Jonah: His Death, Burial, and Resurrection

Warning: the following is not ‘light reading.’ It is more of a treatise on a specific biblical subject matter. However, you may find it interesting? Howbeit, a touch long, five pages.

Did Jonah die, become buried in a great fish, and be resurrected in three days?

Some theological scholars (bible thinkers) would have people to believe Jonah indeed died, was buried and resurrected. They site chapter two of Jonah and of course the reference Jesus made to Jonah found in Matthew 12:40. 
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.” Jonah 2:1-10 NASB
The story of Jonah is so familiar people hardly give a second glance where they hear it. Most can tell the story with relative ease. This is true of those who believe it is a true actual event or whether it is just an allegory. (Allegory: a story poem or picture which portrays a hidden meaning, a symbol) 
While this blog is not intended to prove the Jonah account to be true or an allegory, I will share this to give a hint where I land. The teacher ink a public school was telling her class the story of Jonah was not real. There was no Jonah or great fish or even a man being swallowed by a great fish. A little boy in class said it was true. It’s in the bible and it’s true. The teacher then asked the little boy if he believed a great fish swallowed a man named Jonah. The boy said yes. He went on to say ‘I’ll ask him when I get to heaven.” The teacher replied, “What if he’s not there?” The boy quickly responded, “Then I’ll let you ask him.” 

I believe in an actual event just as it is accounted for in the bible. Now for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jonah. 

The order of my treatment follows this pattern. 

  1. I present the position of Jonah staying alive throughout his ‘whale of an experience.’ I’ll call this position the Alive Camp.  .Did Jonah Die
  2. I will present the position of Jonah actually dying and being resurrected. I’ll call this position the Death Camp.
  3. Mingled within the Death Camp position I will present what I’ll call My Argument. 

Let’s proceed.
The Alive Camp position

Question: “Did Jonah die while he was in the belly of the fish (Jonah 2)?”
Answer: Those who accept the literal account of Jonah take one of two main views regarding what happened to Jonah during his time in the belly of the great fish (Jonah 2). One view holds that Jonah died and later returned to life. The second view holds that Jonah remained alive for three days in the belly of the great fish. Both views agree on a literal reading of the book of Jonah and affirm God’s supernatural ability to rescue His prophet.

Those who argue that Jonah died and later rose again refer to Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:2: “From the depths of the grave I called for help.” The use of Sheol, the Hebrew term for “the grave,” could mean that Jonah actually died. However the words “the depths of the grave,” could be seen as a poetic phrase, referring to an agonizing or horrifying experience.

A Second reason some argue for Jonah’s death and resurrection: Jesus said, “For just 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). The reasoning is that, since Jesus’ death and resurrection were actual, then Jonah must have also actually died and later returned to life. However, Jesus’ comparison does not mandate perfect congruency between the two events. Jonah’s hopeless situation was illustrative of Jesus’ death; Jonah’s sudden appearance at Nineveh was illustrative of Jesus’ resurrection. The three days was an additional similarity. Jonah returned from the edge of death; Jesus, who is greater than Jonah, returned from actual death. Analogies do not require absolute agreement in every detail.

The Bible does not explicitly state that Jonah died in the belly of the great fish. Those who theorize that he did die rely on inference and speculation. What is the evidence that Jonah stayed alive for the three days he spent in the belly of the great fish?

First, it is clear that Jonah prayed from inside the fish: “Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish” (Jonah 2:1). At the very least, Jonah lived long enough to offer his prayer.

Second, the language of Jonah’s prayer is poetic in nature. Terms such as Sheol and the reference to “the pit” (Jonah 2:6) do not have to be interpreted so literally as to require physical death

Did Jonah die in the fish, or was he alive the whole time? Either interpretation is possible, but the traditional understanding, that Jonah was alive for three days in the belly of a great fish, is more likely. Jonah, who everyone thought was a “goner,” emerged from the murky depths to bring God’s message of salvation to a lost and dying people. In so doing, he became a wonderful representation of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and life-giving message.

The Death Camp position. First Fruits

First Fruits Ministry
Yes, Jonah died in the sea! This is not only a rational and logical conclusion but a solid fact, for the Bible states unequivocally that Jonah died and descended into Sheol at the bottom of the mountains—NOT THE SEA.

The facts of the Jonah story are very simple. Jonah was commanded by God to go to the city of Nineveh and preach judgment, but Jonah ran away from God instead, and booked passage on a ship to Tarshish—an unknown city in the Mediterranean Sea. On the voyage to Tarshish, God caused a great storm on the Mediterranean Sea that caused Jonah to be cast into the sea. According to the Biblical text, Jonah drowned and even had seaweed wrapped around his head at the bottom of the sea. Sheol is the abode of the dead. The following Scripture passage confirms this sequence of events:

(Jonah 2:3-6 KJV) (3) For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. (4) Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. (5) The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. (6) I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.  

Verse 5 above emphatically states that the waves surrounded him and even took his life (i.e., soul) as he was in the abyss of the sea. Verse 6 clearly states that Jonah went down to Sheol at the “bottoms of the mountains” and the bars of the earth closed around him forever. JONAH WAS DEAD! 

My Argument regarding this verse and subsequent position is this. 

  • Jonah did not have to be dead in order for his ‘soul’ to be ‘compasse(d)’ around him. He could in fact be in the belly of the great fish and have had this experience. What surrounded the great fish also surrounded or encompassed him.
  • It appears to be a stretch of the text to affirm Jonah died. One might argue a ‘reading into the text’ is at play here. 

The Death Camp goes on to say:

The following two verses provide some very significant details to the story:
(Jonah 2:1-2 KJV) (1) Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly, (2) And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

It is very important to note that verse 1 has Jonah praying to God from the belly of the fish. This is after the three days that Jonah spent in Sheol, and Jonah has been resurrected in the fish’s belly. In Jonah’s prayer after three days, he relates in verse 2 how he cried out to God from the belly of Sheol (translated “hell”) because of his affliction, and God heard his prayer. Jonah states in the last part of verse 2:6 above “yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God”. 

This is an explicit statement that God brought Jonah back to life from “corruption”. The Hebrew word for “corruption” means the grave or the pit. God brought Jonah back from death. 

My Argument regarding the Sheol vs. hell, the chronological order of event listed by the Death Camp, ‘my life up from corruption’ reference to grave, pit and death. 

First, hell is often used used as a figurative term and not literal. It had to be a hellish experience for Jonah. The Jonah account can be taken as a literal event while reading words as a figure of the real thing. Yes, Sheol could be referring to hell but in a figurative sense. 

Second, the Death Camp wants to put the events of verses one and two after verses three through six. Are they doing this to bolster their position that Jonah died? There is no clear indication that Jonah died as found in the scripture. Logic certainly suggests Jonah died. However, just as God provided a great fish to encapsulate Jonah so also could He keep Jonah alive.

Third, my life from corruption can easily refer to the corrupt life of Jonah that put him in this peril to begin with. I do not find it as a clear reference to death. 

The Death Camp position continues.
The following passage of Scripture in Jonah is highly significant, for it shows that Jonah repented of his disobedience just before he fell unconscious and died:

(Jonah 2:7-10 NASB) (7) “While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer came to Thee, Into Thy holy temple. (8) “Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, (9) But I will sacrifice to Thee With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.” 

If it were not for Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2:2-9, we would not know for sure that Jonah had died in the sea and descended into Sheol at the foot of the mountains. We would also not know that Jonah repented of his unfaithfulness just before he died. God heard Jonah’s cries up from Sheol and brought him up from the grave in the fish’s belly. At the end of Jonah’s prayer from inside the fish, God causes the fish to vomit Jonah up upon dry land. 

My Argument regarding Jonas’s repentance and protrusion onto the shore near Nineveh.

  • I have none except to say I question the order of events which lead to the repentance. Naturally I believe Jonah repented but not before a death experience and then being swallowed by a great fish. I believe Jonah’s repentance came quickly and with a prolonged continuance throughout his submerged journey to Nineveh. 
  • Even a great fish cannot stomach a disobedient follower of God. So yes, I believe Jonah was up chucked by a great fish. Nauseating isn’t it?

