Philosophy of History and Hermeneutics

This study contains many of the ideas discussed in two of my recent/forthcoming publications: Early Christianityand Historical Methods: Repudiating the Contemporary Approach and Philosophy of Qohelet:A Critical Analysis of Existentialism. Both publications contain components relevant to the philosophy of history, i.e., the procedures and theories used to understand humanity’s past. The methods in this study provide a systematic approach necessary for proper interpretation.

PDF Link:


Historical methods used by historians consists of analyzing and constructing fragments of the past while considering cultural influence and norms on the chosen civilization under review. Once the fragmented sources are analyzed the sources found to be the most reliable (typically compared with outside sources) will be deliberated in consideration of cultural traditions. A narrative is then developed filling in gaps based on the aggregated historical evidence to produce an interpretation of the past. Essentially, historians tell us their interpretation of the past based on surviving fragments and cultural traditions which are used to construct a narrative of what most likely happened. It is important to note the limits of recording and reconstruction the past; even the recording of Scripture does not escape the human element. Carl Becker described the practice of history in the following statement: “One of the first duties of man is not to be duped, to be aware of his world; and to derive the significance of human experience from the events that never occurred is surely an enterprise of doubtful value. To establish the facts is always in order, and is indeed the first order of the historian; but to suppose that the facts, once established in all their fullness, ‘will speak for themselves’ is an illusion.”[1]  Moreover, there exists a multitude of various interpretations of the past. Occasionally, these interpretations contain slight differences and at other times they are dramatically different. Hence, a vigorous debate among scholars is unavoidable, and some claim necessary for the discipline of history.[2]    

Unlike the historical-critical method, studying Scripture in its proper context requires a hermeneutical approach. In addition to translating the biblical languages to English, the scholar must consider the historical-cultural aspects embedded within the literature.[3] Responsible hermeneutics includes understand the relationship between a society’s recorded history—their literature and its original meaning. This can be accomplished by considering six vital skills: Historical-cultural awareness, canonical consciousness, sensitivity to genre, literary and linguistic competence, biblical theology, and applications for every biblical genre pertaining to life.[4]

Historical-cultural awareness

 “Some nations have prophecy, some have not: but of all mankind, there is no tribe so rude that it has not attempted History.”[5] Modern approaches to history is distinct from the ancient Near Eastern view. Typically, modern historians reflect on the past and attempt to extract meaning as it passes in a linear fashion from the past to present to future.[6] In contrast, the ancient Near Eastern viewed history as cyclical. The ancients understood the past different than modern historians, evident in their writings. They had a mythical view of space and time. They believed there was an eternal reoccurring cycles of events in history. The ancients were void of any idea of progress for humanity in this eternal wheel of fate. They told their history through mythical stories, that should not be confused with fables. Fables were the work of fantasies that no one was expected to believe. Unlike fables, ancient myths had a semblance of true history. Often these stories were regarded as divine or sacred and had relevant applications for their societies. Debates have emerged on whether these ancient stories, told by their authors, were meant to be understood as allegorical or factual. This, however, is a strictly modern view of ancient narratives. The ancients did not view the world the same as from a modern’s perspective. Moderns attempt to understand the world through observation and rational thought. The world, from a modern’s perspective, is detached and can be objectively scrutinized. Unlike the modern’s perspective, the ancients did not view the world as distinct or separate from themselves. Their world was animated—alive, willful, calculated. For the ancients, floods, plagues, and various other naturally occurring phenomenon were understood as the results of actions taken by this animated world surrounding them. Interpreting nature this way resulted in directly experiencing it. Thus, being part of the animated world connected them to an intellectual mediation for epistemological developments, i.e., processes for knowing. The debate over whether the ancients believed their myths to be true is derived from an inaccurate perspective.[7] Historian M.C. Lemon argued that “they lived their daily lives within a mythical consciousness in the first place.”[8] Perhaps it should be understood that mythical stories from the ancients are more practical than factual—they succeeded in making sense of their experiences. Whether or not all elements of their stories are true is beside the point. For example, in the future our present way of knowing may be superseded by a development that is unfathomable to our current thought process.[9] Whatever false mentalities are held in the current age regarding our understanding of the world, they should not be condemned from the advantage point of future generations. For the same reason we cannot discredit the value of the ancient’s understanding of their world. The ancients falsely believed that the sun orbited the earth but were still able to make accurate calculations regarding seasonal and celestial events (summer/winter solstice, eclipses)

