Skeptics frequently have railed against the allusion to a “whale” in Matthew 12:40 in the King James Version. They have insisted that the very idea that a person actually could be swallowed by such a creature and survive is preposterous. Yet this charge has been shown to be impotent for two reasons: (1) historical precedent exists for the possibility of just such an occurrence; and (2) the text of Jonah insists that the sea creature in question was orchestrated supernaturally by God for the purpose intended (see Thompson, 1996, 16:86). God specifically “prepared” (mahnah—appointed, constituted, made ready) a great fish (Gesenius, 1847, p. 486). The same term is employed in the same book to refer to additional direct manipulations initiated by God. He also prepared a plant (4:6), a worm (4:7), and a vehement wind (4:8) [see Wigram, 1890, p. 733]. George Cansdale was correct in concluding: “[T]here is no point in speculating about the full physical explanation of an incident that primarily is metaphysical, i.e., miraculous” (1975, 5:925, emp. added). McClintock and Strong agree: “[T]he transaction is plainly miraculous, and no longer within the sphere of zoological discussion” (1881, 10:972). Jonah’s survival after being inside a sea creature is no more remarkable than Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the “burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:27).
In addition to the evidence that may be deduced for (1) the credibility of a whale swallowing Jonah and (2) the miraculous preparation of the creature by God, a third clarification is in order that pertains to translation. The actual text of the book of Jonah states that “the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). The Hebrew term (dahg) that underlies the English translation “fish” (1:17; 2:1,10) is a broad term that “always has the collective meaning ‘fish’ ” (Botterweck, 1978, 3:135). William Gesenius, whose lexicographical labors in the Hebrew language were without peer, defined dahg merely as “fish” (p. 189). Eminent Hebrew scholar, C.F. Keil, insisted strongly that “[t]he great fish, which is not more precisely defined, was not a whale” (Keil and Delitzsch, 1977, 10:398, emp. added). We conclude, therefore, that the word used in the book of Jonah to refer to the sea creature that swallowed Jonah, refers indiscriminately to any type of fish—without regard for the technical taxonomic, classification schemes developed by the scientific community in the last few centuries. It has the same generic latitude that inheres in the English word “fish” has, which can refer to any number of cold-blooded aquatic vertebrates—from a trout, bass, or crappie to sharks, rays, jellyfish, and crayfish (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000, p. 665).
However, a point of clarification needs to be sounded even here. According to the present zoological nomenclature, a “whale” is not a “fish”—it is classified as a mammal. Hebrew linguistic experts note no such distinction in the terms used in the Old Testament. The ordinary term for “fish” (dahg) would not necessarily exclude the whale in its application.
The Hebrew uses three additional terms that are germane to this discussion. Two of the words are closely interrelated: tan-neem and tan-neen. The first term generally is translated (though erroneously) as “dragon” in the KJV. Newer translations typically use “jackal,” except in Ezekiel 29:3 and 32:2, where the creature’s habitat is obviously aquatic, so “monster” generally is employed (Day, 1939, 2:873). The second term is treated more loosely in the KJV, and variously translated as “whales” (Genesis 1:21; Job 7:12), “serpent,” archaic for “snake” (Exodus 7:9,10), “dragon” (Jeremiah 51:34), and “sea monsters” (Lamentations 4:3). The third relevant term is “leviathan”—a transliteration of the Hebrew term liv-yah-thahn (Job 41:1; 104:26; Isaiah 27:1). This “very large aquatic creature” (Gesenius, p. 433) was unquestionably a now-extinct, dinosaur-like reptile that once inhabited the oceans (Lyons, 2001). Whereas the term “leviathan” undoubtedly refers to a specific type of animal, the previous two terms (tan-neem and tan-neen) are generic and nonspecific like dahg. [Interestingly, Isaiah 27:1 refers to leviathan as both a “snake” (nah-ghahsh) and a “monster,” or “reptile” (NKJV) (tah-neen)].
