Why Daniel 7:14 Is Not A Proof-Text For The Deity Of Christ

Daniel chapter seven is often used by trinitarian and oneness apologists as evidence that the OT scriptures do indeed present a portrait of the Messiah as God, in some sense. Two elements of the chapter that are the focus of these apologists are 1. the fact that the ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is said to be “coming on the clouds of heaven” and 2. that he receives ‘worship’ from “all peoples, nations and men of every language” in v. 14. I have already addressed the first issue in a previous article1, so in this article I want to address the second point.

The Assertion

Here is the assertion of the apologists and the reason why they think Daniel 7:14 is a proof-text for the deity of Christ. The ‘son of man’ figure in v. 13 is assumed to be a prophetic picture of Jesus, who is said to be ‘worshipped’ by all nations. Now, while some words in the Hebrew Bible which denote worship can be used to signify the kind of homage that can be legitimately given to humans, such as to kings, like the word shachah (Str. # 7812), the word used in Dan. 7:14 is the Aramaic word pelach (Str. # 6399), which, according to the apologists, is used exclusively for the worship given to a deity, whether to Yahweh or to false gods. From this it is deduced that the ‘son of man’ figure is indeed a deity figure, and if this figure is indeed Jesus, then we must conclude that Dan. 7:14 is affirming the deity of Christ.

To further bolster this claim it is often pointed out that in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (LXX) the word latreuo (Str. #3000) is used to translate pelach. Latreuo, like pelach, is said to refer exclusively to worship given to a deity. So again, based on these facts, it is asserted that the ‘son of man’ must be regarded as a deity figure, and so when Jesus is depicted in the gospels as applying this epithet to himself, he is, in fact, making a claim to deity.

The Rebuttal

The Meaning of Pelach
First, I want to address whether or not pelach is rightly translated as ‘worship’. Usually, when this passage is presented by apologists it is quoted with the word ‘worship’ as the translation of pelach, but actually, I could find only three versions that rendered pelach as worship, the NIV, AMP, and EHV (Evangelical Heritage Version). All other versions I checked rendered pelach as serve. The AMP has both serve and worship, but the classic version of the AMP has only serve. The NET has serve but in their note on this verse they say, “Some take ‘serving’ here in the sense of ‘worshiping.’ So it seems that the support for pelach meaning worship is rather slim in the English versions, for the vast majority translate it as serve. So if pelach is a specialized word used only in reference to a deity, then it should be understood as service rendered to a deity, not worship rendered to a deity. The idea that the word means worship is probably a consequence of the fact that, from the apologists’ perspective, in it’s ten appearances in the Hebrew Bible it is used only with reference to a deity, and so, therefore, must refer to worship. But, as we will see, this is merely superficial.

So would the fact that, in all of it’s appearances in the OT2, excluding Dan. 7:14, pelach is used only with reference to a deity, prove that the ‘son of man’ figure in Dan. 7:14 is a deity figure? Not at all, simply because the limited use of the word in the OT must not be what determines the meaning of the word. We must examine all of the data concerning the word pelach to see if the assertion made by the apologists holds true.

First, it must be understood that pelach is an Aramaic word and appears only in those sections of the Hebrew Bible which are written in Aramaic. The Aramaic sections are Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26; Dan. 2:4-7:28 and Jer. 10:11, for a total of 268 verses. It is within this very limited setting that pelach appears ten times, once in Ezra and nine times in Daniel. But this is hardly sufficient to determine the meaning of the word. We must look beyond the limited use of the word in the OT and the best place to look is in the Targums, which are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.

When we look at the Targums we find that pelach is used many times to translate the Hebrew word abad (Str. # 5647) throughout the Pentateuch. In this regard, it is used many times with reference to serving men, as well as serving God. Here are a few passages in which pelach refers to serving men in the Targums: Genesis 14:4; 15:14; 27:29; 29:18, 25; 31:41; Exodus 1:13; 14:12; 21:2; Leviticus 25:40; Deuteronomy 15:12; 20:11; 28:48. There are many more but this should suffice to prove the point. This evidence clearly shows that the meaning of pelach is not limited to service rendered to a deity, but includes service rendered to men.

Now someone is sure to respond to this data by saying that the Targumic usage of pelach is irrelevant to the discussion because in the inspired Scriptures it has a specialized meaning, and we know this because in all of it’s occurrences in the OT it refers to a deity. But this is simply special pleading. Why should we believe that pelach acquired a special limited meaning within Scripture that it didn’t have in everyday usage within the culture and time in which it was written? If God chose to communicate his word within a certain culture and language, why would He change the meaning of a specific word in that language? Is He trying to confuse us? Also, the assertion that pelach is used exclusively in reference to deity in the Scripture reveals the circular reasoning of the apologists. Of the ten occurrences of pelach in the OT, only eight of them are clearly in reference to a deity, while the remaining two, Dan. 7:14 and 7:27, are ambiguous, and could be using pelach with reference to serving men. But the apologists, already holding the presupposition that Christ is deity, simply assume that 7:14 fits this supposed limitation of the meaning of pelach. 7:27 is probably even more ambiguous, in that pelach could refer to either the “Most High” or the “people of the Most High.” The second option is reflected in the following versions: CEV, CJB, ERV, ESVUK, EXB, GNT, ICB, TLB, MSG, NOG, NCV, NRSV, OJB, RSV. So if we don’t just assume that the ‘son of man’ figure is a deity figure and if we take v. 27 to be referring to the “people” of the Most High, then there is no reason to assume that pelach has a specialized meaning in the OT, but that it carries the same meaning found in common usage.

