“Help Me Understand Biblical Inerrancy?”

A friend of mine with teenage daughters asked me recently if I understood the concept of Biblical inerrancy well enough to explain/justify it for her children. Seems a “pastor” in their local church was attempting to explain the “errors” in the Bible to a group and they were a bit concerned that this leader would indicate the Bible had errors. I was unable to find much on the Probe Web site regarding the inerrancy of the Bible and wondered if you had a document or publication that would cover the topic rather completely yet simply enough for me to understand and to present to these kids. Also, how does the concept of the inspiration of Bible and the inerrancy of the Bibly interplay? It seems to me that if we truly believe the Bible was inspired by God and given to men by the Holy Spirit, it would follow that the Bible in its original autographs would be inerrant.

An excellent resource for a variety of biblical and theological questions is www.bible.org. After reading your letter, I visited their website, typed “inerrancy” in the search engine, and the following resources came up (see bible.org/search/apachesolr_search/inerrancy).

The above link will give you a lot of help with the question of biblical inspiration and inerrancy. Another good resource is When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe (Baker Books, 1992).

You are absolutely correct in observing that the inspiration of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; etc.) logically entails biblical inerrancy in the original writings. Although inerrancy cannot be extended to the copies, the science and art of textual criticism has been quite successful in restoring the original text from the thousands of manuscripts available for scholarly study.


Michael Gleghorn
Probe Ministries


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Updated July 2011

© 2004 Probe Ministries

“How Many Bethlehem Children Were Killed by Herod?”

I was reading your Christmas Quiz and I wondered if you had researched the number of children killed by Herod? Matthew doesn’t mention the gender. Would these be Joseph and Mary’s nephews and/or nieces, or distant relations? How long were Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem? Would they have known some of these children? Did Jesus ever go back to Bethlehem to minister?

We do not know the number of infant boys killed as a result of Herod’s order. Scholars estimate that it was probably no more than a dozen (because Bethlehem’s population was small and the order only concerned infant boys age two and under). Note that Matthew 2:16 does specifically mention “boys” or “males.”

We simply are not given enough information to know much about these children. We don’t know if any of them were related to Joseph and Mary or not. Although they may have known many of these other children and their families, we are not provided with all the details about this event that we might like. In fact, as far as I know, Matthew is the only author who records this event. His account is all the information we possess. It seems possible (maybe even probable) that the family was in Bethlehem for quite some time before fleeing to Egypt (Matt. 2:13). According to Matthew, the family was in a “house” when the wise men arrived (2:11) and Jesus is called a “child” (Gr. paidion), instead of “baby” (Gr. brephos, Luke 2:12. In addition, Herod inquires about the precise time at which the magi saw the star (Matt. 2:7), and this becomes the basis for Herod’s killing all the male children two years old and under (2:16). Hence, the family may have been there nearly two years by the time they fled to Egypt. Of course, we really just don’t know all the details about the timing of these events. But I’m somewhat inclined to think they may have been in Bethlehem long enough to get to know many of their neighbors—particularly those who had children roughly the same age as Jesus.

Concerning your final question, we are just never told whether or not Jesus returned to Bethlehem. The Bible is simply silent about this, so far as I can tell.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

© 2010 Probe Ministries

“Are There Really Three Archangels in the Bible?”

I guess I was told (and believed) that there were three archangels. In my Sunday School class this past weekend the leader said there is only one, Michael. I see that Michael is the only one explicitly listed in the Bible but I think Gabriel is inferred as an archangel. What do you say?

Thanks for the question. To start, an archangel is a high ranking or principal angel. There are two archangels mentioned in the Scriptures: Michael and Gabriel. The identification of Michael as an archangel is more explicit, as you mentioned earlier (Jude 1:9) than Gabriel. However, a case for Gabriel can be seen implicitly. Gabriel’s Old and New Testament appearances come during great moments of salvation history, confirming his important rank in the celestial order. Michael is mentioned in Daniel 10:13, 10:21, 12:1, Jude 1:9, and Revelation 12:7. Gabriel is mentioned in Daniel 8:15-19, 9:21-23, Luke 1:19, and Luke 1:26.

The reason why you might have been taught that there were three archangels is that in the Roman Catholic tradition, they include the archangel Rafael. The mention of Rafael comes from the apocryphal writing, the Book of Tobias. Apocryphal writings are considered useful and beneficial by Protestants, but not canonical due to their late dates of inscription.

