Where the Body Is, There Will the Eagles Be

:
Lost Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord
by Ruth Magnusson Davis

For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
—Matthew 24:28, King James Version

Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), an important father of the
early Church, was made Archbishop of Constantinople in about
397 AD. He spoke, taught, preached, and wrote in Greek, and
studied the New Testament scriptures in their original tongue.
Generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek
Church, Chrysostom was renowned for his preaching, which
earned him the name ‘Golden-mouth.’1 Some call him the
greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit. He often
preached against voluptuous living, which his homilies reveal to
have been a great vice of that age, and which angered the rich
elite against him. Many of his homilies have been handed down
to us, and the reviews posted on Amazon attest to his enduring
popularity. Chrysostom was also known for liturgical reforms.
John Chrysostom

Chrysostom was frequently quoted by our English Reformers. Thomas Cranmer (14981556), who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, often referred to Chrysostom
in his general works and in the homilies he himself wrote for the Church. No doubt he was
also familiar with Chrysostom’s liturgical work, for it was Cranmer’s principal study to
reform and restore the liturgy of the Church, which had been increasingly corrupted by
Rome, for the use and benefit of English-speaking peoples.
Chrysostom, and later Cranmer, understood Jesus’ mysterious parable of Matthew 24:28
– the eagles that gather together where the carcase is – to refer to the celebration of the
Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord. This may startle people, because such an
understanding has been quite lost to us today. But Cranmer and other English Reformers,
including Thomas Becon (c. 1511-1567) and John Jewel (1522-1571), accepted it without
question. Their understanding, as will be seen, reflects the very great importance they
attached to the Sacrament (which is variously called the Lord’s Supper, Mass, Holy
Communion, the Table of the Lord, and the Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving).
Two things have perhaps contributed to the loss of the sacramental interpretation. One is
the change in meaning of ‘carcase’ since the 16th century, when our English Bible
translator William Tyndale first introduced the word at Matthew 24:28. The semantic shift
went unrecognized, and when people came to the verse in later years, they naturally
understood it in its new sense, resulting in a reading never intended by Tyndale. Another

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Or ‘Golden-mouthed.’ It was after his death that he was named ‘Chrysostom,’ from the Greek
‘chrysostomos’ meaning as much. “It is not the odour of ointment that thou shouldest have, but that
of virtue,” he preached, and, “Condemning thine own sin, thou dost put off its yoke.”

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contributing factor was perhaps the substitution of ‘vultures’ for ‘eagles,’ influenced by
misunderstanding the original sense of ‘carcase.’
The evolution of the English word ‘carcase’ and its use in the Bible
The translation of the Greek ‘ptoma’ by ‘carcase’ first appeared in William
Tyndale’s 1534 revised New Testament, where he had “dead carcase.”
Before that, in 1526 he had “deed body.” Wycliffe in 1380 had “the bodi.”
In 1537 John Rogers carried Tyndale into the Matthew Bible, with “dead
karkas.” Thereafter we have Cranmer in 1539: “deed karkas”; Geneva
1557: “dead carkas”; Rheims 1582: “body”; the KJV in 1611: “carkeise.”2
From the 16th century through to the mid 18th century, the primary
meaning of carcase’ (or ‘carcass’) was “the dead body of man or beast”.3 It was a neutral,
uncoloured word. Now, however, it ordinarily refers to animal remains, and if it is applied
to human beings, it has pejorative colour. The Oxford English Dictionary explains:
Carcass: The dead body of man or beast; but no longer (since c1750) used in
ordinary language of the human corpse, except in contempt. With butchers it means
the whole trunk of a slaughtered animal after removal of the head, limbs, and offal.
…In later times, in application to the human body, dead or alive, it has gradually come
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to be a term of contempt, ridicule, or indignity.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) adds the following definition, loading the
word with more unfavourable colour:
Carcass: The decaying or worthless remains of a structure, as in “the carcass of an
abandoned automobile.”

If Bible revisions are intended only to update archaic or obsolete language in older
English versions, they should employ words that convey no more or less than the
original.5 Therefore, ‘carcase’ should be avoided. ‘Body’ or ‘dead body’ would be suitable.
My review indicates that revisions made in the first half of the 20th century generally did
avoid ‘carcass.’ But then it was reintroduced into our Bible by more recent revisers:
RSV 1946: Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.
Wuest’s Expanded Translation 1956: Wherever the corpse might be, in that place the
carrion birds will be gathered together.
Amplified Bible 1965: Wherever there is a fallen body (a corpse), there the vultures (or
eagles) will flock together.
Jerusalem Bible 1968: Wherever the corpse is, there will the vultures gather.
Living Bible 1971: And wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.
NIV 1973: Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
Message 1996: Whenever you see crowds gathering, think of carrion vultures circling,
moving in, hovering over a rotting carcass.

2

My source is The English Hexapla (Samuel Bagster and Sons, London, 1841).
The online Oxford English Dictionary, definition 1.a under ‘Carcase,’ as at the date of this paper.
4
Ibid, definitions 1.a and 3. The online OED may only be accessed by subscribers.
5
I am not attempting to discuss the meaning of the Greek, but errors that may arise if obsolete
meanings of English words are not recognized when English versions are “revised” or updated.
3

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So then, since 1946 we have gone from a “body where eagles will be gathered together,”
which would have been the understanding of Tyndale, Cranmer, and Chrysostom, to
“carrion vultures circling and hovering over a rotting carcass,” the understanding of
Eugene Peterson and many moderns. Now we have Bibles which no longer use a neutral
word, but one which cannot be applied to the body of a man without, to borrow the words
of the Oxford English Dictionary, “contempt and indignity.” It will probably conjure in the
minds of most readers an image of the decaying body of a wild bird or animal, something
not human, as it did me when I first read the NIV as a new believer. And what’s more, we
no longer have noble eagles gathering around it, but rather more ignominious vultures.
The change from ‘eagles’ to ‘vultures’ in Bible versions
The shift from ‘eagles’ to ‘carrion birds’ and ‘vultures’ in Matthew 24:28 is not recent. Both
my 1895 Revised and 1901 American Standard Bibles contain notes to the effect that
‘vultures’ is an alternate rendering for the Greek ‘aetos’. These Bibles were chary with
annotations, and for them to consider this worthy of note suggests the revisers realized
how the different rendering might affect our understanding of the verse. It also shows how
the understanding of the Church fathers had lost ground.
But to render ‘aetos’ by ‘vultures’ may be to depart from the intended emphasis. Strong’s
Greek-English Lexicon defines ‘aetos’ as “an eagle, from its wing-like flight.” The
emphasis here is upon the manner of the bird’s flight, not its choice of food. Eagles are
noted for their soaring flight, but what distinguishes the vulture is its indiscriminate
willingness to feed on carrion – a taste which has, rightly or wrongly, earned it a low place
in popular estimation. Therefore the choice of bird is important.
Chrysostom, a native Greek speaker who lived only a few centuries after the New
Testament was written, clearly understood the emphasis in Matthew 24:28 to be upon
soaring flight.
Chrysostom and the English Reformers
None of this would matter much if Matthew 24:28 referred to ignoble things. But to
Chrysostom, the verse referred in fact to great and wonderful things, namely to our Lord
who was slain for us to take away our sins, and to the contemplations of faithful believers
during Holy Communion.
How can this be? The explanation is that the body represents that which we look upon
with our mind’s eye during the Eucharist, namely the dead body of our Lord: Him crucified
(1 Cor 2:2). The flying eagles do not represent scavenger birds hovering over ‘carrion,’ a
word that means dead and rotting flesh. Rather, soaring eagles signify the believer’s flight
of faith, as it were, as they soar high in heavenly contemplations, seeking to discern the
blessed body of the Lord (1 Cor 11:29). What a difference a word makes! Chrysostom
said:
For it is to this that the fearful and tremendous sacrifice leads us, warning us above all
things to approach it with one mind and fervent love, and thereby become as eagles,
so to mount up to the very heaven – nay, even beyond the heaven. “For wheresoever
the carcase is,” saith he, “there also will be the eagles,” (St. Mat.xxiv.28), calling his
body a “carcase” by reason of his death. For if he had not fallen, we would not have
risen again. But he calls us eagles, implying that the person who draws near to this
Body must be on high, and have nothing in common with the earth, nor wind himself
downwards and creep along; but he must ever be soaring heavenwards, and look on

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the Sun of Righteousness, and have the eye of his mind quick-sighted. For eagles,
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not daws, have a right to this Table.

