Did a whale or fish swallow Jonah?

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Was Jonah swallowed by a fish, or a whale?

Jonah and the great sea creature

The Bible account of Jonah being swallowed by a whale is well known to Christian adults and Sunday school children. God told the eighth century BC prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh in Assyria and preach against the people's utter wickedness.

During a storm at sea, Jonah was thrown overboard. In the Book of Jonah we read that “The LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17, King James Version).

In the New Testament we read Christ's words that He (Jesus Christ) will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, just as Jonah was “three days and three nights in the whale's belly.” (Matthew 12:40.)

A whale is not a fish

Now a whale is not a fish; it is a mammal. So in the Old Testament we are told Jonah was swallowed by a “great fish,” and in the New Testament we are told it was a “whale.” Is this a contradiction?

No. And this is why.

The Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek — not in English. And both “whale” and “great fish” are English translations of the original words. If we look in a Greek New Testament dictionary, such as the popular James Strong's Dictionary of the Words in the Greek New Testament, we find the explanation.

The Greek word translated “whale” is ketos (pronounced kay-tos), and it means “a huge fish (as gaping for prey).” Other scholars say it can mean a huge aquatic creature, which could be a fish, a whale, or some other giant sea animal. In any case, the Bible says God prepared the creature to swallow Jonah, so it could have been a creature created for this particular purpose and no other.

When the King James Version of the Bible was released in 1611, our modern taxonomic distinctions between fishes and mammals had not yet been decided on, so the translators were justified in choosing a whale as the giant “fish.” It was the greatest sea creature known to them.

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