Did Jonah stay 3 days in the belly of a fish or a whale?

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“Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

Fish or Whale?

The King James version says in the book of Jonah that the prophet was swallowed by a great fish then about 800 years later, Jesus mentioned that Jonah was in the belly of a whale in (Matthew 12:39-41). Some ask why is there a difference in these two references?

The difference lies in the English translation made nearly 1,600 years after Jesus spoke these words. If we examine the Greek word that is translated “whale” in different Greek dictionaries, we find that the word ketos is defined as a “large sea creature,” “sea monster,” or “huge fish.” Therefore, Jesus said that Jonah was swallowed by a “large sea creature,” which was not necessarily a whale, but could have been.

The Greek

About 300 years before Jesus spoke of Jonah being swallowed by a ketos (Matthew 12:40), translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) used this same Greek word (ketos) to translate the Hebrew word (dahg, fish) found in Jonah 1:17, 2:1, and 2:10. Both dahg and ketos refer to sea creatures of undefined species. Thus, both the Hebrew and Greek languages lacked the preciseness to identify the creature that swallowed Jonah.

In addition, it should be noted that the prophets of the Bible did not classify animals thousands of years ago according to our modern classification system. The Lord, at creation divided animals into very basic groups. He made water and air creatures on day five and land creatures on day six (Genesis 1:20-23,24-25). Both “great fish” and whales would be classified in the same category of the water creatures.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team


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