other connections with Ezekiel in both the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation.) Bauckham further connects the numerology here with the opening chapters of the gospel, thus arguing that this ‘second’ concluding chapter was always part of the whole work, contrary to the dominant view in the previous generation that chapter 21 was a later addition. (Mark Stibbe also makes the case for unity on the basis of literary features of the text.)


Where does all this get us, and how might it shape our preaching?

First, we just need to recognise that these texts are, in some important ways, strange to us, so we do need to enter into the world of the text with a sense of disciplined imagination.

Secondly, there is a good case, supported in multiple ways, for seeing the 153 as having both real and symbolic significance. I don’t see any reason to doubt that someone counted the number (fishermen would be in the habit of doing so, surely?) but like many other things in this gospel, the reality also has symbolic significance.

Thirdly, the connections with the number 17 at Pentecost, and the parallels in this episode with the commissioning of the disciples in the similar experience in Luke 5, do suggest that the symbolic significance has to do with gospel ministry which will draw on people from all over the world. This is a ‘hidden’ meaning which simply says the same thing as the narrative in Luke 5, though in a distinct way and using distinct language and symbolism.

Fourthly, this does make the meaning of the narrative strongly focussed on the theme of restoration and renewing commissioning, a theme that is reinforced in Jesus’ threefold restoration of Peter in the next pericope. The disciples are once again, beyond their failure and fear, being called to proclaim the good news about Jesus to all the world.

Happy preaching! Happy listening! And happy reading!


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327 thoughts on “Do the 153 fish in John 21 count for anything?”

  1. @ Geoff.
    *Sigh*
    Like the lame horse you fall at the first hurdle. And I love the passing shot, by the way. A biblical verse. Naturally, that’ll do it!
    You are such a card, Geoff. A real wit with a capital T!

    May the gods bless you, sir!
    Ark

    Reply
    • Aw Ark,
      There, there, Ark. Can really feel your raw pain, your hurt. Having a game spoiled isn’t fun when much has been and is invested. So many Christians to de-convert, so many opportunities to deliciously insult.
      May Jesus meet you.
      The end..(for) it will be!
      Geoff

      Reply
      • Game spoiled?
        Good Heavens’ (sic)!
        I think you just get a tad upset that we all don’t fling ourselves to the ground and beg forgiveness when confronted by biblical text.
        Here’s a thought. Why don’t you demonstrate some good old fashioned integrity for your position and present some genuine evidence for the claims you are so sure are responsible for you conversion.
        By the same token such evidence should completely trash the position of all the fundamental deconverts who were once as completely besotted with Christianity(such as Gary) – as you currently are – but then, one day, they began asking a few pertinent questions and realised there was, in fact, no evidence as they once believed.
        You seem to know your stuff, so let’s see you step up to the plate with evidence.

        Reply
  2. What is passing strange is that the two stories that have been most scorned are at the very top level of explicit eyewitness. For the 500 seeing Jesus (1 Cor 15.6) it sounds like 300 or so are still alive. For the saints that ‘appeared to many people’ there is a specific time mentioned and a large number of witnesses, whether these were the ones whom Matt himself spoke to or whether they were at one or two removes from them.

    This is very interesting. If the very stories that seem to have the most eyewitnesses of all are the ones most scorned – and yet what Gary (and Ark?) are asking for is eyewitness, since hearsay is no good, their position is self-contradictory. It can be summarised thus:

    (1) Only eyewitness testimony is good enough.

    But as soon as we have eyewitness testimony…(of course, eyewitnesses are everywhere when Paul was writing, and he died only 2 years or so before Mark was written)…

    (2) The occasions that seem to have the most eyewitnesses of all are not only not to be trusted, but are the *least* to be trusted.

    This is otherwise known as the dishonest and self-fulfilling ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.’.

    Reply
    • Yes, alleged eyewitness testimony is often sufficient evidence for auto accidents and murder trials. However, is alleged eyewitness testimony sufficient for supernatural claims?

      Here is a short clip in which hundreds of people claim to experience an amazing supernatural event just a few years ago (2017) in Ireland. These hundreds of people believe that a dead woman is appearing to all of them at one time and place. Watch the video and see if you see her. (I don’t. It must be my wicked, stubborn sinfulness!)

      Listen to the hysteria of the crowd! These people very sincerely believe that they are all experiencing a fantastical supernatural event. Is eyewitness testimony for supernatural claims really believable, folks?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DFxsglmeOs

      Isn’t it entirely possible that this is exactly what the “500” saw when they believed that a dead man had appeared to them???

