The Three Days of Jonah, Jesus and Paul

There seems to be a connection between Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Both were nationalistic zealots. Both thought they deserved the grace of God. Both were called to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles; and both had to be dealt with in an extraordinary manner. Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth prior to being sent to the Gentiles. Saul of Tarsus was three days in the depths of darkness prior to being sent to the Gentiles. Thomas Peck put it this way:

During these three days Saul was in the belly of hell as Jonah was in the fish’s belly. In the agony occasioned  by conviction of sin, in preparation to become the apostle to the Gentiles. Compare the history of Jonah, who before the three days, could not be induced to preach to the Gentile Ninevites. A Jew, under any circumstances needed an extraordinary providence to make him a missionary to the Gentiles.

Is this a legitimately intended biblico-theological observation? We have to first consider the explicit typology employed by our Lord in Matthew 12. There we read, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus likened His death and resurrection to the typical death and resurrection of Jonah. In a typological manner Jonah died, was buried and raised back to life again. After he was spit out of the fish he went to the Gentiles. Jesus died, was buried and rose again. After He was spit out of the tomb He went to the Gentiles. Like Jonah, Saul of Tarsus died (spiritually), was buried and raised up a new creation. This was on account of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. After he was raise to life with Christ he went to the Gentiles.

It would certainly appear that the three days of darkness for Saul was prefigured by the three days of Jonah in the darkness of the fish’s belly–reminiscent of the three days of suffering for Christ in the heart of the earth. Darkness was the second most severe plague that Egypt experienced, and it was a covenant curse promised to Israel if they broke the covenant stipulations. The curse and plague of thick darkness fell on Christ as “He was made a curse for us..” on the cross. Saul would have known the implications of the darkness sent on Egypt and threatened to Israel. He would have known that they were a small taste of the outer darkness of Sheol. Jesus had taught that hell was “outer darkness.” The blindness of Saul was a picture of the judgment that all men deserve, but, because the Savior experienced that judgment in His place at Calvary, it became the necessary step to life with Christ. Saul of Tarsus died with Christ, was buried with Him, and rose again to newness of life with his Savior. After the scales fell off his eyes, Saul went and immediately preached Christ in the synagogues of Damascus.

Editorial note: It may be moving into the realm of the allegorical and speculative, but it may be that the reference to “something like fish’s scales” falling from Saul’s eyes is linked to the fact that Jonah was in the belly of a fish. The great question that is yet to be answered is, “Why does Luke tell us that ‘something like scales fell from his eyes?'”

5 Responses

  1. Matt Holst


    Interesting observations … but I’m not sure they are anything more than that – though they may be. Certainly you are pulling out some interesting parallels – commonalities between the two (three if you include Christ. But a commonality does not make a type!

    My question would be, if your are in a position to answer it, is the “so what?” question. I’m open to instruction on this – that’s the point of a type – there is an end to the type or a purpose. Even if it’s not a type and simply a commonality or parallel, then what are we to take from it? What is it’s purpose? What does it teach me?

    This is not a test or even a disagreement, as you know from previous BT discussions, more wanting to know “where you are going with this?”



  2. Nick,
    Interesting. I’m not sure there’s an intentional commonality with respect to the details (except for Jesus’ didactic use of the Jonah narrative), but I’d say that the theme of death to produce life is certainly intentional and persistent throughout scripture. That’s actually how I’d answer the “what’s the point” question as well: we’re often called to let go of what we have to take the thing God has next. Grace sometimes looks and feels like death in terms of our habits and desires. Of course there’s the very obvious death to ourselves/resurrection in Christ idea. Basically I think this is a biblical metanarrative if nothing else, something God intends for us to understand and explore. It’s a strong enough idea to make me want to sit down and draw it out more.


  3. Matt,

    I think that there is an intentional parallel and that the continuity of the work of Christ in conversion and commission in both the Old and New Covenant is shown in the theological observation. An act of Christ in the Historia Salutis is useful to build our faith in Him. Jonah’s experience and Saul’s experience draw attention to the foundation of Christ’s work in subduing His people to Himself. Where would you go with the explicit type of Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the fish?

  4. Penny McGraw

    I am looking to see if anyone knows the significiance of 3 days. Wether in death, or the darkness of being blind (like Paul) or being in the dark belly of a whale.

    1. Penny, I do think there may be an identification with the three days of our Lord’s sufferings–both with Jonah (typologically, as taught by Jesus in Matthew 12) and proleptically in the apostle Paul (by virtue of his apostolic union with Christ).

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