I hope this helps.

Nathan Townsie

© 2010 Probe Ministries

“Are the Gifts and Calling of God ‘Irrevocable,’ or ‘Without Repentance’? Which One is Right?”

The KJV translation says in Romans 11:29, ” . . . for the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.” But the other translations say, ” . . . for the gifts and calling are irrevocable.” Which is the correct one?


The Greek term used in Romans 11:29 is ametameletos. It is essentially the negation of the term metamellomai which, according to the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament can mean: (1) feel remorse, become concerned about afterward, regret (Matt. 27:3); (2) change one’s mind, think differently afterward (Heb. 7:21). Thus, if we negate these meanings, the term in Romans 11:29 can really be translated either way, although for contemporary readers it is probably best to translate as “irrevocable” or “incapable of being changed,” for this more clearly communicates the idea to most people today. The phrase, “without repentance,” tends to be a little more archaic, which one would expect for the KJV, as it was originally published in 1611.

Hope this helps.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

© 2010 Probe Ministries

“What Can You Tell Me About the Infancy Gospel of James?”

Can you give me some information on the writings of the Protoevangelium of James [also known as the “Infancy Gospel of James”]? I know that has to do with proving the hows and whys that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Can you give me some historical background of it and how we as Protestants refute that heretical teaching?

Thanks for your letter. You can find some helpful scholarly information on this gospel here: www.earlychristianwritings.com/infancyjames.html The introductory article offers some useful background information. To simply highlight a couple of important points:

1. Our earliest manuscript of this gospel dates to the third century. However, the text itself probably dates to the middle of the second century. This fact, combined with the fact that the historical James (the brother of Jesus) was put to death by Ananias in 62 A.D., clearly make it a pseudonymous work (i.e. it was not actually written by James, the brother of Jesus).

2. In addition, the work is clearly dependent on the infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke.

3. Since it was not written by James, the brother of Jesus, and since it clearly contains mythological embellishments and historical inaccuracies, the early Fathers of the church were wise not to include the book in the New Testament canon.

4. Finally, for more information on the criteria of canonicity, please see the section entitled “The Formation of the New Testament Canon” in my article on “Redeeming the Da Vinci Code” here: www.probe.org/redeeming-the-da-vinci-code/. Actually, the entire article has much information that is relevant as background material to your question.

Concerning the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity: although Roman Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life, this doctrine seems biblically problematic. In Matthew 1:24-25 we learn that Joseph took Mary as his wife, but “had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.” The verse seems to clearly imply that Joseph and Mary did have normal sexual relations after the birth of Jesus. And this is confirmed by references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters in Matthew 13:55-56.

But could these have been children of Joseph from a previous marriage, as some Roman Catholic teachers have suggested? This does not seem to be a very plausible explanation; indeed, it has a very serious difficulty. As one commentator has observed: “Joseph could not have had children by a previous marriage, as some suppose, for then Jesus would not have been heir to the Davidic throne as the oldest son of Joseph.” Hence, the most plausible interpretation of the biblical evidence is that Mary remained a virgin until the birth of Jesus, but afterward conceived and bore other children via normal sexual relations with her husband, Joseph.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

“Did Christianity Come From the Pagan Story of Nimrod and Ishtar?”

I am reading a book by Pastor David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night. In this book he tells of the “true legend” (his words) of Nimrod’s wife, how she was concieved by a sunbeam, whose son was killed and raised up after 40 days, and the celebration of Ishtar. I just read your article “Did Christianity Borrow From Pagan Religions?” about whether Christianity borrowed from other pagan religions, but this one wasn’t there and I wondered if you might know anything about it?

My question is. how did this story get around when Christ was not born yet? I have had someone actually tell me that Christianity copied this story. While I don’t believe it for a minute, I do want to have a defense for it and to file it away in the proper perspective.

[Editor’s Note: It is unclear whether or not the above account of Dr. Jeremiah’s work is indeed accurate. Following is simply a response to the greater issue with guidelines for discernment in such matters.] I have not actually heard of this story before, so I cannot really comment on the details. There are, however, some general principles to bear in mind when evaluating such claims.

