Q&A: Jesus, Jonah, and Islam - Matthew 12:40

Jesus, Jonah, and Islam - Matthew 12:40

Question

Jesus says that as Jonah was in the belly of a whale for three days and three nights, so he would be in the ground. Islam claims that Jesus did not die because Jonah was alive in the belly of the whale. Is this true?

Answer

Matthew 12:40 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.

Because Jesus says here that Jonah was alive in the belly of the big fish, Islam claims Jesus did not die and therefore was not not crucified.

The comparison Jesus made was to the number of days and nights. He states nothing about being literally alive or dead, as this was not part of his illustration. However, in both cases, each returned to life in a manner of speaking: Jonah to Nineveh and Jesus to Jerusalem (and eventually his Father); Jonah from the belly of a whale and Jesus literally from the dead and the tomb.

There are many differences between a tomb and a huge fish. The fish is alive, the tomb is not. The dead remains of what the whale had already eaten were present, but were not present with Jesus in the tomb. The whale was in the sea, the tomb in Jerusalem. Jesus was buried in the ground and not a fish. However, none of these things were what Jesus was referring to. He said, "FOR AS Jonah was three days and three nights," and not AS Jonah was in a fish's gastric juices.

The leaders of Israel asked for a sign (Matt. 12:38). Signs point a certain direction, have certain limitations, and are not meant to be exact representations. The crescent moon and star is an internationally recognized symbol of the faith of Islam (Qur'an 2:189). The color green has a special place in Islam as seen in the decoration of mosques, the bindings of Qur'ans, and in the flags of various Muslim countries. According to Islam the color green symbolizes nature and life. Are these signs and colors literally Islam? Or is it that these signs and colors have particular meaning(s)? For example, for some in the Islamic faith, the five points of the star reveal the five pillars of Islam. Signs and symbols have built-in limitations as designed by their authors.

Even the three days and three nights are not to be taken literally. It did not mean 24 hours x 3 = 72 hours. It was a figurative expression of speech, which is a Jewish way of reckoning time. Past days were counted inclusively with the first and last portion of those days each being counted as full days even though only a portion of those days had actually been involved in the event.

John 2:19-22 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." They replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

1 Corinathians 15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Please see Christianity and Islam Contrasted.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).