So we see the apologists’ case begin to come apart at the seams. The reason why it seems to the apologists that pelach is a specialized word which refers exclusively to deity is simply because 1. the apologists’ presuppositions cause them to see Dan. 7:14 and 27 as referring to deity, and 2. because if one examines the entirety of the Aramaic sections of the OT, it becomes obvious that within that limited section there never arises a context in which pelach could have been used in reference to serving men, unless Dan. 7:14 and 27 are the only two instances. But when we look at the wider use of the word in the Targums, we do see many contexts in which it is used of serving men, completely refuting their assertion3.

What About the Greek?
What about the LXX use of latreuo for pelach? Doesn’t this support the apologists’ assertion? I will admit that latreuo does seem to have attained a specialized meaning of service rendered to God. All 21 occurrences of the word in the NT are in reference to God, and in the LXX, all but one of the 89 uses of latreuo seem to be in reference to deity, unless, of course, Dan 7:14 be excepted. The one unambiguous exception in the LXX is Deut. 28:48, which reads:

“And you shalt serve (latreuo) your enemies, which the Lord will send forth against you, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in the want of all things; and you shall wear upon your neck a yoke of iron until he shall have destroyed you.”

This one undeniable exception, within the biblical data, to the seeming rule, should not be discounted; if there is one exception why couldn’t there be another? Add to this the fact that Greek lexicons list service to men as one of the meanings of latreuo:

LSJ Lexicon – work for hire or pay; to be in servitude, serve; to
be subject or enslaved to.
Thayer – to serve for hire; to serve, minister to, either to the Gods or men and
used alike of slaves and freemen.
TDNT – the word is used literally for bodily service (e.g. workers on the land or
slaves).

Furthermore, the LXX uses a different Greek word for pelach in v. 27, the verb hupotage (Str. # 5292) which means to be in submission to, to obey. This shows that latreuo is not necessarily the equivalent to pelach. Not only this, but in Theodotion’s Greek translation of Daniel, he translates pelach in both v. 14 and v. 27 with the Greek verb douleuo (Str. # 1398) meaning to serve, to be in subjection to. This verb is used with reference to serving both God and men. Theodotion’s use of douleuo also shows that latreuo is not the necessary translation of pelach, and unless one considers the LXX to be inspired and inerrant in it’s readings, it’s use of latreuo in v. 14 is not authoritative. The noun form doulos (Str. # 1401) refers to a slave or a servant, one who is in subjection to the will of another. This means that the better way to understand Dan. 7:14 (as well as v. 27) is not that the nations are rendering religious worship to the ‘son of man’ figure, but that they are made subservient to him, which fits well with what the OT says elsewhere of the Messsiah {see Gen. 49:10; Ps. 2:8-9}.

Conclusion

What all of this means is that the assertion made by the apologists regarding Dan. 7:14 is another example of them overstating their case. The assertion is sullied by circular reasoning, eisegesis and the lack of pertinent data, either purposely or through poor study skills. Whatever the reason, the apologists should, for the sake of integrity, desist from using Daniel 7:14 as a proof-text for the deity of Christ.

Endnotes
1. The Rider On The Clouds – A Critique Of Dr. Michael Heiser’s View Of Daniel 7
2. Ezra 7:24; Daniel 3:12, 13, 17, 18, 28; 6:16, 20; 7:14, 27
3. The same holds true for the Aramaic Peshitta OT. Even the Peshitta NT uses pelach at least twice in reference to serving men, Matt. 6:24 and Acts 7:7.

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

4 thoughts on “Why Daniel 7:14 Is Not A Proof-Text For The Deity Of Christ”

  1. Good to see texts like Deut 28:48LXX getting some airplay.
    Also note Judith 3:8a “So that all nations should worship [latreuo] Nebuchadnezzar only.”
    And why is the Son never latrueo is a good question to ask the “Son of Man is latreuo therefore Jesus is God” crowd!
    Some trini scholars like Dr. Wainwright have to admit!
    “In the NT [latreuo] is never used of service or worship given to Christ. [And again] there is no instance of [latreuo] which has Christ as its object.” (Trinity in the NT)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t include the Judith passage as evidence of latreuo being used of service to men because in the context it refers to serving Nebuchadnezzar as a god.
      Sam Shamoun (and others I am sure) point to Rev. 22:3 as a case where latreuo is given to Christ. Of course I disagree.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good work again. Psalm 72:11, among other texts, prepares us for the idea that Israel and/or Israel’s king might be served by nations and peoples in a special way under God’s direction.

    The point of Daniel 7:14 is not that a new divine figure appears and is awarded the worship due to his divinity–it’s that an immanent figure works in the world in such a way (i.e. reigning as king) that the transcendent God becomes the object of the nations’ worship. God sets up the “cult” of his king over the earth so that glory might flow through the king and into God.

    Like

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