Jonah Dead or Alive?

Posted in: 2008
By Tom L. Ballinger
Sep 1, 2008 - 11:51:16 AM

August 27, 2008


The fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, is to have, famously, answered a question by Dr. John Watson by saying, “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.” In answering the question concerning the Prophet Jonah’s mortality in the belly of the whale, we can say, along with Sherlock Holmes; “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”

In plainer words, the answer is “easy, and not involved, or complicated; ‘elementary, my dear Watson’” (According to World Net Dictionary). Was Jonah dead, or alive in the whale’s belly? If we take the Bible at Its word, the answer is elementary. There are two miracles in the Bible which occupy similar places. One of the miracles is an Old Testament miracle which is continually referred to as the standard measurement of God’s supreme demonstration of power. The Old Testament miracle is that of the RED SEA CROSSING.

In the Old Testament when the LORD would remind Israel of His power and greatness, reference is, almost always, made to what He wrought for them at the Red Sea. Eight-hundred-years later, the LORD said, through Isaiah:

“I am the LORD thy God, that DIVIDED THE SEA, whose waves roared: The LORD of hosts is his Name” (Isa. 51:15).

We suggest that further references be checked. The reader can probably add to the list given here (Josh.2:10, Nahum 1:3-4, Micah 7:15, Josh. 24:6-7, Neh. 9:9, Psalm 106:7-8, and Jer. 31:35).

What the Red Sea Crossing was to the Old Testament, the RESURRECTION of Jesus Christ is to the New Testament.

“And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:” (Rom. 1:4).

“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, …” (Eph. 1:19-20).

We should, now, understand why the Red Sea Crossing is always the target of unbelief—“Elementary, my dear Watson.” Critics have, almost unanimously, agreed that the “parting of the Red Sea” was a myth, or at best, a gross exaggeration. This unbelief ranges from a “crossing of the Sea of reeds, and not the Red Sea,” to an extreme drought during the time of Israel’s “Exodus.” Upon Israel crossing the “dry sea bed,” a torrential rainstorm occurred north of the crossing, and as the Egyptians were crossing, “a wall of water” came down upon them, as a flood, and drowned them all. The latter explanation is the one which the PhD. of the New Testament taught me in a class of New Testament Christianity at Southern Methodist University in 1951. (If that were the case in 1951, and it was, just imagine how far down the road of apostasy the Methodists have traveled in the last fifty-seven years). The “Good Doctor” said the place where the Jews crossed was kind of a “dry gulch” and subject to “flash-flooding.” What UNBELIEF!

Critics, likewise, attack the center of God’s New Testament demonstration of His MIGHTY POWER, “which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead,” by denying the literal RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Of course, “If Christ be not RISEN, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain …(and) ye are YET IN YOUR SINS” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Thus, we see that to attack the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ is to deny an integral part of the Bible. With this thought in mind, let’s look at the Prophet Jonah.

Modern critics seem to unite, in their findings, that the Book of Jonah is a combination of “allegory and myth.” Unfortunately, 40,000 fundamentalists, unwittingly, are in agreement with the modern critics whose chief aim is to disprove the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST. But, the fact remains that Jonah was a prophet and a historical person.

“He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gath-hepher” (2 Kings 14:25).

The question of Jonah being an actual person is beyond question since the Lord Jesus referred to him. When Jesus spoke of Jonah, He was not just speaking in “the language of the people” who had a “frame of reference of folklore,” BUT RATHER, He was speaking the very words of Yahweh, to wit, the LORD. Therefore, if anyone refuses to believe the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is disbelieving the very WORDS OF GOD HIMSELF! Seven times in the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ says that the words He speaks are not His; they are the words of the Father (John 7:16, 8:28, 46-47, 12:49, 14:10, 24: 17:8).

Failure to believe the words of Jesus Christ makes “the Word of God of none effect.” A mind that is already hostile to revealed Truth would dare refute the words of Christ. Now, let’s take the words of the Lord Jesus concerning Jonah and see if they line up with the critics (unbelievers) and 40,000 fundamentalists who have, unwittingly, been swept into the camp of unbelief. (I use the expression of “40,000 fundamentalists” to stand for the mass of so-called Bible believers).

