Parallels Between Jonah, Peter, and Cornelius
Continuing the discussion of Jonah in relation to the rest of the canon I wanted to highlight an article, “Peter, ‘Son’ of Jonah: The Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of the Canon”, which shows the parallels between the Jonah story and Peter and Cornelius in Acts. R.W. Wall, following Williams commentary on Acts, finds several parallels between the stories (80):
- Continuity of location: Joppa (Jonah 1:3 - “κατέβη εἰς Ιοππην”; Acts 9:43 - “μεῖναι ἐν Ἰόππῃ”).
- Their hesitancy is dismantled only after God intervenes (great fish/vision) and its significance symbolized by the number three (Jonah 2:1 (LXX); Acts 10:16). Jonah’s three-day stay in the fish’s belly reverses his initial rebellion against God. Likewise, Peter’s vision, repeated three times corrects his negative, although pious, reaction to the demand to eat unclean foods, which results in Peter’s obedience to preach to the Gentile Cornelius.
- God commissions them by verbal revelation to arise and go (Jonah 3:2 “Ἀνάστηθι καὶ πορεύθητι”; Acts 10:20 “ἀναστὰς…καὶ πορεύου”) and deliver the Word of God to the Gentiles
- The Gentiles believed (Jonah 3:5 “ἐνεπίστευσαν”; Acts 10:43 “πιστεύοντα”) in the Word and were forgiven
- The conversion of the Gentiles resulted in an hostile response (Jonah 4:1; Acts 11:2). In both narratives God changes his mind about the status of Gentiles because he has mercy upon those who believe in the Word; and Jonah and Peter are both witnesses to God’s ‘conversion’, as well as the conversion of the Gentiles
- God’s rebuttal to Jonah and Peter’s response (Jonah 4:2–11; Acts 11:17–18). God’s final rebuttal of Jonah’s hostility in Jonah 4:9–11 is initiated by his directive that a “burning wind” (πνεύματι καύσωνος) take Jonah’s gourd away. His resultant self-pity, when “life” (Jonah 4:8) itself is forsaken, draws out the Lord’s reason for saving Nineveh’s life. This corresponds at least linguistically if not conceptually to Acts 11, where God convinces the Jerusalem doubters by giving his Holy Spirit (πνεύματι ἁγίῳ, cf. Acts 2:3 where the Spirit comes from heaven as ‘fire’) to Cornelius–the sign that the Gentiles also have “life” (Acts 11:18).
He goes on to say:
“Luke’s appeal to Jonah’s ’prophecy as the Word of God is appropriate in two ways: first, Jonah’s God is one who forgives the sins even of Gentiles; and second, Jonah’s God is one who would send his people to the Gentiles. Against this scripture-scape, the ‘theo-logic’ of the Gentile mission is painted by Luke: the Cornelius conversion is legitimized as the continuation of God’s merciful work at Nineveh, Simon-Peter is the bar Jonah, who is called by his ancestor’s God to convert the Gentile, and the people of God should do nothing but praise God and say, ‘God has granted the Gentiles repentance unto life’ (Acts 11.18).
The conflict which remains in Luke’s church regarding the Gentile mission involves the same theological conception, whether from the Jewish Christian side(s) or from the Gentile Christian side(s): thankful for God’s mercies bestowed upon them, but angry that he would ‘repent’ and bestow the very same mercies upon the others as welL Luke’s appeal to Jonah, then, finally intends to call into question such sectarianism and to reconcile a divided church, thus vindicating what all the prophets bear witness to, that ‘through his name every one who believes in him has received forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 10.43) (84–85).
I think this may shed some light on the book of Jonah because we realize that this was a common thought among the Jewish people. Why should God bestow mercies on the Gentiles when he is our God? We are the ones who cite the Shema daily claiming that our God is one but the Gentiles are idols worshippers who don’t deserve his grace. Jonah is left open ended with Jonah still sulking that the Gentiles received salvation but Luke shows us in Acts that stubborn Peter has a transformed heart by the grace of God.
I wonder if this parallel has been picked up before Williams and Wall? I would be interested in researching some of the early churches typological understandings of Jonah and see if they picked up on anything outside Jesus being greater than Jonah in Matthew.
Williams, C. s c. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries: The Acts of the Apostles. Harper & Brothers, 1957. ↩︎
Wall, Robert W. “Peter, ‘Son’ of Jonah : the Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of Canon.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 29 (F 1987): 79–90. ↩︎