Thinking Out Loud

November 24, 2013

Rob Bell on Jonah and the Great Big Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

Rob Bell has started a series on his blog titled “What Is the Bible?” (Not to be confused with Phil Vischer’s excellent DVD series for kids, “What’s In The Bible?”)  As I write this, Rob has 14 chapters posted, and I do admit to having no idea where he’s going and what he’s going to say next. Are we getting a preview of a future book manuscript? If so, I’m saving the chapters just in case.

In parts 3 and 4, he looks at the Jonah story. Here’s a brief excerpt from part four:

Rob Bell 5…What do I think? I don’t think it matters what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish.

If you don’t believe it literally happened, that’s fine. Lots of people of faith over the years have read this story as a parable about national forgiveness. They point to many aspects of the surreal nature of the story as simply great storytelling because the author has a larger point, one about the Israelites and the Assyrians and God’s call to be a light to everyone, especially your enemies.

Right on. Well said.
Just one problem. Some deny the swallowed-by-a-fish part not from a literary perspective, but on the basis of those things just don’t happen. Which raises a number of questions: What’s the criteria for the denial? Do we only affirm things that can be proven in a lab? Do we only believe things we have empirical evidence for? Do we believe or not believe something happened based on…whether we believe that things like that happen or not? (That was an awkward sentence. Intentionally.) Can we only affirm things that make sense to us? Are we closed to everything that we can’t explain?

If we reject all miraculous elements of all stories because we have made up our mind ahead of time that such things simply aren’t possible, we run the risk of shrinking the world down to what we can comprehend. And what fun is that?

That said, there are others who say, Of course he was swallowed a fish, that’s what the story says happened!

Just one problem. It’s possible to affirm the literal fact of a man being swallowed by a fish, making that the crux of the story in such a way that you defend that, believe that, argue about that-and in spending your energies on the defend-the-fish-part miss the point of the story, the point about allowing God’s redeeming love to flow through us with such power and grace that we are able to love and bless even our worst enemies…

…continue reading here


  1. Mr Bell writes, “I don’t think it matters what you believe about a man being swallowed by a fish.” How tragic! Jesus said that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. If he had not been, then Jesus lied. And if Jesus lied, then he is not God, because it is impossible for God to lie. I would say, it is of fundamental importance that you believe exactly what the Jonah narrative says! Please go back to the Bible, Mr Bell.

    Comment by Pastor G J Tavener — November 25, 2013 @ 6:30 am

    • I do agree with you. See, this is the thing with Rob Bell, he knows how to be controversial. What he’s trying to do here is bridge the gap between people on two sides of the discussion. That’s why his final words are:

      You can argue endlessly about fish, thinking you’re defending the truth or pointing out the ridiculous outmoded nature of the man-in-fish-miracle, only to discover that everybody in the discussion has conveniently found a way to avoid the very real, personal, convicting questions that story raises about what really lurks deep in our hearts.

      However, you are absolutely right in that Jesus affirms the story, so someone could argue that he’s just making a parallel between his own life and a story and maybe everybody would be friends again at that point.

      But the affirmation in Matthew 12:40 is crucial, because it’s describing, prophetically, Jesus’ own resurrection.

      For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

      And God help us (literally), if we consign that to the realm of story. If you click the link, Bell avoids the whole issue of Jesus affirming the narrative, leaving us again wondering which side of the fence he’s on.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 25, 2013 @ 8:56 am

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