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.

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