I've heard from a friend a theory claiming Jonah died in the whale's belly and then he was raised from the dead to preach to the Ninevites. He told me it is based on those verses:

"He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry." (Jonah 2:2, NIV)

"He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 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. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here." (Matthew 12:39:41, NIV)

I told him I don't agree with his theory because Jonah prayed inside the whale, but he was inflexible.

Also, here is an answer to raise this issue: Jonah and the Whale - Is there any scientific proof that it is possible to survive in the belly of whale?

I would especially like to hear answers from a Pentecostal perspective.

  • 1
    Matthew 12:39 also likens the story of Jonah to that of death and resurrection, but it appears to be speaking metaphorically.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:59
  • 1
    Perhaps "deep in the realm of the dead" is referring to the Ocean and, worse than that, in the belly of a beast in the Ocean. It doesn't get much worse than that. Perhaps ask what that phrase specifically means on the Hermeneutics site.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 18:39
  • @fredsbend this would need to be edited to remove the Matthew passage before migrating it, i.e. stick to the Hebrew Bible text on its own terms without reading a later text into it. And it would need to refocus on the intended meaning of the author of the text rather than the truthfulness of the account itself (BH.SE "can't handle the truth" either).
    – Dan
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 13:44
  • How would a Pentecostal perspective be helpful here? (I ask as an Assemblies of God minister.)
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 19:16

4 Answers 4


It is possible that Jonah died in the belly of the fish, based on the language used in Jonah 2, but I think most probable that he did not. Notice Jonah 2:5 (2:6 in Hebrew) says "the waters encompassed me up to my neck." That same Hebrew phrase "up to my neck" was used by David in Ps 69:1, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck.” The phrase signifies near-death, not actual death. In 2:7, he says Jonah says "my soul was failing me," which again suggests near-death, but not actual death.

Only in 2:6 do you get language that could be taken to mean that Jonah died. It says "To the bottom of the mountains, I went down. The land, its bars were behind me forever. You brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God." The first phrase is simply a metaphor for the danger he was in, being dragged to the bottom of the sea. The second phrase is a bit obscure, since the word I have translated "land" is the Hebrew word "erets," which usually means "land, earth," but which some translations have here rendered "underworld." If it were underworld, it could possibly suggest he was momentarily on the other side of the underworld, i.e., dead. However, it is so poetic that, when surrounded by the near-death language on either side, it seems best to take it as a poetic description of the fact that he was on the very verge of death. Besides, I think the usual translation of "land" is more appropriate, since there is no adjective modifying "erets" to suggest it's the "land of the dead" or something like that. It was from this state of near-death that God brought up Jonah's life from the pit.

A former Hebrew professor of mine held the view that Jonah died, so I can appreciate the argument. But I think the argument is based on a misunderstanding of Matthew's comparison of Jonah with Jesus. Jesus only says that the comparison is between the "three days and three nights in the belly of the whale." He does not say the comparison extends to death. I think those who want to say Jonah died are trying to make the two stories of Jonah and Jesus align more than they need to for Jesus' comparison to be valid.


Probably not

Jonah spoke of coming out of the belly of Sheol (Hebrew word for grave). Jonah could have been speaking literally or using a figure of speech.

Jonah 2:1-2 ESV Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice."

My guess is that it was a figure of speech. Jonah was going to die under water and God saved him from death.

Jonah 2:5a ESV The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me;

Note: This isn't, to my knowledge, an official Pentecostal perspective. This is my own exegesis.

  • "Probably not"? Is that what Pentecostals officially believe? That he might have but probably didn't die? Where are your sources for identifying this as Pentecostal belief?
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 18:45
  • Deliverance from Sheol/the grave is commonly used in Hebrew poetry. (e.g. Ps 30:3, Ps 86:13, Pr 23:14)
    – mojo
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 23:20
  • @Caleb "Probably" in an understatement, but absolute certainty would be an overstatement.
    – mojo
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 23:22
  • @mojo I think you missed the point of my comment entirely. The question asks specifically about Pentecostal views and this answer does not even mention that group, much less cite something relevant showing that this is their view.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 11:56
  • 3
    @Caleb Pentecostals, in general, believe the Bible to be reliable. It seems like arguing from the text would be sufficiently "Pentecostal" to be of some value. With upwards of 170 denominations, it's not as if there's an official Pentecostal position in the first place. They, generally, read the Bible a certain way, but apart from those initial assumptions, there's nothing particularly Pentecostal about this particular question or answer, is there?
    – mojo
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 13:00

I would suugest 4 reasons that Jonah was alive and not dead, then resurrected.

