The article is not prefixed to the word “son,” and the language would apply to anyone who might properly be called a son of God. The Vulgate has literally rendered it, “like to A son of God” - similis filio Dei; the Greek in the same way - ὁμοια ὑιω θεου [homoia huiō theou] ; the Syriac is like the Chaldee; Castellio renders it, quartus formam habet Deo nati similem - “the fourth has a form resembling one born of God;” Coverdale “the fourth is like an angel to look upon;” Luther, more definitely, und der vierte ist gleich, als ware er ein Sohn der Gotter - “and the fourth as if he might be “a” son of the gods.” It is clear that the authors of none of the other versions had the idea which our translators supposed to be conveyed by the text, and which implies that the Babylonian monarch “supposed” that the person whom he saw was the one who afterward became incarnate for our redemption.5Several commentators indicate the Aramaic word אֱלָהִין [ʾělāhîn] can only be plural, and should therefore be rendered as gods.6 Others disagree.7 Various early translations equivocate as to how the phrase should be translated.8 Identifying the individual as the unique Son of God (Jesus) would have to be based on other factors than the text itself, which admits of varied interpretations. It appears that the Aramaic is saying that the individual appeared “god-like” from Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective: “like a son of the gods” (NASB95, ESV, HCSB, NIV); “like that of a god” (NET); “like a divine being” (TNK).9
There are two inquiries which arise in regard to this expression: one is, what was the idea denoted by the phrase as used by the king, or who did he take this personage to be? the other, who he actually was?10In favor of identifying the individual as an angel is Nebuchadnezzar’s statement in verse 28 where he refers to the individual as an angel and the numerous passages in the OT where angels are referred to as sons of God (Gen. 6:2-4; Deu. 32:811 ; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). Also in favor of this identification is the subsequent delivery of Daniel in the lion’s den which is also said to be by an angel (Dan. 6:22+).12 This is the view taken by some commentators.13 On the other hand, some passages in the OT refer to a unique individual as God’s Son (singular), who appears to differ from the angels (Ps. 2:7, 12; Pr. 30:4; cf. Dan. 7:13+). Many Christian commentators take this individual to be one and the same as the Angel of the Lord—the mysterious figure who speaks in the first-person for God and even receives worship (Gen. 16:7-14; 22:11-15; 31:11-13; 32:28-30; Ex. 3:2-5; 23:20-23; Num. 22:35; Deu. 4:37; Jos. 5:13-15; Jdg. 6:11-24; 13:21-23; Hos. 12:3-5). Although it is beyond the scope of our treatment to expound on this topic at length, many believe that this special angel was a preincarnate representation of the Second Person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.14 In any event, it seems as if Nebuchadnezzar merely saw the individual as a “god-like being,” terminology that could also describe an angel.
1 Three Youths in the fiery furnace (1776, Upper ikonstas village church). Image courtesy of Wikimedia.org. Image is in the public domain.
2 “From the fact that he saw these men now loose, and that this filled him with so much surprise, it may be presumed that they had been bound with something that was not combustible - with some sort of fetters or chains.”—Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1884-85), Dan. 3:25.
3 John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (Broken Arrow, OK: StudyLamp Software, 1690-1771), Dan. 3:25.
4 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 1624.
5 Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Dan. 3:25.
6 “In Aramaic, אֱלָהִין [ʾělāhîn] is strictly plural, ‘gods’ (unlike Hebrew, where אֱלֹהִין [ʾělōhîn] can mean ‘gods,’ but is most commonly a plural of majesty referring to the one true ‘God’).”—Andrew E Steinmann, Daniel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), Dan. 3:25. “Son of the gods . . . is the correct translation . . . because the Aramaic form for ‘God’ is plural and in the Aramaic section of Daniel refers uniformly to the ‘gods’ of Babylon, the singular being employed when God is intended. Hence, on the basis of the consistent usage, the rendering ‘a son of the gods,’ that is, a celestial being, god, or ‘angel’ (v. 28), is preferable linguistically and also contextually, in line with Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual comprehension at that juncture in his experience.”—Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, 1624. “בר אלהין [ḇr ʾlhyn] ‘The Son of God’ (AV) would require emph אלהיא [ʾlhyʾ] , or better emph singular אלהא [ʾlhʾ] . Further, in BA plural. אלהין [ʾlhyn] does not elsewhere have singular meaning like BH אלהים [ʾlhym] (Ginsberg, Handbook i, 2:17; BL 87f).”—John E. Goldingay, “Daniel,” vol. 30 in Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, eds., Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books), 68.
