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In context, Matthew 24:36-44 ESV reads as follows:

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

The words that were deliberately chosen by Matthew have consequences to meaning and interpretation. If two different words are translated to the same word, one can legitimately ask why.

The précis is as follows:

  • The coming of the Son is a secret that only the Father knows.
  • There’s a comparison with the unexpectedness of the Genesis flood, where all were swept away [ἦρεν, SG142, to raise, lift up, take away, remove].
  • The Son of Man will come like a thief, so stay awake, be ready, be faithful.
  • In contrast, an evil servant who beats his fellow servants and drinks with drunkards will be taken by surprise. He will be cut in pieces and assigned a place with hypocrites.
  • One person will be “taken” [παραλαμβάνεται, SG3880, to receive near, associate with oneself] and another will be “left” [ἀφίεται, SG863, to send forth].
  • The “master of the house” will also be surprised and otherwise would have prevented the theft.

Nearly all English translations in verse 40 use the word pair, taken and left. Two notable exceptions are the Geneva Bible and Young’s Literal Translation. In the Geneva Bible (1560 A.D.), which predated the King James version by 51 years, verse 40 reads as follows:

Then two shall be in the fields, the one shall be received, and the other shall be refused.

The Bishops’ Bible of 1568 translates verse 40 like this:

Then shall two be in the fielde, the one receaued, and the other refused.

The Geneva Bible seems to be a more accurate translation than the King James Version. The KJV translators frequently referenced the Geneva Bible in preference to the inferior translation in the Bishops’ Bible.

Nearly all versions since the King James Version use the word pair, taken and left, rather than the more specific words, received and refused.

Is this evidence that all these newer translations simply copied the KJV here for the sake of tradition, or did they mistranslate the Greek words to maintain a fabricated consistency with Jesus as the thief that was introduced by the KJV?

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    .... hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/13/… .... Even renowned pastors, such as Doug Batchelor, not to mention some of the old BibleHub commentators agree with me, or rather I agree with them. Commented May 19 at 18:07
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    @Olde English, While I don't disagree with Richard's answer in the link, I think that studiohack's answer that follows, adds more perspective, namely that false teachers, like vultures, circle where there's a body, which might be an ironic self reference to Jesus himself. Worth thinking about. And thanks for the link.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 19 at 19:42
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    How are you reading "receaued" from the Bishops' Bible? It looks to me like an alternative spelling of "received".
    – Henry
    Commented May 19 at 20:55
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    Yes, received. Spelling conventions weren't universal then. The most famous "first" English dictionary was published in 1755 by Samuel Johnson.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 19 at 21:34
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    With all due respect, I think Richard and Studiohack got it all wrong. "Paralambano" is not about a heavenly Rapture but is most likely in regard to being taken along in a negative sense. Those then left behind, let alone IOW, are of much more import, as I tried to make clear in my answer, which you make no reference to here, although you did comment back when I made that answer. Commented May 20 at 0:04

6 Answers 6

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Let us examine the meanings of the pertinent words as nominated by the OP, according to BDAG.

παραλαμβάνω (paralambanó)

According to BDAG, this word has two basic meanings:

  1. to take into close association, take (to oneself), take with/along, eg, Matt 2:13, 20, 12:45, 18:16, 24:40, 26:37, Mark 4:36, 5:40, 9:2, Luke 9:28, Acts 15:39, 16:33, 21:24, 26, 32, 21:18, etc.
  2. to gain control of or receive jurisdiction over, take over, receive, eg, John 19:16b, Col 2:6, 4:17, Heb 12:28, 1 Cor 15:3, Mark 7:4, Gal 1:12, 1 Thess 2:13, 4:1, 2 Thess 3:6, 1 Cor 11:23, etc
  3. Sometimes the word implies an agreement or approval, accept, eg, John 1:11, 1 Cor 15:1, Phil 4:9.

