“Can We Trust the Story of Jonah?”

Categories: Bible Moment

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights.”  Jonah 1:17

On March 9, 2019, Rainer Schimpf was photographing a mass of sardines off South Africa’s coast when all of a sudden, he was halfway swallowed by a whale.  Headfirst and to his waist, he was in the whale’s mouth!  Within a couple of seconds, the whale spits him out.[1] reported the story as “Real-life ‘Jonah’ Escapes After Nearly Being Swallowed By Whale.”[2]  No doubt some in the religious realm were excited to finally have some proof of the possibility that a whale can swallow a human, and the human survive. Somehow this would give credence to the Biblical account of Jonah and the great fish. 

Most of us grew up hearing the story of Jonah and the great fish, or whale or sea monster.  Jonah was the cantankerous prophet who ran away from God and ended up being swallowed up and then thrown up by a whale. After Jonah’s time in the belly of the great fish, he proved obedient to the Word of God, preached to the people of Nineveh, and they repented.  

It’s a great story, but is it true?  Bible skeptics and even theologians have argued that this is too good to be true, too fantastical to be authentic and, therefore, it must be a “whale of a tale.”  Some Bible believers, on the other hand, have searched for a modern story or some type of evidence that can lend credibility to Jonah and the great fish.  So, when Rainer was halfway swallowed by the Bryde whale they were quick to point out that it was very plausible for a man to be swallowed whole by a whale-thus Jonah and the great fish had to be a real story.

True believers do not need external evidences of a halfway swallowed photographer in order to feel confident that Jonah indeed existed, that he was swallowed by a whale, and that he survived for three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).  Christians do not need to find a metaphorical meaning to the story, especially since Jesus presented the story as a factual and literal account (Matthew 12:40).

The Bible moment…

Just as with the creation of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus, Christians do not need similar examples to prove such things can happen.  After all, these things are miracles!  Miracles cannot be duplicated by nature, they are by definition supernatural.  We wouldn’t expect these things to be randomly duplicated at various points in history.  And, if God can create the heavens and the earth ex nihilo (out of nothing), then swallowing a prodigal prophet whole and then puking him on the shore three days and three nights later would be, for Him, easy!  “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind.  Is anything too hard for me?”  (Jeremiah 32:27)  “If God can do miracles, including submarining Jonah to a desired location, then He can handle whatever worries you today.”[3]


[1] (Pappas, 2019)

[2] (Tribune Media Wire, 2019)

[3] (Strobel & Mittelberg, 2016)