Sign of Jonah

Jonah was a type of Israel.

A week or so ago, I finished up my little book called Tongues in Plain English. Finishing that book cleared my desk a bit, and I took the opportunity to kind of revamp some of my study materials. I decided finally to let go of the King James Version and adopt the New Revised Standard Version instead. I know that this puts me outside the gates of my particular camp in the body, but I thought it was time. Like everyone else, I like the KJV's prose and its direct translation of the Greek, but the English is archaic and most of the scholars I read after use the NRSV.

After spending some time scouring the internet for an NRSV Bible, I decided on the New Interpreters Study Bible (NISB). I read through a number of the reviews (77 5-star ratings) and thought that the study notes would be a real aid. It boasted having over 90 top theologians as contributors. It came the other day and yesterday I had some free time so I took it with me to a coffee shop where I planned to map out my new book project on the sign of Jonah.

I sat down with my French-pressed Guatemala with my notes on Jonah and Jesus in hand. I pulled out the brick of the NISB out of my backpack to see what it had on the sign of Jonah. Okay, the book of Jonah had some notes, not very helpful ones, but at least some. But here is what it had on the sign of Jonah, what Jesus grilled the Pharisees with when they demanded a sign from him ("You want a sign? You want a sign? I'll give you a sign! Jonah! Just as he was in the sea monster's belly for three days and nights, so I'll be in the heart of the earth. How's that for a sign?"). The special note is what one of those 90 theologians had for Jonah, and the second paragraph is what another had for Matthew 12:40.

Special Note

Three days and nights Jonah became a symbol for the resurrection because early Christians saw a symbolic parallel between this phrase and Jesus' death, three days in the tomb, and the resurrection. For this reason, Jonah was often depicted in early Christian art. See also "the sign of Jonah" in Matt 12:38–40.

The request for a sign evidences their resistance. Jesus has provided numerous signs that attest his identity as God's agent in whom God's empire is manifested (12:28). He offers the sign of Jonah, rejection experienced in death yet God's victory over it (12:39–40). Nineveh repented when given the chance, unlike these leaders. On the queen of the South, see 1 Kgs 10:1–13. Jesus is in continuity with Jonah and Solomon, yet greater in announcing God's empire yet to be completed.

This took me back a bit. I mean, the sign of Jonah is one of the most awe-inspiring of the types of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection that we see in the Word, and this is the best of what two of the top 90 have to offer?  Just a couple lines about a symbolic parallel and rejection in death (whatever in the world that means)? Are you kidding me?

Well, come to think about it, I guess if you preach that Jesus skipped off to heaven right after he died you're just not going to understand why God would go to all that trouble to get a fish to swallow a man whole for three days and nights. Me? I'm up to my eyeballs in prefiguration, prophecy, and double cross references. I spent the whole week working through the sign, scribbling over 30 pages of notes from Psalms and Hebrews and John and I can't remember what else, and I'm not even close to done. (Look for a not-so-little book sometime in the fall.)

I'm not sure where the NISB fits on the theology spectrum, but I'm afraid it's is going to become another brick in my never-to-be-used–again Bible wall soon.

GospelPeter Smythe