Q: Are outlandish Old Testament stories like Jonah and the whale really true?

In today’s scientifically precise world, where we can track DNA and send probes crashing into the moon, it’s hard to believe that a global flood covered the world or that a wayward prophet was swallowed up by a big fish and survived in its alimentary canal for 72 hours! What is the devoted Christian to do with some of these hard-to-swallow (no pun intended) stories? Did the sun really stand still for a whole day so that General Joshua could win a pivotal battle with some extra hours of divine Daylight Savings?

It’s disquieting when even a great Christian apologist like C. S. Lewis confesses his personal view that perhaps the watery sagas of Jonah and Noah are both, as he puts it, “fabulous.” He describes his own theological view of such narratives as truth coming gradually into focus – with the fullness of truth being found in the New Testament. “[In any case,]” he writes, “I very much doubt if you would be wise to chuck it out.” Other commentators wonder aloud of a story like Jonah’s is a legend, parable, or allegory.

Here is an alternative view for the Christian believer to hold onto. The Bible is God’s holy and inspired Word. It is written by men who were moved and directed by the Holy Spirit. Protestant Christians around the world accept that the 66 books of both Testaments were protected by God Himself as they were written and preserved. With that in mind, even the heroic tales that strain human credulity – the miracles, the great military victories, the resurrections and virgin births and floating ax heads – are all entirely within the power of God to accomplish.

We should also note that Bible writers in both testaments took care to be accurate, knowing that future generations would apply the lessons of the past to their future spiritual growth. Inclusion of fiction would have obviously undermined all their efforts. The meticulous historical records we find in II Kings 14 clearly list Jonah as “the prophet from Gath Hepher.”

Here’s a second point in defense of Jonah’s marine biography. Jesus himself refers to the story of Jonah, and likens the desolation of his own Golgotha experience as a sacrificial offering with the three days that Jonah was in the dark and watery depths. And nowhere in Christ’s testimony does he affix a disclaimer or asterisk to the story. In the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11, the author lists Noah and his testimony as part of the pantheon of courage we can follow in this 21st century.

So the temptation to put some Bible stories into an innocently “fiction” category brings with it a further eroding of confidence in all of the words of Scripture, including the testimony of Jesus himself. It’s far better to humbly admit that some “farfetched” things we just cannot fully envision, and that with God, all things are possible.