The Jonah Fable

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of January 31. Enjoy!

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For the modern critical scholar, both the book and the person of Jonah are difficult to date, relate, and investigate for a variety of reasons. The contents of the book of Jonah do not exactly lend historical credence to its narrative elements, perhaps leading to a suggestion that the text was intended solely as moral literature. A clue useful in pinning down the prophet is offered outside of the book bearing his name, as Old Testament readers also find Jonah delivering a message of expansion from Yahweh to King Jeroboam, son of Joash. Speaking of King Jeroboam II, the 2 Kings texts reads, “He restored the border of Israel from Lebohamath as far as the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of [Yahweh], the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher” (2 Kgs 14:25 NRSV). So how does an easily forgettable character, known only for prophesying to an unfavorable king of Israel, end up famous for a strange amphibious encounter to possibly being mentioned within Jesus’ ministry for his σημεῖον, or sign (Mt 16:4)? In his examination of the Jonah narrative’s insight into Old Testament Israel’s conception of mission, Daniel C. Timmer wonders aloud if the surviving literature is “as much a rogue as its main character, playing havoc with the theological expectations of the canonical reader.”[1] As this reflection paper explores, very little of the “rogue” Jonah narrative follows a “normal” or “expected” path.

Jonah and the "Great Fish"
Here’s a rendering of what probably didn’t ever happen.

Careful readers are immediately confronted with the amount of liberties taken within the text, from the points at which it simply lacks specificity to instances of abject hyperbole. For example, J. Gordon McConville writes that Jonah’s depiction of Nineveh’s size hardly matches current archaeological observations, and, moreover, that the literature is unlikely to reflect the actual system of government within the city.[2] So while the original author of Jonah would have undoubtedly known about Nineveh, a sense of distance from the city—both in proximity and theology—accompanies the text. Meanwhile, a number of other details range from improbable to outrageous, including Jonah’s manic depressive behavior, the suggestion of knee-jerk city-wide repentance, to even pondering the anatomical features and requirements of a fish great enough to swallow a man. Finally, one has to wonder at the gullibility of the Ninevites. In his supposed travels through the town’s streets, Jonah was hardly specific about the prophecy he received or even the one from whom it had been received, and yet the inhabitants of Nineveh either follow the king’s lead in mourning and fasting or beat him entirely to the punch. The king’s speech suggests that Jonah may have even obscured the name of Yahweh as he prophesied, as the generic ‘elohim is used: “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind” (Jon 3:9 NRSV).

Perhaps the most significant unexpected element of the narrative is the repentance of Nineveh, which was acceptable to Yahweh and qualified Jonah as “the most successful evangelist in history,” per Victor H. Matthews.[3] Given that the historicity of the Jonah story is deeply in question, the temporal salvation of Nineveh would have been a lesson to the author’s first audience, and it may have been as shocking as the Beatitudes or the parable of the Good Samaritan were to those gathered around Jesus. As Matthews and McConville document, Jonah reads as a coming out party for universalism, or the availability of Yahweh to people groups beyond Israel, though it should stand equally as a caution against both evading the call of God and expecting certain outcomes from one’s ministry. Despite the problems that pervade Jonah, the inherent theological lessons are not diminished by the possibility of pure literary origin.


[1] Daniel C. Timmer, “Jonah and Mission: Missiological Dichotomy, Biblical Theology, and the Via Tertia,” Westminster Theological Journal 70, no. 1 (Spring 2008), 160.

[2] J. Gordon McConville, A Guide to the Prophets, vol. 4 of Exploring the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 186.

[3] Victor H. Matthews, Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2001), 165.

D.S. Warner and the Dilemma of Sectarian Soil

My class for Church of God History frequently requires assignments similar to those you may have seen me post for Old Testament class. While I will not be posting every one of these assignments, I will select those that I regard as interesting, worthwhile or enjoyable for posting on the blog. In particular, the prompt for this assignment included an evaluation of D.S. Warner‘s claim, as made in 1878, that the holiness doctrine could not prosper on sectarian soil. Read on and learn!

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Rather famously, Daniel S. Warner wrote in a March 1878 diary entry essentially that holiness was not possible in a denominationally rich environment. But as our duty is to understand history in its proper context, it is foolish to simply repeat this groundbreaking thought without applying the historical perspective. After being strongly influenced by his second wife, Sarah, and her father, Warner came to appreciate entire sanctification as the second work of grace to the extent that he sought the experience himself, ultimately declaring in July 1877 that the process had been completed.[1] Naturally, Warner then began to teach entire sanctification and the doctrine of holiness to his audiences, much to the chagrin of boards of elders. While initially Warner was only reprimanded for his tendencies, he eventually overstepped boundaries by bringing in holiness “bands” and had his license to preach revoked on January 30, 1878. As Warner later would recall, the day after being excused from preaching was one of divine revelation. He wrote,

“On the 31st of last January the Lord showed me that holiness could never prosper on sectarian soil encumbered by human creeds and party names, and gave me a new commission to join holiness and all truth together and build up the apostolic church of the living God. Praise his name! I will obey him.”[2]

D.S. Warner
D.S. Warner

In examining the declarative statement comprising first half of this quote, we realize that two main issues are brought to the forefront. It becomes possible, then, to evaluate the issues on the basis of their inherent limitations and strengths. First, Warner’s devotion to the advancement of holiness is observed. Though he has only grasped or accepted the doctrine for a short period of time, holiness and sanctification are of the utmost concern to him, which is further supported by the way in which he jeopardized his previous position as preacher. Second, it is hard to avoid Warner’s opposition to sectarianism. Throughout the decade of the 1870s, numerous quotes suggest that he was fed up with denominational thinking, which is crystallized in an April 1876 diary entry saying, “O Sectarianism! thou abomination of the earth, thou bane of the cause of God, when will thy corrupt and wicked walls fall to earth and cease to curse men to hell?”[3]