7 E.g., “In biblical Aramaic the plural noun ʿělāhîn may be assumed to have the same force as ʿělōhîm in biblical Hebrew, which can be rendered as a plural, ‘gods,’ or as a singular, ‘God,’ when denoting the true God, the plural form being an attempt to express the divine fullness and majesty.”—Stephen R. Miller, “Daniel,” in E. Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, and David S. Dockery, eds., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), Dan. 3:25.
8 “The Old Greek, apparently seeking to avoid the designation of this man as divine, translated, ὁμοίωμα ἀγγέλου θεοῦ [homoiōma angelou theou] , ‘a likeness of an angel of God,’ probably based on Dan. 3:28+, where Nebuchadnezzar says that the God of the Judeans sent מַלְאֲכֵהּ [malʾăḵēh] , ‘his angel.’ The Old Greek translated אֱלָהִין [ʾělāhîn] , ‘gods,’ by ἄγγελος [angelos] , ‘angel,’ also in Dan. 2:11+, and by εἴδωλον [eidōlon] , ‘idol,’ in Dan. 3:12+, 18+ (cf. Dan. 5:4+, 23+). Here in Dan. 3:25+, Theodotion has a more literal translation of the MT with ὁμοία υἱῷ θεοῦ [homoia huiō theou] , ‘like a son of God.’ In other passages, where pagan Nebuchadnezzar refers to the Holy Spirit as רוַּה־אֱלָהִין [rûah–ʾělāhîn] , ‘the spirit of gods,’ Theodotion avoids the appearance of endorsing pagan polytheism by translating אֱלָהִין [ʾělāhîn] with the singular θεός [theos] , ‘God’ (Dan. 4:5-6+, 15+ [θ′/ET Dan. 4:8-9+, 18+]; Dan. 5:11+, 14+), since it refers to the one true God.”—Steinmann, Daniel, Dan. 3:25.
9 “In v. 28 the same personage is called an angel of God, Nebuchadnezzar there following the religious conceptions of the Jews, in consequence of the conversation which no doubt he had with the three who were saved. Here, on the other hand, he speaks in the spirit and meaning of the Babylonian doctrine of the gods.”—Carl Friedrich Keil, “Daniel,” in Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 9:575. “The Babylonians believed that their gods had sons. Thus, when Nebuchadnezzar said that the fourth person in the furnace looked like a son of the gods, this was his pagan way of saying that the fourth person looked like a divine or supernatural being.”—Renald E. Showers, The Most High God: Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1982), Dan. 3:24-27. “Both in this term ‘son of Deity,’ בר אלהין [ḇr ʾlhyn] , and in the synonym for it which is later put in the king’s mouth, ‘his angel,’ the latter is given language entirely genuine to Aramaic Paganism; his terms are taken neither from Babylonian mythology . . . nor from Greek ideas of the sons of the gods . . .”—James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Edinburgh, Scotland: T & T Clark, 1927, 1959), 214.
10 Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Dan. 3:25.
11 “A fragment from [Dea Sea Scroll] Cave IV containing Deu. 32:8 reads, ‘according to the number of the sons of God,’ which is translated ‘angels of God’ by the LXX, as in Gen. 6:4 (margin); Job 1:6; Job 2:1; and 38:7. The Masoretic Text reads, ‘according to the number of the children of Israel.’ ”—Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), 367.
12 “If the Redeemer appeared on this occasion, it cannot be explained why, in a case equally important and perilous, he did not appear to Daniel when cast into the lions’ den Dan. 6:22+; and as Daniel then attributed his deliverance to the intervention of an angel, there is every reason why the same explanation should be given of this passage.”—Barnes, Notes on the Bible, Dan. 3:25.
13 “The king identifies the ‘son of the gods’ (v. 25) as an angel. Comparable Hebrew expressions are used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible for the members of God’s angelic assembly (see Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps. 29:1; 89:6). An angel later comes to rescue Daniel from the lions (Dan. 6:22+).”—New English Translation : NET Bible, 1st ed. (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 1998,2006), Dan. 3:28. “No doubt God here sent one of his angels, to support by his presence the minds of his saints, lest they should faint. It was indeed a formidable spectacle to see the furnace so hot, and to be cast into it. By this consolation God wished to allay their anxiety, and to soften their grief, by adding an angel as their companion. We know how many angels have been sent to one man, as we read of Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15.) And there is this general rule — He, has given his angels charge over thee, to guard thee in all the ways; and also, The camps of angels are about those who fear God. (Ps. 91:11, and Psalm 34:7.) . . . Nebuchadnezzar calls him a son of God; not because he thought him to be Christ, but according to the common opinion among all people, that angels are sons of God, since a certain divinity is resplendent in them; and hence they call angels generally sons of God.”—John Calvin, Commentary on The Prophet Daniel (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998, 1561), Dan. 3:24-25. “ ‘But I see four men walking about unbound and unharmed in the fire and the fourth looks like a divine being.’ ”—Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1997, c1985), Dan. 3:25. “Slotki remarks, ‘The Talmud asserts that it was the archangel Gabriel (Pes. 118a, b).’ ”—Miller, Daniel, Dan. 3:25.
