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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Classroom Sneak Peek: Jonah • Episode 2
Jonah's Literary Context
54m • August 30, 2021

The Hebrew Bible contains one story of human failure after another, leaving us with no doubt in our minds: humanity desperately needs a leader. In this episode, Tim walks us through the structure of the Hebrew Bible and how it shows us Jonah is an anti-leader, the opposite of what humanity needs, whose failure prepares us for the ultimate leader and Savior, Jesus. This is a sneak peek into our free graduate-level course on Jonah, which will be featured in the new Classroom resource available in 2022.

What You'll Learn:
  • Why the structure of the TaNaK is important for understanding its message
  • How to understand Jesus through the lens of the Scriptures he fulfilled
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The Hebrew Bible is a really diverse collection of literature from all over Israel’s history, representing stories about all these different characters. But there’s just one basic storyline getting replayed over and over again. And every new story just turns up the anticipation more and more, so that by the time we leave the Hebrew Scriptures, we’re supposed to have in our minds, “You know what we need around here? We need an anointed one who will go through death on behalf of everyone else who keeps creating a world of death, and then out the other side so that eternal life can be announced to the nations.” This actually is what the Hebrew Scriptures are about. This isn’t just a “Christian” re-reading of them or imposing a “Jesus filter.” Jesus really means what he says when he says, “You guys, did you read it? Did you read it? ‘Cause if you read it the way it’s supposed to be read, this won’t be a surprise.”


  • The Hebrew Bible is a three-part collection of scrolls often referred to as the TaNaK, an acronym referring to the Torah (law), Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings).
  • Everything from the organization of the Scriptures to the physical design of the scrolls in the TaNaK communicates a singular theme: humanity needs a leader.
  • The Hebrew Bible trains us to expect humans to be unable to do what they were created to do, which leaves us aware that we need someone greater to step in and do what only God can do. The incarnation is the only possible solution.

The audio for this episode is the second of a three-part sneak peek of our free graduate-level course on Jonah, which will soon come out of beta with an updated brand and website. For the remaining 42 sessions with Tim, as well as handouts and exercises to enrich your learning, check out the Classroom online courses launching in 2022.

The Bible Jesus Read

In part one (0:00-19:40), Tim sets up for a deep dive into the book of Jonah by exploring how Jesus understood the Hebrew Bible.

In Luke 24:44, Jesus refers to the Hebrew Bible as a three-part collection that later came to be called the TaNaK, an acronym referring to the Torah (law), Nevi’im (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). Jesus and his first followers not only learned the Scriptures in a different order than we do in the modern West, but they also learned them in a different way: orally and communally. For Jesus, the organization of the Scriptures contributed to the story they told.

For instance, Jesus saw even the relatively short story of Jonah as a representation of all the core themes of the Hebrew Bible, as well as a lens through which to consider the rebellious Israel of his day.

Matthew 12:39-41 But he answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet. … The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

In response to the Pharisees’ demands for a sign, Jesus compares them to the Ninevites of Jonah’s day. In the analogy, Jesus is saying even the most stubborn, rebellious prophet in Israel was able to bring about the repentance of the wicked Ninevites. Now he, a prophet greater than Jonah, is right in front of the Pharisees yet they still won’t repent––they’re worse than both Jonah and the Ninevites.

Sea Monsters and Mysticism

In part two (19:40-27:30), Tim and the class dialogue about a few questions.

  • How do we know Jesus refers to the sea creature from Jonah 1-2 as a “sea monster” and not a whale in Matthew 12:39-41?
  • Why are some verses in the New American Standard Bible in all caps?
  • In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” But Jesus was only in the grave three days and two nights. What’s that about?
  • What does it mean that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45)? That sounds very mystical, like they just suddenly understood. Was it truly instantaneous or more of a process?
  • Because our Bibles are structured differently today than in Jesus’ day, does it detract from our ability to understand the story of the Bible?

The discussion concludes by acknowledging that if we want to read the Bible like Jesus did, we need to pay attention to the organization he was familiar with.

The Seams of the TaNaK

In part three (27:30-42:30), Tim explores a key theme that runs through the TaNaK: humanity needs a leader. And it’s not just the organization of the texts that advances this theme. Even the physical design of the books communicates this message. If you look at the editorial seams of the major sections, where the papyrus or leather scrolls begin and end, you’ll find intentional clues to the Scriptures’ meaning.

In the Torah, Moses is the ideal leader, but even he fails. Moses himself prophesied that God would raise up another leader like him (but better) for his people, but the Torah ends with the announcement that no prophet since Moses has been as great as him.

Similarly, when the Nevi’im concludes, we’re left awaiting another prophet like Elijah, who will come “before the Day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). These endings point to our ongoing need for a leader who is better than any we’ve seen so far.

Just as Moses becomes a template of sorts for later prophets, Joshua (introduced at the start of the Nevi’im) becomes a template of a leader/ruler replayed in David. Jonah, on the other hand, is an anti-leader––a prophet who exhibits the opposite of the kind of character displayed in Moses and Elijah.

The Only Possible Solution

In part four (42:30-end), Tim and the class discuss further questions about the TaNaK.

  • Why is the TaNaK organized the way it is? What assumptions led the biblical authors to make the literary choices they made?
  • At Jesus’ first coming, the Jews who were supposed to be looking for and proclaiming it had lost a sense of what the Scriptures were really pointing to. Could the organization of our modern Bible be by divine design, a warning to us to be more attentive for Jesus’ second coming?

The Bible trains us to expect humans to be unable to do what they were created to do, which leaves a gaping hole of expectation for a divine human to step in and do what only God can do. The incarnation is the only possible solution.

Referenced Resources

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Keep an Open Mind” by Olive Musique

Show produced by Cooper Peltz, Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Jonah E1  –  55m
Our Assumptions About Jonah
Jonah E2  –  54m
Jonah's Literary Context
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