Jonah 1:17, 2:10 ESV - And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. ... And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Could a man survive being in the belly of a "great fish" for 3 days?

Related: Being swallowed whole--what actually kills you?

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    Can you show any evidence that people believe this literally? We don't allow asking e.g. about Santa Claus, and this seems a children fable on par with that.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 19:52
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    @Sklivvz Not notable? I disagree. A third of this country believes in a literal bible
    – LCIII
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:05
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    @LCIII but don't you think most people who believe Jonah was in the fish for 3 day consider it a miracle that he survived, not an experimentally reproducible event?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:21
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    This question, as worded, is a strawman. The full claim would be 'Could a man survive in the belly of a fish after a direct intervention of a miracle-producing, omnipotent, supernatural god?' Any empirical evidence would not be addressing the question, making it clearly off-topic here.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:43
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    @Oddthinking not according to the journal article ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/jhs/article/view/11260/…, which says some people consider the survival a non-miracle, historic event, and also not if the question is applied to James Bartley en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Bartley
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


No, this is not naturally possible. All "fish" fill their mouths and stomachs with water. A person in said mouth or stomach would therefore drown very quickly regardless of what animal they were inside of. Furthermore, only sperm whales are physically capable of swallowing a human. The sperm whale's stomach could not hold enough air for a resting man to survive three days even if it were full of air. (A person would need somewhere around 6,000–36,000 liters of air to survive. Sperm whales' first stomach can hold 300 liters. Assuming that their four stomachs are at least close to each other in size, which is reasonable from my research, that's not going to be enough.) And again, sperm whales do not swallow air to begin with.

The Bible does not claim that this is some run-of-the-mill activity that must be explained by naturalistic means however, so this a rather pointless inquiry to begin with. Even when this question was asked on Christianity.SE, they gave the same answer. The book of Jonah has other miracles in it, such as the storm stopping when Jonah is thrown off or Jonah then being vomited up where he was told to go after he repented, and the Bible as a whole obviously recounts many other miracles being done. Taking the Bible literally does not mean that it must be explained naturalistically. With the help of the God of the Bible, this would obviously be possible as He is omnipotent. Without Him however, its obviously not.

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    what if the whale breaths during the 3 days and new oxygen enters the whale?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 19:53
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    @DavePhD Unlike most mammals, whales' respiratory systems are completely disconnected from their digestive systems, i.e. they use a blowhole. If you're asking about what if it repeatedly surfaced, burped, and swallowed a bunch of new air, then it might be possible? Jonah would still have to be worried about being crushed in the first stomach or digested in the successive ones though, and again I reiterate that whales don't naturally swallow air, let alone refresh it hourly. To make a whale do so would require a miracle, the same as just making Jonah invulnerable, so I don't see why it matters. Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 20:29
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    @Kris Certain sharks could I suppose, but those would be even less survivable. I doubt any other fish could by the modern definition of them, but who's to say what was considered a "fish" 2800 years ago in that culture? Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 5:48
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    @kris the current classification “fish” is just a few hundred years old, at most. In the past it was used to include any similar water creature, such as a whale. Also the classification of stomach/belly could mean any internal place. So we would have to explore all of these possibilities. Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 18:15
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    I've also heard that Jonah actually didn't survive in the whale those 3 days: He died. and the text actually describes the underworld of Sheol, the realm of the dead. Thus, when Jonah is vomitted back up the beach and wakes, he's been brought back to life. This is a prefigurement of the resurrection (although it is different than Christ's). Thus this makes much more sense out of Jesus statement in the New testament when he states "No sign will be given to this generation except the sign of Jonah". Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 16:11

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