23 Oct 2017

The Internal Consistency of the Story of Jonah

Religious 4 Comments

(I just got back from the Contra Cruise so I’ll do my “Sunday post” today…)

Last night my son and I read the following (Matthew 16: 1-4):

16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[a] 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. [Bold added.]

We had a really good discussion that hit the following points:

==> In the excerpt above, Jesus isn’t snapping at them because they are asking for a sign. After all, Thomas–who had seen Jesus raise others from the dead and who had heard Jesus predict His own death and resurrection–famously doubted the testimony of his friends, and said he wouldn’t believe Jesus had come back until he personally inspected His wounds. Jesus didn’t show up and rebuke him, but instead let him inspect His wounds.

==> Rather, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees because they are hypocrites. They aren’t sincerely asking for a sign, in order to help quell their (understandable) disbelief. Jesus performed many signs of which they were aware, and they said He was violating the Sabbath (if He healed someone on the day of rest), even setting up a “trap” for Him on this score, and on another occasion they argued that He was able to cast out demons because He himself was in league with the devil.

==> The “sign of Jonah” that He will give the wicked generation of hypocritical cynics is that He will be dead inside the earth for 3 days before miraculously returning, just as Jonah was dead (either literally or effectively) inside the whale (/fish) for 3 days before miraculously returning. (Jesus explains the metaphor earlier in the gospel of Matthew.)

==> Of course God could make Jonah survive in the center of the sun for 3 days if He wanted, but I personally think it’s more elegant to imagine that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (not fish) and didn’t go into its belly, but was hanging out in its mouth a la Pinocchio, getting enough oxygen because the mammal had to keep surfacing to breathe. Imagine how absolutely terrifying that would be, in pitch black for most of the time, knowing you are either going to be swallowed and digested, or die of thirst while floating in salt water. It would be such a dramatic ordeal that after emerging unscathed, a coward like Jonah would have been transformed into someone who could deliver such a scathing message that the entire city of Ninevah would repent of its sins.

4 Responses to “The Internal Consistency of the Story of Jonah”

  1. Khodge says:

    By way of a possible alternate interpretation, and since you tie Thomas and the Resurrection to the rebuke of the teachers, wouldn’t it be likely that Jesus is telling them to wait for the Resurrection at which time they would be obligated to heed the example of the king and people of Ninevah?

    Keep in mind that Matthew’s Gospel was written at a time when many of the Jewish priests had acknowledged Christ and were starting to realize that Christianity was more than another Jewish sect.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Khodge I think you are just elaborating on my point, right? I.e. I agree with you.

  2. Khodge says:

    Indeed. I thought my musing might offer a further insight into Jesus’ call.

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