The notion of causation, i.e., the operation of impersonal laws governing events were absent in the ancient’s view. They made no real attempt to understand events. Mainly, because it was irrelevant to them. Often, they would credit the gods for various underlining factors that occurred in their animated world. Moreover, there was no concept of humanity’s progress. Thus, time, for the ancients, would go around in this vast historical cycle void of meaning.[10] There was a cycle of regularities—daily, monthly, yearly events that would all return to the point where they began. Flood, draught, and famine were inevitably repetitive. They concluded that if nature went in circles, so did humanity’s history.[11] Nothing of real value could be expected from the physical world, so they looked to the afterlife as something of value to be cherished.[12] Around 500 B.C. there is a shift in mentality expressed by Hellenistic culture.[13] Many retained the circular understanding of time. However, there was a shift from the mythical understanding to the philosophical.[14]

The Christian religion has strong connections to the writings and prophecies of the Old Testament. The authors of the Old Testament viewed their world in much the same way as other Near Eastern ancient cultures. Moreover, scholars have noted the parallels between the mythical stories of the Near East and those of the Old Testament. Some scholars claim that the Hebrews took the stories from their ancient Near Eastern predecessors and “sanitized” them by removing mythical elements related to magic and polytheistic deities. A polemical theory was developed by Christian scholars which is used to counter pagan myths. For example, the Canaanite storm-god Baal is depicted, in Ugaritic literature, as “riding on the clouds.” Ugaritic literature pre-dates Hebrew writings.[15] The book of Isaiah, therefore, is criticizing Baalism when Yahweh is depicted as riding on a cloud. “Baal does not ride on clouds; Yahweh does!”[16] Ancient Hebrew writings, however, reveal a distinctive thought process pertaining to human origins and the passing of time. While many of these parallels could not have happened by mere chance, there are some important dissimilarities. For example: all societies of the Near East were polytheist, except Hebrew; the gods of Near Eastern culture had limits, i.e., they were not omnipotent; the Hebrew’s God is depicted as transcendent—he is not part of his creation, but he rules it; and most importantly, humanity was created in God’s image, the exact opposite of ancient Near Eastern deities.[17] It was the Hebrew’s mentality regarding the origins of the cosmos and Yahweh’s purposely driven agenda, through his mediation with Abraham, that laid the foundations for a linear view of history held by the Christians. This section, historical-cultural, over laps with other sections regarding the six vital interpretive skills. Whether or not the ancients recognized it, “God’s history is a providentially ordered whole in that different books from different time periods work together to reveal God working sovereignly to bring about his purpose in history.”[18] Köstenberger and Patterson, authors of Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, demonstrated this in their section on “The Old Testament Canon.” Furthermore, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provided humanity with a linear understanding of history. For example, contained in the Christian message was the revelation that human history had a beginning exemplified in the writings of the Old Testament. The promise of Christ’s second coming, in the New Testament, signifies there will be an end to human history. Most importantly, being aware of the historical-culture of a civilization (in this case—the way the ancient Near Eastern civilizations understood and made sense of their world) is vital for correctly interpreting and understanding the meaning of their literature.

Canonical Consciousness

In an effort to stabilize the contents of the Old Testament, an official list of authoritative books—the canon was a gradual process with no explicit account of the process. There are, however, several criteria that appear to have informed it. Two primary factors for a book to be deemed canon were, language and antiquity.  Many of the books consider as Scripture, for example, had been written in Greek or originally in Hebrew. The other requirement for a book to have been considered as Scripture, is that it should have been composed no later than the mid-fifth century BC. This was during the time of Ezra—the last person thought to have been inspired by God.[19] In early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, Ezra and Nehemiah consisted of a single book, but later Christian tradition separated them forming two books.[20] Nevertheless, canonical interpretation considers the history of textual formation which testifies to God and His plan for humanity revealed in Scripture. This means, according to Köstenberger and Patterson, the interpreter places emphasis on “the history of the text, its theological purpose, its distinctive theological themes, and so on,”[21] while acknowledging that these features bind the books together. Moreover, as a whole, for the interpreter, the text should read as a theological document more than a historical document (although, many historical accounts have been verified). The reading of the Old Testament should be theocentric, recognizing it as God’s revelation.[22] The Old Testament and the New Testament relationship begins to materialize when the reader is aware of the theological theme connecting the two, i.e., God’s plan for humanity’s redemption through Christ.

