Daniel 10:13 NIV

13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.

Although every bible translation seems to agree what echad means in this passage some have questioned the validity of such a translation saying echad must be translated 'first'.

By the way, the term, “one of the chief princes” in Daniel 10:13 is translated badly. It makes it appear as if He is merely “one” of the princes, when in fact He is the Chief Prince. The word “one” in this passage comes from the Hebrew word “echad” which also means “first” as in “first day” in Genesis 1:5. When you translate the verse correctly it states that Michael is the first, or highest of the chief princes. Source

On what basis do translators translate echad in Daniel 10:13 to be one instead of first?

  • 1
    On what basis do translators translate echad in Daniel 10:13 to be one instead of first ? - Probably on the same basis they also render the shema as hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one, instead of hear, oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is first.
    – Lucian
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:36

4 Answers 4


The relevant bit of Daniel 10:3 reads as follows:

... וְהִנֵּה מִיכָאֵל אַחַד הַשָּׂרִים הָרִאשֹׁנִים בָּא לְעָזְרֵנִי ...
... but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me ...

OP has two intertwining interests: (1) the primary question is about the meaning here of "one" in Hebrew; but secondarily (2) how does this relate to the status of Michael among the messengers of God ("angels").

(1) The meaning of "one"

Hebrew אֶחָד (ʾeḥād) has the following range of meaning:1

  1. the numeral one (cardinal)
  2. "another" when repeated after itself (e.g. Job 41:16 = 41:8 in Hebrew)
  3. as an indefinite article (otherwise lacking in Hebrew; e.g. 1 Sam 1:1, "There was a man...")
  4. as the ordinal, "first" (especially in date formulae, e,g, Gen 8:5, "first day of the tenth month")
  5. as a distributive, "each" (e.g. Deut 1:23, "a man from each tribe)

It will be seen, then, that range of Hebrew ʾeḥād is broader than the English numeral "one", and that "first" is one (!) of its meanings.

For two reasons it is unlikely (almost certainly not) to be taken as "first" in Daniel 10:3, however:

  • the use of ʾeḥād as the ordinal "first" in Hebrew is almost exclusively restricted to contexts of date formulae (HALOT lists seven examples under this heading: all of them are in dates of some kind, be it connected to day, month, or year); and
  • the formulation here is ʾeḥād in the "construct" (a kind of genetive relationship, so the form is ʾaḥad) followed by a definite noun with the article.

On the latter point, this construction occurs 18 times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 21:15; 22:2; 26:10; 37:20; Jdg. 16:7, 11; 19:13; 1 Sam. 26:15; 2 Sam. 2:18; 6:20; 13:13; 17:9, 12; 2 Ki. 2:16; Ps. 82:7; Ezek. 45:7; 48:8; Dan. 10:13), and in every one (!) of those texts, it has the sense of "a single example out of a larger group".

This, then, is the meaning to be understood in Daniel 10:3, and the various English translations tend to reflect the "among-ness" of Michael's status; so, for example, as the Tanakh (JPS ) nicely puts it, "...now Michael, a prince of the first rank, has come to my aid...".

(2) The status of Michael

The "source" cited by the OP has the whiff of anachronism about it. Within the horizon of the Hebrew Bible, Michael is mentioned only in Daniel 10:13, 21; and 12:3. That's it. Gabriel is mentioned only in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21. But Raphael, Uriel, Phanuel, or any of the other archangels are not mentioned at all.

The development of the hierarchy among these angelic beings was largely post-biblical (i.e., follows the period in which the books of the Hebrew Bible were written). The first flowering of the more developed angelology can be observed in the book of Enoch, in which most of the "named" archangels can be found. More about this can be found in the "Michael מיכאל" article from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.2

It is of interest to note, all the same, that even Rashi is not inclined to differentiate Michael in Daniel 10:3. In the Eastern Christian tradition's understanding, by the 4th century AD Michael is ascribed the "chief" role (see the paragraph "Regarding his rank..." at the previous link).

At the time of the book of Daniel, however (and what "time" precisely that is need not concern us here, and is a different question), clearly that more stratified "angelology" was not yet in place. The characterization of Michael as among the foremost of the heavenly beings (who was also styled "prince", Dan 10:13, 21) is surely appropriate.