Consideration of these aforementioned two issues and their limitations must address the timeline of Warner’s thought development and the proximity of the ultimate revelation in regard to his dismissal from preaching. In doing so, it is unavoidable that Warner realized the “abomination” of denominational chest-thumping much earlier than he latched onto holiness doctrine. Therefore, was Warner’s January 31, 1878-dated claim a true revelation from the Lord, as he professed, or simply the adaptation of long-held feelings on sectarianism to a newly revealed problem, that is, the revocation of his license to preach freely? Furthermore, it needs to be admitted that bitterness may have played a role in making the claim; as he wrote on January 31, his dismissal was a “dreadful calamity and intolerable to bear.”[4] Another significant limitation of Warner’s claim is evident through the application of the measuring stick of history. As it stands today, the modern Christian climate remains heavily denominationally divided. So as a capital-c Church, are we not holy?

Approaching Warner’s claim critically tends to disregard or dismiss it, when historically the revelation, whether from the Lord or crafted out of Warner’s perception of the situation, undoubtedly served grander purposes. To be sure, the claim had (and still has) its strengths. It enabled Warner to forge relationships with some denominations and organizations—including Mennonites and Holiness groups—while at the same time arguing for the abolishment of thinking along sectarian lines. As an example, Warner’s desire to remain true to the January 1878 revelation eventually resulted in a Gospel Trumpet declaration that “now we wish to announce to all that we wish to co-operate with all Christians, as such, in saving souls—but forever withdraw from the organisms that uphold and endorse sects and denominations in the body of Christ.”[5] This June 1881 proclamation was a watershed moment for the early Church of God movement, and it would not have been possible if Warner and others did not actively seek to fulfill the January 1878 revelation, which served to project the movement’s grand vision. Even today, when paraphrased, we might say that, “We cannot be the church that God intended when we elect to segregate ourselves ideologically and prioritize our differences among the most important foci of our ministry.” In that sense, Warner revealed (or had revealed to him) a timeless truth.

Ultimately, the historical interpretation of Warner’s January 1878 revelation lies in its ability to produce positive effects for the Church. In that light, Warner’s mission was a revolutionary success. This doesn’t rubber stamp his tactics or excuse his overly dismissive, damnation-centered attitude toward honest followers of Christ who happened to claim denominational faiths. However, we have to conclude that God used the faulty comprehension of his fallible followers to address the burgeoning problems of each period of history and produce ultimate good for his Church body.


[1] John W. V. Smith and Merle D. Strege, The Quest for Holiness & Unity, 2nd ed. (Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 2009), 46.

[2] Ibid., 47.

[3] Ibid., 45.

[4] Ibid., 47.

[5] Ibid., 51.

Israel? And A Quick Update…

    Hazor lies north of Chinnereth and the Sea of Galilee in Israel, as shown in this map from bibleatlas.org.As you may or may not know, I am extremely hopeful that I will be able to travel to Israel for an archaeological dig this summer at the northern Galilean site of Tel Hazor (simply meaning “Mound” or “Hill” of Hazor). At various points in the seventh and eighth centuries B.C.E. and further back in antiquity, Hazor was occupied by Canaanite and Israelite populations, and the archaeological program I’ve found would explore these time periods. If you’d like to learn more about the history of Tel Hazor, check out the Hazor Excavations Project hosted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Anyhow, I’m highly excited even to have the opportunity to consider traveling to the Holy Land, let alone being there for 4-6 weeks to study and explore. I should know within the next week whether or not my proposal for this upcoming summer will be funded. Won’t you pray that I may be allowed to participate in this experience, should it be in the will of God? Thank you so much 🙂

With that duly introduced, I think a quick update is probably in order as well, seeing as it’s been almost two months since I last did so. My wife and I are all moved in to our new apartment in Anderson, and it goes without saying that we love it. I am not kidding when I say that we tripled in space, going from around 430 sq. feet to nearly 1300 sq. feet. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with all of the space!

The only downside that I’ve found this semester is that getting into a groove has been difficult. When I knew I had a 45-minute commute to and from campus, that made my time all the more valuable; I knew that I had to use what little I had wisely. I’m not saying I’ve been slacking this semester… just the opposite, actually. I feel like I’ve worked my tail off even though I remain behind. A good part of this may be due to the MLK holiday and our numerous snow days in recent weeks – there has yet to be a normal week this semester, so to speak. I am confident it will all come together when I gain an appreciation of the normalcy of the semester!

As for my classes, two are continuations from courses last semester. The second semester of Greek has proved somewhat harder, as we’ve been introduced to participles, which are nasty beasts in their own right. The second semester of Old Testament History and Literature is shifting the focus to the prophets and wisdom literature, which has so far been enjoyable. Reflections I’ve done on Jonah and Joel, as well as some other selected classwork, will hopefully be soon posted to the blog!

My other two classes are not taken in a traditional classroom. I am taking Church of God history as an online class because the in-class section has a time conflict with my OT2 course. While I thought this course would be dry and boring, it’s been worthwhile to understand the history of the movement with which I now identify closely. Furthermore, I am taking an independent study entitled “Christians and Old Testament Theology,” which has proven enlightening in the regard of relating to the beliefs and understanding of Yahweh espoused by people of Old Testament times. In some cases I believe we read too much into the text, i.e. by trying to reconcile the Scriptures in the light of Jesus. Sometimes we can go too far by stretching the text beyond what would have been understood by the writers and original hearers of these treasured books. But, I digress.

Thank you for reading and for being hopeful along with my regarding Tel Hazor in Israel! Until next time…