In the Old Testament it is clear that the story of redemption—the promise of a new covenant had been left unfinished. God’s promise to save Israel and the world by crushing the serpent had yet to materialize. The New Testament claims that the promise of a kingdom, revealed in the Old Testament, was fulfilled through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.[23] The following is a brief example of the importance of canonical consciousness when interpreting and communicating the theological relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

According to Isaiah, salvation hinged on the promise of a new David. The promise of a new David relates to the covenant with King David.[24] This new David would come from a descendant of King David. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isa.11:1). Isaiah proclaimed that the one who is coming will establish peace and reign from the throne of David (Isa. 9:6-7). The books of Matthew and Luke record the genealogy of Jesus. There is a minor discrepancy between them regarding who Joseph’s father was, but the point is made clear regarding the genealogy of Jesus; he was a descendant from David. Although, the lineage is traced through Joseph, who was Jesus’ earthly father. “…Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt.1:5-6, 16). Here we have a theological connection between the book of Isaiah and the way the New Testament portrayed Jesus. Clearly, the decision to include the genealogy of Jesus, which portrayed him as the offspring of David, was influenced by Old Testament prophesy.

Isaiah describes the new David as, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Making it evident he is more than simply a descendant of David. The first part of the sentence in Isaiah 9:6 proclaimed “For us a child is born…” However, the coming of such a king was not fulfilled in Isaiah’s time. In Isaiah 7, there is an interesting passage: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Once again, the theological theme of Isaiah is seen in two of the synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke. “She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). In the next verse the author acknowledged that this was to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Likewise, the same references are found in Luke. An angel was sent by God to inform Mary, “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David,” that God had found favor with her and she would become pregnant (Luke 1:26-27). In this comparison, Jesus was portrayed by the New Testament, which was prophesied by the book of Isaiah, as not only having a miraculous conception, but as a divine being from birth.

The description provided inIsaiah 9:6 regarding the coming of the new David is describing a deity. The author assigned the title “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” in the passage to describe the new David. Although, the prophet does not state it explicitly, Christians who have a canonical and theological awareness, will compare the passages in Isaiah with those of John, who clearly viewed Jesus as God. Isaiah 53:1 is referenced in John 12:38. Furthermore, other passages in John disclose that Jesus and God are one and the same. For example, when the Pharisees challenged his authority, Jesus stated, “…If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).

An Old Testament passage that appears to have had a major theological connection with the New Testament is also found in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah 53 seems to be one of the best sources that can be compared with how the New Testament portrayed Jesus theologically. Beginning with verse nine in Isaiah 53: “They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord will shall prosper” (Isa 53:9-10). This prophecy is evident throughout the New Testament by the way Jesus lived—without sin—innocent. Yet, it was God’s will for him to be the offering in place of the guilty, according to biblical theology. Moreover, Jesus was crucified with “the wicked,” assigned a grave with them, but was buried with the rich—supplied by Joseph of Arimathea; clearly fulfilling the first half of the prophesy in verse nine.

There are passages in the same chapter of Isaiah that have theological connections to passages in other parts of the New Testament. For Example, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). This passage may have influenced the passage in John; where one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side (Jn. 19:34). Although, this passage is attributed to Exodus, Numbers, and Psalms, regarding the prophesy “Not one of his bones will be broken” (Jn. 19:36-37). Still, Isaiah clearly influenced John to portray Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb. “…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). The prophecy begins to materialize in the first chapter of John when he proclaims, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (Jn. 1:29). Moreover, many Christians believe that the end of the chapter makes it clear that the suffering servant was Jesus, “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Evident in the Gospel of John, Jesus testifies that God was the one who sent the servant, because He loved the world and those that believed would not be condemned but saved through him, fulfilling God’s plan (Jn. 3:16-17). Viewing the Old and New Testaments as sacred canonized Scripture rather than strictly a historical account of events will assist the reader with a more accurate exegesis. 