      Reply
        • hah hah – bonkers –
          but…..a straw man argument Gary.
          Christianity does not stand or fall with a shiny cloud perceived as a the BVM
          nah, you’ll have to do better

          Reply
          • What evidence can you provide that the “500” did not see a bright light in the sky and believed it to be Jesus?

            –Can you gives us the names of any of these 500 people?
            –Can you give us their testimony as to what they claim they saw?
            –When and where did this alleged event occur?

          • Citing something that is *possible* is the worst sort of argument. Trillions of things are *possible* and therefore there are trillions of options. That is why we have to restrict ourselves to the likely and probable.

  3. @ Christopher
    This is not evidence but merely a claim. A claim in a ”book”( NT)known to be riddled with numerous unsubstantiated claims, interpolation, and pseudepigraphia ( forgery). And this does not include similar erroneous text from the Old Testament.
    None of this bodes well for any claims related to eyewitness testimony.
    If we are talking evidence – and you did say we were – then you obviously do not fully understand the term.

    Reply
    • !!
      We are supposed not only to believe sweeping generalisation, but also privilege it against more nuanced analyses?

      And when that generalisation coheres so strongly with a particular ideological position?

      When you debate, you just come along with sweeping undebated presuppositions and expect everyone will (or should be forced to?) just accept them?

      Reply
    • The topic of this thread is the meaning of “153 fishes” in a story told in the Gospel According to John. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to try to determine the authorship of the book which tells this story in order to understand what that author meant when using this number of fish???

      Our discussion on the authorship of John (along with the rest of the Gospels) is very much on topic. This thread has NOT been hijacked. You just don’t like the opposition’s evidence, Simon.

      Reply
      • It wouldn’t be a good idea to try to determine that. Not at all. That is because none of us will argue at the level of the best scholars. The best discussions (fullest, most nuanced, and with most use of primary sources) are Hengel and Bauckham – and the fact that they agree is interesting.

        Reply
        • Yes, yes. A fringe scholar who believes that at least one of the Gospels was written by an eyewitness tells us that we should accept the position on the authorship of the Gospels from two other scholars who just so happen to agree with his fringe position.

          Don’t buy it folks. Accept consensus expert opinion on all issues about which you yourself are not an expert.

          –Believe in the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth because that is what the majority of historians believe.
          –Believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb because that is what the majority of experts (NT scholars) believe.
          -Believe in the non-eyewitness/non-associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels because that is what the majority of experts believe.

          Reply
          • Read what I said above. (John the Elder does not, if we unpack things rate as a full ‘one’, rather than a fraction – but an eyewitness is an eyewitness, even if by no means an eyewitness of everything.) John the Elder was an eyewitness, probably. No, as already said, he was not an eyewitness of the entire Galilee chunk – which is a lot. He refers to and relies on a first-rate eyewitness, as does Mark. If I said ‘at least one’, which I am not sure I did, then it is conceivable that Mark himself has some eyewitness value. But I think the chances are against. There are good reasons for thinking he was the young man in the garden, but better reasons for thinking he was not. He too is close to a first-rate eyewitness.

            The main point is none of that. The main point is that the floruit of all 4 evangelists very much included the 70s, and Peter and John died c68; and Peter and/or John were very much in the circles of approx. 3 of those 4 who later became evangelists. As in: people well known to them.

      • “You just don’t like the opposition’s evidence, Simon.”
        hah, lol – I havent read any yet – all I see is rhetoric and a repeated appeal to scholarly “consensus” – Christopher blew that out the water in the first round. You never did reply to my view that C21st scholarly consensus is not that important to me, but rather late C1st and C2nd apostolic lineage, trustworthy transmission, treasuring and transcribing, on pain of death. My faith is not built on scholarly consensus many of whom are professional scholars not practicing christians. My faith is in Jesus I know, the same Jesus I read about in the gospels, and the 1900years of billions of believers who know him too.

        come on Gary – this is boring –
        prayed for you today – and gonna keep at it

        Reply
        • And I thought about you this morning, Simon.

          I am hoping that one day you will see that the delusions that confuse your very bright, intelligent mind are nothing more than ancient superstitions; no more real than tales of one-eyed Cyclops and Greek demi-gods with super-human powers; powers which can be vanquished by shooting an arrow into his heel.