ἀφίημι (aphiémi)

Again, BDAG provides the following set of meanings for this word:

  1. to dismiss or release someone or something from a place or one's presence
  • (a) with personal objective, let go, send away, eg, Matt 13:36, Mark 4:36, 8:13
  • (b) with impersonal objective, give up, emit, eg, Matt 27:50, Mark 15:37
  • (c) in a legal sense, divorce, 1 Cor 7:11ff.
  1. to release from legal or moral obligation or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon, including divine forgiveness, eg, Matt 6:12, 14, 18:21, 35, Mark 3:28, 11:25, 26, Luke 5:20, 23, 7:47, 11:4, 17:3, 23:34, 1 John 1:9, 2:12, etc

  2. to move away, with implication of causing a separation, leave, depart from, eg, Matt 4:11, 8:15, 10:28, 19:27, 29, 23:38, 26:44, 56, Mark 1;20, 31, 12:12, 13:34, 14:40, Luke 4:39, 5:11, 9:42, 13:35, 18:28, John 4:3, 10:12, etc

BDAG lists two more shades of meaning which do not concern us here (see BDAG for more details).

Based on this extensive evidence, and the primary meanings of the obviously contrasted words in Matt 24:40, there is nothing wrong with the perfectly allowable translation provided by most translations of

Then two will be in the field: one is taken, and one is left.

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    A very suitable answer (up-voted +1) and an interesting insight into the meaning (in respect of sins) of aphiemi/aphesis.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 18 at 10:45
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    + 1 ... I agree it is a good answer. There is nothing wrong with the majority translation... but @Deiter has done a service by making us think more deeply about it. Commented May 18 at 13:07
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    @Dottard, +1 for including the scholarly references from BDAG. Don't you think it's odd that the Geneva Bible and Young's Literal Translation are the only ones differing from the taken and left pair. I see these as quite a stretch, but obviously other translators think that these are better translations of paralambanó and aphiémi. I guess the next step would be to find all other places where these same two words appear in scripture. If the majority of translators remain consistent then that's one thing, but if they don't, then it seems to be copying or doctrinal prejudice, right?
    – Dieter
    Commented May 18 at 16:16
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    @Dieter - the common translation is the simplest "natural" meaning of the verbs - the Geneva translation is a bit of a stretch; however, words have a slightly different meaning now that almost 500 years ago - in 1560, that was probably not wrong.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 18 at 22:05
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    @Dottard, words and usage certainly can change in 500 years. Fortunately, paralambanó has 50 occurrences in the New Testament, and aphiémi has 146. Many of these are similar and don't help determine the semantic range these words, but others do. Comparing those translations choices in the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, and a modern translation would determine how much the meaning of these words changed in 51 years and nearly 500 years. Doctrinally prejudiced translation is a possibility, but I'm not qualified enough in Greek to make such determinations, which is why I'm asking.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 19 at 1:20
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I would say no to the majority having mistranslated the phrase. But yes to the proposition that the Geneva and YLT translations ought to be better known. In fact "received" and "refused" may be better than "taken and left." The majority translation implies the rapture for many readers. The latter holds open the possibility of a being accepted by the Lord without being caught up into the air. Since doctrines about this differ, more translators ought to either use the Geneva/YLT approach or provide a footnote to show alternatives.

As a side note: comparing the treatment of these words in Matthew to their position in Luke 17, it's interesting that Luke appends the mysterious saying "“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather" to the teaching on watchfulness, while Matthew places it after the warning about false messiahs, which makes it less enigmatic in the sense that it deals with the whereabouts of Christ's coming.

In addition, many ancient manuscripts omit Lk 17:36, “There will be two men in the field; one will be taken, the other left behind,” leading scholars to conclude it was an assimilation of Mt 24:40.

Conclusion: while "taken and left" is an appropriate translation, the nearly unanimous consensus of translators to adopt this terminology rather than "received and refused" is hard to understand, other than that they are following the precedent of the KJV.

