Jonah And The “Whale?”  

Many people have been turned away from the Lord by the KJV rendering of a statement made by Jesus in Matthew 12:40:

Matthew 12:40 (KJV)-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.

Was Jonah swallowed by a “whale?” Let’s notice the facts.  

First, please observe with me how this passage is rendered by several other translations of the Bible:

Matthew 12:40 (NKJV)-For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the GREAT FISH, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:40 (CEV)-He was in the stomach of A BIG FISH for three days and nights, just as the Son of Man will be deep in the earth for three days and nights.

Matthew 12:40 (GW)-Just as Jonah was in the belly of a HUGE FISH for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Matthew 12:40 (NASB)-for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Please notice the wide diversity in translation here. While translations use “whale,” others use “huge fish” (or it’s equivalent), and some even use phrases such as “sea monster” or “sea creature.”

Obviously, more study of this world is merited!

Let’s notice some linguistic authorities on this subject:

Easton’s Bible Dictionary-It is to be noticed of the story of Jonah’s being “three days and three nights in the whale’s belly,” as recorded in Mat 12:40, that here the Gr. ketos means properly any kind of sea-monster of the shark or the whale tribe, and that in the book of Jonah (Jon 1:17) it is only said that “a great fish” was prepared to swallow Jonah. This fish may have been, therefore, some great shark. The white shark is known to frequent the Mediterranean Sea, and is sometimes found 30 feet in length.

Hastings Bible Dictionary-2. dâg gâdôl, the ‘great fish’ of Jon 1:17, is in the LXX and in Mat 12:40 rendered in Gr. by kçtos and tr. ‘whale,’ though the Gr. word has a much wider significance. It is impossible to say what kind of fish is intended in the narrative.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary-In the first glace, it is necessary to observe that the Greek word cetos, used by St. Matthew is not restricted in its meaning to “a whale,” or any Cetacean; like the Latin cete or cetus, it may denote any sea-monster, either “a whale,” or “a shark,” or “a seal,” or “a tunny of enormous size.”

“ketos (2785) denotes ‘a huge fish, a sea monster,’ Matt. 12:40. In the Sept., Gen. 1:21; Job 3:8; 9:13; 26:12; Jonah 1:17 (twice); 2:1, 10.” (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, 61561 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)

“The Greek word translated ‘whale’ in Matt. 12:40 (KJV) is also called ‘a great fish’ (Jon. 1:17), ‘great creature’ (Gen. 1:21; Ps. 148:7 NIV),’ monster’ (Job. 7:12; Ezek. 32:2 NIV). The exact identification of the animal is impossible with present knowledge…Matthew uses the Greek ketos, indicating a great sea monster rather than indicating a particular species.” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 56056-56065 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Holman Reference)

“The word translated ‘fish,’ dag, is the general Hebrew word for any aquatic creature (cf. Gen. 9:2; Num. 11:22; I Kgs. 4:33; Ps. 8:8). The LXX uses ketos, which means a ‘huge sea-fish.’ The KJV causes some misunderstanding, for in Matt. 12:40, which quotes Jonah 1:17 (from the LXX), it translates the word as ‘whale.'” (Billy Smith & Frank Page, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical And Theological Exposition Of Holy Scripture-Volume 19B, Amos Obadiah Jonah, 7122-7130 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; B& H Publishing Group)

Speaking specifically of the etymology of the word used in Jonah and in Matthew, scholar Bill Cooper has told us:

“Archaeology is a wonderful thing, but it surely cannot tell us anything about the great fish that swallowed Jonah, can it? Well, actually, yes, yes it can. Or at least it can tell us this much. We are very used to hearing the scorn that is poured these days upon the story of ‘Jonah and the Whale’. But what we are not used to seeing is the considerable amount of archaeological and written evidence which suggests most strongly that the story is by no means a matter for scorn….It would seem that, in pre- Roman days, the people who lived around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea were no strangers to sea- monsters. In particular, those who lived along what was known as the Phoenician shore where the port of Joppa still stands 1 were some t hat were used to having sea monsters wash up onto their beaches. In fact, the people of Joppa – the very port of departure from which Jonah attempted to flee from God – actually kept the gigantic bones of one such creature on public display. The Elder Pliny tells us about it, and even records its dimensions and what became of it: “The bones of this monster, to which Andromeda was said to have been exposed, were brought by Marcus Scaurus from Joppa in Judaea during his aedileship and shown at Rome among the rest of the amazing items displayed. The monster was over forty feet long, and the height of its ribs was greater than that of Indian elephants, while its spine was 11/2 feet thick.”…Pliny the Elder completed his Natural History in AD 77. 4 A colossal work, it ran to 37 books. His account of the bones at Joppa, however, appears in Book 9, this having been written a considerable number of years before AD 77; which means that the public display of the monster’s bones would still have been fresh in the public memory. Indeed, there would have been those still living who could remember seeing the bones as children, and Pliny would surely not have risked public ridicule as a liar by making up false and silly stories – not when there were so many witnesses around to challenge him. Besides, he was accurate enough when he wrote of Marcus Scaurus, so why should he not be accurate when he mentions – and describes in detail – the monster’s bones?…However, Herodotus does not identify the creatures as sharks. If he’d wanted to say sharks, he would have used one of the several words that the Greeks of his day used for shark – galeos, lamia, zygaena, carcharias, or what have you. The Greeks had different names for the different species of shark which swam in the Mediterranean . They knew a shark when they saw one….But surely, ketos means ‘whale,’ doesn’t it? Does ketos not appear in the Greek Gospel of Matthew ( 12:40 ), where our Lord refers to Jonah being in the whale’s belly? Well, yes it does, but the word ‘whale’ is a complete mistranslation of ketos. Young’s Analytical Concordance has it exactly right when it refers to the ketos of Matthew 12 as a ‘great sea- monster.’ 10 It was first translated into English (from the Latin Vulgate) as ‘whale’ in the 1388 Wycliffe Bible, a rendering which William Tyndale carried over into his 1526 translation of the Greek New Testament, and so it has stuck fast. But a ketos was not a whale. Those who first heard our Lord refer to Jonah having been inside its belly, would have known exactly what it was – a monstrous ‘dog- headed sea- dragon.’ 11” (Bill Cooper, The Authenticity Of The Book Of Jonah, 302-391 (Kindle Edition)).

The evidence of etymology is powerful that what swallowed Jonah was not a “whale.” Indeed, this was most likely an inaccurate translation of the King James Version.

One of the great lessons about Jonah is how his time in the “sea creature” prefigured how the Son of God would be “in the earth” for “three days and nights” (a well-known Hebrew expression that simply meant “three days”; cf. Esther 4:16 with 5:1; 1 Samuel 30::12-13). The Son of God laid down His life for us, was buried, and three days later, He arose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

Why not today, as a believer, heed His Word for your life?

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a child of God who has left the Lord, why not today repent of the sin in your life and come back to Him?

1 John 1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


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