According to the Death Camp: 

The true Biblical facts about Jonah’s death, burial and resurrection point to an important sequence of events in the New Testament. Jonah dies because of sin, and his spirit descends into Abraham’s bosom in Sheol, where it remains for three days and three nights. His body is entombed in the grave of the great fish’s belly for the same three days and three nights. After three days and three nights, Jonah is resurrected inside the tomb, and he promptly exits the tomb when the jaws of the great fish are miraculously opened.

My Argument...

  • Where did they find ‘Abraham’s bosom’ in this account? Clearly reading into the text. 

Again the Death Camp continues…

This true story from the Old Testament clearly portrays the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself even confirms the story of the death, burial and resurrection of Jonah in the following Scripture: 
(Mat 12:39-41 KJV) (39) 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 Jonas: (40) 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. (41) The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

As stated by Jesus, the death, burial and resurrection of the prophet Jonah was the only sign the Jews would receive that Jesus is the true Messiah. The story of Jonah was a major type or picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus was real just as the death of Jonah was real. The burial of Jesus was real just as the burial of Jonah was real. The resurrection of Jesus was real just as the resurrection of Jonah was real. It is most interesting that the story of Jonah is doubted because it is difficult to believe that a man could survive three days in the belly of a whale. The truth of the story is that Jonah died before the great fish swallowed him. However, a more miraculous event occurred when Jonah was resurrected after three days. It is even more miraculous in that Jonah was resurrected while in the great fish, and was then vomited up as a living, breathing, human being. Thus, the story of Jonah is even more miraculous than most Christians understand.

My Argument

  • Jesus DOES NOT call the three days and three nights of Jonah’s fish belly experience a death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus only calls it a time frame of existence in a fish’s belly. 
  • The phrase “three days and three nights” in ancient Hebrew usage was an (particular) expression meaning simply “three days,” and was applicable even if the beginning and ending days of the period were only partial days. Thus it could refer to a period as short as about 38 hours. Christian answers

  Summary: 

The Death Camp order of events. 

  • Jonah descends into the deep waters and drowns with seaweed around his head.
  • Jonah continues his descent to the depths of Sheol, a reference to Hell, grave , abode of the dead and pit. 
  • Jonah’s prayer of crying out to God after three days and three nights in Sheol.
  • Jonah is then swallowed by a great fish. (note: waters are a little murky here when trying to determine whether Sheol ends up being inside or outside of the belly of the great fish and when or what Jonah prayed)
  • Jonah is in the belly of the great fish when he is resurrected.
  • Jonah’s second prayer. Prayer of repentance
  • Jonah is resurrected onto dry ground via stomach regurgitation.

In order to understand the facts of Jonah, it is necessary to read the prayer of Jonah very carefully in Jonah 2:2-9, and to distinguish between Jonah’s prayer inside the great fish after his resurrection, and Jonah’s description in his prayer of his cry out to God while in Sheol—the abode of the dead. Jonah relates the details of his cry out to God in vs. 2, his death in vs. 3-6a and his resurrection in vs. 6b

My Summary: 
I do not believe Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection are to be imposed on the Jonah ‘three days and three nights’ experience as having to happen in perfect harmony. It is not mandated. Jonah’s return was from near death. Jesus, who is greater, returned from actual death. 
Indeed there are similarities. They are obvious. However they do not require analogies to be in absolute agreement.

The one thing all camps can agree on…

  • The Word of God must be read and studied carefully to understand the details of Scripture.

Other Sources


Concise Commentary On The Bible, Matthew Henry, Moody Press, 1992. Pages 640-644
The International Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986. Pages 923-924

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About Hoss

Married w/ 1 daughter & 3 step-children . Ordained minister. I do supply preaching every opportunity I get. Currently employed in a state prison system. Wife & I own a flower shop in a nearby city. I am approaching my late 50's, although I certainly don't look like it.
This entry was posted in Christian, Death, God's Favor, Leadership, Religious, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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