Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Matthew 24:40-41 (ESV)

Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding oat at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

One of the interpretations I've read of these verses connects the people being "taken" in 40-41 to the (wicked) people whom the flood waters "took" in verse 39. The Greek for these words—παραλαμβάνεται and ἦρεν respectively—doesn't appear to me to have the same connection as in English, but I'm not well-versed enough to be certain. Would these words have been understood similarly in Greek? In 40-41, are the wicked being "taken" or "left behind" (ἀφίεται)?

share|improve this question
    
Similar questions: Meaning of “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” and Where is the dead body in Luke 17? over at Christianity SE. –  Wikis Oct 14 '11 at 6:26
add comment

5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The NET Bible has a helpful comment:

There is debate among commentators and scholars over the phrase one will be taken and one left about whether one is taken for judgment or for salvation. If the imagery is patterned after the rescue of Noah from the flood, as some suggest, the ones taken are the saved (as Noah was) and those left behind are judged. The imagery, however, is not directly tied to the identification of the two groups. Its primary purpose in context is to picture the sudden, surprising separation of the righteous and the judged (i.e., condemned) at the return of the Son of Man. [missing spaces inserted]

There's an excellent chance that Matthew had the text of Mark at hand when he composed this section. Mark 13:32 strongly parallels Matthew 24:36. But Mark doesn't include the sayings about Noah or the one taken and one left. On the other hand, the sayings are in Luke 17:26-37 (ESV):

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

By adding the story of Lot fleeing from Sodom, Luke emphasizes the concept of the one leaving the scene being righteous and the one who stays (or even looks back) being wicked. Further, Luke talks about the wicked being "destroyed" rather than being "took". (I don't know what to make of the vultures gathering, however. Perhaps that could be a separate question.)

The usual theory for passages included in both Luke and Matthew, but not Mark, is the Q hypothesis. The story of Noah and the one taken and one left are usually assigned to Q. (See New Testament History: A Narrative Account by Ben Witherington III for instance.) Therefore, these sayings were written down quite early and it's possible they were the basis for a passage in one of Paul's earliest letters, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV):

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Unfortunately, this is a controversial text, but if Paul has in mind Matthew 24 his interpretation is clear. He is looking to a future coming of the Lord and notes that some of the the Thessalonians are concerned that the brothers and sisters who are dead will be among those who are left and thus counted as wicked. Paul counters, using language from the Jewish and early-Christian resurrection hope, that the dead and the living will be reunited in the coming of the Lord. Both will be taken if they are counted among the righteous. (I think Paul is subtly shifting terms by saying those who are alive are "left". The dead have already been taken to await the future resurrection. But it's not completely clear.)

Finally, while many translations use the "took" language in verse 39, some (ESV, NLT, MSG, and NRSV) use the verb "swept". When you think about it, the people who were "taken" were really the ones in the ark who were lifted away from the earth, while the ones who were pulled into the water were left behind to their fate. As you mention, the connection between the wicked and the taken turns mostly on the English translation rather than directly in the Greek.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I don't know enough Greek to say definitively one way or the other, but the idea that those who are "taken" are like those who were "swept away" makes more sense than the opposite.

It may also be relevant that in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, (Matthew 13:24-30), the weeds sown by an enemy are the first to be "taken" at harvest time.

He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' "

share|improve this answer
    
Excellent parallel. That's a far simpler (and therefore better) answer than my own. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Oct 14 '11 at 19:49
add comment

In sensus plenior, when there are two things, they are two aspects of the same thing.

Two men in the field are one man who has a spirit and flesh. His spirit is taken to immediately be in the presence of the Lord, and his body is left behind.

Two women grinding oat at the mill are one woman. Her spirit is taken while her body is left behind.

Rather than being redundant sayings, as is the case with futuristic interpretations of eschatology, the sayings are notably different.

Those who see clearly, (male) are working in the field. They are harvesting in God's field. Those who do not see clearly (female) are grinding oats. This act is one of judgment. They are those who are not 'forgiving'.

Both die in this world and have body separated from Spirit and go immediately to the presence of the Lord.

The SP of Matthew suggests that the 'rapture' occurs at the moment of death and though we die at different times, we all join Christ in eternity at the same moment.

The word 'took' in Hebrew also means 'marry'.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Those who see clearly, (male) are working in the field.

then they are NOT the church, because the church is always 'she'

Actually [in Luke 17] it's at night and two are in bed, no gender specified, and two women grinding, going about life as usual working, sleeping, remember all of the virgins are asleep when the bridegroom finally comes.

Matt 25:1“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

will we be so wrapped up in living we won't see the season of His 'visitation'? we can't know the day or hour, but we can know the season.

share|improve this answer
2  
Hi Mark and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. This really isn't the sort of answer we are looking for. In particular, I don't follow the jump: then they are NOT the church, because the church is always 'she'. It seems like you are leaving out some of the steps... –  Jon Ericson Apr 26 '13 at 0:23
add comment

Matthew 23-25 concerns the condemnation, judgment and reward of the Old Covenant people. The context of Matthew 24 is thus the persecution of the first century church, the Roman siege and the complete destruction of the Temple and city, "the days of vengeance," the curse upon the Land predicted by Malachi and reiterated by John. The entire prophecy was fulfilled.

Those "taken" are taken in judgment during the time of God's wrath upon Jerusalem and Judaea, which would be no respecter of persons. The end would come "with a flood" of troops (Dan 9:26; see also Isaiah 8:8 concerning an Assyrian "flood" submerging Judah "up to the neck").

It is also very helpful to read all Jesus' parables in this first century light. We can certainly make applications, but their purpose was to warn the Jews of the imminent end of the Old Covenant. It was Herod's Temple that was built upon sand.

Matthew 10:23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 23:36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Matthew 24:34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.