Did Jonah Die in the Belly of the Great Fish?

Another entry in this series, but not the last. I have once concerning historical context.

A comment was made on TC’s site concerning Jonah as an example who had a second chance after death (Here). We know who Jonah was, of course, and we know that according to Christ (Matthew 12.39-42), his story served as a sign of his death, burial, and resurrection. Because I don’t want to give a full answer and litter TC’s site, I wanted to give a better answer here.

Chapter 2 of the book encompasses all of Jonah’s prayer to God. The debate concerns whether or not Jonah was dead in the belly of the great fish.

Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish and said, “I called out to the LORD from my distress, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help, and you heard my prayer. You threw me into the deep waters, into the middle of the sea; the ocean current engulfed me; all the mighty waves you sent swept over me. I thought I had been banished from your sight, that I would never again see your holy temple! Water engulfed me up to my neck; the deep ocean surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains; the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever; but you brought me up from the Pit, O LORD, my God. When my life was ebbing away, I called out to the LORD, and my prayer came to your holy temple. Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs. But as for me, I promise to offer a sacrifice to you with a public declaration of praise; I will surely do what I have promised. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” Then the LORD commanded the fish and it disgorged Jonah on dry land.  (Jon 2:1-10 NET)

We first have to understand Hebrew poetry and allegory. Remember, in Psalms 139, David mentioned making his bed in Sheol – yet how many of would think that David died and was resurrected by God (See Psalm 18.5; 30.3; 88.4;)? Sheol is the Hebrew word for the grave, corresponding to the Greek hades.

The key verse to this verse 7 – the NET translates it as ‘ebbing away.’ To support this translation, I present this from K&D:

Jonah 2:7 is formed after Psalm 142:4 or Psalm 143:4, except that נַפְשִׁי is used instead of רוּחִי, because Jonah is not speaking of the covering of the spirit with faintness, but of the plunging of the life into night and the darkness of death by drowning in the water. הִתְעַטֵּף, lit., to veil or cover one’s self, hence to sink into night and faintness, to pine away. עָלַי, upon or in me, inasmuch as the I, as a person, embraces the soul or life (cf. Psalm 42:5). When his soul was about to sink into the night of death, he thought of Jehovah in prayer, and his prayer reached to God in His holy temple, where Jehovah is enthroned as God and King of His people (Psalm 18:7; Psalm 88:3).

Note, while commentaries hold little weight, something I find it necessary to present support for the translation. Since Jonah had life enough to pray (contrary to the Rich Man in Luke’s parable), and lamented that his life was flowing from him into the final regions, he must in fact be alive.

Referring to the rest of the imagery, we must remember first that only it was common in Hebrew poetry to use the grave as the feeling of being separate from God – not always an actual death.

Now, what do you think?

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,125 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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27 thoughts on “Did Jonah Die in the Belly of the Great Fish?

  1. First of all You have incorrectly stated that I believed there was a second chance after death to accept the Gospel. I did not state that nor do I believe the Scripture teaches a second chance. I was Baptist bred, I have been Baptist fed, and when I die I will be Baptist dead It was you that stated you believed a Catholic doctrine of Augustine. ….

    Polycarp
    Dave, I have not read to many ’scholars’ that have that interpretation. Further, the Bible does not allude to Jonah’s death, as he was seen as living in the belly of the whale. 2.7 says that Jonah made his prayer while his life was ‘ebbing away’ (NET). If his life was not yet gone, then surely he was not yet dead.

    Further, the majority of ’scholars’ seem to be biblical minimalists.

    The interpretation of that passage in Peter is a wrong one and I side with Augustine.

    Dave
    As for Augustine that you agree, a proof of a third place, or middle state of souls: for these spirits in prison, to whom Christ went to preach after his death, were not in heaven, nor yet in the hell of
    the damned; because heaven is no prison, and Christ did not go to preach to the damned. (Challoner) St. Augustine, in his 99th epistle, confesses that this text is replete with difficulties. This he declares is clear, beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ descended in soul after his death into the regions below, and concludes with these words: Quis ergo nisi infidelis negaverit fuisse apud inferos Christum? In this prison souls would not be detained unless they were indebted to divine justice, nor would salvation be preached to them unless they were in a state that was capable of receiving salvation.

    That sounds like a second chance Catholic doctrine that you believe….

    As evidence of that, anyone on this blog can go the URL below to see the previous discussions that will prove that……..

    http://newleaven.com/2009/07/30/rethinking-2-timothy-116-18-did-paul-pray-for-the-ead/#comment-11218

    Second of all I have done nothing to discredit the Gospel by my statements, nor have I failed to make my case by quoting the KJV Jonah 2:2 that states Jonah cried from the “belly of hell”. Furthermore I have simply provided statements from other scholars that you stated were minmalists of the Gospel, which they are not, but they believe what I do on this subject……

    Third of all this discussion was started by the question about Paul praying for a friend and associate of Paul that most scholars thought was dead.Should one pray for one who has passed away?

    Fourth of all if you are a brother in Christ, you must know that people can disagree without insulting another brother. The Proverb that “iron sharpens iron” should stimulate your mind and spirit to perhaps investigate what another brother is saying…….

    Fifth of all I have blessed you with each response. I have not received one blessing from you. Every one of my responses was meant to bless you. You stated that commentaries were not important, but the scholars that I listed made statements also that were meant to enlighten and edify. You may disagree with what we discussed, but that will not stop my efforts to bless you……….

    At this point I will retire my statements to your blog, I sincerely hope that you find the best that God has in store for you………..

    Blessings……..

  2. So were arguing that jonah couldn’t have died because it would take away merit from jesus’s resurrection? Jesus purpose was far greater than that of any man. He is the only man to die without sin, and his ressurection signified the triumph over evil and the fact that death couldn’t retain him. jonah couldve been ressurected but when its all said and done he still died later like all of us. Jesus didn’t. Unless we dont believe God or jesus cant ressurect the dead. What about jarius daughter? So if hes the only one youve known about that came back from the dead, you should do a little more reading. Bless you all, a very controversial topic indeed

  3. Just would like to say that it is very interesting and both arguments have merit… I know the Jonah was supposed to be a type of Christ… if he died or not… God could have kept him alive or let him die and resurrect him… either would be a miracle… peace and come Lord Jesus!

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