          You don’t need a superhero to save you from your “sins”, Simon. You don’t need an imaginary friend to be happy and content. Embrace reason and science! A world without capricious gods and devils might at first be scary for you, but I promise that you will eventually come to see it as beautiful and spectacular. You and chance control your destiny, Simon, not an invisible superhero in the sky.

          Reply
  4. @ Christopher

    When you debate, you just come along with sweeping undebated presuppositions and expect everyone will (or should be forced to?) just accept them?

    You made the assertion that we are only interested in evidence.
    Here, let me quote you once more:

    Our discussion is about evidence alone

    Thus to cite the tale of 500 eyewitnesses as evidence is simply nonsense when one considers the source is unverified and on the face of it is highly questionable, especially when so many scholars have determined that the bible is riddled with error across so many disciplines including archaeological, scientific, geographic, and historical.
    It also contains, myth, known interpolation, and pseudoepigraphia (fraud).

    Hardly a trustworthy collection of texts, especially as you are banking your ‘soul’ on what it claims, am I right?

    So let’s keep it real as best as we can shall we?
    You are undoubtedly more knowledgeable in the area biblical scholarship so why not have another shot at restoring some credibility by presenting genuine evidence?
    I reckon we can only learn from discussing such issues and move where the evidence takes us, yes?

    Regards
    Ark.

    Reply
    • Well- if I am *more* knowledgeable in the area, it follows that I may be *more* knowledgeable in assessing relative quality of evidence in that area too.

      You talk (para6) as though you know a lot about me, which is not truthful as you know very little. What you are doing is trying to conform everyone to stereotypes, of which there are few. But real people are, as we both know, unique and different individuals.

      You too I suggest should email me not comment on this thread. There is a dot between my names, uk web provider means yippee.

      Reply
      • I suggest that we non-experts trust the consensus expert opinion on this issue and not the opinion of one intelligent, well-read, but FRINGE expert.

        The overwhelming majority of NT scholars reject the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of ANY of the Gospels. If that consensus has changed since the publication of Richard Bauckham’s book, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, as some of you suggest, I would like to hear Dr. Bauckham make that statement himself. Anyone care to contact him? Let’s see you “put your money where your mouth is”, gentlemen.

        Reply
  5. Well- if I am *more* knowledgeable in the area, it follows that I may be *more* knowledgeable in assessing relative quality of evidence in that area too.

    Quite possibly, and when you present some evidence then I will be able to judge your ability to assess it.

    You talk (para6) as though you know a lot about me, …

    Not at all. What I wrote was based on something I read up-thread, about your scholarly acumen? A comment by Simon I think, but don’t hold me to it, as I don’t fancy trawling through all the comments. I apologise if I read something into it that isn’t the case.

    What you are doing is trying to conform everyone to stereotypes.

    Not at all. After all ,you state we are only interested in evidence. Are you altering your position in this regard?
    People who share the same worldview – in this case Christian – will inevitably hold similar values across a broad range of things.
    As a soccer fan I am sure there are plenty of people who share a similar outlook which might be labelled as stereotypical. Under the circumstances this is probably unavoidable.

    You too I suggest should email me not comment on this thread.

    Sorry, Christopher, I don’t do the email thing with bloggers, unless they are personal friends.
    I have always found that, an open, un-moderated forum such as this ( thank you Ian) is the best way to share ideas, and go after facts, even if the back and forth gets a bit heated from time to time.

    So, I am still waiting for you to present evidence to support your assertions.
    Any time you are ready, Christopher …..

    Regards
    Ark

    Reply
    • No, Ark, I find your manner unacceptably aggressive, especially to someone you scarcely know. In any case I always try to live and breathe the evidence-only approach.

      One needs to distinguish between ‘worldviews’ people aesthetically like, those that are convenient to them, and those that they are compelled to hold (whether or not they ‘like’ them) by the evidence.

      If your manner changes I will debate you happily, on-topic. Anything off topic you can debate me on by email any time.

      Reply
  6. Once again, you have not presented any evidence yet still seem to believe you have. The written account of the 500 witnesses is a perfect example of this lack.
    Whether you dislike my blogging style is neither here nor there to the point at hand, and I certainly haven’t been aggressive. Forthright, perhaps.
    Now that you have been put in a position of, ”Put up or Push off” as the phrase goes, you are doing that most favoured dance of the Christian Apologetic: the Theological Two-Step.
    Believe me, I’m used to it, and when people indulge in it, rather than honestly engaging with the topic at hand it suggests more about your Christian fundamental (evangelical?) motivation and demonstrates a lack of integrity and credibility.
    So in all sincerity, if
    your manner changes then maybe we can have a genuinely productive dialogue. Until then all you doing is hamstringing yourself.