Sensitivity to Genre

There are many genres in Biblical literate—prophecy, apocalyptic, narrative, wisdom literature, etc. Each of these genres can be considered “theological history” designed to teach a lesson.[25] Certain characteristics of each genre allow the reader to determine what category a biblical passage belongs. For example, narratives exist in dramatic form, that is, stories. These stories typically present historical accounts of dialogues and speeches that make up the full story.[26] Like the other vital skills for practicing good hermeneutics, being sensitive to the genre allows the reader to understand and interpret the meaning of text more accurately. As previously mentioned, these biblical stories or myths are not the same as fables. Thus, in their own way they can be considered history—this was how the ancients made sense of their world. Archaeology has validated many of the characters, events, and places mentioned in the biblical narratives. Beyond the dramatic and often sensationalized events contained within these narratives there exist an underlying message. Moreover, other than the theological element, this style used to communicate historical narratives was not exclusive to biblical authors. For example, Thucydides took a similar approach when writing his historical narrative of the Peloponnesian War, that is, he had historical actors delivering speeches to reveal their intentions. Modern historians doubt that these speeches ever occurred and even if they did Thucydides would not be able to remember all the details. Nevertheless, an underlying reason emerges from these questionable speeches providing the reader with details and causes of the war.[27] Likewise, in the dramatic narratives of biblical literature there is an underlying message related to the human condition, redemption, and certain attributes of God.

Prophecy and Apocalyptic Genres

Prophecy and apocalyptic genres share some of the same characteristic—symbolic images and language, visionary accounts or dreams, other worldly mediators, etc. Both are “a revelatory means of communication.”[28] A good example is found in the book of Daniel and Revelation. These book deal with both prophecy and apocalyptic genres. In chapter 7, Daniel described his vision and dream. There are four beast that represent four kingdoms, or kings, who rule over the world. They are depicted as beast because of the cruelty and devastation they inflict upon humanity.[29] Likewise, in Revelation chapter 13, a beast is described as being given authority to make war and reign over the earth (Rev. 13:7-8). There is a theological message that emerges in Daniel (chapter 7) and Revelation (chapter 13) which can be summed up in the following: regardless of how chaotic and evil the world becomes; redemption is made available for humanity by God through Jesus Christ. This entails that God is ultimately in control. The foreshadowing of things to come in Revelation disclosed the same theological message, that is, authority is given to evil powers for a limited time, but God will send his Son again for a final judgment.

In the book of Daniel, the vision of the beast is given a complex form in that it is not one beast, but four. In accordance with the interpretation provide for Daniel, some scholars believe that these concepts represent a serious of world stages and four empires of world history. Moreover, the appearance of a smaller horn which uprooted the other horns represents a wickedness that extends beyond its predecessors. The application of this vision served to disclose the destructive nature this beast inflicted upon the earth. Further, it revealed the worst and last tyrant’s fate; he was judged and sentenced by the God.[30] The theological message here in Daniel seems to be revealing a prophecy regarding earthly kingdoms which will wage war and persecute God’s people. However, this will only be allowed for a certain time before the kingdom of God comes to earth and pronounces judgment in favor of the saints. The fourth and final beast, or kingdom, will be destroyed by God, who will then hand authority over to his people. God’s kingdom will last for eternity and all will worship and obey him (Dan. 7:17-26). This prophecy is consistent with events in the Gospels. Jesus is the Son of Man, who came to free his people from the sins of the world. He accomplished this through his death and resurrection. Thus, the serpent and his beastly kingdoms that inflict suffering on humanity was defeated by Christ. Moreover, the saints share in his victory as long as they are united with him.[31] The same theological motif and pattern is found in Revelation.

The beast in Revelation chapter 13, like the beast in Daniel chapter 7, was given power to make war with the saints and both visions depict the beast as emerging from the sea (or at least one from sea, the other from the earth, in Revelation). For Christians, the prophecy from Daniel materialized in the New Testament. Specifically, in the Gospels regarding Christ’s atonement. However, John’s prophecy was much later, positioned at the end of the Bible, and perhaps written A.D. 81-96.[32] There are many theories as to who or what the beast was in the book of Revelation. For Hippolytus, it was the Roman Empire, others believed it was Nero or Domitian. In the sixteenth-century, Luther believed the sea-beast described in Revelation to be the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, and the papacy to be the earth-beast.[33] It seems that every age has its beasts. However, there does seem to be a consensus regarding the attributes of this evil, that is, it appears to be a worldly power and possibly a false prophet, or a combination of such, manifested in the symbolic image of the beast from the sea and the one that came out of the earth. Precisely whoever or whatever they are, clearly, their authority was given to them by God. The author strongly emphasized this as it was mentioned no less than four times in Revelation chapter 13.[34] Hence, God has ultimate authority even in chaotic times described here by John.

