Matthew 24:28 NKJV

For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

Matthew 24:28 ESV

Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Luke 17:37 NKJV

And they answered and said to Him, “Where, Lord?”

So He said to them, “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

Luke 17:37 ESV

And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

The Strongs defines it this way:

  • aetos: an eagle
  • Original Word: ἀετός, οῦ, ὁ

The word literally means eagle, but we translate it vulture.

Which one should it be, eagles or vultures?

  • An excellent question for the ESV "translators". Much like 2 Timothy 2:15 and "orthotomeo", compared to the KJV. Commented May 22 at 7:59
  • 2
    It's "eagles", which is connected with Job 39:27 thanks to the LXX.
    – Joshua B
    Commented May 24 at 8:05

3 Answers 3


I suspect this is a translation interpretive choice, as it doesn't seem like Greek has a specific word for "vulture" (Google Translate only gives a fairly generic word for "bird" for modern Greek, so I don't have high hopes for κοινή Greek), so the word for a similarly large bird was used, with the contextual description of how it acts showing what species in particular was meant. If this reasoning (and my limited research into Greek vocabulary) is correct, then the ESV translators made the more correct decision to translate "αετός" as "vulture." That's not to say the KJV translators were wrong; they did use a correct translation. I just think that the ESV translators were more correct in this instance.

This answer to the question "Translation of ἀετοί in Matthew 24:28" notes that eagles and vultures are in the same taxonomic family, which I think lends more weight to both English terms being essentially interchangeable translations for the same Greek word.


A few references on how eagles are typically seen in the Bible:

Exodus 19:4 [All NKJB]

"I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself."

Here a strong caring capable bird.

Ezekiel 1:10

"and each of the four had the face of an eagle."

Here a handsome majestic profile.

2 Samuel 1:23

"They were swifter than eagles."

Here David and Jonathan are seen as having been endowed with great prowess and speed in their actions.

Isaiah 40:31

"They shall mount up with wings like eagles."

Strong confident birds who soar up with ease; not weary or fainting.

Google tells me that Bearded Eagles eat exclusively bones i.e., left over carrion, and that Bald Eagles do eat carrion. But the Bible appears to me to emphasise the magnificence of the eagle.

Though theoretically possible for carrion eating eagles to be in the mind of the writer in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, it would be more characteristic of vultures to be those gathering to eat the corpse. For vultures carrion is typically standard fare. [I rely only on modern observation for that].

What I think we can say is that the Bible sees the eagle as a strong warrior, a magnificent hunter who is proactive in all things, including making its own killings. i.e., not characteristically a bird that hangs around waiting for a dead body to appear.


Eagles or Vultures The Greek etymologies have been discussed adequately in other answers: the word may legitimately be translated either way because of ambiguity.

But we move on to the context of this statement. The Olivet Discourse dealt with the pending Destruction of Judea, including the Temple. And Jesus described the horrible, barbaric conditions that would still hardly describe the enormity of the tragedy that was to take place in that generation (67-70 A.D.). Josephus went into much more detail about the enormous death toll that occurred then. Mothers eating babies...starvation rampant...bodies laying unburied in the streets...Zealots killing fellow Jews at random...fleeing Jews with guts ripped open by the soldiers...thousands of crucified 'escaping' Jews caught in their attempt to escape...the moats filled with bodies thrown over the walls...etc.

If ever there was an appropriate simile (metaphor) for all of this, it would be that which Jesus used: a corpse! Jerusalem was a veritable corpse, rotting, putrified corpse.

And it would therefore, be accurate---in this same vein---to translate the Greek word here, with this context in mind, as "vulture." Vultures are known for eating carrion. [Walk through the deserts of Texas, and look up in the trees overhead at the vultures drooling over what could be their next meal! Scarry!]

Where the corpse is, the vultures are gathered. Corpse, body, carcass; all these words fit the use of vulture here in the Olivet Discourse by Jesus.

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