Is the story of Jonah real? Christian, do you really believe the elements of this story, that we profess to the world is real? Let's stop and think about this for a minute:
There was a man, eaten by a great fish, that lived to tell about it. That man stayed in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights....and lived to tell about it!
In the modern world today, is this really believable? Can we really believe that people will take us seriously about Christianity when we describe to them the book of Jonah? Maybe more context will help...
We are professing that there was a prophet of the LORD named Jonah. This prophet heard from God and was told to go to a great city where people despised the Israelites and bragged about doing despicable things to their enemies. Jonah ran away from this task and ended up on the sea with a terrible storm about to sink his ship. Rather than everyone on the ship dying, the crew threw Jonah into the water and the storm immediately stopped. A giant fish ate Jonah. Jonah stayed inside the fish for three days and three nights and was eventually thrown up onto dry land by the fish. Probably still smelling like fish, Jonah then walks into Nineveh and begins shouting for the people of Nineveh to repent of their evil ways. Surprisingly, they do! In conversation after this event, Jonah continues to speak with God and gets into an argument with him over His mercy for the Ninevites and the death of a plant.
Seems resonable right??
What does history say?
According to history, the idea of the story of Jonah being considered history was almost a non-issue. In fact, Walter Kaiser in Mission In the Old Testament writes, "Interestingly, it was only after the nineteenth century that Jonah was no longer regarded as history." Kaiser further notes, "the first outright denial that it was historical came from J.G. Eichhorn in 1823" (Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament, p. 66).
What does the Bible say?
We turn to the New Testament first to develop a framework for how to assess Scripture as being good for teaching. We see that in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul considers all Scripture, the Old Testament included as good for teaching.
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The apostle Paul was merely affirming what Jesus also taught as he described to his followers after his resurrection in the gospel of Luke:
"Then He told them, "These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He also said to them, "This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." - Luke 24:44-48
We now know that the book of Jonah is good for teaching, but is Jonah a real person, and did the story told in the book of Jonah actually happen?
Jonah 1:1 briefly references Jonah as the son of Amittai. We see the prophet Jonah, son of Amittai in 2 Kings 14 as well. The passage of Scripture mentions Israel becoming evil in the eyes of the Lord, and then, "...according to the word the LORD, the God of Israel, had spoken through His servant, the prophet Jonah son of Amittai from Gath-hepher", Israel received mercy.
Now we have a better knowledge of who Jonah is and what he did since he was also referenced in 2 Kings, but did he really get eaten by a great fish?? According to Jesus, he most certainly did! Matthew 12:38-39 states:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." But He answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish 3 days and 3 nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth 3 days and 3 nights. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah's proclamation; and look - something greater than Jonah is here!
David Platt writes, "Just as a fish swallowed up Jonah, a prophet who was shortly thereafter delivered from the death, so the grave will swallow up Jesus, and He will be delivered from death too."