A friend recently contacted me and asked about some information he had seen on Facebook:
For centuries, people have wondered why the Bible records that 153 fish were caught by the disciples after Jesus told them to throw their nets on the opposite side of the boat in John 21:4-12. As I have mentioned before, EVERYTHING in the Bible is there for a reason. People would have figured out the mystery long ago if they had bothered to learn Hebrew. In Hebrew, every letter has a number attached to it. The Hebrews used their alphabet as a numbering system. The numbers attached to the letters in a Hebrew word could be added together to give a numerical total. The number 153 is the numerical total for the Hebrew words "Ani Elohim"--I AM G-D. When Jesus caused the disciples to catch exactly 153 fish, He was declaring to them that not only was He the Son of G-d, but that He was God Himself. Tell your Muslim friends who say that Jesus never claimed to be G-d that yes, He most certainly did!
The text came with an accompanying graphic showing the calculation of ani elohim totaling 153 similar to this:
His question was simple: was this true or not? Here is my response:
The answer comes in two points. tldr = "no" and "no".
Point Number One
The text (above) says "In Hebrew, every letter has a number atached to it." Well... no, it doesn't [except in later Hebrew texts]. I am not aware of any Scriptural examples of Hebrew letters literally equating to a numeric value. That concept only exists in gematria where the "hidden" meanings of words are calculated by means of assigning a value to each letter of a word. It definitely doesn't work in reverse where you are given a number and find some words that match up with it via gematria. Google "gematria" and get an eye full of the origins of that concept. Yikes!
Scripture is full of examples where numbers symbolize concepts:
Two symbolizes testimony ("I call heaven and earth to witness against you")
Four symbolizes judgment (the four horns of the altar)
Six symbolizes flawed humanity (666 in Revelation)
Seven symbolizes completion (the seven days of Creation), etc
But this is Scripture connecting a numeric value with an idea. It's not humans assigning numbers to the letters of a word which calculate into some hidden value which completely means something else.
All of the examples of numbers in the Hebrew text that I have seen are actually spelled out labels (like one, two, three) rather than numerals (like 1, 2, 3).
Genesis 1:16- "G-d make the two great lights..." The "two" in this case is שְׁנֵ֥י [shenei] which is clearly not a ב [bet] which has the meaning of 2 in gematria.
Genesis 7:13- "... and the three wives of his sons with them..." The "three" in this case is שְׁלֹ֧שֶׁת [sheloshet] which is clearly not a ג [gimmel] (3 in gematria).
Genesis 2:10- "...and became four rivers." The "four" in this is אַרְבָּעָ֥ה [arbah] which is clearly not a ד [dalet] (4 in gematria).
Now some may object and say "Oh sure, there are words for single digits but what about larger numbers?" Let's turn to the Bible and see...
Genesis 5:18- "Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years..." If the gematria crowd is correct, we should find קסב [kof, samech, bet = 162] but instead we find שְׁתַּ֧יִם וְשִׁשִּׁ֛ים שָׁנָ֖ה וּמְאַ֣ת [literally two and sixty years and one hundred].
Let's go bigger...
Genesis 20:16- "... I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver...". Thousand here is אֶ֤לֶף [elef].
Now let's go even bigger...
Exodus 12:37- "Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Sucoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children." Here we find כְּשֵׁשׁ־מֵא֨וֹת אֶ֧לֶף [shesh meot elef], literally six hundred thousand.
The language of the Hebrew Bible is the literal, meaningful Hebrew language... not gematria.
Hebrew scholar, J.K. McKee has an excellent article debunking gematria entitled "The Effect of Mysticism and Gnosticism on the Messianic Movement". His conclusion to the article is this:
These are some of the very same teachings that are circulating in our midst today. Just as Paul admonished Titus to expose those who are teaching such things as frauds, so must we. We have to have the proper testimony to others that we are Biblically and theologically credible, we must know what the Scriptures say, and above all pray for wisdom and discernment in all that we do.
Point Number Two
There is no place [all caps, large font, bold, italics, underline, red, with blinking, flashing lights and dancing bananas... I mean NO PLACE] in Scripture where G-d declares "I am G-d" that the Hebrew text reads אני אלוהים [ani elohim].
Instead we find:
אֵלָיו֙ אֲנִי־אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י
[elai ani El Shaddai... I am G-d Almighty- Genesis 17:1]
אֲנִ֨י אֵ֤ל שַׁדַּי֙
[ani El Shaddai... I am G-d Alighty- Genesis 35:11]
אָנֹכִ֥י הָאֵ֖ל אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִ֑יךָ
[anoki haEl elohei avika... I am G-d, the G-d of your father- Genesis 46:3]
[anoki elohim... I am G-d- Psalm 46:10]
[elohim eloheika... I am G-d, your G-d- Psalm 50:7]
[ani El... I am G-d- Isaiah 45:22]
[anoki El... I am G-d- Isaiah 46:9]
[El anoki... G-d I am- Hosea 11:9]
The graphic [from the original article] references Torah portion Acharei Mot/Kedoshim [two of the weekly passages from the books of Moses that are read in synagogues each week] but the only instances of the Hebrew word elohim in Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30) and Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27) are אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם [eloheikem - "your G-d"] in the second person possessive.
But then ani eloheikem wouldn't calculate to 153 would it?
John 21 (where the 153 fishes are found) isn't even in parashah Acharei Mot or Kedoshim according to TorahPortions.org or Psalm11918.org so the whole thing seems made up!
Now... what about the 153 in John 21:11?
The folks at one website found Cyrille of Alexandria saw 153 as the symbol of G-d and the Church.
The guys at another website found that BOTH benei elohim [sons of G-d] and the Greek word for fishes calculate out to 153!
The peeps at yet a third website found all kinds of associations with 153 which weren't ani elohim or fishes.
Oh, by the way... the last letter of ani elohim is not a מ [mem], it is ם [mem-sophit - the form of a letter used when ending a word]. Mem-sophit doesn't doesn't equal 40, it equals 600, so the correct gematria of ani elohim = 713!
Humans are great at pattern matching and we find patterns in almost everything. The question isn't "what patterns can we find in the Bible that tickles our brains?" The question is "what is the message sent by the Message Giver?" Answering that question requires discipline, study, and the work of the Holy Spirit... not gematria.
... but what do I know about it? ;)