Eagles or Vultures?
By: Martin A. Shue

Recently in an online text-critic forum a member posted that Matt. 24:28 (and by extension Lk. 17:37) in our King James Bible should read "vultures" instead of "eagles". He concluded his comments by stating that our KJB was in "error" and that he was thankful that the modern versions had corrected this 'mistake'. Well, I politely responded with a few comments defending the reading "eagles" and was promptly kicked out of the group by the forum moderator. Interesting times that we live in when it is more acceptable to 'correct' the Bible than it is to promote and defend it. Since I was unable to complete my defense in that group I decided I would write this short article defending the reading "eagles" in our KJB and pointing out that it is the modern versions that are actually in error.

In researching this verse I found that there are about as many interpretations of Christ's meaning as there are commentaries. It is not my aim here to offer any interpretations of the words but merely to discuss and defend the words. It will perhaps benefit us if we state up front that there are no significant variants in the words under consideration. Every Greek text reads "aetoi"; every extant Greek manuscript (ms.) reads "aetoi". The root word here is aetos and clearly signifies an "eagle". Strong's gives the simple definition of "an eagle (from its wind-like flight):--eagle." Likewise, Thayer's Greek Lexicon says, "an eagle". Then Thayer proceeds with the following words, "it is better, since eagles are said seldom or never to go in quest of carrion, to understand with many interpreters either the vulture percnopterus, which resembles an eagle, or the vulture barbatus." It is clear from Thayer's words that he has abandoned honest translation and has wondered off into speculative interpretation. Had God wished to say "vulture" in this verse He no doubt would've written the Greek word for "vulture" (gupas).

For those who do not read or speak Greek it can easily be ascertained what "aetos" means. For example, you can go to sites such as http://www.kypros.org/cgi-bin/lexicon/ and enter either "aetos" (Greek) or "eagles" (English) and easily see what the word means without the strange interpretations of modern textual 'scholars'. The word is altered to "vultures" in some translations in order to accommodate their exegesis of the passages. If they simply translated what was before them all versions would read "eagles". A few examples are -

Wycliffe 1380 "where euere the bodi schal be: also the eglis schulen ben gaderid thidir.";

Tyndale 1534 "For wheresoever a deed karkas is, even thither will the egles resorte.";

Geneva 1557 "For where soeuer a dead carkas is, euen thither wyl the Egles resort";

Although I left the original spelling intact you can easily see that all the translations read "eagles" and not "vultures". Why? Because that is what the Greek text says!

Not all of the modern translations have erred by rendering "aetoi" as "vultures". I would; however, like to mention a few in particular to demonstrate how modern 'scholarship' works. The American Standard Version reads, "eagles"; however, the New American Standard Version reads, "vultures". The underlying Greek word has not changed! The NASV has moved away from literal translation in favor of interpretation. The NASV has a footnote that reads, "or eagles". The Revised Standard Version reads, "eagles". The NRSV now reads "vultures". Once again the Greek word has not changed.

Popular versions such as the ESV and NIV both render the passages as "vultures" with no notes to indicate that the underlying Greek actually reads "eagles". Strangely enough the word "aetos" appears a few more times in the NT. In Rev. 4:7 both the ESV and NIV translate the word as "eagle". They do the same in Rev. 12:14. This is the exact same Greek word that is used in Matt. 24:28 and Luke 17:37. If 'aetos' was a "vulture" then why didn't the ESV and NIV (NASV as well) translate these two verses as "flying vulture" and "great vulture"? The answer is because "aetos" doesn't mean "vulture" at all and should rightfully be translated as "eagles". The translators of our KJB knew this and rendered "aetos" as 'eagle or eagles' in all these instances.

Irenaeus wrote the following: "Inasmuch as then, "wheresoever the carcass is, there shall also the eagles be gathered together," 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)

Jonathan Edwards penned the following words, "That this tribulation should be suffered from Rome, or in the spiritual Babylon, is signified by Christ, in ver. 28. " Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together:" the tribulation is by the eagles, i.e. the Roman powers preying on the carcasses of Israel. (The Works of Jonathan Edwards v.VI, p. 1071)

Perhaps some of the best words on this subject are written by John Gill. Following is a lengthy quote from Gill on the passage in Matthew.

"there will the eagles be gathered together: not particular believers here, or all the saints at the day of judgment; though these may be, as they are, compared to eagles for many things; as their swiftness in flying to Christ, their sagacity and the sharpness of their spiritual sight, soaring on high, and renewing their spiritual strength and youth: but here the Roman armies are intended, whose ensigns were eagles; and the eagle still is, to this day, the ensign of the Roman empire: formerly other creatures, with the eagle, were used for ensigns; but C. Marius, in his second consulship, banished them, and appropriated the eagle only to the legions: nor was it a single eagle that was carried before the army, but every legion had an eagle went before it, made of gold or silver, and carried upon the top of a spear {z}: and the sense of this passage is this, that wherever the Jews were, whether at Jerusalem, where the body and carcass of them was, in a most forlorn and desperate condition; or in any other parts of the country, the Roman eagles, or legions, would find them out, and make an utter destruction of them."

When one abandons the actual underlying Greek in these verses all that is left is mere "interpretations" (See Thayer's remarks above). A translator may interpret the text to mean "vultures" but that is not what the text actually says. It is also highly likely that this translator's "interpretation" is completely wrong and that is why it is always best to stick with the text and not wonder off into wild speculations. When "vultures" is forced into the Biblical text the meaning of what Jesus was saying is distorted. In fact, the cross reference is completely destroyed. Interestingly enough the NASV I have before me reads, "vultures" but has a cross reference note that reads, "Job 39:30". In addition to this note several other Bibles I have and several commentaries referenced Job 39:30. Job 39:30 reads, "Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she." The "Her" and "she" in this verse is the "EAGLE" of v. 27. It is easy to see that Jesus was in fact talking about the "eagles" and not "vultures". Even though many modern versions get the cross reference correct they still intentionally ignore the actual Biblical text (that reads "eagles") and 'interpret' it as "vultures". One has to seriously question this type of willful deception.

The only correct translation of these passages is "eagles". Any Bible that reads "vultures" is in error and has departed from every known Greek mss. These Bibles have also introduced an error in the cross reference as well. Despite what the modern critics may say our King James Bible got it exact (as always) and it is the modern versions that read "vultures" that are in error.