HOW COULD PAGAN NEBUCHADNEZZAR KNOW ABOUT “THE SON OF GOD?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Read Daniel 3:25 as found in our King James Bible: “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.” How could Nebuchadnezzar, the pagan, idolatrous, King of Babylon, know about “the Son of God?” Would that not be a “Christian” doctrine, an idea so foreign to him it would have thus been impossible for him to utter?
THE DIFFERENCE IS STRIKING!
Concerning Daniel 3:25, the Aramaic expression “Bar-elohin” is handled “the Son of God” in our Authorized Version; however, it is rendered “a son of the gods” in nearly all popular modern English translations (American Standard Version, Amplified, English Standard Version, Good News Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Message, New American Standard Version [1995 and 2020], New International Version, Revised Standard Version, Voice, et al.). The New King James Version is quite underhanded (as usual), keeping the traditional King James reading but adding the alternate reading in a footnote: “Or a son of the gods.”
Of course, if we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to believe; we freely confess we recognize there is a difference between a declaration of polytheism (“a son of the gods”) and a statement of monotheism (“the Son of God”). This is just one example of how modern English versions differ significantly from the King James Bible. For the moment, we care not to evaluate which one is correct and which one is incorrect. All we need to admit at this point is both readings are separate and distinct—yea, rather, they are mutually exclusive. Contrary to what we hear, all English Bibles do not say the same thing! With that fact clearly stated, now we can evaluate both readings.
ASSESSING THE INTERPRETATIONS
It has been argued the King James translators were wrong, and modern English version translators were right. After all, was not Nebuchadnezzar a heathen Babylonian king, someone who would have referred to a plurality of gods (“a son of the gods”) instead of the one true God, the God of Israel (“the Son of God”)? On the surface, this case is strong; however, a closer examination of the Scriptures reveals something else entirely. Any objective reading of the first five chapters of Daniel causes us to see Nebuchadnezzar is not the average Gentile of that day. He is not completely isolated from monotheistic Judaism as Bible critics would have us believe.
The King of Babylon has more spiritual light than most non-Jews because of his personal involvement with the Jewish Prophet Daniel and his three friends (often known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—their original Hebrew names were, respectively, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah). By way of his association with these four Jewish saints, Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual understanding develops through the course of the Book of Daniel. In chapter 1, he is a lost man. Yet, by the time of chapter 4, he has left his pagan idols (polytheism) and come to faith in the one true God (monotheism). As presented in our King James, Daniel 3:25 is one step forward in that right direction; however, in nearly all modern English versions, Nebuchadnezzar appears to take a step backward into paganism. Again, one reading must remain, and the other must be discarded. Do we throw out the King James (“the Son of God”) or the modern versions (“a son of the gods”)? How do we proceed in establishing what is right and what is wrong?
Again, let us consider how Nebuchadnezzar’s spirituality develops in the Book of Daniel. For instance, chapter 2 relates: “ Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.  The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.” Once more, Nebuchadnezzar is clearly pagan in that he worships Daniel and speaks of Daniel’s God; yet, Nebuchadnezzar is not in total spiritual darkness. He has just heard Daniel speak the words of Israel’s God (monotheism). Whereas the king’s other “wise men” (polytheistic spiritual leaders) could not interpret his dream, Daniel has demonstrated Israel’s God can. Nebuchadnezzar is therefore fascinated, and expresses amazement concerning Daniel’s God (not some plurality of heathen idols, please note).
Move into chapter 3, the immediate context of the verse (25) we are considering. Nebuchadnezzar is still idolatrous and polytheistic (see especially verses 1,12,15,18). Yet, he will soon witness something incredible—a miracle even more stunning than that of chapter 2! “ Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon….  Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image:  And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.  There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.  Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king.
“ Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?  Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
“ Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.  And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.  Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.  Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.  Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.  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.
“ Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire.  And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.  Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.  Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the province of Babylon.”
Pay close attention to verse 26: “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.” Would this not be a reference to the one true God—and it coming from the mouth of “pagan” Nebuchadnezzar? See, again, Nebuchadnezzar’s contact with these Jewish believers has enlightened him concerning monotheism. Yet, the King James critics find it impossible for the King of Babylon to speak a monotheistic declaration just one verse prior? In other words, if we are forced to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s confession in verse 25 as heathen on the grounds of his polytheism (“a son of the gods”), how can we then let verse 26—the utterance immediately following it!!—remain in support of monotheism (“the Son of God”)? Stated another way, if the King James Bible is mistranslated in verse 25 (“the Son of God”—supposedly an impossible statement for an idolatrous king), we must conclude verse 26 needs rewording too (“the most high God” could not possibly come from a polytheistic king, could it?! Apply the logic of the Bible correctors: Nebuchadnezzar meant to say, “one of many gods!”). In short, the Authorized Version and its translators have been unjustly criticized—and this is neither the first time nor the last (!). Modern versions and their supporters, on the other hand, are the ones with the faulty logic—and this is neither the first time nor the last (!). Verse 26 in their own Bible text nullifies their claim and wording in verse 25.
What followed that controversial verse 25 in chapter 3? Read again verse 29: “Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” Is Nebuchadnezzar confessing how he sees the difference between “gods” (pagan idols) and “God” (Israel’s God)? He sure is (if we can read)! What he has seen as the Deliverer of these Jewish saints is not “a son of the gods”—for he admits he has not witnessed the work of an ordinary God! This God who saved these believers from the burning fiery furnace is different!
Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual insight becomes even sharper in chapter 4. “ Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.  I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.  How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation….  And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:  And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?….  Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”
Horrors! Recalling the critics’ arguments, Nebuchadnezzar could not have said these things either! If we are Bible believers, we will believe the Bible, and not worry about naysayers. We will let them argue with their own verses. By the way, scholars often appeal to the “Septuagint” (LXX)—the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In this case of Daniel 3:25, the Septuagint sides with the King James Bible against modern English versions. The LXX has “huio theou” (“theou” [“God”] being singular, not plural [“gods”]).
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Based on our research, the King James Bible has the superior reading in Daniel 3:25: “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 modern English translations, however, are inferior with their variant “a son of the gods.” In adopting this new reading, they omit a clear reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate form. (Is that not serious?) Yet, someone responds to us: How could Nebuchadnezzar know of the second Member of the Godhead? How could he be aware of God’s “Son?”
Remember, approximately 400 years before Nebuchadnezzar rose to power, the Holy Spirit had moved King David (cf. Acts 4:25-28; Psalm 2:1-2) to pen Psalm 2:7: “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” According to the Hebrew Bible, which Daniel and his three friends possessed (and taught to Nebuchadnezzar to some degree), the LORD has a “Son.” This is God the Father speaking to God the Son, roughly 1,000 B.C. (long before Nebuchadnezzar was born!). In fact, even Nebuchadnezzar’s own military leader, Nebuzaradan the Babylonian, quoted the Law of Moses to the Prophet Jeremiah. He knew Israel had disobeyed JEHOVAH God, and His wrath on the Jews was being exacted via the Babylonian troops conquering and exiling Judah! Babylon, though quite heathen, had much light from the Hebrew Bible and the one true God.
Jeremiah chapter 40: “ The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after that Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he had taken him being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon.  And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him, The LORD thy God hath pronounced this evil upon this place.  Now the LORD hath brought it, and done according as he hath said: because ye have sinned against the LORD, and have not obeyed his voice, therefore this thing is come upon you.” Horrors! Pagan Nebuzaradan was not supposed to be aware of the curses of Leviticus chapter 26 and Deuteronomy chapter 28—according to the critics anyway.
We rest our case!