How watching Test cricket helped me solve a Biblical puzzle that had theologians stumped for 2,000 years

 

 

 

 

I made this discovery concerning these particular numbers in the Bible in 2019, while watching the amazing performance of the Sri Lankan wicket-keeper/batsman, Kusal Perera, during the First Test in Durban, South Africa. If true, this could be the solution to a Biblical mystery that has had theologians stumped for 2,000 years.

Mathematically speaking, it’s a real thing. The elegance of this numerical solution cracks open the mystery surrounding this odd, enigmatic number 153 found at the end of John’s Gospel. And while I can’t possibly re-enter the mind of John the Evangelist as he penned this ancient document, the numbers within the numerical calculation do impose themselves, like runs on the scoreboard. And seen in this light, the 153 seems placed so strategically within the text, that it pushes our sense of reasoning beyond that of mere coincidence, to suggest an ingenious work of the Spirit.

With his epic innings of 153 not out at Kingsmead, Durban, Perera dragged his team over the line to victory, with only their last wicket remaining. Perera and his final partner, Vishwa Fernando, steadfastly survived to the end, setting a new world record 78, the highest last-wicket stand to win a game of cricket. (Fernando contributed a modest 6 of the 78.) Perera’s 153 also sets the record for the highest score in a successful fourth innings run chase for any team against South Africa.

This world record tenth wicket partnership of 78 not out is unlikely to ever be broken, as it exceeded the previous record of 57 by a large margin, and that record had previously stood for 25 years. However, in the First Ashes Test this year between England and Australia, the ninth wicket stand of Cummins and Lyon was also pretty formidable by comparison, the Aussie pair making 55 not out for the ninth wicket to defeat England.

Having just said that the record will likely never again be broken, Ben Stokes did come close in the same year as Perera 2019, when Stokes made a phenomenal 135 not out for England v Australia at Headingley. Paired with Jack Leach, they made a stand of 76 runs for the tenth wicket to win. (Leach contributed just one run of the 76.) Stuart Broad was the ninth wicket to fall that day. Such a haunting memory can explain why the Aussies were so wary of Stokes’ threatening presence at the crease in the Second Test a few weeks ago, and perhaps why they claimed the stumping against Jonny Bairstow when perhaps they needn’t have, morally speaking.

Anyway, for the Biblical mathematics, in examining the account of John chapter 21, the wonderous post-resurrection appearance of the Lord Jesus to his fisherman friends, there exists a mathematical iteration linking the number 3 with the number 153. One sees these two numbers standing out prominently within this passage of John’s Gospel:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the 3rd  time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

The number iteration is: ‘The sum of each digit raised to the power of 3.’

Start with any number that is divisible by 3 (for example, the world record last-wicket stand of 78, or Fernando’s 6, or Stokes’ 135 at Headingley, or the 57 of the previous world record) and sum each of the digits raised to the power of 3. Then take that result and continue the mathematical iteration, and you will inevitably arrive at 153. And what’s more, the iteration will then stop at 153, like water finding its level. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It stands out like a beacon that points to the number 153.

For example, Perera’s world record 78:

  • 73 + 83 = (343) + (512) = 855
  • 83 + 53 + 53 = (512) + (125) + (125) = 762
  • 73 + 63 + 23 = (343) + (216) + (8) = 567
  • 53 + 63 + 73 = (125) + (216) + (343) = 684
  • 63 + 83 + 43 = (216) + (512) + (64) = 792
  • 73 + 93 + 23 = (343) + (729) + (8) = 1080
  • 13 + 83 = (1) + (512) = 513
  • 53 +13 + 33 = (125) + (1) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • …                             = 153, etc. ad infinitum

Or for example, Vishwa Fernando’s 6 not out:

  • 63 = 216
  • 23 + 13 + 63 = (8) + (1) + (216) = 225
  • 23  + 23  + 53 = (8) + (8) + (125) = 141
  • 13 + 43 + 13 = (1) + (64) + (1) = 66
  • 63 + 63 = (216) + (216) = 432
  • 43 + 33 + 23 = (64) + (27) + (8) = 99
  • 93 + 93 = (729) + (729) = 1458
  • 13 + 43 + 53 + 83 = (1) + (64) + (125) + (512)= 702
  • 73 + 23 = (343) + (8) = 351
  • 33 +  53 + 13 = (27) + (125) + (1) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • …                             = 153, etc. ad infinitum

