Wherever the σωμα is, there the αετοι will gather.

There is some debate over how to translate Luke 17:37b. The question regards how to translate two words, σωμα and αετοι.  σωμα is the usual word for body, and αετοι is the usual word for eagles.  I believe that in this passage, the usual meanings are the best.

There are three basic ways to translate the sentence in question.

1. “Where the body is, there also the eagles will be gathered.” (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Geneva, Bishops)

2. “Where the corpse is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” (NIV, ESV, NLT, Holman, NRSV, REB)

3. “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” (NAB, NJB, NASB)

Prof. Steven Bridge, in his monograph Where the Eagles are Gathered, discusses the words γυψ (vulture) and  αετοι (eagles). In classic Greek literature, the word γυψ nearly always referred to the vulture, the large scavenger that feasts on rotting corpses. On the other hand, αετοι usually signified eagles, and only rarely indicated vultures. According to Bridge, αετοι should be rendered eagles in Luke 17:37.

The word σωμα is usually translated body in the New Testament. See, for example, I Corinthians 12:12: “The σωμα has many parts, but the many parts make up one σωματος. So it is with the σωμα of Christ.” (See also I Cor 10:16; Eph 3:6; Col 3:15)

There is a perfectly good Greek word for corpse, νεκρος, from which we get words like necrosis, necrotizing fascitis, and necrophilia.  Mark uses the word νεκρος in a story about demonic deliverance.

And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse [νεκρος], so that most of them said, “He is dead.” (Mark 9:26)

Some people wonder what verse 37 means when the key words are rendered “body” and “eagles,” but if today’s standard rendering had been intended, it seems likely that verse 37 would have read, “Where the νεκρος is, there also the γυψες will be gathered.” But those are not the words Mark uses.

Bridge believes, along with some others, that the gathering of eagles around the body represents the gathering of the elect around Christ himself, what Bridge calls “the eschatological gathering of the elect.”

If we can get over our addiction to harmonizing differences between the synoptic gospels, this is a reasonable rendering with a straightforward meaning, a meaning that makes sense in context.

There are two places in the Hebrew Bible where God’s elect are compared to eagles:

He satisfies you with goodness; your youth is renewed like the eagle.   (Psalm 103:5)

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.   (Isaiah 40:31).

Since Luke 17:23-37 has the second coming of Christ in view, it seems to me that the location of this eschatological climax at the very end of Luke’s Small Apocalypse makes excellent sense.

[To read all the posts on the gays and lesbians in Luke 17, click here.]

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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