And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
There has been a great deal written questioning the veracity of this text. Some choose to believe that it’s just not true, while others use this text to support their view that the book of Jonah is an allegory, not actual historical fact. As a pastor and Christian who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, I take this text at face value, believing that Jonah was indeed swallowed by a fish and lived in its belly (alive) for three days and three nights.
It is at this point that I could channel my inner marine biologist and examine all the different types of fish, postulating which one it could have been that actually swallowed Jonah. We could draw up full-scale models, examine digestive systems, or (even better) attempt a field test. Often when Christians are trying to prove the legitimacy of the Bible, they turn to science or math or archeology to prove their theses. I’m not going to do that. Not that there’s anything wrong with science or archeology, but I don’t hold either of them as authoritative over Scripture. I don’t look to science to prove the truth of the Bible; I look to the Bible to prove the truth of everything.
Well, let’s just say we couldn’t find a specific fish that would fit the bill for Jonah’s eater. At that point we could take this verse from the Bible (which is supported by both 2 Timothy 3:16 and by Jesus in Matthew 12:40 as divinely inspired truth) and make it bow the knee to our own “scientific expertise.” Or we could take Jonah 1:17, combined with the words of Jesus, and take them at face value. What if that meant that God specifically created a fish, appointed it to swallow Jonah, and then flung it into Loch Ness just for kicks? What if that meant that the ancient sea-beast Leviathan (from Job 41) came out of retirement to do his Master’s bidding in this specific instance?
I take Jonah 1:17 at face value because that’s the way I take the entire Bible. Far be it from me, or any fallible human being, to demand that my intellect be treated as if I’m the Deity.
Does this mean that you have to agree with me on Jonah 1:17 to be a Christian? No. You have to agree with me on verses like Romans 4:5 to be a Christian, but not Jonah 1:17. You have to trust in Jesus and surrender to Him to be a Christian, but you don’t have to have it right on the specific age of the earth, or the exact order of things that will take place in Revelation. Trust in Jesus; put your faith in His finished work and not in yourself. And I think when you do that you’ll realize that there are things that really matter and there are charts better left unmade.