Modern interpretations of the sea beast seem to think it is the general influence of the world—the influencer of this world who opposes God, i.e., Satan. The earth beast, according to some modern theories, symbolizes the false religions and philosophies of the world.[35] Nonetheless, those who side with the two beasts will be destroyed by Christ in the end.

Parallels in Scripture Related to Genre

In the book of Romans, we learn that God has established authorities and governments on earth. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1). Here we have a passage in Scripture that parallels, in regards to meaning, with the passages in Revelation. “He [the sea-beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:7). In the same two parallel passages there also exists a pattern. As previously stated, the author of Revelation mentions four times that the authority and power of the beasts comes from God. The same repetitiveness is seen in Romans 13 regarding the source of authority on earth. In the book of Isaiah, a description of the Lord’s entrance onto earth is provided. “See the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt…” (Isa. 19:1). Likewise, in the book of Daniel, Daniel describes the image that resembled “the son of man” entering with the clouds. “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan 7:13). Further, in Revelation, it was Jesus whose second coming via the clouds, that is anticipated. In Daniel, the reign of God will be, and was, establish through the “son of man.”[36] The same prophecy and apocalyptic theme occurs within the narrative of Revelation—it is Christ who will establish his kingdom on earth in the final days. 

Literary and Linguistics

Part of the history and culture included among various genres within ancient literary texts (Scripture) is language. God revealed himself in the original languages (Greek and Hebrew) of the Old and New Testaments.[37] The following is a personal example of a word study fallacy: The word-study fallacy comes from 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproofing, for correcting, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16). The individual responsible for the word-fallacy attempted to convince his audience that the Greek word γραφή which translates to “writings/scripture” in English, applied to all writings. Thus, he forms a narrative claiming that “all writings are God-Breathed.” It appears his purpose was to include sacred writings outside Christian Scripture. He argued, based on this word γραφή that Hindi scripture can even be included, because all writing is inspired by God. His over-all narrative appeared to be arguing for some type of plurality or open theism in Christianity. Moreover, he relied on other Scholars to translate the Greek word because he had no training in Greek.

It may be true that the word used in this passage (γραφή) can be translated as “writing” in English. However, as many biblical language scholars have argued, “the study of the words alone will not present us with a consistent interpretation or theology.”[38] If the passage is put into context, the reader will clearly understand the way in which the word is used in this passage. It is no doubt referencing the Old Testament exclusively. For example, the preceding verse states “…and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3:15). τά ίερά γράμματα or “sacred scriptures” signifies that the author is exclusively referring to the Old Testament. This word-fallacy falls under D.A. Carson’s title “Appeal to Unknown or Unlikely Meanings,” in Exegetical Fallacies (nearly identical to Köstenberger and Patterson’s title in Fallacy #3).[39] Carson warns against poor research, depending on others, and meanings that do not fit the context.[40] In this case, the person committing the word-fallacy had strong motives to make his interpretation work. Semantics are also important for proper exegesis. For example, the verb mood indicates the author’s portrayal or representation of certainty.[41] For example, you “have known” the sacred writings that are able to instruct you. The only sacred writings that Timothy knew were from the Old Testament. Thus, the Greek word γραφή in this context applies exclusive to the Old Testament writings, not all writings.

Biblical Theology

Some scholars worry that the biblical texts are being studied as strictly a historical document absent of revelation or theology. Biblical interpretation must be grounded in history and cultural aspects related to language, for example. However, the recoded historical contents within the text should not be approached as merely a human phenomenon.[42] The divinely inspired revelation that produces a biblical theology is a critical part of the hermeneutical process and it should take precedence over the historicity. Köstenberger and Patterson argued for a similar position: “thus, we have argued that history, language, and theology from a hermeneutical triad with theology at the apex.”[43] The following section will demonstrate how to consider the history, culture, and genre of Scripture while keeping theology at the apex. It will also cover the final part of vital skills for interpretive and communication competencies within hermeneutics.

Application and Summation of Biblical Theology

For this section a historiography of the theological messages extracted from various views on the book of Jonah will be analyzed. Major theological themes will be considered and approached from the perspective of biblical theology. The theological themes will be considered from a biblical worldview, rather than strictly historical. However, other perspectives will be reviewed within the historiography. The unadulterated meaning of Scripture, as intended by the Bible’s author—God, will be extracted from our vantage point in history to disclose a forward-looking theological message found in the Old Testament that related to the New Testament.

