Original Research

In the same boat? Jonah and Jesus as wave-beaten heralds

Alistair I. Wilson
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 55, No 1 | a2679 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i1.2679 | © 2021 Alistair I. Wilson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 September 2020 | Published: 28 April 2021

About the author(s)

Alistair I. Wilson, Centre for Mission, Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Edinburgh, United Kingdom; and Unit for Reformed Theology and Development of the South African Society, Faculty Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa


Scholars have noted similarities between the accounts of the stilling of the storm in Mark 4:35–41 and Jonah’s attempt to run from the commission of Yahweh in Jonah 1. Little attention has been paid, however, to how an allusion to the Jonah narrative might serve the purposes of Mark as he presents Jesus to his readers and hearers. The objectives of this article were to discover: (1) whether there were sufficient similarities between the two accounts to suggest a relationship that might be recognised by Mark’s readers and hearers and (2) whether recognition of similarities and differences in the two accounts might lead readers and hearers to a fuller understanding of Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ person and mission. This study paid attention to the literary structure and the specific terminology of both Mark 4:35–41 and Jonah 1, drawing on studies of the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament by scholars such as J.M. Leonard and R.B. Hays. I discovered: (1) several striking narrative features present in both accounts which might lead someone to recognise similarities between the stories; (2) some common terminology that would reinforce an initial sense of similarity; and (3) significant differences that would lead to Jonah and Jesus being contrasted. I concluded that a neglected connection between these two passages is that both Jesus and Jonah are called to be heralds of God’s message to the nations, but that they respond to that calling in very different ways. I have argued that: (1) Mark does intend his hearers and readers to recognise an echo of the story of Jonah in his account, but (2) the primary significance of the comparison between Jonah and Jesus is not in the similarities (which simply serve to bring the Jonah narrative to mind) but in the differences between these two figures. In particular, (3) the wider context of the narrative in Mark indicates that Jesus (unlike Jonah) is making his crossing in obedience to the commission he has received to be the herald of God to the nations and the two narratives agree in showing that God’s mission will not be thwarted.

Contribution: This study highlights that Mark’s account of the stilling of the storm not only contributes to Mark’s Christology but also contributes to a theology of mission, emphasising Jesus’ full engagement in the missio Dei. This fits well with the scope of the journal in terms of its emphasis on both theology and missiology.


Jonah; Jesus; storm; ship; Mark; miracle; mission; gentiles.


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