Jonah: Myth or Fact

I have a question for you. When you read the story of Jonah, how do you read it? Do you read it like you do a factual newspaper article, marveling over how big a fish that had to be and wondering what Jonah did in the belly of that fish for several days?  Or do you read it like you do To Kill a Mockingbird, marveling over the story and the truth in it? 

Is your faith in Christ diminished or affirmed by whether you believe the story of Jonah to be myth or fact?

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  • One can have solid faith in Christ regardless of his/her belief in the literalness of this story. It saddens me when I ocassionally run into Christians on one side who ridicule, rather than respectifully disagree, with those who believe the opposite.

    That said, I believe it’s literally true.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I am not, in case you are wondering, writing a book about myth and fact. I was just pondering this.

      • I was wondering, because I know you’re been working on writing something about End Times theology, and the question “is this meant to be taken literally or not?” certainly comes up with end-times passages, as well.

  • Karen, I’m just curious: Why do you ask?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      curiosity is a writer’s companion.

      • That was awkardly worded by me. I meant to ask “was there a particular incident or conversation which spurred you to ask this?”

  • Matthew 12:40 (New Living Translation)

    “For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”

    In this passage, Jesus is referencing Jonah’s experience in relationship to the time that will immediately follow Jesus’ own imminent death. Is he speaking metaphorically of Jonah and of himself?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Given my druthers I’d pick the fish to the belly of the earth.

  • Diane

    I have a habit of taking the Bible mostly literally because I have trouble thinking in terms of metaphors, allegory, etc. but it’s in there for a reason either way!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I hear ya, girl.

  • The beauty of this story — just like the parables Christ used so often and so well — is that the point of the story cannot be missed, whether it’s taken literally or figuratively.

    Sometimes TRUTH is bigger than truth.

    I’ve gotta say, though, that my favorite part of this video is when the little boy takes on an “ugly” tone about the people in Ninevah, and his father reminds him to be nice. What a remarkable good lesson that is!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Absolutely my favorite part too, though, this kid’s retelling is pretty impressive.

  • Peg Willis

    I like what James W. said. (And no, that’s not my hubby.) I suppose I could try to say it another way, but you know what “they” say … if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think he got it right on.

  • Steve Taylor

    Appreciate the curiosity and I think the deeper question is: Is it “true?”

    Must be. Lord knows I’ve been inside a few fish. Not a bad place from which to reflect but I never care for getting puked onto the beach. Doesn’t smell great, sand scrapes my knees, plus it is always so embarrassing. However, turns out that gulls stand-in nicely for eating crow. Always a good exercise in humility. So the next time I go … but I’m still not much liking Nineveh.

    Thank God for Jonah. And David. And Peter. And Paul. Scoundrels, the lot. Seems I’m in good company.

  • Steve Taylor

    One more thought, as Megan McKenna has noted, “All stories are true. Some really happened. And all stories are about you.”

  • Timothy

    I’ve recently learned the book of Jonah by heart. I internalize the story as a parable. Yet if it “really happened”- that’s cool, too. Just as the “Good Samaritan” story is a parable, it also might have “really happened”

    So as I have been experiencing it… in this story the idol worshiping outsiders consistently respond positively to God. The “one true God worshiping” insider Jonah fails to get it time and time again.

    The key verses for me are Jonah 4:2 (where God’s character ticks Jonah off) and Jonah 4:11 (where God asks a question, trying to get Jonah to see these “lost outsiders” from God’s point of view). The question I’m asking is, “What is God saying to us through this story today?”

  • scotmcknight

    I read the book of Jonah as a satire on the prophets. When you are done with that book the normal response is to think very little good of that little imp Jonah. I think the author wrote that to criticize the prophets for their lack of concern for the Gentile nations: they run when they are called and they feel bad for themselves when the Gentiles repent.