First, we need to establish that this really was a story that was told in the ancient world. For that we need to know what the original source of the story was. Was this story recorded on ancient clay tablets or written on the walls of a temple, etc.? If so, where are these tablets housed today? Where is this temple?

If the story is recorded by an ancient historian, then which historian is it? Where can we find this work for ourselves? When did the historian write his account? Where did he get his information from, etc? Does the historian claim the account actually occurred, or does he refer to it as a myth? And so on, and so forth.

Once one begins to ask such questions, one sometimes finds that the story hasn’t been related correctly, or that it dates to after the time of Jesus and early Christianity, or that the details of the story are very different from what Christians claim about the life of Christ, etc.

All of this is important. If we cannot find any ancient record of the story, then maybe the story really isn’t ancient after all. Maybe somebody invented the story more recently. If the story is ancient, but dates to after the time of Christ, then it’s quite possible that the story actually copied early Christian beliefs—and not vice versa. Copying can work both ways, after all. Maybe this story copied from the early Christians.

Finally, if there is an ancient record of the story, and if it is prior to the time of Christ, then we have to ask whether early Christians actually borrowed the story. And this is often extremely unlikely. In the first place, the details of the stories are often so different that it would be absurd to say that one borrowed from another. Second, it’s highly unlikely that the early Christians (who were, after all, predominantly monotheistic Jews) would borrow religious concepts from pagan myths. Jews typically regarded such myths as perverse, morally repugnant, and idolatrous. It’s very difficult to believe that they would borrow from such myths to describe the life of Christ.

So let’s take the story related in Jeremiah’s book. Was Jesus conceived by a sunbeam? Was He raised after 40 days? The answer to both questions is “No.” Also, how was Nimrod’s son supposedly killed? My guess is that it wasn’t by crucifixion, a practice developed much later by the Romans. These are some of the questions we would want to ask to determine if it is reasonable to believe that Christianity borrowed ideas from a pagan religion. And you can see the point. Even if this story circulated before the time of Christ, it’s a very different story than the Christians were telling about Jesus, making borrowing at least highly suspect.

In addition, we have plenty of good historical evidence for the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Not only do we have all of the New Testament documents (e.g. different Gospels, letters, etc.), we also have ancient evidence for Jesus from non-Christian sources. See my article by that title. But what good historical evidence do we really have for Nimrod’s son? I’m guessing we don’t have much of anything, quite honestly. This makes the events of Jesus’ life much different from those of Nimrod’s alleged son. In the one case, we have good historical evidence for Jesus, but we do not have equally good historical evidence for Nimrod’s son.

These are just some of the issues that one must carefully investigate and consider before the charge of Christians borrowing from pagan religions can be seriously sustained. And once one begins to carefully investigate these matters, the charge of borrowing becomes less and less plausible. I honestly don’t think we have anything to fear or worry about in these charges.

I hope this information is helpful. Shalom in our true Lord Jesus Christ!

Michael Gleghorn

© 2010 Probe Ministries

“Why Did the Jews Not Say God’s Name Aloud When He Never Said Not To?”

Today I read an article on your website where a question was asked, “If Jehovah Isn’t the Real Name of God, What Is?” Jimmy Williams explained that even prior to Christ, it was Jewish tradition to substitute Adonai for the Tetragrammaton due to their ancient practice of not uttering the sacred name of God. However, this tradition was man’s tradition, the Jews’ tradition. Am I correct in saying that it was not God’s tradition? Did God ever command man not to vocalize his name? If He didn’t want us to call on him by his name, why did He even mention His name to Moses? Why did he tell Moses what to say when inquired of who sent him if He didn’t want people to know His name and use it? The Bible reveals to us that the Pharisees were corrupt even before Christ, so why do we carry on their tradition if we are followers of Christ? If He gave us His name in the ancient texts, what right does man have in taking it away?

You ask a very good question! On the one hand, you are quite correct in noting that God never explicitly commanded man not to vocalize His name. This was, as you observe, part of Jewish tradition—and not the commandment of God.

