First, regardless of whether the fish in these events are actual fish, Christians today must ask ourselves, considering the fact that we have absolutely no physical justification for consuming the flesh of any animals, why we would chose to do so. We know that, biologically and physiologically, fish feel pain in the same way others animals do. We know that eating them is not good for us. Why, for a simple palate preference, would we cause pain and suffering to God's creatures? For more information on fish, visit PETA's pro-fish Web site: NoFishing.net.
Second, it's important to remember that Jesus was not a fisherman, but a carpenter like Joseph, and that the fish symbol has deep meaning for Christians, as it has for almost 2,000 years. The meaning given to the fish in Christianity is a result of the Greek word for fish, IXOUS, being a Greek acronym for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." In many instances, seeing the fish as symbols makes far more sense than a literal interpretation, within the context of the stories. Let's look at each of the fish stories, both literally and symbolically.
The loaves and the fishes:
Clearly, this story has deep symbolic meaning beyond a literal interpretation, and that is the entire meaning of the story, according to most Biblical scholars. For most scholars, the story has two meanings: first, this story represents Jesus' espousal of an ethic of compassion. Jesus teaches us that we are to share what we have with the needy, and that if everyone shares, there will be plenty for all. Second, the story represents Jesus' promise to the disciples that he will make them "fishers of men." That is, in multiplying fish, he multiplies disciples, symbolized by the fish.
But even a literal interpretation does not justify eating animals. Multiplying fish who are already dead (thus causing no additional suffering), to feed them to hungry people who do not understand the ethical objection to eating fish, could be seen as an act of compassion. Three other observations regarding the events as written down seem warranted:
·When the disciples ask where they will get enough food to feed everyone, they speak only of bread. This is borne out later as well: Every time the disciples discuss food, they discuss vegetarian food, principally bread.
·This miracle takes place on the sea, and Jesus at no point suggests that anyone go fishing, the logical choice, if he has no objection to causing God's sea animals to suffer. Rather, he creates plenty where there is want.
·When Jesus refers back to this event (e.g., Mt. 17, Mk. 8), he refers only to the loaves, never mentioning the fish, and he interprets the event symbolically, saying explicitly that the disciples are totally missing the point, when they interpret the event literally.
At the very least, we can say for certain regarding this miracle that Jesus does not cause fish to suffer or die and does not consider the fish to have been an integral aspect of this miracle. Again, though, no matter how this miracle is viewed, it does not justify the horrific treatment of fish and other animals for food today.
The nets filled with fish:
In Luke and John, Jesus is seen helping the disciples catch a vast quantity of fish. In Luke, the event is depicted as his first call of the disciples. In John, the event occurs after the resurrection.
Most reputable Biblical scholars see the events symbolically, and from a symbolic standpoint, Jesus assisting the disciples in netting massive quantities of fish could not be much clearer, especially considering his promise that he will make them "fishers of men." They are bringing disciples (fish) into the fold.
Regardless, a literal reading of the text shows animals cooperating with Jesus to prove his divinity. In both Gospels, so many fish fill the nets that the boats begin to sink. In Luke, Jesus told the disciples, "Henceforth, you will be catching men," and then they returned to shore, "left everything, and followed him." The story is clear: They couldn't get the fish into the boat because the boat was sinking. And since they immediately leave everything and follow, it seems unlikely that they somehow got the fish to the shore and left them to suffocate and rot.
The post-resurrection fish consumption stories:
The post-resurrection stories are seen by most scholars as late additions to the Gospels, intended to settle a historical schism in the Church regarding whether Jesus rose bodily. The inclusion of fish consumption, which occurs only in the Gospels of Luke and John (the last two written), would bolster the idea of Jesus rising bodily, showing that he must and can fulfill his need for food. Interestingly, the post-resurrection stories include the one aspect of Jesus' life that almost all scholars consider dubious, Jesus' statement that "these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." Few Christians believe they can consume poison or should play with poisonous snakes.
Regardless, it is difficult to imagine that these stories as precise representations of events, considering that there is almost no similarity among the four Gospels regarding the events that take place. And again, even if literally true, Jesus' decision to eat fish upon his return to earth (the ONLY time he is seen eating meat anywhere in the Gospels) should not make us feel good about supporting cruelty to God's creatures today. That Jesus may have had some ethereal reason to consume animal flesh, which seems unlikely, does not justify the horrific practices of commercial fishing fleets, slaughterhouses, and so on, today.
For additional analysis of the "fish stories," please read the answer to the question, "Do you believe Jesus was a vegetarian?" But even if one believes that Jesus ate fish after the resurrection, multiplied them to feed the multitudes, and filled the disciples nets with them, that does not justify supporting the violent meat industry today. For more on this argument, please read our answer to the question that begins: "I believe that the Bible is literally true." For more information on the suffering of fish, please visit PETA's pro-fish Web site: NoFishing.net. For more information on factory farming and other abuses of cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, visit PETA's vegetarian Web site: MeatStinks.com. The fact is, the only reason we can give for eating animals is that we like the taste of their flesh. Eating meat is bad for us, for the environment, and of course, for the animals. If, for a simple palate preference, we are willing to become animal abusers, what does that say about our belief in compassion and mercy?