This is one of the Bible stories most ridiculed by people who consider themselves sophisticated and intellectual. Skeptics say that no whale could swallow a man in the first place, and, even if he did, the man would certainly never survive three days and three nights in his belly, as the Bible claims.
“Christian liberals” have attempted to avoid this problem by saying that the story of Jonah was only an allegory and was never meant to be understood as actual history. However, whenever the Bible writers used allegories or parables or other symbolic stories, they always either said so or else made it evident in the context. The book of Jonah is certainly written as though it were actual history. Jonah was a real prophet who is mentioned also in II Kings 14:25. None of the ancient Jews or early Christians ever doubted the authenticity and historicity of the book of Jonah and its story.
Thus Christ actually compared Jonah’s experience to His own coming death and resurrection, pointing out the miraculous nature of both. One cannot deny the factuality of Jonah’s experience, therefore, without charging the Lord Jesus Christ with either deception or ignorance, either of which is equivalent to denying His deity.
There is little question that the event was a miracle, but this fact certainly does not disprove it! The account, in fact, says as much:
"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." -Jonah 1:17 (King James Version)
Later it says:
"And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." -Jonah 2:10 (King James Version)
God was certainly able to accomplish this if He wished; to deny the possibility of miracles is atheism. The actual occurrence of this particular miracle is adequately attested by the very fact of its record in the Holy Scriptures, and is doubly confirmed by the testimony of Christ.
Whole animals as large or larger than a man have been found in the stomachs of the sperm whale, the whale shark and the white shark.
What Was the “Great Fish”?
The “great fish” may have been either a whale or a shark or even a fish specially prepared by the Lord for this purpose. (The Hebrew and Greek words that are used merely mean "a great aquatic animal.") Some species of whales and some species of sharks are quite capable of swallowing a man whole. Among these are the sperm whale, the white shark, and the whale shark, all of which have been found with whole animals as large or larger than a man in their stomachs.
HOW DID JONAH SURVIVE?
As to whether a man could survive “three days and three nights” under such conditions, there are three possible answers that could be suggested in defense of the Biblical narrative.
This is also implied by Jonah’s prayer, when he said:
In any case, it was a mighty experience, evidently well known and certified in his day, probably contributing in significant degree to the fact that all people of Ninevah repented and turned to God (Jonah 3:5) when Jonah returned “from the dead,” as it were, to preach to them.
Even in Jesus’ day, it was so well known that He could use it as a “sign” of His own impending death and resurrection, which were to constitute God’s crowning proof of the deity of His Son and the great work of salvation which He would accomplish on the cross for all who would receive Him.
Authors: Henry Morris and Martin Clark , from their book The Bible Has the Answer, pp. 74-76, published by Master Books, 1987
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