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Answering The Atheist
November 28, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 48

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Was Jonah swallowed by a great fish or a whale? Jonah 1:17 says it was a fish, Matthew 12:40 says it was a whale. Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
Some readers may wonder, what is the issue here? A great fish or a whale, what is the difference? Though whales bear the appearance of a great fish, in 1778, Swedish biologist, Linneus, recognized that whales share some common characteristics of mammals, not fish. Briefly:
- 1 - They breathe with lungs, not gills, and thus must come to the surface for air regularly;
- 2 - They don't lay eggs, but give birth to their young, and nurse their young;
- 3 - They have hair, not scales.

Which was it, a great fish or a whale? In all translations I've seen, the book of Jonah refers to a great fish. Of Matthew 12:40, there are a few different translations; some identify a great fish (NKJV, YLT, ESV, BBE, Darby, NLT), others a whale (KJV, ASV, Webster, WEB, RSV), still others, a sea monster (Weymouth, NASB, Complete Jewish Bible). The Greek ketos could be translated with any of these.

This may be a case of accommodative language, as whales bear the appearance of a fish. It may be a case of overzealous translating on the part of some, as ketos did not necessitate a whale. Either way, the supposed contradiction dissolves.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible