Luke 17:37 (Eagles and the Body)


What teachings about this Passage do we have?

Luke 17 (RSVCE)

And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”


On the face of it, it is confusing.

Eagles are predators, not scavengers, IIUC. They would not gather around a dead human body.

But where our LORD’s human body was, when judgement fell, the Roman eagles would be.



Some translations have vultures instead of eagles.


Ohhh I’ve never thought of it that way before. That actually makes a lot of sense.


CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. As if He said, As when a dead body is thrown away, all the birds which feed on human flesh flock to it, so when the Son of man shall come, all the eagles, that is, the saints, shall haste to meet Him.

AMBROSE. For the souls of the righteous are likened to eagles, because they soar high and forsake the lower parts, and are said to live to a great age. Now concerning the body, we can have no doubt, and above all if we remember that Joseph received the body from Pilate. (Matt. 28.) And do not you see the eagles around the body are the women and Apostles gathered together around our Lord’s sepulchre? Do not you see them then, when he shall come in the clouds, and every eye shall behold him? (Rev. 1:7.) But the body is that of which it was said, My flesh is meat indeed; (John 6:55.) and around this body are the eagles which fly about on the wings of the Spirit, around it also eagles which believe that Christ has come in the flesh. And this body is the Church, in which by the grace of baptism we are renewed in the Spirit.

Thomas Aquinas. (1843). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 597). Oxford: John Henry Parker.


Thanks Jose,

It seems there are two approaches to interpreting this. Are the eagles His Saints, or His persecutors?


Found this in a related thread…




Care to elaborate? Are you suggesting the correct term should be vultures? Does that make the vultures Persecutors or Saints?

I obviously find the whole passage difficult. I wish Jesus would just jump on the forum and post an answer. :wink:


I dare say it’s both :slight_smile:

Just as the presence of vultures is present on the dead - so is the presence of eagles on the living.


There is a parallel passage in

Matthew 24:28
“Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
“Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”

In keeping with quotations from early church fathers which I quote at the bottom of the article bellow, I argue that we are the eagles who are gathered, by God, around the body of Christ, the Eucharist.


Rcwitness was correct re the distinction between eagles, vultures etc. in Greek. LXX of Leviticus 11:13 uses aetos for eagle, gryps for griffin or vulture, and haliaetos for buzzard or osprey. The same is true of Deuteronomy 14:12. This is important, as the human NT writers tend to use the same words to translate Hebrew words/concepts as the LXX did. Both Luke and Matthew use this word for eagle in the respective passages.

The word body used here is interesting. Luke 17:37 uses swma, which usually refers to a living body, but can refer to a dead body. The synoptic passage in Matthew 24:28, however, uses ptwma, which can only refer to a dead body. So, the obvious question is, why is a word for a living body used in one passage, and a word for a dead body used in another, when they are both rendering the same words of Jesus?

I propose we answer this with another question: who has a body that has died and yet is alive? The obvious answer is Our Blessed Lord. Furthermore, this resolves the difficulty of why Saint Luke refers to eagles - birds known for subsisting on living flesh - gathering around a corpse, a dead body. Finally, this also aligns with the citation from St. Thomas Aquinas, Ambrose, and Cyril of Alexandria, provided by Jose.


Greek has separate words for eagle and vulture but Hebrew, apparently, doesn’t. The single word nesher (נשר) has to do for both. If the same is true of Aramaic, then the explanation could simply be a question of translation. The evangelists were translating Jesus’ words into Greek, and one of them opted for vulture while the other one went for eagle.


Greek has separate words for eagle and vulture but Hebrew, apparently, doesn’t. The single word nesher (נשר) has to do for both. If the same is true of Aramaic, then the explanation could simply be a question of translation. The evangelists were translating Jesus’ words into Greek. Matthew and Luke thought he meant eagles but perhaps he really meant vultures.


Luke 17 is Luke’s version of the Olivette Discourse from Matthew 24.

*Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matthew 24:28)

And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (Luke 17:37)*

Both versions of the discourse are about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the ending of Temple worship and the transfer of divine authority from the Chief Priests of the Old Covenant to Peter and the Apostles under the New Covenant.

Roman soldiers set up a military standard in the Holy of Holies in the Temple just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Each roman legion had a unique military standard and many depicted birds or other animals.

This military standard was the desolating sacrilege mentioned in Jesus’ discourse about the destruction of Jerusalem. The future emperor Titus was in charge of the military operation against Jerusalem and his arch in Rome depicts him being carried to Heaven on an eagle. Right next to it is a relief of the soliders carrying booty from the temple.

Proper interpretation of the Bible starts with the Literal Sense of Scripture - how would the words written have been understood by the people who read them at the time they were written. The literal sense of both discourses is the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD.

Jesus was preparing is disciples and apostles for the events to come and ultimately for the transfer of power to Peter and the Apostles.



I always figured the birds were scavengers, and the whole phrase was just a fancy and poetic way of saying that lots of people will be dead and it will be a dreadful, horrifying sight.


Yes, the Ignatius Study Bible also notes that the image of the body is symbolic of Jerusalem being surrounded and besieged. For the note on Mattew 24:28 "Scavengers (Romans) who eat the remains of a carcass (Jerusalem.) It is noteworthy that Roman military standards featured eagles as symbols of the empire. In the Old Testament, the eagle (also translated “vulture”) symbolized pagan nations who brought suffering upon Israel (Deut 28:49; Hab 1:8; cf. His 8:1).


But the Early Church Fathers do Not understand it this way. I think what throws the modern scholars off is the use of the term for body, implies death or a dead body. From this they Assume the actual Greed work for eagle is wrong and substitute the word for Vulture. Some modern scholars object to the idea of the Mass as being a Sacrifice.

My religious ed director for my parish (who was later appointed to head the entire diocesan religious education department) accused Scott Hahn of being “this close to heresy” and would not allow his material to be used because he said that “the Mass is a Sacrifice.”

It clearly uses the term for eagles, “aetoi,” the plural for Strong’s #105, “aetos.” The Greek word used here in Matthew 24:28 is also used in the parallel passage in Luke 17:37. The only other uses for this word are Revelations 4:7, 8:13, and 12:14. The context of each of these passages clearly refers to a heavenly creature doing God’s will.

Context :

In Matthew chapter 24 Jesus tells us not to be alarmed by false declarations that the second coming has occurred and that He is either here or there. After saying where He is not it is natural that He would then say where He will be. Verses 27-28 record Jesus’s conclusion, “For as the lightning come forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

In the parallel passage in Luke 17: 20-37 Jesus also tells of His second coming. He tells of how “one” will be taken and one will be left. His disciples asked Him, “Where, Lord?” And in verse 37 Jesus replies, “Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

The word used for “body” in the above verse is the same Greek word used in the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus said, “This is my Body.”

It is also interesting to note that the Greek does not state that the eagles will gather, rather it says that the** eagles will be gathered**. Perhaps this is allusion to John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.”

It is God the Father who moves people’s hearts with the gift of faith to accept what Jesus promises in John 6. So, it is God the Father who is doing the gathering of the eagles by blessing them with the gift of faith. Traditionally the Saints are said to have the eagle eye, that is, the eye of faith.

See Icon that represents what this passage is about at
Read more and what the early Church Fathers say at



Certainly aetoi means eagles, not vultures. That is not in dispute. Nevertheless, Jesus was speaking in a language which has only a single word for both eagle and vulture. He was linguistically free to see the nesharim on the Roman standards as vultures, if he chose to. It was only when his words were translated into Greek that the need arose to opt for one bird species and reject the other.

I should add that nesharim is the Hebrew word. I don’t know what the Aramaic word was, and if anybody here can tell me, I’ll be grateful. I’m simply assuming that, like Hebrew, Aramaic too has only a single word for both birds.


Are you suggesting that we interpret Sacred Scripture the way Protestants do ?
Completely devoid of the context from which it came, the tradition of the Church ?

Is it not possible that the early church fathers, not to mention those who translated Jesus words into Greek - possibly we are talking about St. Matthew himself - had some insights into what Jesus was talking about ?

Just asking ?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit