The book of Jonah records that Jonah spent three days in the belly of a great fish (possibly a whale).

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. Jonah 1:17 ESV

Is there any scientific evidence that suggests it is possible for a person to survive in the belly of a whale, or are we left to conclude that this was part of the miracle?

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    It seems to me that a question like this might be better suited to Skeptics.SE than Christianity.SE, since it doesn't deal with doctrinal matters.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Dec 7, 2011 at 19:17
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    Having read Skeptics from time to time, I can already tell you what they'll say, and their contempt won't be veiled.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 17:46
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the scientific possibility of a story and not Christianity, or even the Christian story itself.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 18:37
  • reasons.org/articles/a-modern-jonah Did a man really survive for days in belly of sperm whale?
    – 007
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 12:46

4 Answers 4


Cecil Adams (aka "The Straight Dope") did a lot to debunk later-day Jonah stories here: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2294/have-any-real-life-jonahs-been-swallowed-by-whales-and-lived

Basically, he says that while many would like to believe this is a phenomenon that has been reproduced, all the stories range from apocryphal to fraudulent. As such, yes, the fact that Jonah was preserved for three days in the belly of the whale, was in fact a miracle.

Theological Import

The fact that Jesus alludes to the same in Luke 11:32 (the sign of Jonah being given instead of a miracle) may lead one to a discussion of the difference between a sign and a miracle - but in both cases the effect is the same. It is a physical situation in which the natural human response is to see God's direct intervention. I would argue that the point of Luke 11:28 (A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miracle, but no miracle will be given it except the sign of Jonah) specifically points to the fact that people wanted a magical reproduction. Nowadays, we are not a magical culture, but rather a scientific one. As such, we ask not for a miracle but a scientific explanation. I suspect Jesus would say of his own resurrection, that no explanation would be given it, except the sign of Jonah.


I think it's telling here that several translations (KJV, ASV, Darby, ERV, WEB at least) will use the word "prepared" rather than "appointed". That is significant. If a great fish is only "appointed" (chosen/selected), you could argue that we are limited to what can be selected from the natural world. If the fish was "prepared", however, then we should expect more supernatural intervention; it could be a species with a single member designed for the explicit purpose of swallowing Jonah. In other words, this opens the door to greater divine intervention.

Science is the study of the Natural Universe, and with the alternate translation the passage here now implies supernatural intervention. Since we have that intervention, as a believer I find the science in this case completely irrelevant... indeed, I might even be disappointed if a simple scientific explanation is found.


I think there are two options:

  1. He survived, and it was a miracle. (The whole story is miraculous, from the storm that stops, through the fish spitting him out at a certain location to the repentance of Nineveh.)
  2. He didn't survive, he died and was resurrected, also a miracle. I think this is the implication of Luke 11:30.
  • Point #2 is unlikely, as it conflicts with the teaching that Christ was "the first fruits of the resurrection," ie. that nobody was resurrected before him.
    – Mason Wheeler
    Commented Dec 8, 2011 at 21:48
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    @MasonWheeler: a number of people were resurrected before Jesus, see e.g. 1 Kings 17:22, Luke 7:14-15 and John 11:43-44. I think the difference here is between resuscitation (same body) and resurrection (renewed body). Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 6:28
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    Also, I think it says that Jonah prayed the whole time he was in the fish, so how could he have prayed if he was dead?
    – Ovi
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 21:42
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    @Ovi - yes, I don't have an answer to that; good point. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 7:39
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    to second @MasonWheeler's point, while many were raised from the dead before Christ's resurrection (he raised several Himself during His ministry), they all died again :)
    – warren
    Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 14:01

Well - you can easily answer this yourself. You need fresh oxygen every minute, and will die after about 3 minutes without fresh air.

Would you expect fresh air in the stomach of an animal? Of course not.

But if it happened every second week, that people get eaten by whales, and come back again - it wouldn't be a miracle. But what is the function of the big fish, eating the human? It shall convince you about something extraordinary happening here, and giving the words of Jonas more authority.

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