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Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for Jonah

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Is the Book of Jonah the Achilles’ heel of the Bible? It is, if we are to accept the ridiculous explanations of the critics. The translators of the Septuagint were the first to question its reasonableness. They set the pattern for the avalanche of criticism that was to follow. The ancient method of modernism is to allegorize the book and to classify it with Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels.
Some of the extravagant theories of the critics are more farfetched and fantastic than they even concede the Book of Jonah to be. For example:

1. It is held (without a scrap of evidence) that Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath.

2. There is a theory that Jonah fell asleep during the storm, had a dream, and that the Book of Jonah is the account of that dream.

3. There are those who relate the Book of Jonah to the Phoenician myth of Hercules and the sea monster.

4. It is claimed that Jonah was picked up after the storm and shipwreck by a boat that had a fish for a figurehead — which gave support for the record in the Book of Jonah.

5. Others resort to the wild claim that a dead fish was floating around and that Jonah took refuge in it during the storm.

The producers of these speculations claim that the Book of Jonah is unreasonable, and they bring forth these theories to give credence to the story! We must dismiss them all as having no basis of fact, no vestige of proof from an historical standpoint, and are only in existence in the imagination of the critics.


Jonah was a historical character. The historical record of the kings of Israel and Judah is accepted as reliable. No one denies that David, Josiah, and Hezekiah were real kings, and it is among the records of these kings that we find the mention of Jonah. Speaking of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, the historian writes:

He restored the border of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spoke by the hand of his servant, Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. (2 Kings 14:25)

Jeroboam was a real person; Israel was a real nation; Hamath was a real place. It is unlikely that Jonah, the son of Amittai, was a figment of the imagination.
It is begging the point to say that this is another Jonah. It is not reasonable to believe that there were two Jonahs whose fathers were named Amittai and whose offices were prophets. This is especially evident when it is observed that the name is not a common one (it occurs only in this reference in 2 Kings, in the Book of Jonah, and in two references in the New Testament).
Obviously the Lord Jesus Christ considered Jonah a real person, and He accepted the record of the Book of Jonah as true. Listen to Him:

For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. (Luke 11:30)

And again,

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet, Jonah; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-41)

If you reject the Book of Jonah, you are not merely saying that you cannot accept the record as reasonable, but that you do not believe that Jesus was acquainted with the facts of the case. You break with Jesus when you deny the Book of Jonah.
The fact that the question has been raised concerning the authenticity of Jonah’s record is all the more startling when a contrast is made with one of the other minor prophets. For instance, there is no reference to Habakkuk in any historical book, and he is never mentioned by name in the New Testament. In spite of this, there is no concerted effort to classify him as a mythological character. Of course, the real reason for getting rid of Jonah is to get rid of the miraculous experience that he records concerning himself.

DATE: Conservative scholars place the writing of this book before 745 B.C. The incidents took place about that time. Some even place it as early as 860 B.C. It seems best to place it between 800 and 750 B.C. Students of history will recognize this as the period when Nineveh was in its heyday. The nation of Assyria was at its zenith at this time, also. It was destroyed by 606 B.C. By the time of Herodotus, Nineveh, the city of Nimrod, had ceased to exist. When Xenaphon passed the city it was deserted, but he testified that the walls still stood and they were 150 feet high. Historians now estimate they were at least 100 feet high and 40 feet thick.

COMMENTS: (See author’s booklet, “Jonah, Dead or Alive?”)

The Book of Jonah is Experience, Not Prophecy

In examining the Book of Jonah, we find that it contains the personal record of an experience that Jonah had, and he evidently was the writer. Properly speaking, the brief brochure is not a prophecy and seems to be out of step among the Minor Prophets. It contains no prophecy, although Jonah was a prophet. It is the personal account of a major event in the life of Jonah. As the narrator, he told of his experience, which was a sign of the greatest event in the history of the world — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Jonah is not a fish story that disturbs a gainsaying world, but it is a throne in the midst of which “stood a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). This Lamb is a resurrected Lamb, and a Christ-rejecting world will someday cry out, “Hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16).

The Fish Is Not the Hero of the Story

There is another salient point to keep before us as we study this book: The fish is not the hero of the story, neither is it the villain. The book is not even about a fish. The chief difficulty is in keeping a correct perspective. The fish is among the props and does not occupy the star’s dressing room. Let us distinguish between the essentials and the incidentals. The incidentals are the fish, the gourd, the east wind, the boat, and Nineveh. The essentials are Jehovah and Jonah — God and man.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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