    Regards
    Ark.

    Reply
    • Ark, start at the beginning of the authors/eyewitnesses portion of this comments thread, pick out all the evidence I cite, and then respond to it.

      Reply
      • Again …. it isn’t evidence, merely assertions. How many times does one have to say this?
        And the consensus agrees.

        Let me give you a couple of simple examples.
        Claim: There was an empty tomb! It says so in the bible. That is the evidence.
        Really? Who says? Where is it?

        Claim.There were 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ. That is the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.
        Really? Who were these witnesses. How do you know there were exactly 500? Why not 503?
        Where did this event take place? Who can independently verify it.

        It is NOT evidence. It is only a claim. And a claim among a great many claims in a book that is known to be riddled with errors in almost every discipline, including archaeology, geography, science, geology biology and history. It also contains interpolations and pseudoepigrapha (forgery).
        On what grounds must anyone trust this ”book”?

        Regards
        Ark

        Reply
        • It is untruthful for you to say I said the number was 500. If you dispute that it is untruthful, name where I said it.

          Even Paul did not say that. He said ‘above 500’. And that is the trouble – not referring to the primary sources.

          Reply
          • Did I say you said it was 500 witnesses? I wrote, how do you know it was 500? why not 503?
            Now, can you provide evidence of this, and any of the claims you are espousing?

        • What book? You are clearly a fundamentalist, because you think that a library of many genres, many dates, many cultures and many authors is a ‘book’.

          Can you justify that stance? I am interested in your answer.

          Ta biblia is plural.

          Reply
  7. Christopher: “The main point is that the floruit of all 4 evangelists very much included the 70s, and Peter and John died c68; and Peter and/or John were very much in the circles of approx. 3 of those 4 who later became evangelists. As in: people well known to them.”

    According to scholars Raymond Brown (1994) and Richard Bauckham (2006), the majority of scholars believe that the evangelists were separated by at least one generation from ANY eyewitnesses. Therefore your belief that the evangelists had some kind of contact with the eyewitnesses is strained at best. And most scholars believe that the dates of the deaths of any of the Twelve are very uncertain. The traditional dates of their martydom are derived from writings written centuries later, and believed by most scholars to be simply catholic tradition. I am shocked that you would state without qualification that “Peter and John died c68” CE. This fundamentalist conjecture, at best.

    Reply
    • That is possibly the most inaccurate statement you have made. I wonder if any scholar anywhere agrees with it. Mid to late 60s is far and away the most likely time for the deaths of preachers-of-Christ Peter and Paul (and John died later) – this is agreed by almost all.

      It is very rare indeed for anyone to date Mark after 75.

      Look at the massive overlap of the major proportion of the apostles’ lifespan with the major proportion of the 4 evangelists’ lifespan. And both sets of people moved in the same circles.

      So where is the generation there? It looks like 10 years max, if we stretch *both* the earliest *and* the latest date as far as they can be stretched.

      However, people do not spring into existence when they put pen to paper!! They had lives long before that.

      OK then, 10 years is a ‘generation’ if you have child marriage (un petit d’un petit). I have heard that there is a French nursery rhyme beginning ‘Un petit d’un petit s’etonne aux Halles.’.

      Reply
      • Christopher: “Look at the massive overlap of the major proportion of the apostles’ lifespan with the major proportion of the 4 evangelists’ lifespan. And both sets of people moved in the same circles. So where is the generation there? It looks like 10 years max, if we stretch *both* the earliest *and* the latest date as far as they can be stretched.”

        Conservative Christian scholar Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” (2006), p. 240: “As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”

        What does “prevalent view” mean to you, Christopher?

        Reply
      • Raymond Brown, mainstream Roman Catholic NT scholar in his two volume work, “The Death of the Messiah” (1994), pp. 4-5:

        “Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. ”

        What does “an intervening generation or generations” mean to you, Christopher?

        Reply
      • Oxford Annotated Bible:

        “Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.”

        What does “do not present contemporary accounts of Jesus” mean to you, Christopher?

        Reply
      • Catholic blog, About Catholics:

        “They [the Gospels] were anonymously written. In fact most scholars today do not believe that the evangelists were eyewitnesses for the simple reason that their chronology of events and theological interpretations are different.”

        Doesn’t sound like the Catholic Church believes that the author of John was a (partial) eyewitness to the events he describes. How would you obfuscate…I mean, interpret…that statement, Christopher?

