The book of Jonah contains the familiar story of a prophet named Jonah who was preserved three days and three nights in the belly of a large fish (1:17). Though skepticism has led many to allegorize this fish tale, there are good reasons to interpret it as an actual historical account.
First, details and descriptions in the narrative defy allegorization. The book of Jonah is written in the genre of historical narrative. The brief mention of the fish does not deter literarily from the descriptions of Jonah’s journey to Joppa, his payment of the fare, his conversations with the sailors during the storm, and his eventual trip to Nineveh.
Furthermore, the Christian worldview presupposes the miraculous. The universe itself is an effect that presupposes a cause equal to or greater than itself. Just as the uncaused First Cause created the universe, so the uncaused First Cause is capable of supernaturally intervening in the universe he created. Because God created the universe ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), preserving Jonah in the belly of a great fish poses no problem whatsoever. The Christian worldview presupposes the miraculous.
Finally, when we hear a miraculous account of this magnitude we would do well to seek a second opinion. In the case of Jonah, corroboration is provided by no less an authority than Jesus Christ. Our Lord not only referred to Jonah’s preservation for “three days and three nights in the belly of a fish” as a miracle, he used it as the basis for prophesying that he too would be preserved for “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). As such, Jonah’s marine rescue is a type of Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.
For further study, see Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch, (eds.), Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in
the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three
days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”