  1. These are the main headings from L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm (eds), Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament = (HALOT), q.v. אֶחָד; the same headings are represented in the venerable and still useful Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (OUP, 1906), pp. 25-26. The headings map this way:
      1 = 1
      2 = 6
      3 = 3+4
      4 = 7
      5 = 2
    See also the אֶחָד entry in TDOT, vol. 1, pp. 193ff. For the more typical ordinal "first" (usually spelled with ʾ, רִאשׁוֹן riʾšôn) see also BDB, pp. 911-12. This term occurs in the phrase characterizing the group of heavenly beings to which Michael belongs: הַשָּׂרִים הָרִאשֹׁנִים = "chief [or foremost] princes".
  2. R.H. Charles, a leading scholar of apocalyptic literature at the turn of the 20th century, has an article on Michael in James Hastings (ed.), Dictionary of the Bible (T & T Clark/Scribners, 1911) vol. 3, pp. 362-3.
  • The angelic army described in the Book of Daniel seems to resemble the earthly ones. All armies have a military leader: that would be Michael, who, unlike Gabriel, seems to be engaged in the actual fighting. And when opposing armies communicate, they do so with the help of an envoy, messenger, or emissary: that would be Gabriel, who, unlike Michael, seems to do the actual talking. Furthermore, all armies have doctors tending to the wounded soldiers: that would be Raphael, mentioned in the Book of Tobit, who, unlike the previous two, seems involved in the actual healing. Commanders outrank all.
    – Lucian
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:04

In Hebrew אחד is a cardinal number. The names of the days of the week are formed from cardinal numbers, so what we call “Sunday” is “day one” in Hebrew, and thus also in the Greek and Latin Bibles, but the English translators render this as “the first day”, only because this sounds more natural in English. But אחד does not actually ever mean “first”. The ordinal number “first” is רישון.

Compare Gen. 1:5

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ φῶς ἡμέραν καὶ τὸ σκότος ἐκάλεσεν νύκτα καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα καὶ ἐγένετο πρωί ἡμέρα μία

Appellavitque lucem Diem, et tenebras Noctem : factumque est vespere et mane, dies unus.

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאֹור יֹום וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַיְהִי־בֹקֶר יֹום אֶחָד׃ ף

Source: Gesenius/Donner, 12th edition, 2013.

  • This answer would be greatly strengthened by citing a source such as a Hebrew lexicon. We don't care about what you know if you don't also tell us how you know it.
    – Dan
    Mar 7, 2014 at 17:36
  • There are lots of out-of-date Hebrew dictionaries on the internet; up-to-date ones can be found in University libraries (e.g Gesenius/Donner, 12th edition, 2013). But this is a question of elementary grammar. Students of Hebrew learn it in their first year.
    – fdb
    Mar 7, 2014 at 17:42
  • 2
    yes, so you should cite an up-to-date one, i.e. the specific page number and whatnot where others can verify this information.
    – Dan
    Mar 7, 2014 at 17:44
  • Gesenius/Donner is arranged alphabetically. The page number will not do you any good if you cannot read Hebrew letters.
    – fdb
    Mar 7, 2014 at 17:46
  • 2
    even HALOT has page numbers. You could just write "entry for אחד and then cite the source, that would be fine, even better, quote it here for others to see that אחד and רישון have distinct meanings. The idea is not just making assertions without showing us how you derived them. Think math homework, not forum.
    – Dan
    Mar 7, 2014 at 17:54

אחד in most cases matches our cardinal number one, but there are also instances where first fits better (e.g. Ez.40.2 in the first (ראשון) month on the first (אחד) day. Biblical Hebrew words never match 100% with one single English expression. You find the reference in Brown-Driver-Briggs, page 25, especially in paragraph nr. 7. But keep in mind, even dictionaries are written by men and reflect some kind of "opinion". Best thing is to take a hebrew concordance and check the passages in the bible yourself.

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    – user2027
    Mar 17, 2014 at 12:19

Unfortunately, the confusion arises only as a result of the pre-existing theological position in the source material. The article you linked to is trying to prove that the archangel Michael is Jesus, which is why it introduces this translation error, for it to then be able to appeal to it as an argument to support its claim.

As many have already pointed out, the only times "echad" is used to mean "first" in translating a given text, is when it is in reference to "yom echad", which is Sunday (and therefore also the "first" day) or other similar circumstances which might yield unnatural English renderings. So the word itself does not mean "first", but it is part of a construct here which can be correctly translated as "the first day".

A great resource is blueletterbible.org. It gives you the text with links to the concordance. Here is a link to the entry on echad (אֶחָד). You will notice it lists all the ways the word is translated, with references to each that you can then click on to read (no need for page numbers or going to the library).

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