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The Historicity Question Resolved April 5, 2005

Posted by mjtilley in Uncategorized.
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The unbelievable events of the book of Jonah, combined with its limited connection to other known people and events, cause some reasonable people to call its historical authenticity into question.

Legitimate issues such as these arise:

  • How can a man survive in a fish’s digestive system, under water for 3 days?
  • How could all of the residents of Nineveh – not just a select, well-traveled few – hear, understand and respond to the cryptic, succinct and Hebrew message (Jonah 3:4)?
  • Kings of Assyria are known and kings with palaces in Nineveh are known. But no kings of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6) are found in the archeological record.
  • Archeological digs reveal Nineveh to be much smaller than noted in the Biblical story.

Many explanations can be given. Or one can rely on simple faith that God is able to do all that is recounted in the book. For me, none of these answer the question: should Jonah be interpreted as a literal story?

Certainly, I believer that God could make a fish specifically for the purpose of swallowing a man and that He has the power to sustain that man for 3 days. I believe that all of the unnatural events of Jonah could have been caused by supernatural means. However, belief that God can is not enough for to say assuredly that God did in this case.

It is not until the book of Jonah is interpreted in light of a completely unequivocal passage that I decide how literal this book really is or if it’s just a parable.

In Matthew 12:40, Jesus tells the well-read Pharisees – people who had certainly examined and studied Jonah’s writings – that His own death, burial and resurrection was to be seen in the same way as Jonah’s experience. That is, if Jonah was nothing more than a fish tale with a moral, the Gospel is nothing more than a spiritualized love story. In Matthew 16:4 and Luke 11:29-32 Jesus strengthens this connection further, making other, similar comparisons between His earthly ministry and Jonah’s.

My own experience, coupled with the unmistakable and clear message throughout the New Testament indicates that Jesus’ truly did die for my sins – shedding His blood to pay my penalty – that He truly did rise from the dead after 3 days, that He truly is my Savior. That directs me to understand the story of Jonah as a historically accurate record of a literal event – fish and all.

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