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Daniel 3:25—“the Son of God,” or “a son of the gods”?
The King James Version, in Daniel 3:25, reads:
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
The large majority of modern Bible versions render the verse as follows:
He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they yare not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (ESV)
The New King James Version reads “the Son of God,” but includes a marginal note reading, “or, a son of the gods.”
Is the Authorized Version correct, or the modern versions? The KJV translation is definitely the correct one, and the modern versions are in error, for the following reasons.
First, the phrase Ny`IhDlTa_rAb in Daniel 3:25 is properly translated “the Son of God,” not “a son of the gods.” First, the definiteness of the absolute noun Ny`IhDlTa, although nonarticular, makes the construct noun rAb definite likewise—it is “the Son,” not “a son,” as in Daniel 4:9, 15; 5:11, 14 the nonarticular Ny§IhDlTa Aj…wêr “the spirit,” not “a spirit,” of the gods/God, and in Daniel 5:11 Ny™IhDlTa_tAmVkDj is “the wisdom of the gods,” not “a wisdom of gods.”
Second, in Daniel 3:25 the translation “God” for Ny`IhDlTa, rather than “gods,” is superior. It is true that Ny`IhDlTa is a plural form, and it is likewise true that, unless one renders NyIhDlTa Aj…wr (Daniel 4:9, 15; 5:11, 14) as “the Spirit of God” rather than “the spirit of the gods,” in the other instances where the plural Ny`IhDlTa is found in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 10:11; Daniel 2:11, 47; 3:12, 14, 18; 4:5–6, 15; 5:4, 11, 14, 23), the translation “gods” is proper, while the singular ;hDlTa is employed of the true God of Israel or of a particular but singular false god (Daniel 2:18–20, 23, 28, 37, 44–45, 47; 3:12, 15, 17, 26, 28–29, 32; 4:5; 5:3, 18, 21, 23, 26; 6:6, 8, 11–13, 17, 21, 23–24, 27; Ezra 4:24–5:2; 5:5, 8, 11–17; 6:3, 5, 7–10, 12, 14, 16–18; 7:12, 14–21, 23–26). While these facts certainly merit consideration, they do not prove that Daniel 3:25 refers to “gods” for the following reasons. First, the equivalent Hebrew plural to the Aramaic Ny`IhDlTa of Daniel 3:25 is MyIhølTa, the plural noun regularly and overwhelmingly used for the singular true God, Jehovah. If the Hebrew plural MyIhølTa, the overwhelming majority of the time, “God” rather than “gods,” one must at least allow for the possibility that the Aramaic plural Ny`IhDlTa refers to “God,” rather than “gods,” in Daniel 3:25, when spoken of with reference to the true Deity revealed in Scripture. This possibility is strengthened by the use of plural titles interchangeably with singular ones for the one true God in the book of Daniel itself. Thus, the title NyInwøyVlRo, “the most High,” within the book always is always plural, but refers in every instance to the one true God, not to exalted pagan gods (Daniel 7:18, 22, 25, 27). The plural NyInwøyVlRo is employed interchangeably with the singular aDyD;lIo (Daniel 3:26, 32; 4:14, 21–22, 29, 31; 5:18, 21; 7:25) in Daniel 7:25—the singular and plural words are designations of the true God in successive clauses. Second, while the other instances of the Aramaic plural NyIhDlTa in the Old Testament refer to “gods,” rather than to “God” (again, on the assumption that NyIhDlTa Aj…wr is “the spirit of the gods” rather than “the Spirit of God,”—yet see Genesis 41:38—the My™IhølTa Aj…wõr is the pneuvma qeouv of the LXX, “the Spirit of God” mentioned on the lips of a pagan) in every other case the plural NyIhDlTa refers, at least in the mind of the speaker, to false gods, rather than the true God. When the Hebrew plural MyIhølTa refers to false gods, it is also properly rendered in the plural as “gods,” but such a fact does not alter the use of the plural MyIhølTa for the single true God also. As the use of the Hebrew plural MyIhølTa for a plurality of false gods does not eliminate its use for the singular true God also, the use of the plural NyIhDlTa for a plurality of false gods does not mean that the Aramaic plural cannot also refer to the singular true God. Third, Aramaic usage of the plural of forms of words for “God” in reference to solely the one true God of the Bible is abundant. The plural of hDlSa is employed 17 times in the Targums of Onkelos, Jonathan, and the Writings of the one true God, and only twice employed of “gods” (Genesis 31:53; Jeremiah 5:14; 15:16; 35:17; 38:17; 44:7; Hosea 12:6; Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14–16, 27; 6:8, 14; Psalm 51:16; 147:12, the true God; Psalm 135:5; 136:2, to “gods.”) The Targum Neofiti twice employs the same plural for the one true God (Exodus 18:11; Deuteronomy 1:11). The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan does the same in Exodus 18:11. Thus, the phenomenon of employing a plural form for the one true God of Israel is not restricted to Hebrew, but appears in Aramaic also. Fourth, the standard Koehler/Baumgartner Hebrew lexicon states that the word ;hDlTa, “God/gods” in Daniel 3:25, can be used in the plural of the one God of Israel (hDlTa, 2bd). Fifth, ancient translational evidence supports the rendering “the Son of God.” The LXX translated Daniel 3:25 with the singular aÓgge÷lou qeouv, understanding the reference to be to “God” with the genitive singular, rather than the genitive plural, form of qeo/ß—the LXX supports a reference to “God,” not to the “gods.” Theodotian and Aquila likewise read ui˚w◊ˆ qeouv, “the Son of God,” not a reference to “gods.” The Vulgate similarly supports a reference in Daniel 3:25 to the singular “Son of God,” rather than “the son of the gods,” through its rendering with the singular filio Dei. Furthermore, “in Akkadian the equivalent plural [to the Aramaic NyIhDlTa] is used for a single deity” (Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel 5:5). The Authorized Version follows very strong evidence in ancient translations in its reference to “the Son of God” in Daniel 3:25. Sixth, the context supports a reference to “the Son of God” rather than “a/the son of the gods.” First, the heathen gods had many sons, so Nebuchadnezzar would not speak of “the son of the gods,” but the translation “a son of the gods” has been shown to be inferior above. Second, Nebuchadnezzar immediately refers to “the most high God” (aDyD;lIo a¶DhDlTa) after his statement of v. 25. After seeing “the Son of God,” Nebuchadnezzar would naturally conclude that the three Hebrew children were “servants of the most high God,” but seeing “a son of the gods” would have no obvious connection to “the most high God.” Nebuchadnezzar would have known of the Son of God from Daniel and his three friends, as the Son of God had been proclaimed the Object of faith for the heathen nations for hundreds of years at a minimum already (cf. Psalm 2:12, where king David exhorts the heathen to trust in God’s “Son,” the Aramaic word rAb being employed by David, as it is in Daniel 3:25). Seventh, “the Son of God” is identified with the Angel of the LORD in Daniel 3:28; 6:22, the preincarnate Second Person of the Trinity, who promised, “when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned” (Isaiah 43:2).
For all of these reasons, Daniel 3:25 is properly referred to “the Son of God,” not “a/the son of the gods.” Daniel 3:25, 28 both proves the preexistence of the Son of God (cf. Proverbs 30:4; Psalm 2) and makes a connection between the Son of God and the Angel or Messenger of Jehovah, the preincarnate Messiah. The Son of God delivered His beloved saints out of the midst of the fiery furnace. Furthermore, the Authorized Version is again vindicated in its rendering, while the modern Bible versions are shown to be inferior and corrupt.