Is the story of Jonah a whale of a tale? Or is it Scientifically Plausible?
Can a man survive in the belly of a whale?

For many years people have scoffed at the Biblical story of Jonah. Skeptics have likened it to a fable, saying it is "impossible". This page will examine the Scientific plausibility of the Book of "Jonah".

One of the arguments often used is that "the belly of a whale is too small to hold a man" therefore the Bible cannot be trusted. I have researched this claim and found it to be false.

Not only is a whales belly large enough to hold a man inside, (I will add dimensions, and possible ways of survival soon) but many accounts similar to the Biblical account of Jonah have been recorded in recent years.

Though these documented cases shed some light on the story's credibility, the Biblical account is a miraculous one. And we must remember to Trust the Bible first and foremost, even if no other evidence supporting it exists.

Was Jonah swallowed by a whale or by a fish?

Some people claim that there is a contradiction in the Bible because the Old Testament calls the creature that swallowed Jonah a "Great fish", while the New Testament calls it a "whale". This is not a contradiction.


A fish.

Matthew 12:40

A whale

Matthew 12:40 says that the creature is a whale, but the original Greek from which it was translated calls it a "sea monster". The alleged contradiction is nothing more than a different word chosen for the English translation.

So which is it, a whale or a fish?

Nothing in the biblical account demands that the creature be a whale. It could be an extinct marine reptile or any one of the thousands of species of marine life that has gone extinct in the last few thousand years. It may have even been a fish..

You may think to yourself: "but fish don't get that big". If you believe that, you should visit more museums. - I recall staring in amazement at the Ann Arbor Museum of Natural History as I stood next to a fossil skull of a fish named dunkleosteus.

Dunkleosteus This skull was about three and a half feet tall. Its body length would be incredible. This huge fish would be a fright to anyone who saw it. It's mouth hung open and it was more than big enough to swallow me.

The image of the skull above is from a Cleveland museum specimen. This is smaller than the one in Ann Arbor.

The largest Dunkleosteus skull is about four feet high.

I am not saying that this was for sure the fish that swallowed Jonah. I am merely saying that fish like this did exist.

Comment from a reader:
"All evidence for Dunkleosteus is that it lived during the Devonian period, which would then make humans over 300 million years old (if, as you claim they lived with this fish)."
Dan Erickson, exhibit preparator, University of Michigan

My response:
I believe that God created the whole world only a few thousand years ago. I believe that the dating methods are flawed (see my page on Carbon dating). Dunkleosteus, I believe lived in this same time frame, but went extinct shortly after the flood. - I believe man lived with every creature we find fossilized.

I will add background information on dunkleosteus soon. Including when and where it was discovered, and by who.

Though it is often labeled as a "pre-historic" fish, in all honesty there is not much we know about this creature. Including how long ago it died. But from a biblical standpoint we can be assured this creature did live with man (the book of Genesis says that all animals were created to live with man).

How did Jonah survive inside the creature?

Question from a reader:
"What happened to Jonah while he was in the belly of the whale (or fish)...?? How was he protected from the creatures natural digestive process?"
Ginnie B. 8/19/01

We are not given enough details to know for sure what sea creature this was, so any ideas on how Jonah was not digested would be mere speculation.

The Bible said that God "prepared" the creature, so in doing so I'm sure he protected Jonah.

"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights"

This is a literal account of a man. It foreshadows the true account of Christ's 3 days and 3 nights in "the belly of the earth".

"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:40 (NIV)

Here is the same verse again in the King James version

"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." Matthew 12:40 (KJV)

The historical accuracy of Jonah is important for it foreshadows Christís own death and resurrection. Christ would not associate the most important event in history (his being raised from the dead) with a mere fairy tale.

The whale is not the hero of the story, nor is the cross victorious over the power of Christ. Our attention should be drawn to what happened next, the bodily resurrection from death to life. The book of Jonah is about God and Jonah, not the whale (or fish) and Jonah.

Those who scoff at, doubt or otherwise ridicule the book of Jonah are in actuality doubting Christ's own integrity. Jesus believed and taught that Jonah was a real person, and that the events described in the Bible really did happen to him.

I believe the account of Jonah as literal history, but more importantly Christ believed it.

The story is not a parable or a dream but rather an accurate depiction of a real encounter. If you doubt the book of Jonah, or any of the Bible you will not be able to defend your faith with authority.

Christ read with authority not as the scribes.

In the Book of Jonah, God shows his mercy and also his authority as Creator over all living creatures. The Bible tells us that "God prepared the fish" and "the Lord spoke unto the fish..." and the animal obeyed God. In the end, even though Jonah disobeyed his commands, God spared Jonah's life. And in the beautiful language of the "King James Bible" the whale "vomited out Jonah upon the dry land"

For those seeking extra-biblical evidence, there are many well documented accounts of men and animals being swallowed alive by whales. Though these accounts do give the story of Jonah more credibility we must remember to trust the Bible first and foremost.

It does not matter if other recorded accounts exist or not. They are irrelevant as the Bible says it happened and Jesus has shown us that we can trust God's word.

Jonah is also mentioned in Luke 11:30.

"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. (30)For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. (31)The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one [9] greater than Solomon is here. (32)The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." Luke 11:30-32

How big do these whales get? In 1933 a sulfur bottom whale was caught off the coast of cape cod it was 100 ft long and had a mouth over 10 foot wide. A man who was unfortunate enough to be swallowed could take refuge in any one of the whales stomach chambers, or the large cranial cavities (extensions of the nasal sinus) which measure 7 feet high, 7ft wide and 14 ft long. More than big enough for a man to hide safely inside.

God had told Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn the people of the coming destruction. But instead Jonah turned and headed the other way.

The book of Jonah shows us how badly God wants for people to hear and accept his message of salvation.

Present day Jonah's?

Question from a reader:
"I've heard that there is documentated information of people surviving being swallowed by whales....but I can't find any. Can you maybe point me in the right direction? Thank you for your time."
Mike 1/22/02

Answer: There is a book out by J. Vernon McGee that alleges to tell of other accounts of modern day people being swallowed by whales. The problem is that none of them can be verified, and some of them have been refuted.

I dont think there need to be other examples of this happening in the past in order for the account of Jonah to be true, anymore than there need to be other flood accounts, or resurrection accounts.

The Bible tells us of Jesus, and he was the only one resurrected after 3 days. The bible likens this to the story of Jonah, so that may be good evidence against other "whale" stories.

A joke

Little Sally was transferred from Christian school to public school. On her first day in the class the teacher introduced herself as "Mrs. Crump" and then said, "Today we're going to study in Zoology and the first subject in Zoology we're going to study will be whales.

Does anyone know anything about whales?" No-one raised their hand. Then Sally raised her hand. Mrs. Crump said, "What do you know about whales Sally?" Sally said, "Jonah was swallowed by a whale!" Mrs. Crump said, "That's nonsense! The throat of the whale is too narrow to swallow a man! Where did you get that foolish supposition?" Sally said, "That's what my Bible says!" Mrs. Crump said, "Your Bible is wrong!

As I said, a whale's throat is too narrow to swallow a man. What do you think now?" Sally thought for a minute and then said, "I guess I'll have to wait until I get to heaven and ask Jonah himself what happened." Mrs. Crump thought she'd be smart and asked Sally, "What happens if Jonah isn't there to ask?" Again Sally thought for a minute and then said, "Then I guess YOU will have to ask him."

If you have any questions on Creation, Evolution, or just want to say "Hi" please feel free to email me.

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