        Reply
      • You said “Peter and John died circa 68 CE”. Maybe you meant to say, “Peter and Paul”. Even so, it is pure conjecture, obtained from the writings of Eusebius who claimed that Peter was executed under Nero. How did Eusebius know that? Evidence or church tradition? Eusebius lived in the FOURTH century, for goodness sake!

        What other evidence do you have for the date of Peter’s death??? I suppose you also believe the Catholic tradition that the bones of Peter lie underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

        https://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201602/vatican-built-st-peters-bones-30562

        Reply
        • Silly old Chris, who believes that the bones of Peter lie under the basilica.

          (It matters not a jot that aforesaid Chris never once mentioned said bones, and still hasn’t.)

          It’s like the journalists. If you can’t find anything to make fun of people for, then in desperation you must invent something.

          Reply
  8. However, if you really are lovers of evidence, then you are scoring an own goal. Lovers of evidence like primary sources. Papias, NT texts analysed and quoted. You love none of that – you refer merely to secondary sources, and then only summaries of those! Which – all will agree – is not what is meant by the word ‘evidence’.

    Reply
  9. However, if you really are lovers of evidence, then you are scoring an own goal. Lovers of evidence like primary sources. Papias, NT texts analysed and quoted. You love none of that – you refer merely to secondary sources, and then only summaries of those! Which – all will agree – is not what is meant by the word ‘evidence’.

    As the book is claimed to be the inspired word of the god Yahweh, then there should be evidence of its veracity in the real world – the one we live in.
    We only have to look at the tale of the Flood to know that this claim is false. And the evidence has demonstrated this.
    As has the Human Genome project refuted the Adam and Eve tale.

    And the list goes on. Exodus is also very good example.

    The gospels do not fare any better when honestly scrutinized and this is why the consensus concludes that they are not eyewitness testimony or eyewitness authorship.

    Any book that is so riddled with error deserves to be treated with skepticism if not outright prejudice.

    Reply
  10. This is simple. Do some research.

    First research how many scholars date Mark after 75.

    Then research how many scholars date Peter’s death before 64.

    As for John, it is agreed that John died after Peter. If you disagree, find one scholar who claims he predeceased him.

    I will be interested to see what you find. Specific historical data, not broad generalisations.

    Reply
  11. As for Eusebius, he is only one of many. There are whole fat books full of accounts of Peter’s and Paul’s deaths. Clement refers to them in the first century. So may Revelation 11, according to Johannes Munck’s theory.

    Reply
    • Tell you what, Christopher. I will let the readers investigate the evidence for Peter’s death. It isn’t high on my priority list because even if Peter was alive in 68 CE that in no way is evidence that the authors of the Gospels had contact with him. What I am concerned about is: Is there any good evidence that the authors of the Gospels interviewed eyewitnesses for their stories or is this simply one of many assumptions in the conservative Christian belief system?

      Let’s get back to my original premise: Do you or do you not accept that the majority (I won’t bother using the term “consensus”) of New Testament scholars reject that ANY eyewitness or associate of eyewitness authored the Gospels, in whole or in part?

      Reply
      • It may not be evidence they had contact with him, but it sure as anything is even less evidence than they didn’t.

        And as sure as anything his own entourage had contact with him.

        And as sure as anything we have zero evidence for Mark being written by anyone outside his entourage. Or if there is evidence, name it.

        Your sleight of hand is to cry foul when there isn’t 100% proof. Readers will spot that and note that the fault lies in your setting the bar impossibly high, so that even cases where chances are 99% get ruled out.

        Reply
        • “And as sure as anything we have zero evidence for Mark being written by anyone outside his entourage. Or if there is evidence, name it.”

          Raymond Brown, probably one of the most respected New Testament scholars of our time states in “The Death of the Messiah” that one of the reasons why most scholars doubt that the author of Mark was a companion of Peter (or as you put it, part of his “entourage”) is that he seemed to have little knowledge of Jewish customs and geography. I know that conservative Protestants contest that point, but that is what Father Brown said. So once again, I trust the opinion of most experts, not that of the biased fringe.

          Reply
          • Perhaps the two of you are enjoying this exchange. I haven’t followed it all, but I confess to not finding it very enlightening…

          • I don’t do email. I prefer public discussion.

            I have enjoyed our discussions, Christopher (and Simon, and Geoff). If any of you wish to discuss this issue with me further, please comment on my blog: Escaping Christian Fundamentalism.

