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Our readers asked:

Was Jonah literally swallowed by the Whale?

Joe Paprocki Answers:

The story of Jonah is one of those Scripture passages that we as Catholics would say is a TRUE story, but not necessarily FACT. Catholics believe that everything in the Bible is TRUE in a religious sense. However, when it comes to scientific and historical truth (facts), there are times that the Bible is not totally accurate.

Why? Simply because the Bible comes to us from a time when most people were not literate and certainly not as literal as we are today. They did not have science and history as we understand those fields today. So, although there is a great deal of historicity in the Bible (proven by archeological study), we also find that there are places where figurative language was used. Figurative language (for example: “it’s raining cats and dogs”) expresses truth without relying on fact. In the case of the story of Jonah, we are not to concern ourselves with the physics of the situation (i.e. proving that a human can live in the belly of a large fish for three days), however, we are not to dismiss the story either as a fairy tale. It is a TRUE story: teaching us the truth of what happens when we seek to follow our own desires instead of following the will of God. When we ignore and run from God’s will, we eventually find ourselves in the “belly of the whale” — that place of darkness where we cannot see what direction to go in. As soon as Jonah concludes that he should say “yes” to God’s call, he sees the light of day.

All of us either have been or will find ourselves in the “belly of the whale.” This story teaches us the key to avoiding this dark place as well as the key to freeing ourselves from such darkness so that we can see the light. For a good understanding of how Catholics are to read and interpret the Bible, see the document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (especially sections IF, IIB).

The Author : Joe Paprocki
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • http://Churchofthenewage.org Liam

    It is understandable that children and, amazingly, most adults seem to need a Santa Claus / personality God to believe in and, ulimately, given time, will reward or punish. It is the child relating to being a child in a reality that he or she has very little control over (AND beliving “fantacy” stories told to them); it is the (in some ways) the child like adult(s) who pass on and believe personality God rewarder / punisher stories. The “fact” that there are fantacy stories does not however prove that the fantacy stories are fact.

    Evolution IS what is, has been, and will be. Many get stuck in the concept of physical evolution and a narrow concept of exact linear time.

    Consider that the sustaining power of ALL THAT IS is the evolution of Consciousness.

    Consider that (personality) God did not create the universe. The universre (you, me, and all other aspects of mind energy) are evolving/creating God (for lack of a better word).

  • Dwight Fontenot

    Is for this reason and this reason alone religion should be completely eradicated. The fact that human beings in our day and age could actually believe non-sense like this is a grave insult to our intelligence. If you’re going to give this story an ounce of credit than you have to give credit to any religious story of every religion worldwide. Simply ridiculous!

  • Laura K

    The One who created the entire universe from nothing could certainly keep a man alive in the belly of a big fish for three days.

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