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09 April 2019

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

It’s a misinterpretation of the verse… and Luke didn’t write the verse anyway.

Luke 22.44.

Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?

Certain preachers love to point out that Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood:

Luke 22.44 ESV
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from the stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.

Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a doctor! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about such medical conditions, right? Including this one.

Though more than once, I’ve heard a preacher claim hematidrosis actually isn’t a harmless condition: They insist it’s life-threatening. That’s why Jesus needed an angel to strengthen him in the previous verse; Lk 22.43 he was on the verge of bleeding out. After all the verse says great drops of blood. Jesus was bleeding out—and he hadn’t even been arrested yet! You don’t want him dying before the Romans killed him; for some reason that might bungle the atonement. I’m not sure how, but they’re pretty sure it woulda.

Okay, as you can tell from the title of this article, they’d be wrong. Not just about how dangerous hematidrosis is or isn’t. They’re wrong about Jesus sweating blood in the first place. The verse doesn’t say that.

In the ESV (and Amplified, CSB, ISV, KJV, Message, NASB, NET, NIV, and NRSV) the verse says Jesus’s sweat was like drops of blood. That’s a translation of ὡσεὶ/oseí, “to be compared with.” He wasn’t sweating blood; he was sweating like it was blood.

Now in my experience, and probably yours, sweat and blood are equally liquid. Blood clots up, but when you first cut yourself, it drips just as much as sweat can drip from you. So why would a writer compare sweating with bleeding? Well we have to remember their culture: When ancient Jews typically encountered blood, it wasn’t the result of cutting themselves, but from cutting an animal. You had to slaughter animals for food… and for ritual sacrifice to the LORD. (Or, for gentiles, to pagan gods.) And when you did so, it was against the Law to eat blood, Ge 9.4 so you had to first drain all the blood out of them. So we’re not talking about a little bit of blood. We’re talking about blood pouring out of an animal.

So that’s the idea the verse is meant to convey: Sweat was pouring off Jesus. He was drenched in it. Not bloody sweat; not blood at all. Still risking dehydration though.

So yeah, every preacher who claims Jesus was sweating blood, clearly skipped the rather obvious “like” in the verse—no matter what your favorite translation may be; it’s in nearly all of ’em! All because they’re a little too fascinated by the idea of sweating blood, to do a little basic reading comprehension. Rather sloppy of ’em. Don’t repeat their mistake.

Oh, I’m not done. Turns out there’s another caveat to this verse: It doesn’t exist in our earliest copies of Luke’s gospel. Nor any copies before the 300s. Seems it was added to the bible. It’s what we call a textual variant, which is why my translation puts it in brackets:

Luke 22.43-44 KWL
43 [Jesus saw a heavenly angel, which strengthened him.
44 Becoming stressed, Jesus was praying in agony,
and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.]

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume when Jesus was fervently praying, he was sweating a bit. That happens, even on a cold spring night. But buckets of sweat pouring off him? Nope. Some overzealous Christian scribe liked that image and added it to Luke. Other Christians like that image too, which is why it’s in bibles. But Luke didn’t write it.

Wait, somebody made this up?

Short answer: Yep.

Why? Well there’s no way anyone can say with certainty. Why do humans exaggerate stories? Often because we don’t feel the story, by itself, is dramatic enough, exciting enough, interesting enough… it’s not enough, and needs to be more. At some point some Christian told the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and decided it wasn’t enough that he was praying really hard: He had to be sweating buckets too.

My guess is the really vivid description caught on. “The sweat poured out of Jesus just like when blood pours from the throat of a sacrificial lamb. And Jesus is our sacrificial lamb; the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin…” Jn 1.29 Something like that. Something which made Christians decide Luke needed a few extra verses about an angel strengthening Jesus because he was sweating like a fat guy in a parked car. So now it has ’em.

And people love this image. Preachers bring up Jesus sweating blood every Easter. They love the idea Jesus was so freaked out he broke blood vessels. It humanizes him in a way which really comforts them. Because if Jesus was just that terrified… it makes it okay whenever they get just as frightened. Might even make it understandable or acceptable when they give in to fear, and act a little less than loving.

Yeah, they don’t really love the idea for the best of reasons.

Some scholars, in order to keep the text in the bible, speculate it actually was in the earliest copies of Luke, but somehow got removed, and had to get put back in. They don’t have any evidence for this theory, but that’s not gonna stop ’em from pushing it. People willingly adopt all sorts of ridiculous theories when they want something bad enough. Politics is a good example of this.

Yes, Jesus was stressed out. The story makes it plain: He was praying mighty hard for the Father to change his mind about the plan. I expect he was also praying mighty hard for the willpower to go through with it. As he told Simon Peter, a willing spirit isn’t gonna get you very far when your flesh is weak, Mk 14.38, Mt 26.41 which is why Jesus had to fight his own flesh. Flesh wants comfort. But what’s comfortable isn’t always what’s right.

And Jesus mastered his own flesh way more than other people are willing to do. So I have my doubts he was drenched in sweat. Maybe a little sweaty; maybe even really sweaty; not sweat pouring down his arms like a drinking fountain.

And regardless, he didn’t sweat blood.