The biblical theology evident in the book of Jonah reveals the compassion God extended to other nations. This is a foreshadow of what is to come in the New Testament through Christ on a larger scale. Before understand the theological message in the book of Jonah, it may be judicious to review the prophet’s prophecy. After being thrown over-board during the storm by the sailors, attempting to save their own lives, swallowed by a huge fish, and vomited up, Jonah makes his way to the great city of Nineveh. According to the text, on the first day Jonah arrived in the city he proclaimed that, “Forty more days and the city will be overturned” (Jon 3:4). Jonah does not call for the inhabitants to repent nor does there appear to be any condition, just that the city will be overturned. However, the king set a decreed and everyone including the cattle must repent, and they do. God shows compassion, accepts their repentance, and the city is not destroyed. Some view this as a failed prophecy. Robert J. Miller is one who takes this position. Miller is the Rosenberger Chair of Christian and Religious Studies at Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Miller argued that because Nineveh was not destroyed after forty days, Jonah, was technically a false prophet, according to the criteria in Deuteronomy 18:22. Further, even if the message that God entrusted to Jonah was meant as a warning, Jonah would still be a false prophet because the message he actually delivered was not a message of warning.[44]  Early Christians (St. Augustine, Athanasius, and St. Thomas Aquinas) attempted to show that Jonah’s message was not contradictory regarding the events. They used hermeneutics to argue there was a double meaning in the Hebrew verb, “overturn,” “return,” or “be converted”. Hence, the prophecy which Jonah prophesied did come true, the city was converted. However, this manipulation of the linguistics does not change the clear fact that God did not send his prophet to the city to warn them of their coming conversion, but to threaten them.[45]

To understand a theological theme regarding the prophecy, which was minimal, “Forty more days and the city will be overturned,” the deconstruction of the ancient literature must be avoided and focus be on the prophet himself. Most of the book consists of the trials and tribulations that Jonah experienced because of his refusal to obey God and deliver the message to Nineveh.[46] The reader does not need to apply exegesis, hermeneutics, or any other linguistic applications to recognize the clear theological theme—it is a story of redemption found throughout the Old Testament. Man disobeys God (Jonah refused to deliver message to Nineveh), he suffers the consequences (gets caught in a violent storm is thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish), repents and returns to the right path (cries out to God from the belly of the fish, is spit out on land and goes to Nineveh to deliver message from God.) Jonah makes this know though his own words to God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jon 4:2). God proved this by extending grace to the city when He saw they were remorseful; an entire city was redeemed by God’s extended grace.


Many scholars note the book of Jonah for its inclusion other nations outside the Israelites. While Christians look to integrate it with theological facets in the New Testament, others view it as legend, myth, or as a parable that conveys an artistic expression of the human experience.[47] It all depends on the readers presuppositions likely developed though their religious affiliations. For example, while the Christians view Jonah as having had a limited nationalistic view regarding God and His providence over the Israel nation alone, the Midrash contributes Jonah’s reluctance to deliver the message to his concern of becoming a false prophet. Jonah knows the city will repent and be spared, resulting in a false prophecy.[48] Nevertheless, if the cause of Jonah’s disobedience is bracketed, and attention is focused on the predominate narrative, a clear theological message emerges from the text. The theological message is evident regardless of presuppositions or religious affiliation; God has extended His grace to other nations outside of Israel.

David Randall Scott is a scholar associated with the Church of Christ latter-day Saints. In his article, “The Book of Jonah: Foreshadowings of Jesus as the Christ,” published in BYU Studies Quarterly, Scott argued there are many parallels between Jonah and Jesus. He begins with the name Jonah, which in Hebrew means dove. The dove is a symbol of peace and was used to signal the end of the Flood for Noah. It was also used as a sacrifice at the temple, and represented the Holy Spirit when it descended on Jesus after his baptism. According to Scott, all of these images point to Jesus’ attributes, sacrifice, and divinity. Furthermore, Scott notes that Latter-day Saints view all prophets as a type of Christ.[49] It should be obvious, but the next section will disclose that Jonah was no Christ.

