Matthew 24:28 Vultures or Eagles
Working Toward A Good Translation, And A Good Theology
There is some disagreement over how best to translate Matthew 24:28 into the vernacular. Some will translate it as follows, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” However, the original Greek does not use the term “vultures.” It clearly uses the term for eagles, “aetoi,” the plural for Strong’s #105, “aetos.” The Greek word used here in Matthew 24 is also used in the parallel passage in Luke 17:37. The only other uses for this word are Revelations 4:7, 8:13, and 12:14. The context of each of these passages clearly refers to a heavenly creature doing God’s will.
So, why do some purposely mistranslate the Greek word for “eagles” and use “vultures?” Their reasoning is connected to the Greek word for “body.” [Strong’s # 4430] It is based on two words which mean a “body” and an adjective meaning “fallen.” So, it is sometimes translated as “corpse.”
Now, an eagle is a predator that only goes after live prey. Vultures, or buzzards, are scavengers that feed on carcasses, the deader the better. So, some translators substitute vultures even though the Greek uses “eagles” since they reason that it fits better with a “fallen body.”
I contend that the Catholic translation that is found in older Bibles which used the word “eagle” is better and that this passage refers to the Sacrifice of the Mass around which God the Father would gather His children till the end of time.
Although, the Greek word for Body refers to a fallen body – for example, this same Greek word is used to refer to Christ’s Body when it is taken down from the cross in Mark 15:45 – I believe that it is a reference to eternal sacrifice of the Mass where Jesus is perpetually offered to God the Father both in Heaven and re-presented here on earth at the Sacrifice of the Mass. 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The Lamb, a symbol for Jesus who is our Paschal Lamb, is standing. Standing is the posture of the officiating Old Testament priest. And this Lamb appears as though He has been slain. Christ is both the Eternal High Priest and the Victim. So, this imagery fits perfectly with our understanding of Jesus offering Himself to God the Father once for all time, eternally in Heaven.
And Hebrews chapter 10 goes on to warn those who knowingly sin and deliberately refuse to avail themselves of the graces offered by the Sacrifice of the Mass no longer have any sacrifice that expiates their sins since there is no other Savior except Jesus.
A Weak Theology
Some lay “Catholic” educators have ignored and in some cases even denied the sacrificial nature of the Mass and contended that it is only a communal meal. The Holy Father John Paul II has corrected this misunderstanding in his encyclical letter Ecclesia De Eucharistia (2003 AD),
Perhaps the difficulty in recognizing the association between the “fallen body” in Matthew 24:28 with our Paschal Lamb, “standing as though slain,” has been due to these shadows and bad theology that Pope John Paul II speaks about.
Matthew 24:23-28 - the Context
In Matthew chapter 24 Jesus tells us not to be alarmed by false declarations that the second coming has occurred and that He is either here or there. After saying where He is not it is natural that He would then say where He will be. Verses 27-28 record Jesus’s conclusion, “For as the lightning come forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
In the parallel passage in Luke 17: 20-37 Jesus also tells of His second coming. He tells of how “one” will be taken and one will be left. His disciples asked Him, “Where, Lord?” And in verse 37 Jesus replies, “Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
The word used for “body” in the above verse is the same Greek word used in the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus said, “This is my Body.”
It is also interesting to note that the Greek does not state that the eagles will gather, rather it says that the eagles will be gathered. Perhaps this is allusion to John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.”
It is God the Father who moves people’s hearts with the gift of faith to accept what Jesus promises in John 6. So, it is God the Father who is doing the gathering of the eagles by blessing them with the gift of faith. Traditionally the Saints are said to have the eagle eye, that is, the eye of faith.
John 6:53-56 “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’ ”
So, for these reasons
I believe Matthew 24:28 should be translated as follows,