A brief examination of Matthew Chapter Twelve reveals the fact that the Scribes and Pharisees were attempting to get “the monkey off of their back,” in Verse 38, where they say, “Master (referring to Jesus) we would see a sign from thee.” They had seen miraculous signs, one-after-another. As a matter of fact, they had just witnessed the miraculous healing of a demon-possessed person (Verses 22-24). Just before that, they had been eye-witnesses to the healing of a man’s withered hand (Verses 10-13). In Verse 14, the Pharisees “went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him.” This tells us their attitude toward “the Son of David,” their Messiah. When the Lord Jesus realized that they were plotting to destroy Him, “He withdrew Himself from thence: and great multitudes followed Him, AND HE HEALED THEM ALL” (Verse 15).

So it is with this background that the healing of the demon-possessed person takes place (Verse 22), and just as you would imagine, “when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but BY BEELZEBUB, the prince of devils.” These Pharisees came very close to committing “the unpardonable sin” (Mark 3:28-30). When the Pharisees learn of the cure of the demoniac, they ascribe the work of Christ to that of the “prince of devils,” and say that “He hath an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:30). As the Lord Jesus warned them that to speak against the Son of man can be forgiven, but to speak against the Holy Spirit is not to be forgiven, “neither in this age, neither in the age to come (Matt. 12:32). In Verse 34, the Lord Jesus referred to them as being a “generation of vipers,” and in Verses 34-37, the Lord told them that their very words will condemn them. It is right here, at this juncture, that the Pharisees began to squirm and resorted to the typical technique, as do their modern-day counterparts; THEY ASK QUESTIONS! And demand to see a sign!

“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee” (Matt. 12:38).

The Lord Jesus Christ, Who had shown them scores of signs, replied in a very acerbic fashion:

“But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39-40).

Isn’t it strange that the only sign our Lord would pick to show an “evil and adulterous generation” is one that no-one would believe, including the 40,000 fundamentalists who we have already mentioned. The SIGN which He declared merits our deepest consideration since it turns out to be the SIGN most disbelieved by the National Council of Churches. The big controversy has always been about Jonah in the belly of the whale. Some say it was “a great fish,” some say it was “a whale.” Some say, “How could Jonah live three days and three nights in a whale’s belly?” This SIGN OF THE PROPHET JONAH is to be “SPOKEN AGAINST” as prophesied in Luke 2:34; therefore, don’t be surprised that the vast majority of Christians SPEAK AGAINST THE SIGN that He said was the only SIGN He was going to give a generation of Christ REJECTERS. Again, we are reminded how strange it is that modernists and orthodox scholars took it the same way the “generation of vipers” took it.

We will, now, approach the Word of God without consulting the commentators, or Christian Intelligencia, but let us see what the Bible says, not what it is presumed to teach. Let’s not ask anyone’s opinion on the matter.

The Verse, Matthew 12:40, does NOT say that Jonah was ALIVE three days and three nights in the whale’s belly. The SIGN turns out to be a SIGN of the RESURRECTION. Jonah was NOT ALIVE in the stomach of the whale. HE WAS DEAD. See Jonah 2:2-6 and Acts 2:27-34. Unbelief, therefore, is the unbelief of the RESURRECTION—of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jonah was an exact type of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. For exact TYPES in the Bible, notice the two words: “AS” and “SO.” These two words fix a type. In Matthew 12:40, it is “AS Jonah was … SO shall the Son of Man be…”

“For AS Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; SO shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).

The “AS” and “SO” are sufficient to show us that a man, miraculously, KEPT ALIVE for a particular period of time in a belly of a great fish can be NO TYPE of another’s being dead and buried for the same period of time in “the heart of the earth.”

As our Lord was raised out-from-among the dead after three days and three nights (seventy-two hours), so was Jonah, miraculously, RAISED FROM THE DEAD after he was vomited up from the whale: “And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

“For AS Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, SO shall also the Son of man be to this generation” (Luke 11:30).

The close comparison of the passages of Jonah 2:2-6 and Acts 2:27-34 sheds a great deal of light on the subject, especially, the word-comparison of “corruption.” It should be pointed out, also, that the words, “Arise,” of Jonah 3:2 and, “arose,” of Jonah 3:3 include the thought of “resurrection,” or being raised from the dead: cf. Mark 5:41-42, Matt. 27:52, and Eph. 5:14.

It should not be hard for a Bible Mountaineer to accept the fact that Jonah was raised from the dead as the GREAT SIGN of a “Prophet greater than Jonah” (Matt. 12:41).

When the Word is searched, we find the answer to the question—“Was Jonah dead, or alive in the whale’s belly?” Sherlock Holmes would answer; “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”

(First published in 1975. Revised in 2008)