The Prophet Muhammad alleged that the Angel Gabriel gave him the words of Allah stating that Jesus Christ was not crucified (Surah 4:157).  However, the New Testament eye witnesses stated that Jesus Christ was crucified.  Consequently, there is a direct contradiction between the actual eye witnesses of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and what Muhammad wrote more than 600 years after the events.  He claimed,

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Surah 4:157(trans. Yusuf Ali)

So, Muslim apologists have searched the New Testament writings to find support for their Prophet’s claim.  Some feel there is support for the Qur’an in the following New Testament verses on the Prophet Jonah.

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matt 12:38-40

A number of Old and New Testament scholars have taught that Jonah was not dead while he was in the whale’s belly for three days and nights.  So, some Muslim defenders claim that Jesus Christ Himself taught that he would not really die, because Jonah was not really dead while he was in the whale’s belly. However, the text does not support unequivocally this conclusion.

I.  Jonah. In brief, Jonah was cast overboard and was swallowed by a great fish. According to Jewish reckoning of time, he was in the deep three days and three nights. Then Jonah was vomited onto dry land after which time he went and preached in the Gentile city of Nineveh.

There is an intimation in the book of Jonah, that he died while he was inside the great fish and that he was subsequently brought back to life.  This can be seen in Jonah 2:2, where it states that Jonah cried for help from the depth of Sheol.  Sheol is the Hebrew word for the place of the souls of those who have died. Secondly, in verse 6 it states that Jonah’s life was brought up from the pit or the grave. Sheol would be a reference to his departed soul while the pit (or grave) would be a reference to his dead body.

and he said, “I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; Thou didst hear my voice.
“I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars {was} around me forever, but Thou hast brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. Jonah 2:2,6 (NAS)

The Hebrew word for ‘pit’ is often translated as corruption or the grave. The human soul does not undergo physical decomposition like the body at death. So, this word could only apply to the body and not to the soul.

Strong’s Dictionary Number 7845 shachath (shakh’-ath); from 7743; a pit (especially as a trap); figuratively, destruction: KJV—corruption, destruction, ditch, grave, pit.

Hence, the text is perfectly compatible with the idea that Jonah did die and was revivified.

II.  Signs. The topic of these verses is the ‘sign’ of Jonas the prophet. If I have counted correctly, the word, sign, is used 4 times. A sign is something that points to, or represents, or symbolizes, something larger and more important than itself. So, if a person sees a sign with the words, Pacific Ocean, that person should not conclude that the sign itself is the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, signs don’t have to fully mimic all aspects of what it symbolizes. For example, the Pacific Ocean is wet, but a sign with the words, Pacific Ocean, does not have to be wet to signify the Pacific Ocean.

III.  Sign of Jonah. Symbolically, Christ used the events of Jonah’s life to afford a picture of what would happen to Himself. Christ would be rejected by the Jewish nation (cast overboard). He would be in the grave (fish’s belly), and he would rise from the dead (vomited upon dry land).  Finally, the Injil of Jesus Christ would be preached to all the world (Jonah preaching in the Gentile city of Nineveh).  

The picture of Jonah under the waters is a picture of Christ in the tomb.  More specifically, Christ noted a correlation between Jonah being in the fish’s belly for three days and three nights and himself being in the grave for three days and three nights.  According to Jewish reckoning of time, this is what historically happened.  Consequently, the ‘sign of Jonas’ was literally fulfilled.  Furthermore, as Jonah’s spirit was in Sheol, so Christ’s spirit was in Sheol too. Next, as Jonah’s body was brought up to life, so Christ’s dead body was resurrected from the grave. Hence, the sign of Jonah does not support at all the idea that Jesus Christ was not crucified. 

The Old and New Testament affirm that the soul of a dead person is in Sheol (or Hades). It is only the body that undergoes decay. Thus, the first part of Psalms 16:10 and Acts 2:27 refers to the departed spirit while the second part of the verse applies to the physical body.

For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. Psalms 16:10 (NAS)
Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. Acts 2:27 (NAS)

As we know, Christ was crucified and died upon the cross. The story of Jonah indicates that he too may have died and was revivified. So, the sign of Jonah the Prophet provides no support for Muhammad’s assertion in the Qur’an that Jesus Christ was not crucified upon the cross.

It is noticeable that Jonah was a prophet to the Gentiles. Jonah said, “Salvation is of the LORD.” He said that “weeds were wrapped about my head.” Christ wore a crown of thorns when he was crucified. So, it is no wonder Christ referred to the ‘sign of Jonah’, since it beautifully symbolizes Christ’s rejection, death, burial, resurrection, and preaching the gospel of the grace of Allah to the Gentile nations of the world.

Edited 4-30-2002