In the Belly of a Whale? Why the Average Bible Reader Should Study Hermeneutics

I realize that my longer post on hermeneutics below might be more than the average person wants to digest concerning biblical interpretation. However, it is more important than the average Christian realizes. As a demonstration of why it is important to study the basics of proper interpretation, I want you to picture in your mind the story of Jonah and the large fish. Remember the book of Jonah and the account of him being swallowed? I cheated by posting the photo to the right but does it bring to mind this? Or maybe this?For many people it does. But Jonah was not Pinocchio and it was a fish not necessarily a whale. This is how preunderstandings get attached to the biblical text apart from our even realizing it.

Once you rid yourself of the Disney indoctrination, you are forced to imagine how truly horrible and gross it really was. It must have been slimy, odoriferous and claustrophobic in the maximally terrific sense. In studying that book more carefully recently, I have come to the conclusion that Jonah actually died and was later revived.  Jonah 2:2 says he cried out from the “belly of Sheol” which infers death. It also coheres nicely with Jesus’ “sign of Jonah” referring to the resurrection (Mt 16:4). This frames Jonah in a new light and shows how far preunderstandings can lead us astray. When we covered Jonah in an adult class at church, I was amazed that nearly everyone has the Disney image in mind.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.


  1. Tim Knoerle says:

    You said a couple of things I must comment on. Most ignore the fact but Walt Disney was personally accepting of and was directly involved in occult practices. Numerous Disney films include themes of acceptance of witchcraft and other demonic black arts. Every Disney film was an intentional anti-Christian indoctrination mechanism, bit by bit, always telling the lies which present demonic powers as being a good and desirable thing! So his representation of the Jonah story was, of course, misrepresenting what God presents in the Bible! However, your “construct” about the term “belly of Sheol which infers death” is NOT accurate, because Sheol is “the place of the dead”, where all unrepentant sinners eternally perish. But “to perish eternally” is not a single event, but is an ongoing “continuing condition”, precisely as we read in the Bible, in Revelation 20:10. Jonah was not dead, but was given a taste of what hell is truly like…Jonah was tasting the consequence of rejecting God’s call to obey Him with his life. When the fish spewed out Jonah at the shore, Jonah had experienced repentance, and then experienced real physical renewal to the liberty of obeying God’s call, as we are called to obey the Gospel by being thoroughly dependent on God’s grace. Nowhere in the text of Jonah does it say that Jonah died. We are all seriously warned against ever expounding a private interpretation, by what is said in Second Peter 1:20-21. Jonah possibly experienced a “near death” event… but Scripture does not say he died.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Tim, I think you have some valid observations about Disney. On Jonah’s death, it’s not a private interpretation. I’m just reading the text. Jonah says he cried out from the belly of Sheol. As you said that is the abode of the dead. So it does infer death. Also, sheol is not eternal in biblical theology. It is thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14).

      Sheol in the OT is roughly analogous to hades in the NT. Jesus spoke of the rich man as being tormented in hades, while Lazarus was in the bosom of Abraham, dwelling in joy and peace (Luke 16:19–31). Jesus told His disciples that the gates of hades would not prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18). Hades here again is that realm set over against God and His righteous kingdom—the dwelling place of the unrighteous and their “king.” Then we find at the end that death and hades are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

      Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1484.

  2. David Lowe says:

    Hey Cris,

    Have you read my first book Earthquake Resurrection? In this book, I explain Jonah’s experience in the belly of the whale. You are correct that Jonah died and his body preserved inside the fish. In a nutshell, this is what I present in the book:

    1. Jonah died after being thrown overboard, and his dead body was swallowed by a whale. He was not alive in the whale.

    2. His dead body was preserved by God for three days and three nights, and then Jonah was resurrected from the dead. At this point, the whale vomited Jonah from his stomach alive.

    3. This is why Jesus compared his death (for three days and nights) to Jonah: both men died, and both were resurrected to life. When they asked him for a sign, the sign of Jonah the prophet (in the belly for three days and nights) was the only sign he would provide to them.

    The story of Jonah and the whale is so often ridiculed by the unbelieving world, similar to the picture you posted above. The reason is because they believe Jonah was alive inside the fish. Not possible!

    Please let me know your thoughts,
    David Lowe

    P.S. If you would like to read this in the book, please let me know and I’ll send you the details.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      David, I came to same basic conclusions on my own so consider it an independent confirmation. I’m not necessarily inclined to believe he died before being swallowed, (perhaps it was after?) but “crying out from Sheol” is a strong indicator he died. I believe I listened to series of audiofiles of you reading the first 5 chapters of the book. I hope to get to Deconstructing Lucifer over the holiday break. I have a couple of research papers to do as well as a book project of my own… need more time!

  3. David Lowe says:


    I agree. Also, the sailors on the boat ask the Lord to not hold it against them for “shedding innocent blood.” Why would they say that if Jonah was not going to die?

    Talk to you later,