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Jonah and the Whale
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2/25/2012 at 7:58:38 PM GMT
Posts: 1
Jonah and the Whale

Jonah as a Parable

Matt 12:38-40 NIV The Sign of Jonah
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” 39 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Luke 11:29-30 HCSB

29 As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: "This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.

From Defending Inerrancy, Normal L. Geiser, William C. Roach, p.230-231 "For example, when Jesus affirmed that Jonah was in "the belly of the great fish," this statement is true, not simply because of the redemptive significance the story of Jonah has, but because it is literally and historically true [i.e., it corresponds to reality]." (Italics original.)

By calling attention to the verse in Matthew, the inerrantists indirectly refer to the parallel verse in Luke. According to Luke, Jesus did not mention Jonah being in the belly of a whale. Hence, instead of defending inerrancy, the authors inadvertently weaken their case and end up defending errancy. The two statements by Jesus are very different. The question of course is, which of the two is correct?

The statement may not be true if one accepts the testimony of Luke. Ignoring this significant problem for the moment, in the Matthew context, Jesus could be referring to either a true story, or a parable-prophecy of His forthcoming resurrection. It is not unreasonable to assume Jesus knew it was a parable, since He used many parables to teach about the kingdom of God.

Some level of support comes from [1] "The book of Jonah is considered by some to be a parable to convey a theological point about God's attitude towards Gentiles."

A plausible view is that Jonah was dead during his three days in the whale and, like Lazarus in John 11, his life was restored after he was disembarked onto dry land (2:10). But in ch. 2 he prays while inside the great fish. Acceptance of this as historical fact incurs a severe case of heartburn.

It is certain that Jesus was dead when "in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights," because the truth of the Resurrection demands this. But Jonah wasn't dead while in the whale, but alive and praying. Hence, if the story of Jonah is true, the comparison of Jonah with Jesus is not exact. But as a parable-prophecy of Jesus' impending resurrection, the analogy does not have to be exact.

Did the people of Nineveh know that Jonah had been in the belly of a whale for three days? Not according to the book of Jonah. He preached repentance to Nineveh after he left the whale. (Jonah 3) What "sign" then was Jesus referring to? As mentioned previously, from the context in Matthew, He was referring to the three days and nights in the whale, in spite of the fact that Nineveh was apparently not aware of Jonah's 72-hour voyage. Per Luke 11, the only sign for Nineveh was the appearance of Jonah voicing his warning of destruction in 40 days. (3:4)

The city of Tarshish is somewhere in the western Mediterranean; some think it was on the Atlantic side of ancient Spain. Jonah boarded his ship to Tarshish in Joppa, (present-day Jaffa) which is on the coast of Palestine about 35 miles from Jerusalem. The whale apparently carried him eastward from the ship back to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean in Palestine.

The city of Nineveh was located on the Tigris river, in present-day Iraq. From the closest point of eastern Mediterranean shoreline, Nineveh is about 370 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Hence Jonah had to walk across the deserts of Israel, Syria, and Iraq to reach Nineveh. Assuming he could walk 25 miles a day (or night), this would be about a 15-day journey. Jonah could barely stand one day in the heat (4:8) much less 15 days. This is another miracle in the book of Jonah that few people take note of. However, as a parable, it is not important how he got there.

As an aside, pastor-author Chuck Swindoll is an ex-Marine, and was stationed with the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. In one of his sermons he said: "When the whale belched Jonah up on the beach at Nineveh, this was the first amphibious landing in recorded history."

[1] HCSB Study Bible, Holman Bible Publishers, 2010, p.1514



3/14/2012 at 4:23:08 AM GMT
Posts: 24
This is one of my favorite stories in scripture because it shows us that God often sees sinners quite differently than we do.  It also warns us that God will go to great measures to encourage us to align our views with his views, that he is patient and persistent with us.  It wouldn't surprise me if God would intervene is such an extreme way with a very stubborn prophet.

Is God capable of causing a storm and prompting a large fish (never mentioned as a whale in the Bible) to swallow a man thrown overboard?  Is God capable of parting a very large body of water and drying out the seabed so over a million people could cross?  So for me the question here isn't really what makes this more likely to be a parable than a physical reality, but is God capable of it.  If he is capable of it, then how did he do it?  The last question for me is one of those wonderful questions that we may have to live with for a very long time, making interesting discoveries along the way and gaining a deeper understanding of God and his creation in the process.

The story of Jonah is definitely a parable, but I conceive of it as the story of real physical events because they invite us to a life of investigation and discovery.  That to me is the purpose of these sorts of questions. Perhaps God put accounts of them in the Bible precisely because they go against natural processes.  Just as cognitive and neuroscientific researchers rely on infants to notice events that violate habituation patterns, God provides us with these curious conundrums so we can learn more about him and his creation.  


3/15/2012 at 3:49:37 PM GMT
Posts: 6
a modern Jonah?
This topic has interested me for many years. Longtime ASA members may recall an article I wrote about modern Jonah stories: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Davis.html . I've never found any particular argument about the historicity of the biblical story very convincing, though I would not want entirely to rule it out.

The most interesting interpretation I encountered has already been stated in this thread: that Jonah, like Jesus, was actually dead for part of the time he was in the whale's belly. I didn't find that argument very often, but it was endorsed by at least a few commentators who wanted to push the parallel Jesus makes. The arguments against that possibility, given here, seem pretty good to me.


Last edited Thursday, March 15, 2012
4/12/2012 at 7:41:18 AM GMT
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4/12/2012 at 7:41:19 AM GMT
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6/5/2012 at 2:52:46 AM GMT
Posts: 4
Jonah and time

Robert,

 Jesus the Christ was not dead for 3 days and 3 nights.  3 days yes, but what 3 nights??  I count Friday and Saturday = 2.

Jim Bandstra



12/19/2012 at 3:11:24 AM GMT
Posts: 1
Was Jesus in the grave 3 days and 3 nights?
Actually, according to scripture, He was.(Matt 12:40).  Problem is, as noted, we can't squeeze three days and three nights in between "Good Friday" and Easter Sunday morning.  Here is another example of tradition vs. truth.  Throw away the Friday tradition, and your problem is solved.  Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday.  That particular Wednesday turns out -- from a study of the calendar -- to have been the passover day in that particular year.  So the Jonah parable fits perfectly!


God bless you and yours
John Hinckley
Kennewick, WA


4/11/2014 at 9:26:53 PM GMT
Posts: 8
I frequently encounter people who hold that the book of Jonah is recounting a real historical incident. The concept that it is likely a work of fiction, even worse a stage play, upsets them greatly. I tent to overlook their claim and try to find some common ground. That tactic is often difficult.

Burgy

www.burgy.50megs.com

On Global Warming -- we all live downstream!


4/11/2014 at 9:27:00 PM GMT
Posts: 8
I frequently encounter people who hold that the book of Jonah is recounting a real historical incident. The concept that it is likely a work of fiction, even worse a stage play, upsets them greatly. I tent to overlook their claim and try to find some common ground. That tactic is often difficult.

Burgy

www.burgy.50megs.com

On Global Warming -- we all live downstream!


4/11/2014 at 9:27:02 PM GMT
Posts: 8
I frequently encounter people who hold that the book of Jonah is recounting a real historical incident. The concept that it is likely a work of fiction, even worse a stage play, upsets them greatly. I tent to overlook their claim and try to find some common ground. That tactic is often difficult.

Burgy

www.burgy.50megs.com

On Global Warming -- we all live downstream!