Biblical Discussions

Jonah and the ‘great fish’


Is the story of ‘Jonah and the whale’ true history as Bible-believers claim, allegory as liberals allege, or nonsense as sceptics sneer? The Bible treats the story as true history. The book of Jonah is written as though it is real history. Jonah was a real prophet and is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25. Jesus Himself believed the story of Jonah; He not only asserted that the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, but He also compared His own future death and resurrection to Jonah’s experience (Matthew 12:39–41; Luke 11:29–30). Henry Morris writes, ‘One cannot deny the factuality of Jonah’s experience, therefore, without charging the Lord Jesus Christ with either deception or ignorance, either of which is equivalent to denying His deity.’[1]

So we have to determine if it is really possible for someone to survive in the belly of a great fish in order to prove the Bible is a historical text. Since we were not there to evaluate it in person, we have to make some assumptions from existing evidence. This is similar to what evillutionists use to try to prove that certain animals lived millions of years after/before other animals, to prove that certain particles that make up matter can’t be measured but exist because their equations return the same values on both sides of the equal sign. We will do nothing more than apply the same techniques to reach our conclusion.

First we need to determine if there are any other credible reports of people surviving inside a large fish. If so, then the Biblical account would be possible.

There is no doubt that there are sea creatures with jaws large enough to swallow a man whole. See photograph taken at Underwater World, Mooloolaba, in Queensland, Australia. And in the movie Jaws the fishing-boat owner Quint is swallowed whole by the shark, but no one seems to have taken exception to this.


There is an oft-quoted story concerning a certain James Bartley, when he was a harpooner on the whale-ship Star of the East, in 1891, under the command of Captain Killam, near the Falkland Islands. In the course of a whale hunt, Bartley fell into the sea and disappeared. The whale was killed and the next day, when the sailors cut it open, they were amazed to find Bartley still alive in the whale’s stomach. He was revived and in time recovered from his experience. The report says, ‘During his sojourn in the whale’s stomach Bartley’s skin, where exposed to the action of the gastric juice, underwent a striking change. His face, neck, and hands were bleached to a deadly whiteness, and took on the appearance of parchment. Bartley affirms that he would probably have lived inside his house of flesh until he starved, for he lost his senses through fright and not from lack of air.’[2]

This story is said to have first appeared in October 1892, in the English newspaper Great Yarmouth Mercury. It was then reprinted in other papers, and was included by Sir Francis Fox in his book, Sixty-three Years of Engineering, Scientific and Social Work, published in 1924.

Dr Harry Rimmer, D.D., Sc.D., tells of personally meeting a sailor who fell overboard from a trawler in the English Channel and was swallowed by a gigantic Rhincodon whale shark. The entire trawler fleet set out to hunt the shark down and, 48 hours after the accident, the shark was sighted and slain with a one-pound deck gun. The carcass was too heavy for the ship’s winches to handle, so the crew towed it to shore, intending to give their friend a Christian burial. When the shark was opened, the man was found unconscious but alive. He was rushed to hospital, where he was found to be suffering from shock alone, and was later discharged. He was on exhibit in a London museum at a shilling admission, and was advertised as ‘The Jonah of the Twentieth Century’.[3]

If you took first-year zoology at a university you would learn that sharks are able to control their digestive systems—not automatic like ours—and something swallowed was not necessarily digested for days, even a week.

So there we have it! Two separate and well documented instances of a human surviving in the “belly of a great fish.” Therefore the Biblical account of Jonah is possible, other-other similar events have occurred since. That is something that evillutionists don’t have- reproducibility. Not only do they have no evidence in written history of any one species morphing into another species; they insist on us believing them (by faith) about the huge hypothetical particles that ‘would form giant globs of “fuzzy” cold dark matter’ that makes our universe work.

Jonah is probable because it is written about and verified from different points of view in the scriptures.

The Hebrew word translated ‘fish’ in Jonah 1:17 and 2:10 is ‘dag’. Scholars understand this word to include the whales, marine reptiles, and other sea creatures, many of which were (and some still are!) large enough to swallow a man whole.

Suppose someone today were to be swallowed by a great fish and later regurgitated alive. Some might consider it a ‘miracle’, though many might attribute it merely to fortuitous coincidence. But what if the sea changed from tempestuous to calm immediately upon the man going overboard (Jonah 1:15)? And what if he was in the fish for days (Jonah 1:17b)? And what if the fish went right up to the shore before vomiting him out (Jonah 2:10b)? Factors like these show that Jonah’s experience was no mere chance coincidence of natural events. In fact the Scriptures explicitly record God’s supernatural intervention in this sequence of events (Jonah 1:17a, 2:10a). There is no real need to make the account ‘fit’ the capabilities of any of today’s sea creatures, since the Bible tells us that God specially prepared this creature (Jonah 1:17a).

Why should God have gone to such extraordinary lengths, humanly speaking, with respect to Jonah? The answer has to be that good and sufficient reason is seen in the necessity of God’s getting the message of redemption to the people of Nineveh. Indeed, the whole story prefigures the lengths to which God went in order for Him to be able to redeem us, namely the sacrifice of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon the Cross of Calvary and His resurrection from the dead, that we might be reconciled to God (1 Peter 1:18–19).

[1] Henry Morris and Martin Clark, The Bible Has the Answer, Creation-Life Publishers, El Cajon (California), 1976, p. 74.

[2] Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1966, Vol. 4, p. 153

[3] Harry Rimmer, The Harmony of Science and Scripture, Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids (Michigan), 1952, pp. 188–189.




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