14 “The appearances to Abraham at Mamre (Gen. 18:2, 22. cf. Gen. 19:1), to Jacob at Peniel (Gen. 32:24, 30), to Joshua at Gilgal (Jos. 5:13, 15), of the Angel of the Lord, were doubtless manifestations of the Divine presence, ‘foreshadowings of the incarnation,’ revelations before the ‘fulness of the time’ of the Son of God.”—M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1893), s.v. “Angel.” “Did the King speak true when he beheld the fourth like the Son of God? Little did he know what he said or what it meant, but assuredly he saw in that fire the Son of God, Jehovah . . .”—Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Prophet Daniel: A Key to the Visions and Prophecies of the Book of Daniel, 2nd (New York, NY: Our Hope, 1911), 46. “The ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the Old Testament is the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . The One who appeared to Moses in the burning bush is the same One who appeared to the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, the One who spent the night with Daniel in the lions’ den.”—Oliver B. Greene, Daniel (Greenville, SC: The Gospel Hour, 1964, 1974), Dan. 3:26-30. “For as the children of Israel were destined to see God in the world, and yet not to believe on Him, the Scripture showed beforehand that the Gentiles would recognise Him incarnate, whom, while not incarnate, Nebuchadnezzar saw and recognised of old in the furnace, and acknowledged to be the Son of God. . . . The three youths he thus called by name. But he found no name by which to call the fourth. For He was not yet that Jesus born of the Virgin.”—Hippolytus, “Scholia on Daniel,” in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 188. “We know well who that fourth One was; so that the rendering that we have in the Authorized Version is correct as to the person, whether it is actually what Nebuchadnezzar meant or not. The blessed Son of God was there with His dear servants in their hour of trial.”—H. A. Ironside, Lectures on Daniel the Prophet, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), 52. “Having no spiritual perception, Nebuchadnezzar could only testify to His unusual appearance—He looked like one of the sons of the gods. However, I do believe that the fourth Man was the Son of God, the preincarnate Christ.”—J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981), Dan. 3:25. “Most likely the fourth man in the fire was the angel of the Lord, God himself in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, a view held by many expositors . . .”—Miller, Daniel, Dan. 3:25. “Something of the manifold relationship which Christ sustains to the millennium is to be observed in the many names and titles given to Him during that period, each suggesting some facts of His person and work in that day. . . . the Son of God (Isa. 9:6; Dan. 3:25+; Hos. 11:1) . . .”—J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 478-479. “As the church fathers had already recognized [among later scholars we mention Calvin, Hengstenberg, Keil, Ebrard, Lange, and Stier], this is no less a person than the Son of God Himself, the Word. . . who appeared later in Christ.”—Eric Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964, 1951), 103. “It should be noted that the Aramaic word translated angel was also used for deity. It is the conviction of the present writer that the fourth person in the fiery furnace was the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in a preincarnate appearance, sent by God to deliver miraculously His three faithful saints.”—Showers, The Most High God: Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Dan. 3:24-27. “The incarnation is also to be distinguished from theophanies, or those appearances of a divine person in human form (often bearing the title ‘the angel of the Lord,’ ‘angel of God’), of which the OT gives instances (see Gen. 16:7; 21:17; Ex. 3:2; 14:19; Jdg. 6:11-22; etc.). These are to be regarded as preintimations or occasional prophetic manifestations of that which was to be permanently realized in Christ.”—Merrill K. Unger, R. Harrison, Frederic F Vos, and Cyril J. Barber, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), s.v. “Incarnation.” “It is undoubtedly true that the fourth person in the fiery furnace was indeed the preincarnate Word, ‘the Son of God.’ ”—Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, 1624. “Since the language of the text would have us understand that a supernatural Person was present, we must ask whether this supernatural Person was merely an angel (Jewish expositors) or whether we are face to face with a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity. . . . Perhaps, upon the basis of the available evidence, the question cannot definitely be settled, although I incline toward the latter view.”—Edward J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1949, 1998), Dan. 3:25.