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    +1 for the additional observations. I've been told that the body and vultures metaphor was similar to the idiom, "Where there's smoke, there's fire." Thus when you see the vultures circling or smoke rising, you know there's a body or there's a fire. Our watchfulness should intensify when we see certain signs from prophecy.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 18 at 16:23
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"One is left" is not a statement of locality, but rather a statement of abandonment. When Peter left (Mat 4:20) his nets, the significance is that he abandoned them, not that they remained in a certain place. So the versions of this passage are both correct, but the reader needs to understand that "left" is not about being left at a particular location: rather the key meaning is that they will be abandoned.

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  • Hey Brian! Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics SE. We are glad you are here. Please take a moment to take the site tour and check out what we are looking for in answers and the FAQs. This site can be tricky. We always want to backup answers with effort, research, and references. Consider an edit to add citations and reliable sources to support your answer.
    – Jason_
    Commented May 19 at 18:34
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Likely they translate it that way, to be consistent with how they have to translate it in Luke 17, where the same conversation is recorded, but with additional info.

Luke 17:37 is the same conversation but in another Gospel.

This time, the sentences are reordered slightly, and the disciples follow up with "Where, Lord", to which Jesus responds, "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered."

So you have two interpretations:

  • Jesus: "Then two will be in the field: one is taken, and one is left."
  • Disciples: "Where?"
  • Jesus: "Where the vultures gather"

Or:

  • Jesus: "Then two will be in the field: one is received, and one is refused."
  • Disciples: "Where?"
  • Jesus: "Where the vultures gather"

Clearly the latter doesn't work as well. The followup question of the disciples, and Jesus' response, implies physical relocation of the person, hence the preference for the first translation.

In addition, it also might imply those taken are taken to die, not to be saved.

So there are two possibilities here:
Jesus could be saying, "Where [the body of Christ i.e. believers] are, the Eagles are gathered.", which would imply the rapture of the saints, and making "eagle" some kind of symbolic whatever. But you'd have to read into the passage quite a bit.

Another possibility is this:
In the end times, Satan imitates God in numerous ways. He creates a false Unholy Trinity (Satan as an imitation Father, the false prophet as an imitation Holy Spirit, and the antichrist as an imitation Christ). He takes over Jerusalem to be the center of his worship. He imitates Jesus' resurrection three days later, by doing a fake resurrection of the antichrist after receiving a headwound (Rev 13:11-15).

Another thing Satan imitates is the rapture. When Jesus appears in the sky, rapturing the saints, Satan has a real short period of time to kill all the Jews to prevent them from welcoming Christ (Jesus promised not to return until the Jews welcome Him with, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD [that is, in the name of YHWH]" - Matthew 23:37-39).

In his rush to genocide the Jews and capture Jerusalem, Satan sends out demons to the four corners of the earth to counter Jesus' rapture with a counterfeit rapture of his own, gathering everyone with the mark of the beast to the valley of Megiddo (Arm-Megiddo / Armageddon) outside of Jerusalem to march on Jerusalem and capture it, leading to the final battle and the slaughter of Satan's army.

This passage in Revelation even directly references the passage you are quoting, where Jesus says He'll come like a thief in the night.

And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the entire world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and people will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.
Revelation 16:13-16

If this interpretation is correct, who are those taken? The kings of the entire world (and by extension, those under their authority). This is almost certainly just those with the mark of the beast, who have committed to worship the antichrist, and who the antichrist has legal rulership over.

So who are those left? Not Christians, because Christians have already been raptured shortly before. Satan's rapture is to counter Jesus' appearance, and Jesus' appearance simultaneous with the rapture of the saints. This is all happening during the final 30 day period of Revelation, after the Seals and Trumpets, and during the Bowls. (The 7th Trumpet is the arrival of Christ, and the rapture of the saints, the 6th bowl is this demonic counterfeit rapture).

So who are those left? Not those with the mark of the beast - they are those taken, not the Christians, who were raptured a day or two earlier.

Those left behind are every non-Jewish person who refused to take the mark of the beast, but also didn't get saved. Basically, the remainder who have up till now remain uncommitted between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. It may also include Jews, but is unlikely because the Jews were being hunted and genocided, and almost certainly were not sleeping with or grinding meal with someone who has the mark of the beast and is pledged to hunt them down.

