Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Can of Worms

The Sign of Jonah is a can of worms in view of the complexity of problems it raises. The central problem is the lack of agreement between Matthew and Luke in their respective explanations of the meaning of the Sign of Jonah. Luke 11:30 reads: “For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin'eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation.”

In its parallel passage (12:40), Matthew records: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew has utilized a quotation from Jonah 1:17 LXX.

There are many reasons why it can be asserted that the Sign of Jonah is a can of worms. For me, it illustrates the problems with the various solutions to the Synoptic Problem, none of which recognizes that neither Matthew nor Mark understood the original meaning of the enigmatic Sign of Jonah.

The two different explanations for the Sign of Jonah has presented a host of problems, including which of the two explanations is the original. Most scholars suggest that Matthew and Luke are talking riddles because the expression was enigmatic to both of them and omitted by Mark for the same reason. It was not a riddle to Luke as can be easily demonstrated.

The Jonah story is about the capability of God to complete his plan. Jonah and Jesus are both great preachers who are vindicated. The people of Ninevah repented; the people of Israel should follow their example. The Lucan Jesus is repeating this message and has emphasized it with his numerous references to repentance, more so than Matthew and Mark, so much so that Luke has been called the gospel of repentance.

The word of God delivered by a prophet caused the people of Ninevah to repent. Only Luke makes it clear that the word of God, proclaimed by Jesus, with its call of repentance with the response that the messaged elicited is the sign. A prophet had come preaching repentance just as Jesus had come preaching repentance to this generation. Both Jonah and Jesus have been vindicated.

However, the Sign of Jonah is not to be based on a reading restricted to the Book of Jonah. It has been noted that at least five of the Minor Prophets have adapted the attribute formulary of Exodus 34. Verses 6-7, which state: “The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation’” has been adapted by Hosea 14:3,5; Joel 2:13-14; Jonah 3:8-4:2; Micah 7:18-20; and Nah. 1:2-3a.

In Jonah, the people of Ninevah are so repentant that even the animals wore sackcloth. Should God spare the repentant people of Ninevah? The prophet Joel said that God who renounces evil reverses his decree for the sake of those who repent. The prophet Jonah said that God who renounces evil is not being true to his word. The author, of the Book of Jonah, suggests that God does as He pleases and we can not understand Him. Yet the reader of Jonah is faced with two absurdities. God must save the hated Ninevites because they repented. The second absurdity is that God must destroy the people of Israel because their demise has been prophesized and they have not repented.

Jonah is also about unexpected reversals. In 2 Kings 14:25-27, God permits the expansion of the borders of Israel “according to the word that his servant Jonah uttered” despite the nation’s persistent sinfulness. In Jonah 3:10, God reverses the evil that Jonah pronounced against Ninevah.

The Sign of Jonah is about repentance and eschatological reversals. Luke understood. Luke refers to the future reversal of social roles in the Magnificat at the beginning of his gospel. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the final part of the unique Lucan triad, the parables having in common the theme of lost and found or recovered. For those who have studied the various implications, it is the story of the ultimate outcast, a person reduced in status to feeding pigs, expressed in the language of economics. Darrell Bock has said the message is that “absolute reversal results from repentance. . . .”

A number of writers have used the word 'irony' in describing the outcome of reversal depicted in the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. Although the parable contrasts the destinies of the rich man and the poor man as part of an on-going theme of eschatological reversal announced in the Magnificat, the inquiry of the rich man while he is suffering in Hades introduces into the analysis the themes of repentance and also resurrection. This suggests that the fate of the rich man is not due to his wealth but due to his lack of repentance (failure/almsgiving) and his lack of belief in the resurrection. Although some have said verses 27-31 represent a later interpolation, the double parable structure is also utilized in the Prodigal Son (15:11-32), Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-15) and the Great Supper (Matt 22:1-14). In double parables, the main point is always found in the second half of the double parable and such is the case here.

Luke by his triple allusion to Psalm 118 and the wordplay between 'son' and 'stone' intends a reversal of traditional Jewish thinking about the identity of the messiah. In this instance, Luke is announcing that a reversal is about to occur. Repetition is used in this instance and with respect to “hanged on a tree” to make the point that the vindication of the stone by the power of God is the reversal of the action of a group identified as “the builders” who rejected it.

Only Luke showed his appreciation that the Sign of Jonah is about repentance and also about eschatological reversals by introducing a pattern of reversal of fortunes, as proclaimed in the Magnificat, as a significant part of the structure of his first book.

Copyrighted 2006


Blogger John Grau said...

The Sign Of Jonah is available to read at:

There appears to be no search engine on the entire internet that is prepared to register this site... so, if you like it please pass it on by word of mouth...

9:52 PM

Blogger John Grau said...

'The Sign Of Jonah' is available to read at:

It appears there is no search engine on the entitre internet that is prepared to register this site... so, if you like it please 'pass it on'...

Have a great day - John Grau

9:54 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the sign of Jonah has to do with the fact that on day five god created the great sea creatures and day six he gave us dominion over everything but.
I beleive that the body of Jesus spent the three days and nights in the grave of the villain and the villains body was taken to the tomb with knowledge that it would more then likely be stolen.
I tried to find out who was responsible for the other two bodies but I have been unable to find out.
just a thought from cheryl

11:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great example of 'The Sign Of Jonah' is presented in the 'Music' document on 'The Sign Of Jonah' web-site...

The 'Music' document can be read at:

Have a great day - John

4:39 PM


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