Or more simply, Stokes’ 135 at Headingley:

  • 13 + 33 + 53 = (1) + (27) + (125) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • 13 + 53 + 33 = (1) + (125) + (27) = 153
  • …                             = 153, etc. ad infinitum

So then finally, for an unveiling of what this might mean in terms of its Biblical significance, one simply need compare the following few Scripture verses:

“And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’.”                                (Genesis 1:28)

“They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. … Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’”     (Luke 5:6, 10)

“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will drag all people to myself.”          (John 12:32)

“Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.”            (John 21:10-11)

It’s within the nature of the human race to multiply and spread across the earth. In fact, it was what people were commanded to do, as per the initial instruction given in Genesis. And it’s what they’re good at. Multiply is what people continue to do, along with all of the other of God’s good creatures, including the animals on land, the birds in the air, and the fish of the sea.

At the first miraculous catch of fish early in Jesus’ ministry (Luke chapter 5,) Jesus aligned people with fish. Literally, he said, ‘Simon, you will catch people’.  And the Gospel of John makes clear Jesus’ intention, that his mission was to bring all people into one harmonious union, one great catch (John 12.) This perfect unity is then symbolised with the great catch of fish coming at the end of Jesus’ ministry, at his appearance after having risen from the dead (John 21).

The 153 fish therefore symbolises the totality and unity of the human race, the end of its multiplication, and the perfect completion of Jesus’ mission. John the Evangelist twice uses same Greek word ‘helko‘, meaning ‘drag’, to haul in and encompass both the whole human race, and the miraculous net of fish.

When the left-handed overnight batsman, Kusal Perera, woke up that final morning of the Durban Test-match, could he have possibly known that later that day, he would not only set a world record that is unlikely to ever be broken, but also solve an ancient enigma that had left theologians confounded, like batsmen having to face a Shane Warne wrong’un, for 2,000 years?

 

 

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About Michael Viljoen

Michael was born in the Nelson Mandela Bay area, the same as Siya Kolisi, the successful World Cup winning Springbok captain, but was raised in Melbourne with a love for Australian Rules. He has worked as a linguist in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia, where he wrote a booklet on the history of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, which was translated into several Cameroonian languages.

Comments

  1. Peter Crossing says

    Thank you for this informative piece Michael. What an achievement by Kusal Perera.
    If I knew of the triangular number computation from maths lectures in the past then I had certainly forgotten. And while the biblical story of the miracle of the fish is known to me, the significance of 153 was not.
    Continuing the link with cricket. As you say, any number divisible by three will produce 153 by following the mathematical iteration. Perera’s is a special event though there are many others that could be extracted from the myriad of cricket statistics. You have stirred my imagination.
    There are 42 laws of cricket.
    (42 – may also be a biblical number but is the answer to life the universe and everything, according to Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)
    708 – the number of Test wickets taken by Shane Warne.
    234 – Don Bradman and Sid Barnes in Sydney 1946/47. Did Barnes do this to be remembered for the association with Bradman or as part of the “measure of the fish”?
    And Alan Border has THREE such numbers. He played 156 Tests, 153 of them concurrently and 93 as captain. Apparently.

  2. Michael Viljoen says

    Thanks Peter,
    I love your numbers, especially the 42 being the Douglas Adam’s ‘answer to life the universe and everything’ and there being 42 Laws in the game of cricket.
    And thanks for reminding me of how great Alan Border was. All of those numbers are divisible by 3.

    With regard to Bradman, I remember 1998, when Australian captain, Tubby Taylor finished day two of the second Test against Pakistan on 334 not out, equaling Donald Bradman’s highest Test score. (The team had made an imposing total of 4-599.)
    His 334 was level with Sir Donald Bradman’s Australian record score, which had stood for over six decades. Taylor declared the following morning, ensuring the two players would be forever linked by that famous number.
    Why he did it was a matter of conjecture.

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