Chrysostom’s words may seem imaginative to some. But to those who have known
communion with the Lord in the Sacrament, it is verily, as Thomas Cranmer often calls it
in the Book of Common Prayer, a holy mystery. It is a means of receiving divine grace
through faith, sanctifying and edifying. And Cranmer knew this and was a witness of it
from personal experience, as is evident from his writing:
Thomas Cranmer

We must be sure we understand that in the Supper of the Lord
there is no vain ceremony. It is not just a bare sign. It is not an
empty figure of something that is absent. As Scripture says, it is
the Table of the Lord, the Bread and Cup of the Lord, the memory
of Christ, the Annunciation of his death, and the Communion of
the Body and Blood of the Lord, in a marvellous embodiment and
realization which, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, is wrought
through faith in the souls of the faithful. By it not only do their
souls live to eternal life, but they trust confidently to gain for their
bodies a resurrection to immortality.

This result, and the union which is between the body and the
Head (that is, the true believers and Christ), the ancient catholic fathers both
experienced themselves and commended to their people. Some of them were not
afraid to call this Supper the “salve of immortality” and “sovereign preservative against
death.” Others called it a “deifical Communion” – that is, a communion that makes us
to be holy like God. Others called it the sweet food of the Saviour, and the pledge of
eternal health; also the defence of the Faith, the hope of the Resurrection; others still,
the food of immortality, the healthful grace and conservation for eternal life…
All these things both the Holy Scripture and godly men have correctly attributed to this
celestial banquet and feast…Here the faithful may see, hear, and know the mercies of
God sealed, Christ’s satisfaction for us confirmed, the remission of sin established.
Here they may experience the tranquillity of conscience, the increase of faith, the
strengthening of hope, the spreading abroad of brotherly kindness, with many other
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sundry graces of God.

Bishop John Jewel of the early English Church wrote:
For Christ himself altogether is so offered and given us in these
mysteries that we may certainly know we be flesh of his flesh
and bone of his bones, and that Christ continueth in us and we
in him. And therefore in celebrating these mysteries, the people
are to good purpose exhorted, before they come to receive the
Holy Communion, to lift up their hearts and to direct their minds
to heavenward; because he is there by whom we must be full
fed and live. Cyril saith, when we come to receive these
mysteries, all gross imaginations must quite be banished. The
6

Chrysostom, St. John, Homily XXIV on 1 Cor.x.13, Homilies on the Epistles of St. Paul to the
Corinthians. Translator not identified. Editor Paul A. Boer, Sr. Original publisher Wm. B. Erdmanns
Publishing Company, date not provided, (Facsimile publisher Veritas Splendor Publications, 2012),
p. 266. [English minimally updated.]
7
Cranmer, Thomas, excerpts from homilies on common prayer and the sacraments, published at
http://www.scribd.com/doc/142134026/Thomas-Cranmer-on-Common-Prayer-and-the-Sacraments,
p.6., being the joint work of editors Rev Stanley F. Sinclair and this author.

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Council of Nicea, as it is alleged by some in Greek, plainly forbiddeth us to be basely
affectioned or bent toward the bread and wine which are set before us. And, as
Chrysostom very aptly writeth, we say that “the body of Christ is the dead carcass,
and we ourselves must be the eagles”: meaning thereby that we must fly on high if we
will come unto the body of Christ...Cyprian also, “This bread,” saith he, “is food of the
soul and not the meat of the belly.” And Augustine, “How shall I hold him,” saith he,
“which is absent? How shall I reach my hand up to heaven, to lay hold upon him that
sitteth there?” He answered, “Reach hither thy faith, and then thou has laid hold on
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him.”

The meaning in context
If Matthew 24:28 is an allusion to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, how does it make
sense in the context? To ascertain the appropriate context I looked to Tyndale, who in all
his New Testaments (1526, 1534, and 15359) made v28 the concluding sentence of a new
paragraph that begins with v23. Taking this for our guide, we have the following:
23

24

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For
there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great miracles and
wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
25
26
Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is
27
in the desert, go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not. For as
the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west: so shall also the
28
coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles
be gathered together. (KJV)

Paraphrased in accordance with Chrysostom’s understanding, we might have:
23

Then if anyone says to you, “Hey, here is Christ,” or “There he is,” don’t believe
24
them. Because false Christs and false prophets will arise, and they will show
25
miracles and wonders, so that even the very elect might be deceived. Take heed, I
26
have warned you beforehand. So if they say to you, “Look, he is in the desert,” do
27
not seek me there. Or if they say “Look, he is in secret places,” don’t believe it. For
as the lightning comes out of the east and shines to the west, so also will the Son of
28
man come. For wherever the body of the slain Lamb is shown, that is where the
believers will be gathered together, soaring high in their spirits to heavenly places,
seeking and beholding his body crucified for them.

