Can a person survive inside a whale, like Jonah?

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By BibleAsk Team


The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, commonly referred to as a whale, is one of the most famous and discussed narratives in the Bible. The account, found in the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament, raises questions about the feasibility of survival inside a large aquatic creature and invites exploration of the historical, literary, and theological dimensions of the story. Let’s delve into the biblical passages, examine scientific and theological perspectives, and consider various interpretations offered by scholars and theologians.

The Story of Jonah:

This narrative is found in the Book of Jonah, which consists of four chapters detailing the prophet’s call to prophesy against the city of Nineveh, his attempt to flee from God’s command, his miraculous deliverance from drowning by a great fish, and his eventual obedience to God’s mission.

Jonah 1:17 (NKJV):

“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”

Jonah 2:1 (NKJV):

“Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.”

Feasibility of Survival:

The Bible tells the story of his prophet being swallowed by a great fish, or in other words, a whale (Matthew 12:40). While this is an amazing story, many skeptics have questioned if it is physically possible. Could a human survive inside a whale for three days and nights? Let us look to God’s creation for the answer.

God created all things (Colossians 1:16). And He made whales with four stomachs and their digestion takes place in phases. When whales eat, they swallow their prey whole. The food enters the esophagus and then is pushed into the first stomach called the fore stomach or rumen. The rumen is where food is stored and partially broken down with bacteria. The tissue of the rumen does not create digestive juices. This means that the contents in this first compartment could hold a food item without breaking it down chemically.

Some wonder if there is enough air to survive in a whale’s stomach. In the rumen, there tends to be no oxygen, as the microbes within that organ cannot live with oxygen present. This is true for a healthy rumen, however, air can be present in the case of ruminal tympathy (bloating). This would have been the case for Jonah. Whales breathe air, and if its stomach is upset it would be coming up frequently for more air and possibly swallowing some in.

While this story seems possible scientifically, we should not rule out the creative power of God who can perform miracles. Jonah 1:17 says that the Lord prepared “a great fish” for Jonah, meaning, that this sea animal could have been made specifically just for this incident. God created all creatures with His Word and can create anything that He wants to meet a specific purpose (Psalm 34:6) to fulfill his good will.

Symbolism:

This story contains prophetic symbolism, which shape its interpretation and meaning. The prophet’s experience of being swallowed by the great fish and later delivered onto dry land serves as a prophetic sign of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus himself alludes to the sign of Jonah, interpreting it as a foreshadowing of his own death and resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41), emphasizing the greater significance of spiritual renewal and salvation.

    Theological Lessons:

    The theological lessons derived from the story are profound and enduring:

    1. Divine Sovereignty: This story underscores God’s sovereignty over creation and His ability to intervene miraculously in human affairs to accomplish His purposes.
    2. Repentance and Mercy: Jonah’s mission to Nineveh and the city’s subsequent repentance illustrate God’s desire for repentance and reconciliation, even with those considered enemies or outsiders.
    3. Human Obedience: Jonah’s journey from disobedience to obedience serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of resisting God’s call and the transformative power of surrendering to His will.

    Conclusion:

    The story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish remains a central and impactful narrative within the biblical tradition. It continues to captivate the imagination and inspire reflection on themes of divine mercy, human frailty, and the redemptive purposes of God. Ultimately, the enduring significance of Jonah’s story lies not in its scientific plausibility but in its timeless message of repentance, mercy, and the boundless grace of God.

    Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

    In His service,
    BibleAsk Team

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