What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that on the fifth day of Creation, God created sea life. He used two terms to specify these inhabitants of the “waters.” The first was “souls” (Genesis 1:20,21b)—the ordinary term for living “things,” or “creatures” (nephesh). The second was “sea-monsters” (Genesis 1:21a)—the plural of tan-neen (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 1967/77, p. 2). This latter term is important for understanding the generic nature of the Hebrew language in its reference to the animal occupants of the sea. The word is translated erroneously as “whales” in the KJV. The NKJV has “sea creatures,” the ASV, NASB, RSV, and NEB have “sea monsters,” while the NIV has “creatures of the sea.” These latter three renderings are accurate representations of the Hebrew. They illustrate the in-built ambiguity that characterizes the Hebrew designations of animal species in the Old Testament. [NOTE: The term translated “birds” (Genesis 1:20,21, 22,26,28,30) doubtless possesses the same latitude and indiscriminate flexibility in meaning, thereby designating any creature that has the capability of flight, including mammals (e.g., bats), insects, and reptiles (e.g., pterodactyl).]
Moving to New Testament Greek, and the verse under discussion in this article (Matthew 12:40), did Christ refer to the great fish of Jonah as a “whale”? Matthew records that Jesus employed the Greek term ketos to refer to Jonah’s sea creature. The Septuagint translators used the same term in their rendering of Jonah 1:17. Greek lexicographers are decisive on the meaning of this word. The highly respected Greek scholars Arndt and Gingrich offer only one definition for ketos—“sea-monster” (1957, p. 432). The dictionary that was designed for use with the United Bible Societies’ prestigious Greek New Testament text (A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament) defined ketos as “large sea creature” (Newman, 1971, p. 100). Thayer listed three terms—“sea-monster, whale, huge fish” (1901, p. 346), with the reference to “whale” being merely one possibility among many others within the broader sense of the term. Renowned Bible commentator Albert Barnes insisted: “It is well known that the Greek word translated as whale, in the New Testament, does not of necessity mean a whale, but may denote a large fish or sea-monster of any kind” (1949, 1:134, italics in orig.). He speculated that the creature was a species of shark. McClintock and Strong elaborated further by noting that the term “is not restricted in its meaning to ‘a whale,’ or any cetacean; …it may denote any sea-monster, either ‘a whale,’ or ‘a shark,’ or a ‘seal,’ or ‘a tunny of enormous size’ ” (10:973). Respected Bible scholar J.W. McGarvey wrote: “The Greek word here translated whale is ‘sea monster’ ” (n.d., p. 306). Lenski also preferred the rendering “sea monster,” stating that “[t]he ‘whale’ of our versions is only an effort at translation” (1961, 1:493, emp. added).
The versionary evidence is surely confusing to the average English reader of the New Testament. The KJV, ASV, and RSV all render ketos in Matthew 12:40 as “whale.” Their rationale behind this unjustifiable linguistic decision, which Lewis maintains has created “an unnecessary problem” (1976, 2:178-179), remains a mystery. Ironically, all three versions translate Jonah 1:17 as “fish.” On the other hand, the NASB, NEB, and REB all have “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40. Three translations that handled the matter in a comparable fashion to each other include the GNB (“big fish”), the NIV (“huge fish”), and the NKJV (“great fish”). It also should be noted that, as a matter of fact, the generic word in Greek for “fish” is ichthus—not ketos. The latter term varies from the former in that ketos refers generically to a sea monster, or perhaps, a huge fish (cf. Vine, 1952, p. 209).
What conclusion is to be drawn from these linguistic data? Both the Hebrew and Greek languages lacked the precision to identify with specificity the identity of the creature that swallowed Jonah. As Earl S. Kalland affirmed, “[t]he identity or biological classification of this great water monster is unknown” (1980, 1:401). Both dahg and ketos “designate sea creatures of undefined species” (Lewis, 2:178).
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
Arndt, W.F. and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
Barnes, Albert (1949 reprint), Notes on the New Testament: Matthew and Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1967/77), (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung).
Botterweck, G. Johannes and Helmer Ringgren (1978), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Cansdale, George S. (1975), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Day, Alfred Ely (1939), “Dragon,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974 reprint).
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Kalland, Earl S. (1980), “dag, daga,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer Jr., and Bruce Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1977 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Lewis, Jack P. (1976), The Gospel According to Matthew (Austin, TX: Sweet).
Lyons, Eric (2001), “Behemoth and Leviathan—Creatures of Controversy,” Reason and Revelation, 21:1-7, January.
McGarvey, J.W. (n.d.), The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).
McClintock, John and James Strong (1881), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1970 reprint).
Newman, Barclay M. Jr. (1971), A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (London: United Bible Societies).
Thayer, Joseph H. (1901), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977 reprint).
Thompson, Bert (1996), “Jonah, Jesus, and Anti-supernaturalism,” Reason and Revelation, 16:86, November.
Vine, W.E. (1952), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell).
Wigram, George W. (1890), The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980 reprint).
Article originally found on http://www.apologeticspress.org/
- General info on the Bible
- The Bible consists of 66 books: 39 in the OT and 27 in the NT. The Bible took about 1600 years to write. It was written in 3 languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek) by about 40 authors and is internally consistent throughout.
- Reliability of the Bible
- The Bible is 98% textually pure. Through all the copying of the Biblical manuscripts of the entire Bible, only 2% has any question about it. Nothing in all of the ancient writings of the entire world approaches the accuracy of the biblical documents.
- The 2 percent that is in question does not affect doctrine. The areas of interest are called variants and they consist mainly in variations of wording and spelling.
- The NT has over 5000 supporting Greek manuscripts existing today with another 20,000 manuscripts in other languages. Some of the manuscript evidence dates to within 100 years of the original writing. There is less than a 2% textual variation in the NT manuscripts.
- Some of the supporting manuscripts of the NT are:
- John Rylands MS written around 130 A.D., the oldest existing fragment of the gospel of John.
- Bodmer Papyrus II (150-200 A.D.)
- Chester Beatty Papyri (200 A.D.) contains major portions of the NT.
- Codex Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.) contains nearly all the Bible.
- Codex Sinaiticus (350 A.D.) contains almost all the NT and over half of the OT.
- When were the gospels written?
- None of the gospels mention the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. This is significant because Jesus had prophesied its destruction when He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down” (Luke 21:6, see also Matt. 24:1; Mark 13:1). If they were written after the 70 A.D., destruction don’t you think they would have included the event?
- Matthew: The various dates most widely held as possible writing dates of the Gospel are between A.D. 40 – 140. But Ignatius died around 115 A.D. and he quoted Matthew. Therefore Matthew had to be written before he died. Nevertheless, it is generally believed that Matthew was written before A.D. 70 and as early as A.D. 50.
- Mark: Mark (the disciple of Peter received his information from Peter) is said to be the earliest gospel with an authorship of between A.D. 55 to A.D. 70.
- Luke: Luke was written before the book of Acts and Acts does not mention “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of the apostle James (Gal. 1:19, A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65).” Therefore, we can conclude that Luke was written before A.D. 62.
- John: The John Rylands papyrus fragment 52 of John’s gospel dated in the year 125-135 contains portions of John 18, verses 31-33,37-38. This fragment was found in Egypt. It is the last of the gospels and appears to have been written in the 80s to 90s.
- An important note is the lack of mention of the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 A.D. But this is understandable since John was not focusing on historical events and was most probably written 20 or so years after the destruction of the Temple. John focused on the theological aspect of the person of Christ and listed His miracles and words that affirmed Christ’s deity.
- Book of Acts
- Similarly, the book of Acts which was written after the gospel of Luke by Luke himself. Acts is a history of the Christian church right after Jesus’ ascension. Acts also fails to mention the incredibly significant events of 70 A.D. which would have been extremely relevant and prophetically important yet it is not mentioned in Acts. Why? Because it was written pre 70 AD.
- Acts does not include the accounts of “Nero’s persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of the apostle James (Gal. 1:19, A.D. 62), Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65),” and we have further evidence that it was written very early and not long after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
- “At the earliest, Acts cannot have been written prior to the latest firm chronological marker recorded in the book: Festus’ appointment as procurator (Acts 24:27), which, on the basis of independent sources, appears to have occurred between A.D. 55 and 59.”3
- “It is increasingly admitted that the Logia [Q] was very early, before 50 A.D., and Mark likewise if Luke wrote the Acts while Paul was still alive. Luke’s Gospel comes before the Acts (Acts 1:1). The date of Acts is still in dispute, but the early date (about A.D. 63) is gaining support constantly.”4
- If what is said of Acts is true, this would mean that Luke was written at least before A.D. 63 and possibly before 55 – 59 since Acts is the second in the series of writings by Luke. This means that the gospel of Luke was written within 30 years of Jesus’ death.
- Massacre of the babies
- Bethlehem, as far as the Romans were concerned, was an insignificant and very small town located about five miles south of Jerusalem at around 2500 feet elevation. It probably had a population of no more than 500 – 600 people. Micah 5:2 it says, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah….”
- If there were as many as 600 people in Bethlehem, how many children would have been under the age of two? Ten, twenty, thirty? Whatever the number, it would not have been hundreds. It would have been relatively few. Add to this the fact that Herod was known for committing horrendous crimes against people and you could see why this event in an insignificant village in the Jewish area might be ignored.
- Jews wandering in the desert
- It may be that the traditional site of Mt. Sinai is incorrect. Gal. 4:25 says “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” Present theories dealing with Mt. Sinai’s location have it in the Sinai Peninsula, yet the Bible says it was in Arabia.
- Darkness at Christ’s death
- “Circa AD 52, Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. This work itself has been lost and only fragments of it exist in the citations of others. One such scholar who knew and spoke of it was Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221…In speaking of Jesus crucifixion and the darkness that covered the land during this event, Africanus found a reference in the writings of Thallus that dealt with this cosmic report. Africanus asserts: ‘On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.'”1
- Prophecies of the Bible
- Odds of Jesus filling the prophecies:
- The odds of Jesus fulfilling 48 of the 61 major prophecies concerning Him are 1 in 10157; that is a one with 157 zeros behind it. By comparison, the estimated number of electrons in the entire known universe is about 1079; that is a one with 79 zeros behind it.
- Virgin birth prophecy
- Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
- Note: the Jews who translated the Septuagint (Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) translated Isaiah 7:14 as the word virgin, not young maiden.
- Matt. 1:18,25, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary…was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit… But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
- Born in Bethlehem
- Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
- Matt. 2:1, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”
- Preceded by a messenger
- Side pierced
- Zech. 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one mourns for an only son.”
- John 19:34, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”
- Psalm 22:16-18, “a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
- Luke 23:33, “When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left.”
- John 19:33, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.”
- John 19:23-24, “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes..they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.”
- Odds of Jesus filling the prophecies:
- Scientific Accuracies in the Bible
- The spherical shape of the earth (Isaiah 40:22).
- The earth is suspended in nothing (Job. 26:7).
- The stars are innumerable (Gen. 15:5).
- The existence of valleys in the seas (2 Sam. 22:16).
- The existence of springs and fountains in the sea (Gen.7:11; 8:2; Prov. 8:28).
- The existence of water paths (ocean currents) in the seas (Psalm 8:8).
- The water cycle (Job. 26:8; 36:27-28; 37:16; 38:25-27; Ps. 135:7; Ecc. 1:6-7).
- The fact that all living things reproduce after their own kind (Gen. 1:21; 6:19).
- The nature of health, sanitation, and sickness (Gen.17:9-14; Lev. 12-14).
- The concept of entropy, that energy is running down (Psalm 102:26).
1. McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, p. 80.
2. Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press Publications, Inc., 1983, 1985.
3. Mays, James Luther, Ph.D., Editor. Harpers Bible Commentary. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1988.
4. Robertson, A.T. A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper & Row, 1950, pp. 255-256.
5. Douglas, J. D., Comfort, Philip W. & Mitchell, Donald, Editors. Who’s Who in Christian History. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992.
6. Achtemeier, Paul J., Th.D. Harpers Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1985.
7. Douglas, J. D., Comfort, Philip W. & Mitchell, Donald, Editors. Who’s Who in Christian History. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992.
8. McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Nasvhille, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, p. 80.
9. Robertson, A.T. A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper & Row., 1950, pp. 255-256.
When trying to answer this question a long time ago. I found that the definition on wikipedia to provide the best answer.
Christian apologetics is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and expose the perceived flaws of other world views. Christian apologetics have taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul of Tarsus, including writers such as Origen and Augustine of Hippo, and continuing currently with the modern Christian community, through the efforts of many authors in various Christian traditions such as C.S. Lewis. Apologists have based their defense of Christianity on historical evidence, philosophical arguments, scientific investigation, and other disciplines.
I encourage you to go to the Wikipedia page to read more about Christian Apologetics.
Simple, Apologetics 4 U is a blog where you can post questions to us in form of comments, and we will do the research and try to give you biblical answers to your questions.
So feel free to post your questions now.