1) as Scacewater posted, the Hebrew is poetic, and " up to my neck" and Sheol references underscore the poetry/literary style of Jonah 2. As an example of the poetic nature, God "spoke to the fish" (spoke is wayomer וַיֹּ֥אמֶר) Jonah 2:10 as in Gen 1.

2) If he were dead, then the dead can communicate with God (Luke's Lazarus is also poetic) and we know the dead cannot pray to or request of God, (Eccl 9:5, Ps 6:5).. There is no OT ref as to the dead speaking from "Sheol" to God, giving them life.

3) Whereas there are many parallels of Christ to Jonah, death and resurrection are not among them

4) There is no reference, OT, NT or Rabbinic writings to attest to a "Jonah Resurrection" or similar.

My thoughts (30+ yrs in the ministry)

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! I hope you'll spend some time browsing the questions and answers here. For a quick orientation to this site, please take the Site Tour. And for some tips on writing good answers here, please see, What makes a good supported answer? Commented May 20, 2015 at 1:10
  • 2
    About your point 3, do you (and your church or denomination) not consider Matthew 12:39-41 to be a parallel between Jonah and the death and resurrection of Christ? Commented May 20, 2015 at 1:13


The figurative death position would make sense

if Jonah had praised God for bringing up his life from the pit after God had brought Jonah up out of the fish and out of the sea. Instead he praised God for bringing his life up from the pit before God had brought him up from the sea.

6 To the roots of the mountains
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God. - Jonah 2:6

Only after he thanks God for raising up his life does the fish spit him out.

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. -Jonah 2:10

If death was just a figure for being in the fish, it makes no sense for Jonah to praise God for bringing up Jonah's life from the pit, when Jonah's life was still in the fish. Nothing would have actually changed since he was in the fish for three days.

In Jonah's prayer he descibes:

The waves and the billows passing over him, being surounded by the deep, having weeds, wrapped around his head, his life fainting away as he calls out to God, and being in the belly of Sheol, under the roots of mountains were the bars closed upon him forever... but he makes no mention of being swallowed by a fish or even of any awareness that he is actually in a fish.

This indicates that Jonah's last moments of conscious awareness all occurred while Jonah was outside the fish before God appointed the fish to swallow him. This makes it much more likely that Jonah was actually unconscious and even dead, having drowned, before his body was stored within the fish for a time period spanning three days and three nights. It seems, otherwise, he likely would have mentioned something about hanging out in the fish he was picked up in since he was so conscious and descriptive of everything else.

Looking at it another way in relation to the Activity of God,

There were only two acts that the scriptures actualy claim that God performed after Jonah was swallowed:

  1. Bringing up Jonah's life from the pit -Jonah 2:6
  2. Commanding the fish to vomit up Jonah onto dry land - Jonah 2:10

The two actions of God, resurrecting Jonah & vomiting him from the fish, are chronologically separate events and are not the same event, as those of the physical death camp often assert. The 'resurrection happened in the fish and not out of the fish. Then Jonah was vomited up.

There is no mention of God preserving Jonah's life for three days & three nights in the belly of a fish, which would have been a third act of God as any thinking person would acknowledge. This third act would necessarily be read into the text by the figurative death camp, since it is nowhere present in the text itself.


Now, of course, understanding that Jonah literally died and was brought back to life strengthens the meaning of his connection to Jesus:

40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. -Matthew 12:40

That said, this is not a deciding factor for me. I was previously comfortable with the connection Jesus made here even if Jonah's death was not literal. It just makes much more sense now I know that it is literal.

So, with these fact patterns, when Jonah praises God for bringing up his life from the pit, Jonah was actually resurrected after 3 days and three nights in the fish. Jonah was actually greatful to be found alive when he certainly died despite the likely discomfort of being stuck in the middle of a fish in the middle of the sea.

Note regarding David and Sheol:
In Psalms, David only describes being surrounded by the threat of Sheol or being saved from Sheol. David never actually locates himself as being formerly in Sheol the way Jonah did in his prayer to God.

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