Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ahmadiyya and the Sign of Jonah

One of the distinctive beliefs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is that they believe Jesus actually was nailed to the cross (rather than some other guy who got mistaken for Him as Sunnis and other mainstream Muslims believe). However, they assert that rather than dying, Jesus came down from the cross alive, and had revived in the tomb after remaining comatose for 3 days. This is commonly referred to within apologetic circles as the Swoon Theory.

Now, Ahmadis have come up with diverse ways of trying to prove this theory. One of these attempts is to make use of the Sign of Jonah, which is recorded in the gospel of Matthew:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
(Matthew 12:38-41)

As the argument goes, if Jonah came out of the great fish alive after three days without actually dying, so too must Jesus have come out of the tomb after three days without actually dying. This argument appears in one of the books written by the founder of the Ahmadiyya founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. In his book, "Jesus in India", he explains the argument this way:

Let it be noted that though Christians believe that Jesus (peace be on him) after his arrest through the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and crucifixion -- and resurrection -- went to heaven, yet, from the Holy Bible, it appears that this belief of theirs is altogether wrong. Matthew (chapter 12, verse 40) says that just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man shall be three days and three nights in the bowels of the earth. Now it is clear that Jonah did not die in the belly of the fish; the utmost that happened was that he was in a swoon or a fit of fainting. The holy books of God bear witness that Jonah, by the grace of God, remained alive in the belly of the fish, and came out alive; and his people ultimately accepted him. If then Jesus (on whom be peace) had died in the belly of the 'fish', what resemblance could there be between a dead man and the one who was alive, and how could a living one be compared with one dead? (link)

The late Mirza Tahir Ahmad, one of Mirza Ghulam ahmad's recent successors, also makes the same argument in "Christianity: A Journey From Facts to Fiction". Here he writes:

So before we determine what happened to Jesus, we must understand what happened to Jonah, because Jesus claimed that the same miracle would be repeated. What was the Sign of Jonah? Did he die in the belly of the fish and was he later on revived from death? There is unanimity among all Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars that Jonah did not die in the belly of the fish. He precariously hung between life and death and was miraculously saved from that situation; while any other person in his place would have died. Yet some subtle laws of nature, under the Divine command, must have conspired together to save him from death. Remember, we are not debating the issue of that being possible or not. We are only pointing out that Jesus, when he pointed out that the like of what happened to Jonah would also happen to him, he could only have meant that what everyone understood to have occurred in the case of Jonah would occur in his case. No one in the entire world of Judaism, whether in the land of Judea or anywhere else the Jews had dispersed and settled, would have received a different message from this claim of Jesus. They all believed that Jonah, miraculously or otherwise, survived for three days and nights in the belly of the fish and did not die in that period for a single moment. Of course we have our own reservations regarding this view. The story of Jonah as told to us in the Quran does not mention anywhere that it was for three days and nights that Jonah suffered his trials in the belly of the fish. However we return to the case in point and try to bring to light the actual similarities which were predicted by Jesus Christ between Jonah and himself. Those similarities spoke clearly of spending three days and nights in extremely precarious circumstances and a miraculous revival from near death, and not of coming back to life from the dead. The same, Jesus claimed, would happen in his case. (link)

In using this passage, however, what Mirza Tahir Ahmad and the rest of the Ahmadis fail to recognize is that by citing this passage in support of the swoon theory, they miss the entire point of why Jesus said these words in the first place. The main point of Jesus’ reference to the sign of Jonah was to show a foreshadowing of events. This is a common literary device throughout the Old Testament, known to biblical scholars and theologians as “Typology”. Furthermore, it is a mistake to assume that every single detail of the story of Jonah coincides with what will happen to Jesus, as the reference is meant to point to parallels. Just to make this point clear, let us look at one of Jesus’ discourses while He was at the temple in Jerusalem:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
(John 2:18-22)

Similar to the allusion to the story of Jonah, the whole point of Jesus’ reference was to point towards His death and resurrection. This can quite easily be inferred from reading this passage in the light of numerous other passages throughout in the New Testament where Jesus clearly talks about His death and resurrection. For anybody to say that He implied otherwise would be twisting His words into something that is completely foreign to the mind of Christ.

It also does not at all help to claim that no Jew could have interpreted Jesus’ words otherwise. This claim is completely irrelevant, as Jesus’ words were frequently misunderstood by His Jewish audience. To prove this point, one need go no further than the passage that I just referred to above. Any 1st century Jew who listens to these words of Jesus would have thought that He was referring to the temple in Jerusalem. But as we can see, that is not what He was referring to in the context of this passage. Once again, it is all about His death and resurrection. There is no reason for us to think otherwise.

Also, just to make the point regarding the Sign of Jonah clear, I have gone through some web articles dealing with this passage and the Ahmadiyya interpretation of it. I think this excerpt from Into The Light adequately explains it for me:

In their argument they pick out one aspect of the story of Jonah, that as he was alive in the stomach of the fish, so Jesus would be. However, we cannot ignore several other statements made by Jesus. We must come to the conclusion that the similarity Jesus pointed out was that, as Jonah was swallowed by the fish, he would be swallowed by the tomb. The comparison is not between being alive or dead.