Connecting Genres of Old and New Testaments

Two separate incidents are found in the book of Jonah that disclose non-Israelites attempting to interact with the Hebrew God. The first interaction is evident among the sailors aboard the ship during the storm. In their fear and desperation, they cry out to God asking Him to spare their lives before throwing Jonah overboard. This demonstrates the sailors’ conviction that Jonah’s God was the true God, ultimate creator and judge.[50] The second interaction is when Ninevites believed the message Jonah proclaimed was from God. Thus, they turned from their wickedness hoping that God would spare them. Indeed, after God saw what they did He had compassion and did not destroy the city.[51] Are these events in the book of Jonah foreshadowings of God’s intentions to come regarding the inclusion of gentiles into His new covenant proclaimed in the New Testament? To answer this question first we will revisit the passage in Matthew where Jesus makes a reference to Jonah.

The sign of the prophet Jonah, that Jesus mentions in Matthew 12:39 is the only sign this generation will receive. This is an analogy, a sign, made clear by Jesus’ own words. The authors of “The Interpretation of Matthew 12:39,” argue that Jonah and Jesus both preach a message of repentance to the people of their time.[52] This is not exactly correct. Jonah proclaimed a message from God to the Ninevites, just as Jesus proclaimed a message from God to the people of his time; but Jesus’ makes it clear what is now here is greater than Jonah. Further, Jonah did not preach repentance to the city of Nineveh, he simply proclaimed the city would be overturned in forty days. The king and residence of the city took it upon themselves to repent. It is absurd to connect Jonah with the redemptive story of humanity made possible by Jesus. Jonah was clearly no messiah; he was a messenger who first needed to be redeemed himself.

The book of Jonah is a remarkable story that reveals a conversion and preservation of an entire city made possible by the extension of God’s grace. Debates among scholars continue regarding whether or not the story represents recorded history. Some scholars date the book between 450 and 300 BC based on language, style and theology. This timeframe is out of range of the prophet’s life, as understood in 2 Kings 14:25 during the reign of King Jeroboam, around 788 BC.[53] Nevertheless, the theological message contained in the book is more important than quarrelling over dates and the historicity of the story. Clearly, the sign of Jonah was a reflection of what was to come, i.e., the Son of Man being in the tomb and resurrected on the third day as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days, nothing more (Jonah himself lacked redeeming power). The theological theme in both cases was the extension of God’s compassion and grace to other nations. Moreover, the vessel responsible for the action in the Old Testament (Jonah) was not the same as the one in the New Testament (Jesus Christ). God sent the prophet Jonah, who was at first stubborn and disobedient, to a people other than the Israelites to deliver a message that resulted in their redemption—God spared the city because of their remorseful actions. God sent His Son, Jesus, who’s willfulness was agreeable with God’s, to atone for the world’s sins, that it might be saved through him. Regardless of the reader’s presuppositions or religious affiliation, it is difficult to deny the fact that God, in the book of Jonah, reached out to a nation outside His chosen people. From the perspective of biblical theology, the book of Jonah does reflect the future sentiments of God regarding His extended grace to other nations. Indeed, this theological message in the book of Jonah is a prelude or foreshadowing of the events in the New Testament—it materialized through the atonement of Christ extending salvation to people of all nations.


Barnes, Lemuel C. et al., “The Interpretation of Matthew 12:39, 40: A Symposium,” The Biblical World 5, no. 6 (June 1895): 420,

Barrick, William D. 2008. “Exegetical Fallacies: Common Interpretive Mistakes Every Student Must Avoid.” Master’s Seminary Journal 19 (April): 15–27.

Beasley-Murray, G. R. “The Interpretation of Daniel 7.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45, no. 1 (1983): 44-58.

Becker, Carl. “Everyman His Own History.” in The Modern Historiography Reader Western Sources, ed. Adam Budd. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.

Breisach, Ernst. Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern 3rd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Brundage, Anthony. Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing 5th edition. Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2013.

Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies 2nd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996.

Coogan, Michael. The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Currid, John D. Against the Gods. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Editorial, J. L. G. “The Dialectic of Romans 13:1-7 and Revelation 13: Part Two.” Journal of Church and State 19, no. 1 (1977): 5-20.

Elata-Alster, Gerda, and Rachel Salmon. “The Deconstruction of Genre in the Book of Jonah: Towards a Theological Discourse. Literature and Theology 3, no. 1 (March 1989):

Eskenazi, Tamara C. “Ezra: Name and Location in Canon,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocrypha, ed. Michael D. Coogan. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Faj, Attila. “The Stoic Features of the Book of Jonah.” A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 12, no. 2 (December 1978): 35-36,

Gilderhus, Mark T. History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction, 7th edition. UpperSaddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2010.

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Richard D. Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011.

Lemon, M.C. Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.

