Book Review: Jesus and Jonah by J.W. McGarvey

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wanted to do a better job in 2012 of writing about some of the books I read. I’m not sure how well I will stick to that goal for the year, but here’s a brief review of one book I read last month.

Jesus and Jonah was published by J. W. McGarvey in 1896, and was actually a compilation of several articles he wrote in The Christian Standard. McGarvey is a well-known author and scholar within the Restoration Movement (and close associate of Robert Graham), and was one of the first conservative scholars to actively oppose the trends of liberal theology and higher criticism that were growing in popularity around the turn of the 20th century.

In Jesus and Jonah, McGarvey argues against a ‘symposium’ of scholars who had denied the historicity of the biblical account of Jonah. 

The book isn’t exactly a page-turner—McGarvey spends the majority of the book examining the arguments of the scholars he disagrees with, and as those scholars basically all use some form of the same 2-3 arguments, McGarvey’s responses quickly become repetitive. Nevertheless, McGarvey’s argument is sound—since Jesus certainly seems to consider the Jonah account to be historical in Matthew 24.38-39, those who argue that it isn’t are basically forced to hold to one of two positions:
  • Jesus spoke of the events of Jonah as if they were historic when He knew they were not, in which case He was being deceptive (McGarvey makes this point especially well).
  • Jesus spoke of the events of Jonah as if they were historic because He thought they were, but was mistaken. This position raises lots of questions about the nature of Jesus and the knowledge He possessed while on earth (these are questions which are easily dismissed by a lot of liberal scholars today who question or reject the divinity of Christ, but would not be as easily dismissed by the less radical scholars McGarvey was addressing in Jesus and Jonah).
All in all, Jesus and Jonah was a worthwhile read—a short book which, in my opinion, successfully achieved its aim (refuting the argument that Jonah wasn’t historical) and also provided an interesting analysis of the biblical Jonah story.


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