Was Jonah swallowed by a whale?

The book of Jonah contains the familiar story of a prophet named Jonah who was preserved for three days and three nights in the belly of a large fish (1:17). Though skepticism has led many to allegorize this fish tale, there are good reasons to interpret it as an actual historical account.

First, details and descriptions in the narrative defy allegorization. The book of Jonah is written in the genre of historical narrative. The brief mention of the fish does not detour literarily from that genre, from the descriptions of Jonah’s journey to Joppa, his payment of the fare, his conversations with the sailors during the storm, and his eventual trip to Nineveh.

Furthermore, the Christian worldview presupposes the miraculous. The universe itself is an effect that presupposes a cause equal to or greater than itself. Just as the uncaused First Cause created the universe, so the uncaused First Cause is capable of supernaturally intervening in the universe He created. Because God created the universe ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), preserving Jonah in the belly of a great fish poses no problem whatsoever.

Finally, when we hear a miraculous account of this magnitude, we would do well to seek a second opinion. In the case of Jonah, corroboration is provided by no less an authority than Jesus Christ. Our Lord not only referred to Jonah’s preservation for “three days and three nights in the belly of a fish” as a miracle, He used it as the basis for prophesying that He too would be preserved for “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). As such, Jonah’s marine rescue is a type of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Matthew 12:40 NKJV

For further study, see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, eds., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996).


***Note the preceding text is adapted from a new Revised and Updated version of The Complete Bible Answer Book that is forthcoming in Fall 2023. When available for pre-order we will update this page with corresponding information. Until then you can still purchase or receive for your partnering gift the current version by clicking here for purchase or here for partnering gift. ***






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