If Chrysostom was correct, Jesus must here be warning his disciples that he does not
come secretly, or to special places identified by outward features, or to one place only, but
he comes wherever his body is shown; that is, he comes spiritually in Holy Communion
anywhere that there is due observance of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
It is true of course that a “showing” of our Lord occurs when the Gospel is preached in the
fullness of truth, and Jesus comes then by the Spirit and the word. But in the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper, the new Passover, we show the Lamb slain for us not by word alone,
but by word and deed; that is, at the ceremonial Table he instituted so that we may sup
8

Jewel, John, An Apology of the Church of England, c. 1561, Editor John E. Booty (First published
1963, republished by Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, 2010), pp. 34-35.
9
My sources are: as to 1526, The New Testament 1526, Hendrickson Publishers facsimile edition;
as to 1534, David Daniell’s modern-spelling edition of Tyndale’s New Testament (1534), Yale
University Press (New Haven and London, 1995); as to 1535, The New Testament Octapla,
originally published by Samuel Bagster and Sons in 1841, as edited by Luther A. Weigle and republished by Thomas Nelson and Son, New York, date not provided, but apparently after 1960.

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with him, which is made full and beautiful and relevant with Cranmer’s holy liturgy if we
worship in the traditional Anglican communion.
The preaching of the Gospel brings the lost into the house by hearing and the baptism of
the Spirit, of which water is the sign. Then the Lord’s Supper is a continuing banquet to
nourish those gathered in the upper room with the spiritual body and blood of the Lord, of
which bread and wine are the signs. The upper room is wherever we, the disciples, gather
and prepare the Table of the Lord to show his death until he comes again (1 Cor 11:26).
There we are seated with him in heavenly places, and there we mysteriously, but really
and actually, receive from him – from his spiritual hands, as it were – of his body broken
for us, and of the cup of his blood shed for the remission of sins. And we commune with
him as our hearts, lifted up, do discern him through his Cross.
Archbishop Cranmer wrote in his homily, The Worthy Receiving of the Sacrament, that it
is important for the communicant (that is, the person who partakes in Holy Communion) to
understand that the food he or she receives in Holy Communion is spiritual, not carnal.
How apt, therefore, is the image of the high-soaring eagle, and how grossly inapt is that of
the carrion-feeding, hovering vulture. Cranmer wrote:
Thou must carefully search out and understand what good things are provided for thy
soul, whither thou art come – not to feed thy senses and belly to corruption, but thy
inward man to immortality and life; nor to consider the earthly creatures [the bread
and wine] which thou seest, but the heavenly graces which thy faith beholdeth. For
this table is not, saith Chrysostom, for chattering jayes, but for eagles, who fly there
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where the dead body lies.

Where two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord, there is he in the midst
of them (Matthew 18:20). And as lightning shines from the east into the west, illuminating
all whom it lights upon, so comes of the Son of man.
~~~
© R Magnusson Davis, May 2013

10

Cranmer, Thomas, “The Worthy Receiving of the Sacrament,” contained in Homilies (first published 1547, republished Oxford City Press, 2010), p. 368.

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Appendix A
Matthew 24:28 in Modern Bibles and Commentaries
—For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together (KJV)

Tyndale and the KJV introduced v28 with the conjunction ‘for’. This translates the Greek
‘gar,’ which is used to assign a reason; ie, to explain something that was said. Jesus had
warned not to look for him in the desert, and v28 explains why: because it is at the body
that the eagles will gather. But from the RSV onward (see page 2), there is no conjunction
to assist the reader to relate v28 to the earlier verses. Along with the other changes, this
ensures that no one will ever be able to derive the Reformers’ doctrine from the passage.
I consulted the NIV Nestle text, and this appears to be a manuscript issue; ‘gar’ is simply
missing from Nestle.
However, the glosses that many moderns put upon v 28 tend to sever it anyway, to a
greater or lesser degree, from the preceding passage. Joseph Thayer takes the unusual
step of expounding his understanding of the verse in his Greek-English Lexicon:
The meaning of the proverb...in both [Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37] is, ‘where there
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are sinners, there judgments from heaven will not be wanting.’

Others construe the verse as a prophecy for future fulfilment. The paraphrase of the New
Living Translation (1996) has:
26

So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go
27
and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightening lights up
28
the entire sky, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. Just as the gathering of
vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.

To make this relevant only for the future robs us now, and fosters other error. And see
how The Message sets Chrysostom’s understanding on its head:
If anyone tries to flag you down, calling out, ‘Here’s the Messiah!’ or points, ‘There he
is!’ don’t fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up
everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool
over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. But I’ve given you fair warning.
So if they say, ‘Run to the country and see him arrive!’ or, ‘Quick, get downtown, see
him come!’ don’t give them the time of day. The Arrival of the Son of Man isn’t
something you go to see. He comes like swift lightening to you! Whenever you see
crowds gathering, think of carrion vultures circling, moving in, hovering over a rotting
carcass. You can be quite sure that it’s not the living Son of Man pulling in those
crowds.

This completely corrupts the doctrine of the Reformers. But if their doctrine was true, we
might expect all the forces of hell to be arrayed against it, to suppress the knowledge and
frequent practice of the Sacrament by any means. Let the eagles therefore beware. Let us
take care that we are not, ironically, feeding on carrion in a desert.
~~~
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Thayer, Joseph H., Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p.114 under #105.
The verse in Luke is not expounded by Chrysostom, Cranmer, or Jewel, that I have read.