On another occasion Jesus said: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14). We can see that Jesus is drawing an analogy. We have a pattern: "As Jonah was ... so shall the Son of Man be" and "As the serpent was... so must the Son of Man be." By this comparison we can see that when Jesus gave Jonah's example he meant he would be swallowed by the earth. When he gave the example of Moses lifting up a brass serpent on a pole, Jesus referred to his crucifixion.

If the main point of the first comparison was the state of Jonah being alive, then in this case the comparison will be with the brass serpent, a lifeless object. If one were to follow the Ahmadiyya method of argument, then one would be forced to conclude that Jesus was dead, even before he was crucified.

Although Jesus did not explicitly predict on this occasion that he would be put to death, he did so on many other occasions. For example, in Matthew 17:22-23, Jesus said to his disciples: "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day" (cf. Matthew 16:21 and Mark 10:33-34).

The Jews remembered such predictions about his death and resurrection and therefore, on the day after his death, they went to Pilate and said: "Sir, we remember that, while he was still alive, that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead" (Matthew 27:62-64).

It is obvious that the Jews did not doubt that Jesus had died. There was no reason for them to believe that he had escaped death. Their words "while he was still alive" could only mean that Jesus was no longer living. They wanted to seal his tomb, not because Jesus might recover from his wounds, but because they feared that his disciples might steal his body and spread the rumour that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Not only before, but also after his resurrection, Jesus reminded his disciples: "This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. ... This is what is written: 'The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,' and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47).

In conclusion, there is a wealth of evidence in the Gospels to support the argument that Jesus knew that he was going to die on the cross. To argue and draw some other conclusion from his words therefore is a serious misrepresentation of the Scriptures. (link)

So once again, I find the Ahmadiyya claims to be far less than convincing. They have advanced other arguments aside from this, but they are not much better (this is explained in the rebuttal that I have written to Mirza Tahir Ahmad's book). Ahmadis are going to have to search a little bit harder, as the current arguments that they have at their disposal are far from adequate in attempting to prove their distinctive beliefs.

UPDATE (May 19, 2009)
I've made a few minor edits to the article. Most notably, I've included a quote by the Ahmadiyya founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, from his book "Jesus in India", and I revised the concluding paragraph somewhat, in order to clarify myself a bit.


  1. The argument from Jonah is really a stretch. The swoon theory, like so many other resurrection hoax theories, has been debunked so well, that is surprises me when I run across it -- and I run across it all the time.


  2. A book was written by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement about this topic. The book is called Jesus in India and the whole book can be read online at the following link:
    If you are trying to disprove something, you should at least take up all the arguments that have been given in the book and present your views as to why you think all those arguments are incompetent. Also, although Ahmadiyya Movement is the only religious group that believes in this theory(to my knowledge), there have been other sources that have done thier research and released documentaries on this matter including BBC (on of the bbc documentaries can be viewed on if you search "bbc jesus in kashmir"). Here are some other links that might interest you, that you might want to prove the incompetence of:

    Here's a link to two full documentaries...
    Needless to say, the Sign of Jonah is not the only point. It's one amongst many. No offense, but you're only ATTEMPTING to disprove ONE of them and in the end you're claiming: "I find the Ahmadiyya claims to be far less than convincing. Ahmadis are going to have to search a little bit harder, as the current arguments that they have at their disposal are far from adequate in attempting to prove their distinctive beliefs." That hardly seems fair.

  3. @Umair Munam

    I am taking a look at the links you've posted, and will provide more rebuttals on this website. I have written a complete response to the book by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, and this is just a snippet of my responses.

    If you'd like, I could give you a file detailing the rest of my responses. Also, I could put down other apologetics articles on this blog. I've only started this project relatively recently, and there is a lot more that I have to touch on, to show why I am not convinced by the Ahmadiyya views regarding Jesus.

  4. I haven't read the book by Mirza Tahir Ahmad(who was the fourth successor to Ahmad). I have read the original book by Ahmad(to which I provided the link) which was written in 1901. I would have preferred to see your response(s) to the points he has raised in the book which seem completely logical. Some of these include arguments from Bible, some historical accounts and also some historical medical journals. But I would also like to read the file which details your response about Mirza Tahir Ahmad's book.

  5. You can download it from here:

  6. Hey Fisher,

    I'm interested to view your Real Facts of Christianity with hopes of using it in fishing for Ahmadiyya in my part of the world. Unfortunately, when I try to open the above URL it always fails. Any chance you could email it to me? If so, please send me your email and in a following comment, I'll shoot you an email and you can send the doc in return. Let me know.

    A fisher from the other side of the world

    1. Sure, I would gladly send it to you. Of course, it's been two and a half years since I wrote it, so it is a bit outdated (I've learned a lot since then!), but the arguments that I made back then do still hold, for the most part. Just let me know what your email is and I'll send it (along with maybe some newer materials that I've written since then).

  7. Thanks Fisher,
    I'm replying to your kfisher219 hotmail account.