            Thank you, Ian, for your indulgence of this lengthy discussion. 🙂

      • I haven’t heard of interviews. I expect it is not unlikely that there were some. Mark was a case of remembering Peter’s preaching. Our earliest witness says he took care to leave nothing out of what he remembered, but did not know the right chronological order.

        Reply
          • Utterly inaccurate. It is agreed by all that our earliest witness (‘the Elder’ in Papias) said that. Quote me one scholar who either (a) denies that that is what the text said or (b) knows of a postbiblical witness on this matter dating earlier than Papias’s Elder?

  12. Has anyone noticed how unremittingly negative are the comments coming from the other side?That approach is easy and requires zero thought and zero research.

    What are your positive proposals for the date of Mark?

    For the death of Peter.Paul and John?

    Reply
    • My claim was that most NT scholars reject the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. I provided evidence from multiple reputable sources. One can still believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus without eyewitness testimony.

      Reply
      • Please don’t avoid the question. How old do you need to be to be able to knock things down?How much expertise does that need? How old, on the other hand, do you need to be to make positive proposals.

        If you cannot make even one positive proposal where others are making several, then you don’t understand the field or the nature of the evidence. It is tantamount to me debating an astrophysicist.

        Reply
        • Christopher: “How old do you need to be to be able to knock things down?How much expertise does that need? How old, on the other hand, do you need to be to make positive proposals.”

          I HAVE made positive proposals in the course of this discussion, Christopher. Maybe you aren’t reading all the comments.

          The fact that so many of my proposals are negative is that I am involved in an “intervention” here. When you attempt to rescue someone from a cult, you spend most of your time examining the false beliefs of the cult member. However, whenever I am conducting an intervention, I always try to add in some positive comments about the world outside the cult. Here was one of those comments to “Simon”:

          And I thought about you this morning, Simon.

          I am hoping that one day you will see that the delusions that confuse your very bright, intelligent mind are nothing more than ancient superstitions; no more real than tales of one-eyed Cyclops and Greek demi-gods with super-human powers; powers which can be vanquished by shooting an arrow into his heel.

          You don’t need a superhero to save you from your “sins”, Simon. You don’t need an imaginary friend to be happy and content. Embrace reason and science! A world without capricious gods and devils might at first be scary for you, but I promise that you will eventually come to see it as beautiful and spectacular. You and chance control your destiny, Simon, not an invisible superhero in the sky.

          Reply
    • Hello Christopher,
      1. That is the methodology. And being slated , and then praised sarcastically, insulted, as ignorant yet “seeming to know your stuff”, good cop, bad cop, stick and carrot to goad, to keep it going. They are having a laugh, in the middle of faux seriousness seeking genuine answers, as was evident in the past, from Ark’s blog amongst his cronies. All the while I doubt if Ark (real name Matt, I think) mocks his (Anglican?) mother with the venom he delivers.
      2. They spend so much time trying to prove a negative – that there is no God, which requires god-like omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence.
      3. All the rest about scripture is a ruse. And consistency is not a strong point, except when it comes to their methods.
      4. While I’ve not viewed the you tube link I have noted Simon’s response, which I trust, it seems that is the base-line “science” that is put forward as “scientific evidence” in support of frequent underlying hostile unbelief.
      5. Imagine that : by their own lights their whole enterprise is devotion to proving nothing!
      6. SO much time and energy seeking to prove nothing, non existence. Not an intelligent endeavour, in my view. It’s is the ultimate scientifically-unprovable impossibility.
      7. It is of the supreme scientific-Sisyphus genre.
      8 . There are no ground rules set for “debate” even about historical method. How do we know anything about the past? Can it all be scientifically proved/disproved? Their ONLY ground rule is scientific proof.
      9. AND there is an assertion that there were no miracles. The burden of proof is theirs, to be proved scientifically. It is a philosophy of scientism.
      10. A rudimentary thesis of mine would be that the Gospels in their time would have been considered to be what we have today – Documents of Public Record, adducable as evidence of the veracity of its contents, that what is set out actually happened.
      11. Another, and to use a further example from law. Section 9 Witness statements (made under oath ) (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) can be used as evidence of the the contents without the need to call the witness. I’d suggest that the Gospels are a similar category. Again this is a rudimentary thesis, which could be expanded’ with further application of biblical scholarship.’
      11. Therefore, what we in the Gospels and NT is base- line written, uncorrectable, evidence of the contents . What we have IS EVIDENCE of and in itself!!
      12. And now the burden of proof falls onto deniers to scientifically prove otherwise, to scientifically disprove the past. They can’t apply to themselves THE Rule they always revert to when they paint themselves, logically, into a corner.
      13. At best, it would be a philosophical, retrospective, extrapolation!! And, as has clearly been evidenced in thread, by the Thomas twins, it, ultimately, doesn’t go beyond assertion, supposition and non- scientific anti-supernatural presumption.
      14. SO much time and energy seeking to prove nothing, non existence. Not an intelligent scientific endeavour, in my view. It’s is the ultimate scientifically-unprovable impossibility.
      15. Now, if there is a response, it will be entirely predictable, from the evidence of the contributions.
      16 It is indeed of the supreme scientific-Sisyphus genre.

