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153 Fish—A Different Idea


There is a currently popular interpretation of the 153 fish mentioned in John 21:11, tying them back to Hosea 1:10 (verse 2:1 in the Hebrew).  The idea was put forth by E.W. Bullinger (1837 – 1913), well-respected and prolific author, in a book called Number in Scripture, the fourth edition of which was published in 1921 and reissued by Kregel Publications in 1967 (ISBN 0-8254-2238-8).  (The complete text appears on-line  at and  The connection between the two scriptures is taken to mean that Israel/Ephraim will be evangelized and returned to the kingdom, incorporating the fact that Yeshua told the disciples He would make them fishers of men.   (Mathew 4:19).


This interpretation rotates around the phrase בני אל חי (bnei El khai; literally, ‘sons of the living G-d) referring to the returning children of Israel, formerly cast off by the Lord as ‘not my people’.  This phrase is then equated with the phrase בני האלהים (bnei haElohim, literally ‘sons of Elohim’).  It is the latter phrase which has the gematria of 153.


Equating these two phrases is interesting but strained, as is apparent even in Bullinger’s exposition.  On page 275 of his book, he says the phrase bnei haElohim appears seven times in Scripture, with a footnote saying that one of these is actually bnei El khai, i.e., the Hosea language.  On page 167, he lists the other occurrences of what should be the same words. 


Unfortunately, only two of the cases listed have the exact language ‘bnei haElohim’: Genesis 6:2 and 4, and Job 1:6 and 2:1.  These references clearly refer to supernatural beings: in Genesis, associated with the nephilim, they are sons of G-d who had relations with the daughters of men; in Job, they are those who appeared with hasatan before the Lord.  Bullinger’s third reference is Job 38:7, which reads bnei Elohim.  This is a minor difference, but, again, the context shows they are supernatural beings who witnessed creation.


Two references in Psalms 29:1 and 89:6 read ‘bnei elim’, and are translated ‘[sons of the] mighty [ones]’.  Elim (Strongs #410)I s not as specific to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Elohim (Strong’s 430). 


The final reference is to Daniel 3:25, which reads ‘bar Elohin’.  Although this is Aramaic, the meaning is comparable to bnei Elohim; however, there is only one son in this case.  He is the Son of G-d who appears in the fire of Nebuchadnezzar with the three Hebrews. 


In none of these examples is there any reference to Israel/Ephraim.  Due to these discrepancies, we reject the equivalency of the two phrases and thus the connection of the two scriptures.


There is another word which has the gematria of 153 and that is of the name of Bezal’el/Betzalel (Strong’s 1212), artisan of everything associated with the tabernacle.  He is spirit-filled and skilled in every form of craftsmanship.  His name means ‘in the shadow of G-d’, a most interesting phrase, calling to mind several important ideas.


As believers, we are encouraged to live in the shadow of YHWH. 

Psalm 91:1 He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.


Isaiah 32:2 And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land


Isaiah 49:2 And he made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver he hid me


Hosea 14:7 [8] They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive [as] the corn, and blossom as the vine: the scent thereof [shall be] as the wine of Lebanon

Even more specific is the picture of living under the shadow of YHWH’s wings. We think of the mercy seat with its two cherubim, which sits on the ark of the covenant.  Inside the ark were three items: the stone tablets, indicative of the word of YHWH, the rod of Aaron, indicative of the authority of YHWH and His resurrection power, and the manna, indicative of the bread of fellowship and provision of YHWH.  (A complete study of these things will be made available soon.)  Living in intimate relationship with the Father, the believer finds access to these things, under the כפרת (kapporet) (Strong’s 3727), i.e., the mercy seat/atonement cover which covers the ark.  It is a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Father being under the blood atonement of Yeshua.

Psalm 36:7 [8] How excellent [is] thy lovingkindness, O G-d! therefore the children of men take shelter under the shadow of thy wings.


Psalm 57:1 [2] Be gracious unto me, O G-d, be gracious unto me: for my soul trusts in thee: and, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until calamities pass over

Even Yeshua tried to encourage us to take refuge under His wings. 

Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not!

 Finally, we know that we are the temple of G-d.

 1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of G-d, and [that] the Spirit of G-d dwells in you?  


2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement has the temple of G-d with idols? for ye are the temple of the living G-d; as G-d has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in [them]; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be my people


Hebrews 3:6 But Messiah as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end

The 153 fish points to Betzal’el, master craftsman, building the dwelling place of YHWH, a temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5), believers fished out of the sea of the nations, certainly Ephraim, but also Judah, the whole house of Israel, not built by human hands (Ephesians 2:21-22).

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