These "resisters" who didn't make a decision, are later gathered together by angels and brought to Jesus in the wilderness (possibly Sinai) to determine if they individually should be killed or if they get to live - if they live, these are those - along with the any remaining unsaved Jews - who repopulate the earth during the thousand year kingdom (because all the raptured saints aren't given or taken in marriage).

It is this judgement of the remainders that is the dividing of sheep and goats Jesus talks about. While, yes, it has truth that is applicable to everyone, it's firstmost a literal event. The standard by which these people will be slain and accounted with the people who took the mark of the beast, or whether they'll get to enter into the thousand year kingdom and repopulate the earth, is based on whether they fed, sheltered, clothed, visited, protected, the Jews who were getting holocausted by the mark of the beast'ers. In as much as they didn't do for the least of these, they didn't do for Christ.

And at this point, of those who remain (probably about 1% of the earth's population), the formerly undecided non-Christians who also didn't take the mark of the beast go on to repopulate the earth, and have a gender imbalance of about seven women for every one male, and Isaiah talks about that in several places (I provide verses here, in another answer to a different question).

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Let me also point out yet another example of how interpretation affects word choices in translation. In Matthew 24, Jesus seems to be referring to two events prior to the flood.

Jesus is telling us that people were living normal lives until the day when Noah entered the ark. This entering the ark was a quiet, unheralded event as far as the world was concerned (could this be like a thief in the night?).

Genesis 7:9 ESV: two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.

Matthew 24:38 ESV: For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark . . .

So far so good. Noah, his extended family, and all the animals were now in complete safety, living inside the ark.

Genesis 7:9 ESV And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.

Matthew 24:39 ESV and they were unaware [ouk egnōsan, SG1097, i.e. did not understand] until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Wait. What’s this “after seven days” business?

Noah, his family, and all the animals taken into the ark had to wait for a period of one week (could this correspond to Daniel’s 70th week?) before the flood happened. Hopefully, God communicated this additional week to Noah, otherwise Noah might have started feeling pretty silly after a few days.

Certainly, the people on the outside of this massive black box one-and-a-half football fields long, a half of a football field wide, and a height of 45 feet (around 4 stories) had no clue (ouk egnōsan) as to what was going on or what was going to happen.

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 at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

This happens at the coming of the Son of Man with his saints, and people will be sorted out as in the parable of the wheat and the tares or the parable of the dragnet and the bad fish. Then, those who are left will enter the millennial reign of Christ and his saints.

Now, IF this is the correct interpretation--and I’m not asserting that it necessarily is . . .

Then, the word pair “taken” and “left” would fit better than “received” and “refused,” since those who are taken are the sources of offense, and those who are left would be those entering the millennium.

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  • Liked the "... and people will be sorted out as in the parable of the wheat and the tares ... Then, those who are left will enter the millennial reign of Christ and his saints". But, the 70th week (7 years), IMO, I think happened from the Spring of 26 AD through to the resurrection of Jesus, in April of 33 AD. This being the time of the "two" Messiah's, starting with the ministry of John the Baptist, in the wilderness area (before he descended into the Jordan district), which was then continued by Jesus in the Fall of 29 AD, and only ended with his resurrection. But that's another story. Commented May 20 at 23:24
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"Taken" and "left" are much preferred to "received"and "refused" The first pair of verbs follow the action of the story. The men in the field are "doing nothing"while it is God who acts. The second pair of verbs require the men in the field to act but for God to passively receive and refuse.

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  • That's an interesting thesis, Martin. The challenge here is finding support for it either from other scriptures, the context, or the Greek words used here and in other places in scripture. I'm not convinced that "received" and "refused" are necessarily passive. But you have a point.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 19 at 19:32
  • 1
    Hey Martin! Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics SE. We are glad you are here. Please take a moment to take the site tour and check out what we are looking for in answers and the FAQs. We look for answers that show effort, research, and references. Consider an edit to add citations and reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Again, welcome!
    – Jason_
    Commented May 19 at 20:30

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