Over the past six weeks I have provided both New and Old Testament scripture for apologetics (see here for the start of the series). Last week I used the parting of the Red Sea, which is a story about Moses that is a favorite among children. This week, I am continuing the theme of children’s stories, well, they are not actually children’s stories as I hoped I showed last week with Moses. However, I would suggest the Moses story, and today’s Old Testament verse, Jonah 1:17, are typically used in Sunday school. But there is so much more involved than a warm and fuzzy story about a guy and a big fish.

Today I am going to provide our third verse from the Old Testament supporting apologetics and, unless something changes, will conclude this series next week.

Let’s look at today’s verse:

Jonah 1:17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Here is where you probably think I am going to say, see miracles are evidence and evidence is apologetics. Though that is true, that is not my point. I have, what I feel, a more important point concerning the use of this verse and apologetics.

But first, and this is where you are correct, we must first establish a foundation. Prayerfully you are getting something out of these examples. Not just the apologetics point I am attempting to provide, but the context of scripture as well.

To the everyday person our verse sounds unbelievable, as with the Moses story, and many other such stories in the Bible. Maybe it is used as a children’s Sunday school teaching for this reason. Think about explaining this to your non-believing friends. For that matter, what do you think about it?

Anyway, the foundation. The Book of Jonah was written by Jonah. He was a prophet of Israel sometime during 793 and 753 BC. It is the only prophetic book that consists entirely on what happened to him. 

Now, here is a central question concerning the book of Jonah: Is it fact or fiction?

Seriously, I would hope we all know the entire bible cannot be read as one literal genre and understood properly. I mean Jesus was not really a door. (John 10:9) Many have suggested the story is just that, a story. Some believe it is a non-historical genre such as an allegory or satire. 

Of course, I would think this understandable based on our verse alone. There are other parts to the story that include the king decrees the animals to participate in the repentance of Nineveh.

Herein lies part of my point in the apologetic aspect of our verse. No reason has been given that rules out the story as historic. The book appears, although at times far-fetched, as history. The main point I am attempting to point out is Jesus used the account of Jonah being in the belly of the fish three days and three nights in both Matthew and Luke.

What does that have to do with apologetics?

It provides one way of showing the reliability of the Old Testament. Do you see what I am saying? Many objections come from the Old Testament, and recently, a famous pastor, Andy Stanley, said we should, in his words, unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament. But here, if Jesus is referring to Old Testament writings, then we can be assured of the reliability of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

That is a significant reason our verse is an apologetic example!

Just as He did with the first and greatest commandment, Jesus Himself is solidifying the book of Jonah as historical writing. On a quick side note, the first and greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37, is a quote from Deuteronomy 6. There are many references to the Old Testament due to that being the scripture used. 

Anyway, this is what we need to be focusing on. This is the part we should be teaching our kids. A simplistic childlike story that carries much more than the one verse I have chosen to use. In fact, the entire book, all four chapters, can be used both in a historical theme and an apologetic application.

Sure, it may sound crazy to believe a man was in the belly of a fish. Do you not see why it is important to understand the big picture? Many object, or refuse to believe such stories as the parting of the red sea, and especially this one of a man and a fish. But think of all the other things we are asked to believe, talking snakes and donkeys, virgin births, a man raising from the dead and many other “miracles”.

The point is that if we understand the why, along with the what, of our beliefs, at least have evidence to support them being true. People typically don’t believe things they know to be a lie.

Yet, it is not as easy as saying "well Jesus quoted about Jonah" so the Old Testament is true. We must have a foundation. If you are having a conversation with someone, start by asking questions! You can’t just scream Jesus said so. We cannot always, and should probably never, simply try to an answer people’s questions. Ask them questions, establish a foundation of where to begin.

In this case you would have to establish three points:

Point 1 | Does truth exist? If truth does not exist the entire point is moot. (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Point 2 | The Jesus of Christianity is the Jesus being referenced in the conversation. There are many people speaking of Jesus, but it is not always the Jesus of Christianity. Or put another way, Jesus, the Son of God. (John 1:1)

Point 3 | The reliability of scripture. If someone does not believe your book there is no reason to quote from it. Establish the historicity of the Bible. (presuppositional apologetics)

Jonah 1:17, a simple verse. Yet a verse replete with historic and apologetic significance.


Read other posts from the Scripture Supporting Apologetics Series: Matthew 22:37 | 2 Corinthians 10:5 | Titus 1:9 | 1 Peter 3:15 | Exodus 14:31


John Mays is the Regional Director for the state of West Virginia and the Chapter Director at Marshall University. Contact him at johnmays@ratiochristi.org