      Reply
      • “Witness statements (made under oath ) (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) can be used as evidence of the the contents without the need to call the witness. I’d suggest that the Gospels are a similar category. Again this is a rudimentary thesis, which could be expanded’ with further application of biblical scholarship.’ ”

        Please produce even ONE witness statement, made under oath, from an alleged eyewitness who claims to have seen a walking, talking resurrected corpse in first century Palestine, Geoff.

        Reply
        • Gary,
          1. I was unsure about including the words “on oath” without developing the point, as I didn’t really want to prolong this thread, and could foresee a rejoinder which duly came.
          The burden, weight of my comment was that the burden of proof was those who seek scientific proof, to scientifically prove what they claim. (and as an aside the you -tube link, does you no credit as a science based medic)
          2 But to elaborate a little, I’ll press the point I was seeking to make from the Justice System.
          2.1 The justice, courts, system is based on evidence and there are various laws and rules of evidence that look to ensure the truthfulness (that is what actually happened) of testimony.
          2.1.1 The point about an oath is that there is an emphasis on truthfulness and a consequent offence (and penalty for) of perjury, for lies. (carrying imprisonment).
          3 To extend this to Gospel times,:
          3.1 God was at the centre of Hebrew life, include 7 yearly festivals or feasts.
          3.2 The truth of that God as opposed to any other was essential,
          3.3 Penalty for opposing that truth (blasphemy) was death. (In effect, perjury. lies against God)
          3.4 Saul was officially warranted to root out what was seen as sedition.
          3.5 To stand, write, in opposition as testimony, a testimony of truth, as a seeming counter-truth -but in fact the whole truth- (the Gospels) would at the least be subject to questioning (cross-examination) and at worst death (for, in effect of perjury.) and a stamping, snuffing out of the movement.
          3.6 In effect, the oath here, is the putting their lives on the line for the sake of the Whole truth, “we stake our lives on it” (again, for emphasis, truth was central in Hebrew life and belief.)
          3.7 They could be cross examined, flogged, imprisoned, killed, for the sake of the truth. A far higher standard of imputed “oath”, compared to the one in the Courts judicial system in the UK today.
          4. What is written is uncorrectable, has been subject to testing, through cross examination, public denunciation, torture, death historically- written- on -oath -by -imputation.
          5 The burden of proof, by your own scientific lights, is to disprove it all, scientifically, without speculation (see my last comment)
          There will be no more from me on this. But based on the (scientific) evidence of your comments and rejoinders, which seek to hone-in on what you see as chinks weaknesses, it’s unlikely to be the last from you. Your mind is firmly closed in unbelief, which is frequently described as a hardness of heart towards God, rejection of Jesus.
          May you meet our Risen Lord Jesus, Gary, Geoff,

          Reply
          • Good morning, Geoff.

            One of the biggest misconceptions among many Christians is that we skeptics believe that the disciples were liars; that they invented the resurrection story. This is false. Most of us believe that the earliest Christians were very sincere. However, we believe that they were most probably sincerely mistaken.

            Please provide even one uncontested eyewitness statement of anyone claiming to have seen Jesus’ walking, talking resurrected body?

  13. The more general the generalisation, the more questions will understandably be raised about its accuracy. That applies in every discipline.

    Reply
  14. Gary,
    So predictable
    You “we believe” Is that based on science?Prove it. Mistaken prove it?
    Seriously mistaken about what? What they saw and heard, witnessed? Based on what? Prove it.