Miller, Robert J. “Prophecy and Prediction in Ancient Israel.” in Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy.Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2016.

Pelli, Moshe. “The Literary Art of Jonah,” Hebrew Studies 20, no. 21 (1979-1980): 18,

Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Scott, David R. “The Book of Jonah: Foreshadowings of Jesus as the Christ.” BYU StudiesQuarterly 53, no. 3 (2014):161-162,

Timmer, Daniel. “Jonah’s Theology of the Nations: The Interface of Religious and Ethnic Identity.” Revue Biblique 120, no. 1 (2013): 20,

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Zakovitch, Yair. “Jonah: Authorship and Date,” edited by Michael Coogan in The New Oxford

 Annotated Bible: New Standard Revised Version with Apocrypha. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.


[1] Carl Becker, “Everyman His Own History,” in The Modern Historiography Reader Western Sources, ed.Adam Budd (New York, NY: Routledge, 2010), 26.

[2] Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, 5th edition (Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons Ltd, 2013), 3.

[3] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011), 94.

[4] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation,78-79.

[5] Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern 3rd edition (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1.

[6] Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, 3.

[7] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students (New York, NY: Routledge, 2003),16-17.

[8] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 17.

[9] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 19.

[10] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 22.

[11] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 32.

[12] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 24.

[13] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 29 para 3.

[14] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History, 29 para 3.

[15] John D. Currid, Against the Gods (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 28

[16] John D. Currid, Against the Gods, 28 para 2.

[17] John D. Currid, Against the Gods, 40 para 3.

[18] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 161.

[19] Michael Coogan, The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 7-8.

[20] Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, “Ezra: Name and Location in Canon,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: With the Apocrypha, ed. Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 675.

[21] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 159.

[22] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 157-158.

[23] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 428. 

[24] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, 334.

[25] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 242.

[26] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 237-239.

[27] Mark T. Gilderhus, History and Historians: A Historiographical Introduction, 7th edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2010), 17.

[28] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 319, 520.

[29] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 392.

[30] G.R. Beasley-Murray, “The Interpretation of Daniel 7,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45, no. 1 (January, 1983), 45,

[31] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 393.

[32] J.L.G., “The Dialectic of Romans 13:1-7 and Revelation 13: Part Two,” Journal of Church and State 19, no. 1 (Winter, 1977): 5,

[33] J.L.G., “The Dialectic of Romans 13:1-7 and Revelation 13: Part Two,” 6-8.

[34] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 620.

[35] J.L.G., “The Dialectic of Romans 13:1-7 and Revelation 13, 18-19.

[36] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 620.

[37] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 623.

[38] William D. Barrick, “Exegetical Fallacies: Common Interpretive Mistakes Every Student Must Avoid,” in Master’s Seminary Journal (Spring 2008), 20.

[39] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 635.

[40] D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 37-38.

[41] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 445, 449.

[42] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 700-701.

[43] Andreas J.  Köstenberger, and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 701.

[44] Robert J. Miller, “Prophecy and Prediction in Ancient Israel,” in Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2016), 24,

[45]  Attila Faj, “The Stoic Features of the Book of Jonah,” A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 12, no. 2 (December 1978): 35-36,

[46] Gerda Elata-Alster and Rachel Salmon, “The Deconstruction of Genre in the Book of Jonah: Towards a Theological Discourse, Literature and Theology 3, no. 1 (March 1989): 41,

[47] Moshe Pelli, “The Literary Art of Jonah,” Hebrew Studies 20, no. 21 (1979-1980): 18,

[48] Moshe Pelli, “The Literary Art of Jonah,” 22.

[49] David Randall Scott, “The Book of Jonah: Foreshadowings of Jesus as the Christ,” BYU Studies Quarterly 53, no. 3 (2014):161-162,

[50] Daniel Timmer, “Jonah’s Theology of the Nations: The Interface of Religious and Ethnic Identity,” Revue Biblique 120, no. 1 (2013): 20,

[51]  Daniel Timmer, “Jonah’s Theology of the Nations: The Interface of Religious and Ethnic Identity,” 17.

[52] Lemuel C. Barnes et al., “The Interpretation of Matthew 12:39, 40: A Symposium,” The Biblical World 5, no. 6 (June 1895): 420,

[53] Yair Zakovitch, “Jonah: Authorship and Date,” edited by Michael Coogan in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Standard Revised Version with Apocrypha (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 1319.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s