So why did this tradition arise? Largely because of one of God’s commandments! In Exodus 20:7 (one of the Ten Commandments) we read the following: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

It was because the Jews were so concerned not to misuse the name of God that this tradition arose. The Jews wanted to be absolutely certain that they did not misuse the name of the Lord and so they read Adonai in place of YHWH. Thus, there was a good motive behind the tradition, even though the practice was never explicitly commanded by God. God’s command was not to misuse His name—and clearly one can reverently speak (or pray) the name of the Lord in a way that does not constitute misuse. However, as we readily discern even in our own day, many people are only all too ready to misuse the name of the Lord. And this, I think, is partly why this Jewish tradition arose. It provides a “fence around the Law,” which keeps people from violating God’s commandment. But constructing the fence itself was never actually commanded by God.

I hope this is helpful.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

© 2010 Probe Ministries


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“If Jehovah Isn’t the Real Name of God, What Is?”
“Is It Wrong to Speak of God as Jehovah?”
“Jehovah Is the Only Name of God!”

“Did God Really Want Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?”

When God originally told Abraham to sacrifice his son on the mountain did he mean it or was he just testing Abraham?

Genesis 22 indicates that God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Of course, God never intended to allow Abraham to actually follow through with the sacrifice. But it’s important to remember that Abraham had no way of knowing (in advance) that God would stop him from actually sacrificing his son. Abraham apparently thought (and surely hoped) that this indeed might be the case (v. 8—Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.).

On the other hand, he may have thought that God would have him follow through with it, and then subsequently raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19—By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.). Thus, from Abraham’s perspective this was a very real (and terrible) test, even though God never intended to allow Abraham to actually carry out the deed.

Hope this helps.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn

© 2009 Probe Ministries

“How Can Elijah and Enoch Be Killed in Glorified Bodies?”

Elijah and Enoch were taken by God. [In Genesis 5:24, Enoch “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah “went up by a whirlwind to heaven.”] Therefore, I assume they are in a glorified body. How can they be killed if they are in a glorified body?

Thanks for your question. I’m guessing that you’re assuming that Enoch and Elijah will be the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11. This interpretation may (or may not) be correct. The two witnesses are never named, and there is no way to know whether these two individuals are Enoch and Elijah or not. They may be two entirely different people, who come in the spirit and power of Enoch and Elijah, say, without actually being those two men. This would be similar to the ministry of John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (see Luke 1:17). This actually makes more sense to me.

However, if Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses then, yes, they will have to be in non-glorified bodies that are still subject to death. But we shouldn’t think that Enoch and Elijah have already received glorified bodies. After all, the resurrection of the righteous dead has not yet taken place (except for Jesus). Enoch and Elijah, along with all the other saints, are still waiting to receive their glorified bodies. This won’t happen until the resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20. Finally, since Enoch and Elijah never actually died, if this interpretation is correct, then we might view this as their time to do so. Thus, while I am personally inclined to take the former view (above), I do not think there is any problem adopting the latter view I’ve just enunciated. Of course, the truth may be different than either of these views, but we don’t need to concern ourselves with that right now.

Hope this helps.

Shalom in Christ,

Michael Gleghorn


© 2009 Probe Ministries

“Couldn’t Jesus’ Disciples Have Just Fabricated Fulfilled Prophecy Claims?”

First of all I’d like to thank you for helping me so much. You have really cleared up a lot of questions I’ve had about my faith in Christ and have given me some great answers. I have another question for you that I have been struggling with. Couldn’t the disciples have made it look like Jesus fulfilled all those prophecies, and simply fabricated them?

This may seem possible in some instances, but in many others it becomes very difficult to believe. For example, consider those prophecies which were fulfilled during the last week of Jesus’ life (i.e. from the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem through His death by crucifixion). Quite frankly, these events were observed by too many people for the disciples to have fabricated them. Not only did Jesus’ loyal followers witness these events, but so did unbelieving Jews and Romans (the very people responsible for executing Jesus). These events are too well-established historically for anyone to seriously suggest that the disciples fabricated them. What the skeptic will typically do, therefore, is simply deny that such Old Testament texts are truly prophetic. They’ll argue that the disciples misinterpreted these texts when they applied them to Jesus. It would be unusual to seriously argue that the disciples made up stories about how Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. In this sense, the debate really tends to be over how these Old Testament passages should be interpreted, and whether such texts can be fairly applied to Jesus’ life and ministry. Although this is a technical and complicated debate, I’m convinced that these texts do accurately prophesy certain things about the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Hope this helps.

Michael Gleghorn, Probe Ministries

© 2009 Probe Ministries