The Truth About Jonah: He Died And Why That Matters

Jonah and the whale

Constantly learning about my faith is an absolute love of mine. While many Christians may start and stop at the New Testament, I like to go back and understand the history of our faith. In particular, I like to learn how the ancient Jews understood the Old Testament (or as they call it, the “Tanakh”) and I also love learning all the Old testament and New Testament connections. Understanding how the ancient Jews and the early 1st century Jews understood the Old Testament and knowing their oral and written traditions helps me to better understand my Catholic faith and could help all Christians to know the history of Christianity and why we believe what we believe.

Last week my wife and I were listening to the “The Jennifer Fulwiller Show” podcast and she had Dr. Brant Pitre as a guest speaker. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up today. He blows my mind with the biblical knowledge he has. While on the show he revealed some amazing information that Mariah, Jennifer Fulwiller, and I never knew about Jesus and Jonah. The one about Jonah left us in shock and I immediately began researching what he stated and came to find out that he is correct.

When it comes to the story of Jonah, I have found that Christians either 1. believe that Jonah lived in the whale for three days and three nights or 2. that the story is made up as some sort of long parable (this is what I have found most Christians believe). I have not met any Christians, including myself, that thought Jonah died in the whale… until now. Before you go frantically looking in your Bible, hold on just a second. I will include the applicable verses for you in their original Hebrew text and the English text within this post. 😉Jonah and the whale

Knowing that Jonah died helps you to fully understand Jesus’ own prophecy about his death and resurrection in Matthew 12:40-41, which reads as follows (unless stated otherwise, all references to Scripture are the NABRE translation):

40 Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41 At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.

Whenever I read Matthew 12:40 I only gathered that Jesus was prophesying that he would be gone for three days and three nights and then he would be back, BUT that’s not what happened as we all know. Jesus DIED and was gone for three days and three nights and was RESURRECTED. Think about this… Why would Jesus revert back to the story of Jonah to prophesy about his own death and resurrection if Jonah didn’t die and wasn’t resurrected? That wouldn’t make much sense in the full context of those two verses.

Dr. Brant Pitre went on to explain how Jonah did not live in the whale, but DIED and God resurrected him to convert all of Nineveh much like Jesus’ death and resurrection converted so many to Christianity. So what did I do next? Probably what you are doing right now; open up my Bible and check the story of Jonah out again. When I read it myself it amazed me.

I’ll do you a favor so you don’t have to go look it up and read the entire book of Jonah.  Here is the applicable section (Jonah 2:1-4 NABRE):

1 But the LORD sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. 2 Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God, from the belly of the fish: 3 Out of my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me; From the womb of Sheol I cried for help, and you heard my voice. 4 You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea, and the flood enveloped me; All your breakers and your billows passed over me. (emphasis added)

HERE IS A SIDE NOTE: I asked a question on Facebook last week which translation of the Bible my friends use. The overwhelming most popular one was the NIV, followed by KJ, ESV, MSG, NLT, and a few more. When I looked at each individual version listed in the comments of my post, I noticed that only two of the versions beside the one I use (NABRE – Catholic Bible) actually use the word “Sheol,” that being the ESV and the NKJV; however, there are more translations out there that use it. I think it’s important that “Sheol” be used as it is the ORIGINAL word used in the ancient Hebrew text.

Jonah and the whale

What is Sheol anyway? Well, it’s “a place of darkness to which all the DEAD go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from the Hebrew God.” It is a separate place in Hell also called the “Bosom of Abraham.”

Here is a list of just some versions that use the word “Sheol” and a list of the ones that use something else in its place:

  • “Sheol” = ESV, NKJV, NASB, NABRE, NRSVCE, RSVCE, HCSB, NJB, RSV
  • “belly of hell” = KJ, 1899 Douay-Rheims American Edition, 1752 Douay-Rheims Bible
  • “realm of the dead” = NIV
  • “the place of the dead” = NLV
  • “land of the dead” = NLT
  • “watery grave” = MSG

***Now that you can see what the different translations use, you can tell that the MSG is the weakest translation of this passage, which is another reason why I encourage my Protestant friends to please discontinue using that version. There are many weak translations within the MSG that could lead to someone completely missing something or lead to a completely different interpretation of Scripture.

Here is the original Hebrew text. The word Sheol is שְׁאוֹל in Greek. Please take note of the popup from the highlighted word below. It’s from the popular BibleHub.com site.

Jonah Sheol

I also included the Sheol search page from BibleHub.com as well:

bh

Clearly you do not go to Sheol UNLESS you are DEAD and that’s exactly where Jonah went as you can see from the Bible’s original Hebrew text. I find it fascinating because at a young age I remember seeing cartoon pictures of Jonah hanging out inside of the whale ALIVE. So as I grew older I never put much deep thought into the aforementioned verses even when I read Matthew 12:40-41. Now Matthew makes much more sense knowing that Jonah died. It explains what Jesus meant when He said that his sign would be like that of Jonah’s where He would be dead for three days and three nights and not just in some other place. Knowing this also helped clear up my questions about the almost 2,000 year old belief that Jesus went to Hell (CCC 633), but that’s a discussion for another day. ;)Jes

 

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