Matthew 12:24: Was Jonah in the belly of a whale?


(Jonah, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

On a poster wrote: ‘Nowhere in the Bible is Jonah’s fish called a “whale”.[1]

It is predictable that someone would object: ‘I beg your pardon?’[2]

Speedwell asked for ‘chapter and verse’.[3]

Since AV1611VET is an avid supporter of the KJV-only view, it was not surprising that he pulled out a KJV verse to try to refute Speedwell:

For the second time:
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Speedwell came back with an accurate response:

Mistranslation of the underlying Greek ketos which means “great fish” just like the Hebrew of the OT.[5]

Even though I came into this 2017 thread very late, it had been closed so I could not add the following information.

Was it a whale or sea monster?

The Greek, ho ketos is translated as ‘the whale’ in the KJV. However, the Greek word in Matt 12:40 means a ‘sea monster’ (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich Greek Lexicon 1957:432), which does not necessarily refer to a whale. So the ESV translates it accurately as a ‘great fish’, the NIV as ‘huge fish’, and the NRSV as ‘the sea monster’. All of these are correct translations of the Greek.

To require this word to be translated as ‘the whale’ goes beyond exegesis of the text.

Works consulted:

Bauer, W, Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[6] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).


[1] 2017. Speedwell#5764, Proving evolution as just a ‘theory’, 15 December. Available at: (Accessed 11 January 2020).

[2] Ibid., AV1611VET#5765.

[3] Ibid., Speedwell#5677.

[4] Ibid., AV1611VET#5767.

[5] Ibid., Speedwell#5769.

[6] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’, 4th rev and aug ed, 1952 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 January 2020.

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