A Weak Argument Against Christianity: The Fallacy of the “Sign of Jonah” Objection

by Jonathan McLatchie 

I occasionally drop by an Islamic apologetics stall on Saturdays. It gives me the opportunity to learn more about Islam, read Muslim literature which is freely available, get to know people of an alternate worldview perspective, and, of course, share some of the rational justification for my own system of belief (i.e. Christianity). I think I have encountered the majority of the arguments which are frequently employed in such discussions between Muslims and Christians. For the most part, I find them less than impressive. Having listened to many of the most popular Islamic apologists (Zakir Naik, Ahmed Deedat, Khalid Yasin, Shabir Ally, among others) present their reasons for belief, I am pretty confident that the best they have to offer, in terms of rational argument, does not amount to much.

Anyway, today I happened to be in the area, and so I dropped by the Islamic stall. And I encountered what is quite probably the weakest objection to Christianity frequently used in Islamic literature: The old “sign of Jonah” argument. If you have spent any significant amount of time talking to Muslims, you have probably encountered this argument. The objection springs from Matthew 12:38-40:

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”  39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 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.

The argument is two fold:

  1. Jonah wasn’t dead inside the fish (in fact, he prayed to God). Since the passage says“as Jonah was…”, yet Jesus was dead and Jonah alive, how can the death and resurrection of Jesus fulfil this prediction?
  2. Jesus was allegedly crucified on the Friday and allegedly raised on the Sunday: So how could he have been “in the heart of the earth” for three days and three nights?

The first of those is easily the weaker of the two and is simple to dispense with…

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