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Appendix B
Lost Allusions to the Sacrament
Other parables that the English Reformers understood sacramentally have also been lost
to us. Alienating their fulfilment to the future occurs again, thus robbing us of promises for
today. Take Matthew 26:29, where Jesus says he will no more drink of wine until the day
he drinks it new with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom. Many believe this refers to a
future “Millennium” kingdom. But see below, where Cranmer quotes St. Cyprian, how it is
assumed that the Lord’s drinking of wine with us refers to the present celebration of the
Lord’s Supper (here Cranmer was concerned mainly to refute the doctrine of transubstantiation in Holy Communion and to show that the wine remains wine):
“Christ,” saith [St. Cyprian], “taking the cup, blessed it, and gave it to his disciples,
saying, Drink you all of this, for this is the blood of the new testament, which shall be
shed for many, for the remission of sins. I say unto you, that henceforth I will not drink
of this creature of the vine until I shall drink with you new wine in the kingdom of my
Father. By these words we perceive that the cup which the Lord offered was not only
water, but also wine; and that it was wine that Christ called his blood…How shall we
drink with Christ new wine of the creature of the vine, if in the sacrifice of God
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the Father and of Christ we do not offer wine?” (bold added)

The Lord’s Supper is the new Passover meal, where we “drink with Christ new wine” now
that the Father’s kingdom has come (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25). The reference is to the
New Covenant kingdom, inaugurated by the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost after
Christ ascended to heaven. It is a spiritual kingdom, not of this world (John 18:36).
Thomas Becon, chaplain to Archbishop Cranmer, brought many scriptures to bear upon
the question of how we should approach the Table of the Lord in this new kingdom:
The Lord our God can by no means abide that any man should come unto his holy
Sacraments with unwashed feet, as they used to say; that is, unreverently and
unworthily, as we may see also in the old law. Was not this the commandment of God,
that when the people of Israel did eat the Lord’s Passover, otherwise called the
paschal lamb (which was the Sacrament and figure of the true paschal Lamb, even
Christ Jesus, “which taketh away the sin of the world”), they should eat sweet and
unleavened bread, and suffer no leaven to be in their houses, nor yet taste of any
leavened bread by the space of seven days; and if any did the contrary, that that soul
should be plucked out from Israel? Was not Uzza stricken of God even unto the
death, because he unworthily touched the ark of the Lord? Was not a certain man
taken from the table, bound hand and foot, and cast into utter darkness, where
weeping and gnashing of teeth shall be, because he presumed to come unto the
marriage of a certain noble king’s son without the wedding garment? Did not the devil
enter into Judas immediately after he had unworthily received the holy mysteries of
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the body and blood of Christ?

The scriptures considered here include Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding
feast, and John 13:27, regarding Judas in the Upper Room. ~~~
12

Cranmer, Thomas, A Defense of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body
and Blood of our Saviour Christ, first published 1553 in Latin. My version is a facsimile of a 1907
English edition published by Chas. J. Thynne (Wipf and Stock publishers, 2004), p. 48.
13
Becon, Thomas, The Catechism of Thomas Becon (Parker Society Edition, editor John Ayre,
1844, republished by Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009), p. 233.

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