This issue examines the reality of the biblical story of Jonah and the whale.


Anyone who knows even a little about the Bible has heard of the story of the prophet Jonah as told in the Old Testament book of Jonah. As the story goes, Jonah was called by God to preach to Israel’s enemy, the Ninevites. Jonah, however, hopped on a ship and headed in the opposite direction. God brought about a great storm and caused Jonah to be tossed overboard. He was soon swallowed by a great fish that eventually vomited him up, depositing him on land. Having God’s full attention, Jonah went to Nineveh, where a great city-wide revival ensued.

The issue is whether we are to accept this story as factual or simply as an allegory with a message. It is crucial that we resolve this issue, since the Bible is full of such stories, such as the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and Noah, the Ark, and the great flood.

Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus Himself would help us with this issue, clarifying how we should interpret such “stories”? Well, we’re in luck. He did that very thing, and by a very powerful and far-reaching example. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus responds to a request to show them a sign by stating, “For just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus is equating Jonah”s experience with the great fish with His own death, burial and resurrection. According to Jesus, if Jonah’s “adventure” is only an allegory, then so is the entire gospel message. If Jonah’s story was not true, then Jesus didn’t really die for our sins and the resurrection is a lie. Accordingly, the account was spread simply to teach some sort of lesson.


First of all, what kind of lesson could there be in convincing millions of people to believe as fact something that really didn’t happen? The evidence for Christ’s actual death, burial, and resurrection is overwhelming. Entire books have been written, laying out the evidence. Stories abound of skeptics who became believers after thoughtfully examining the evidence. Historical time is measured from this event, B.C. or A.D.

Second, whether we see the accounts of Jonah, Adam, Noah, and others as literal or figurative will determine our theology, including our view of sin and our need for a Savior. If we see such accounts as simply examples of how we are to live, we come away with a belief that following the examples of Jesus and the prophets is all that is necessary for. If this is true, Jesus’ death on the cross was unnecessary.

Finally, when Jesus tells us how He views an event, the debate is over. If the story is Jonah is true, then logic tells us that unless the Bible tells us otherwise, we are to assume that the other “stories” are, likewise, true.

Unsure of your salvation? Check out HOW TO KNOW YOU’RE HEAVEN BOUND.


I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.


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