    Sincerity is not the point. truth is. And it’s telling that you boil down the whole of the points I made about truth, and the testing of it, to reduce it to sincerity. It is so simplistic and not new.
    Sincere about the resurrection that wasn’t seen? Prove it. Scientifically.
    Your skepticism is not based on evidence but (pre)supposition or as you say “belief” not evidence.
    So, prove it your skepticism with fact, not unbelief. The burden of proof is on you to provide evidence, not just blind faith, belief. It goes around in ever diminishing concentric circles.
    On the road to Emmaus, the two walked and talked with the resurrected Jesus, there is no evidence that it was uncontested as a fact. It is prima facie written evidence. You need to provide evidence in rebuttal, (presumably by someone who wasn’t there!). not mere skeptical unbelief. You can not prove that they were sincerley mistaken, unless to are saying that it didn’t happen at all, They would have been around at the time to dispute it with, but there is no evidence. Provide evidence that it was then, not that it is now only through unbelief and skepticism of today.
    The end.

    Reply
    • Wait a minute. We were talking about admissible eyewitness testimony in a court of law and now you want to admit into evidence an ancient story about two guys walking down a road and seeing a dead guy???

      Who told this story, Geoff? The author of the Gospel of Luke does not claim to be an eyewitness to this event so who told him this story? Did the two men in the story tell Luke this story? Answer: We have no idea! If they had, that would be eyewitness testimony, but that is not what we have. All we have is a story in a book written by an anonymous, non-eyewitness author. That’s it.

      Come on, Geoff. Please present ONE eyewitness account of anyone claiming to have seen the walking, talking body of Jesus that an opposing attorney could not object to as hearsay. (You can’t!)

      Reply
      • Epilogue,
        Either I’ve not made plain the points about evidence or you are being deliberately, or can’t understand what has been what has been said about evidence and documentary records. And your grasp of what is and is not “hearsay” a little flimsy. But again it is part of your skeptical scatter – gun shot at discrediting scripture.
        Without trawling through all your comments you have said
        1 its not based on eyewitnesses accounts , what was seen heard, spoken, touched
        2 It’s legend
        3 Whatever your you -tube scientifically “proved”
        4 these none witnesses were ” sincerely mistaken”
        5 now it’s it’s hearsay though you don’t say what it is
        While I’ve not practised law for more than twenty years and no longer have any reliable reference text books nor access to a law library. Perhaps for the benefit of some who may have given some regard to your get out of goal retort of hearsay:
        Hearsay: This is basic.
        What is your date of birth? Tell me. Whatever you say is hearsay. Prove it. In the absence of dead parents and delivery staff, how do you do it? You do it by what is also “hearsay” by a birth certificate which is a document, which is a written record of “eyewitness ” telling the the registrar.
        That is a “Document of Public Record” admissible as evidence, as fact of what has been written down.
        I’ve contended at some length that the gospels are akin to Documents of Public record gospels and have use another illustration, a S9 Statement. The evidence at the time 2000 years ago, was testable , refutable, by going to the witnesses whoever the Gospel writers got their trusted, trustworthy information from. It’s not now. This is about the reliability of the “testaments”- testimonies as we have them, uncorrectable.
        The burden of proof is on you. And you fail to do so and to can’t provide eyewitnesses to rebut the prima facie evidence, only skeptical, unbelief. The boat sailed 2000 years ago.
        But I’l leave you with this from Simon Greenleaf, former esteemed Prof Law Harvard:
        “All that Christianity asks is that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other , and the surrounding facts and circumstances and let their testimony be sifted , as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subject to rigorous cross examination. The result it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their, integrity, ability and truth.”
        And from lawyer John Warwick Montgomery:
        “Not when the disciples of Jesus proclaimed the resurrection, they did so as eyewitnesses and they did so while people were still alive who had contact with the events they spoke of … It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured (or, I’ll add, were “sincerely mistaken”) such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
        And to top it all, it’s all “God breathed”.
        It’s all about Jesus, and our glorious pre-creation -existent God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Triune God, God incarnate, living, dying , raised and ascended ,to come again. Good News indeed. May you meet him, know him, as this is no mere academic, or intellectual exercise, within the covers of books or blogs. It is of universal and personal significance and application.
        But now it’s nearly time to move onto enjoy something entirely different. It’s nearly time to watch 22 grown men skilfully move a bag of wind around in the FA Cup Final.

        Reply
  15. How about the idea that 153 (large) fish are an exact tally carried out by professional fishermen with long experience in the fishing business. These fish minus whatever was eaten at breakfast would have gained a premium price at the local market. The point being to illustrate (once again) that our Lord is no one’s debtor and is well able to meet the needs of the apostles and the Church in its future ministry.

    Reply

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