Bible Myth Myth #1: Jonah Could Not Have Been Swallowed By A Whale

The story of Jonah is a favorite target among those who like to ridicule the Bible.  The argument has two legs: First of all, no one could get swallowed by a whale and survive.  Second, the Bible says Jonah was swallowed by a fish, and a whale is a mammal, not a fish.

But both arguments have fatal flaws.

As for how realistic it is to become a giant fish’s dinner and then get puked up and manage to live to tell the story….  It’s an easily established scientific fact that there are aquatic species large enough to swallow a man whole.  Various kinds of whales and sharks have been found with animals in their stomachs that were larger than a man.  Scientists debate whether or not there is sufficient air inside a whale to sustain a person.  This debate misses the point, though.  It’s like taking the story of Jesus walking on water and debating whether or not it’s possible for someone to have webbed toes that enable them to go for a stroll on a lake.  There’s a reason it’s called a miracle, folks!  Maybe it’s possible that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and survived strictly by natural means, but that scenario is not required for the veracity of the Jonah story.  The reason is simply that God is the Creator who can do whatever He wants with His creation, such as have a man get swallowed by a whale and survive.  Honestly, what I find much more miraculous than Jonah’s fish tale is the repentance of the people of Nineveh.  By the way, such a massive revival would certainly be more likely if the preacher had just survived getting swallowed by a fish.  That’s a testimony I’d certainly pay attention to.

Second, the Bible does in fact say that “the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17).  But a whale is not a fish… right?  The problem is that to argue that the fish in this passage could not be a whale is like arguing that the Cuban Missile Crisis could not have involved the nation of the USSR because the USSR is not a nation.  The problem here is obvious: at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR was a nation.  And when Jonah was written, a whale was a fish.

It’s kind of like the planet, or non-planet, of Pluto.  Poor Pluto reminds me of people with chaotic social lives.  One day their relationship status is “in a relationship.”  The next day it’s “single.”  The next day it’s “engaged,” followed by “single again.”  Pluto has enjoyed status as a planet, then been cut from the team, and these days I don’t even know what it’s considered.  But did Pluto itself change?  Nope, still the same frozen rock hurtling beyond Neptune.  Only our classification of it changes.  So if someone wrote 20 years ago that they named their dog after the ninth planet from the sun, would that exclude Pluto since scientific minds reclassified it?  Of course not.

It’s the same situation with the fish-whale.  The prophet Jonah wrote his account more than two and a half millennia ago.  Our current species classification system was designed by the Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century.  Until a couple hundred years before that, animals were classified by how they moved: walking, swimming, or flying.  But even that system, established by Aristotle in the fourth century before Christ, postdates Jonah by more than three centuries!

So it would make perfect sense if Jonah saw a whale and thought, “What is this thing?  Let’s see, it lives in the ocean, swims, and has fins and a tail.  Hmm, must be a fish.”  Even though he had three days and nights inside the belly of the fish, he was so busy praying that he likely never got around to exploring whether or not his devourer had gills or gave birth to live young.  And even if he had, the classification system of our Swedish friend Carolus was still a couple dozen centuries away from invention.

Is it false that Jonah was swallowed by a whale?  No, we can safely conclude that this is just a Bible myth myth.

Published in: on November 28, 2014 at 6:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bible Myth Myths

Periodically over the next few weeks I’m going to post a series on Bible Myth Myths.

For centuries, opponents of the Bible have attempted to discredit it by comparing it to pagan mythology.  The word “myth” has now become a tool of subtle manipulation.  Frequently someone will assume a pretense of intellectual superiority by claiming something is a “myth.”  If you tell me that Mikey from the “he-likes-it!” commercials died from mixing Coke and Pop Rocks, I can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a myth.”  That implies that I know something you don’t.  What often happens is that instead of actually researching my claim, you might simply accept my position so that you don’t feel inferior.  Then the next time someone tells you that Mikey overdosed on soda and candy, you can lift your chin a little higher and say, “Actually, that’s just a myth.”  Even on those all-too-rare occasions when we actually do look into someone’s claim that something is a myth, unfortunately our idea of reliable research is Snopes at best and Wikipedia at worst.  So we can play the myth card and somehow get off with not having to substantiate our claim or even offer any logical support for our position.

In such an atmosphere, it’s become popular to film documentaries or spread Facebook posts that allegedly debunk “myths” about the Bible.  But these are typically done as a drive-by shotgun blast of misinformation, with the victims left intellectually wounded and left for brain dead.

In response, I would like to expose some of these Bible myth myths for the unfounded propaganda that they are.  Stay tuned for Bible Myth Myth #1: Jonah could not have been swallowed by a whale.

By the way, little Mikey (known in real life as John Gilchrist) is alive and well.  And I hear that he does in fact enjoy soda and pop rocks.  But that could be just a myth.

Published in: on November 25, 2014 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why I Switched Churches

I love High Tide Church.  When Carolyn and I were looking for a new church home early last summer, I was excited to discover that High Tide (in Frankford, Delaware) is only about the same distance away from Ocean Pines (where we live) as the south end of Ocean City.  We visited a worship service there and decided to plug in.  Pastor Andy Ehlers is a genuine man of God, and he preaches the gospel with both humility and boldness every week.  The children’s ministries are fantastic, the music is wonderful, the people are friendly, and they have some really cool glowing trash cans on the stage.  But after four months we decided to switch churches again.


Because it was too far away from where many of our unchurched friends live.

When my family was looking for a church home, there were several nonnegotiable factors we considered: Our church must have an urgent sense of mission, be doctrinally sound, have a solid children’s ministry, and be a place where we could use our gifts to serve.  High Tide was all that, and had a bunch of nice extras too (like the music and worship environment).  But we had overlooked one hugely important factor: Although High Tide wasn’t too far a drive for us to go for worship on a Sunday morning, it was way too far for our friends in West Ocean City that we wanted to invite, and probably too far for our friends in Berlin.  It just didn’t sit right to join a church where we were not able to bring along the people we have relationships with here in our community.

So I called Pastor Andy, and in that phone call he proved that the Kingdom of God is his top priority.  He told me, “Living as a Christian means living incarnationally.  That means we need to belong to a church in the same community where we live, work, and play.”  Rather than giving me a sales pitch for High Tide, he encouraged me to find a church that was situated in the same community where we live.  Sound advice.

And finding a great church in our community was easy to do, because SonRise Church in Berlin meets all the criteria I mentioned above.  We had only passed it over in the first place because we were looking for something new and different.  We had new and different for four months at High Tide, and it was perfect for the season of transition we were in.  However, now that we’re at SonRise we’re able to hit on all cylinders as church members.

Last Sunday our decision to switch churches was confirmed.  Our five-year-old daughter, Laura Marie, was baptized at SonRise.  We had a pretty good turnout of friends who came for the baptism, which might not have happened if it had been in Frankford.  Plus there were kids from Laura Marie’s school who were there to see her baptized, something else which would not have happened in Delaware.

I still love High Tide and miss worshiping there, and I miss the Ehlers family, but at SonRise Church we have found a place to truly call home.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 11:19 am  Leave a Comment