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Matthew 24:28 
Vultures or Eagles ?

Matthew 24:28 :
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

“Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” 



Working Toward A Good Translation, And A Good Theology
Church Fathers

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, “aetós.”  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?”   (See Protestant Bible Dictionary.)
 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.”


Revelation 5:6
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain …”  

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. 

Hebrews 7:24-25
“ but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever.  Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 

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), 

“10. …  Unfortunately, alongside these lights, there are also shadows. … At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet.”


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,
“Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

A few years after composing the article above I came across these quotations below.

  Church Fathers on this passage

St. John Chrysostom

For wheresoever the carcass is, says He, there also will be the eagles,”  Matthew 24:28 calling His body a carcass by reason of His death.  For unless He had fallen, we should not have risen again. But He calls us eagles, implying that he who draws near to this Body must be on high and have nothing common with the earth, nor wind himself downwards and creep along; but must ever be soaring heavenwards, and look on the Sun of Righteousness, and have the eye of his mind quick-sighted. For eagles, not daws, have a right to this table. Those also shall then meet Him descending from heaven, who now worthily have this privilege, even as they who do so unworthily, shall suffer the extremest torments.   
Homily 24 on First Corinthians

St. Thomas Aquinas quoting St. Ambose

Luke 17:37  “And they said to him,  ‘Where, Lord?’  He said to them,  ‘Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.’ ”

For the
souls of the righteous are likened to eagles, .... Now concerning the body, we can have no doubt, and above all if we remember that Joseph received the body from Pilate. ... But the body is that of which it was said, My flesh is meat indeed; and around this body are the eagles ...
See St. Thomas Aquinas'  Catena Aurea

St. Thomas Aquinas

Secondly, this belongs to Christ's love, out of which for our salvation He assumed a true body of our nature. And because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix), He promises us His bodily presence as a reward, saying (Matthew 24:28): "Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together." Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence; but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence (John 6:57) he says: "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him." Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us.   
(Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 75 > Question 75. Article 1. Is the Body of Christ in this sacrament truly, or figuratively? .I answer that,)



“the Lord say to His disciples, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you;" … of whom Esaias also says, "I will bring your seed from the east, and will gather you from the west; and I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth; all, as many as have been called in My name: for in My glory I have prepared, and formed, and made him." Isaiah 43:5 Inasmuch as then, "wheresoever the carcass is, there shall also the eagles be gathered together," Matthew 24:28 we do participate in the glory of the Lord, who has both formed us, and prepared us for this, that, when we are with Him, we may partake of His glory.” 
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:14:1)

 Note:  Jesus' glory was when He manifested His great act of love on the cross.  See John 12:23-33

St. John Chrysostom

Having told them how Antichrist comes, as, for instance, that it will be in a place; He says how Himself also comes. How then does He Himself come? "As the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. For wheresoever the carcass is, there also will the eagles be gathered together." Matthew 24:27-28

How then shines the lightning? It needs not one to talk of it, it needs not a herald, but even to them that sit in houses, and to them in chambers it shows itself in an instant of time throughout the whole world. So shall that coming be, showing itself at once everywhere by reason of the shining forth of His glory. But He mentions also another sign, "where the carcass is, there also shall the eagles be;" meaning the multitude of the angels, of the martyrs, of all the saints. 
Homilies on Matthew > Homily 76

St. Jerome

I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for "the pearl of great price." Matthew 13:46  "Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Matthew 24:28 Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome ...” 
Letters of St. Jerome > Letter 15

St. Thomas Aquinas

Secondly, to uplift our hope: hence He says (John 14:3): "If I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to Myself; that where I am, you also may be." For by placing in heaven the human nature which He assumed, Christ gave us the hope of going thither; since "wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together," as is written in Matthew 24:28.  Hence it is written likewise (Micah 2:13): "He shall go up that shall open the way before them."   
Summa Theologica > Third Part > Question 57. Article 1.  Did it belong for Christ to ascend into heaven?  Reply to Objection 3.


“You have become a good eagle who seeks out heaven, spurns earth. The good eagles are around the altar: for indeed  ‘Where the body is, there will the eagles be’ [Matthew 24:28]. The altar is the image of the body, and the body of Christ is on the altar. You are the eagles, renewed now that the fault has been washed away.”
[Ambrose, De Sacramentis, 4:7, as quoted in the book, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images … by Éamonn Ó Carragáin, page 145.]

See more comments by Jerome, Hilary, Origen, Gregory, and Cyril.

Eagles or Vultures
The word in question is the Greek word “aetós” Strong’s # 105.
According to the Protestant J. Thayer Lexicon, the Greek word “aetós” means eagle. However, he substitutes “vulture” in Luke 17:37 and Matthew 24:28

Thayer’s Lexicon (Protestant Dictionary)
Aetós  -
“an eagle : Rev. 4:7; 8:13; 12:14.
In Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37 it is better, since eagles are said seldom or never to go in quest of carrion, to understand with many interpreters either the vultur(e) percnopterus, which resembles an eagle, or the vultur(e) harhatus.”





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Footnote 1

Revelation 4:6-8
“ … and before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.  And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing,

‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ ” 

Revelation 8:13
“Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice, as it flew in midheaven,  ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets which the three angels are about to blow!’ ” 

Revelation 12:14
“But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness …” 

Ezekiel 1:5-10
“And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings.  Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze.  Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; they went every one straight forward, without turning as they went.  As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back.”


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