Thursday, April 01, 2010

Did Jesus sweat drops of blood as He prayed in the Garden?

My heart is in the pulpit, even when the rest of me doesn't have that blessing. That being the case, among my great joys is knowing that the material I offer at my various sites is being used in pulpits on various continents.

This time, ahead of any Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services, I offer a thought about a deeply ingrained fixture among evangelicals for a long, long time: the idea that Jesus sweated blood as He prayed in the garden.

The image is based on Luke 22:44 — "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

You may notice a marginal note that both verses 43 and 44 are missing from some manuscripts. Since v. 44 is the only verse that mentions this phenomenon, it may not be the greatest idea to lean on something that is textually questionable. However, that isn't my focus here. Let us suppose, for our discussion, that the verse is textually certain.

Does Dr. Luke assert that our Savior sweat blood as He prayed? Many choice servants of God have thought so. Hear Spurgeon from just one place of many:
The mental pressure arising from our Lord’s struggle with temptation, so forced his frame to an unnatural excitement, that his pores sent forth great drops of blood which fell down to the ground. This proves how tremendous must have been the weight of sin when it was able to crush the Saviour so that he distilled great drops of blood! ...This sets forth the voluntariness of Christ’s sufferings, since without a lance the blood flowed freely. No need to put on the leech, or apply the knife; it flows spontaneously. No need for the rulers to cry, “Spring up, O well;” of itself it flows in crimson torrents. (pm for 3/23)
However, note what I have said, as contrasted with what Luke said. I said "sweated blood," "sweat blood." Luke, on the other hand, wrote, "his sweat became like [ὡσεὶ, hōsei] great drops of blood. Do you notice the difference? One is a declarative statement ("sweated blood"), the other is a simile ("like great drops of blood").

Now, it is just possible that hōsei means "just like"... but still, there's that "like." Consider some of Luke's other uses of hōsei. For instance, in Acts 2:3 — "And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them." Does anyone argue that the tongues were actual flames? I don't think so. They were like flames of fire. Or was Stephen's face the actual face of an angel, or was it like an angel's face (Acts 6:15)?

So I take this as a simile. What is a simile? It is a figure of speech where two different objects are compared, often because of a single point of correspondence.

Maybe I can illustrate by a little family joke. I forget how it started, but my mother used to say with great fondness that I was "like a son" to her. We'd chuckle.

Why was it funny? Well, because I wasn't "like" a son to her. I was her son. If I were "like" a son, I would not be her son. A thing is not "like" what it is; it is what it is.

So, when Luke says that Jesus' sweat was "like" great drops of blood, he is saying that Jesus' sweat was not great drops of blood. No need to search for medical parallels, or to speak of "hemohydrosis." Had Jesus sweat blood, it would have been great drops of blood — not "like" great drops of blood.

Luke and our Lord lived in a different land and time. Their days weren't spent in safety-engineered offices and air-conditioned buildings with rounded, edgeless corners. They didn't earn their living by sitting on cushions and tapping out words on ergonomic keyboards. No, they worked out of doors, among sharp stones and rough wood and jagged iron. They saw many cuts, and plenty of bleeding. Certainly Dr. Luke had also seen his share of blood pouring from cuts and wounds.

Luke is telling us that Jesus did not build up a mild sweat, a thin sheen of perspiration. So heavy was His burden that the Lord Jesus looked as if He had been deeply cut, and were bleeding profusely. Only it wasn't blood that was pouring off His body in a great flow of steady, swollen drops. It was sweat.

Probably the closest any of us have come would be a heavy nosebleed. We lean over the sink and watch in some fascination: drip, drip, drip, drip. Steady, large succession of drops. So it was with Jesus, but all over, and in sweat.

The picture loses none of its poignancy with the loss of sanguinity. There is no need nor place for sacrificial shedding of blood in the Garden. That would take place on the Cross.

Now our Lord is well-nigh crushed by the prospect of bearing our sins, and His Father's just wrath. The Lord Jesus was in such an agony as He confronted the horrors awaiting him, the torment and torture of body and spirit that He would endure, that as He wrestled in prayer, sweat poured off of Him. So great was the cost of our salvation.

So great was our Savior's love.

Hallelujah! What a Savior.


God's student said...

"Hallelujah! What a Savior."

Thank you for this post - I have often wondered about this and your explanation makes so much sense.

Jason said...

I want to thank you for this post. For years I have thought that I was the only one who saw it this way. Then after learning Greek I was really confused because of the use of ὡσεὶ. I never understood why so many people had to go to such great lengths to explain this. They were making it more difficult than they had to based on the text.

Now if we can just get the matter of Joseph's long-sleeved coat worked out. That's not nearly as important though.

Brad Williams said...

Dan! The next thing you know you'll be telling us that Solomon's beloved did not have a nose like the tower of Lebanon! For shame.

DJP said...

Well, no. She actually did.

Al said...

Now what will the Mormons do?

al sends

Lynda Ochsner said...

Thanks for sharing this -- and yes, that makes more sense based on the text. I can picture the profuse sweating more than the idea of sweating blood -- for instance, from someone I know who sometimes exhibits the profuse sweating due to medical reasons (low blood sugar diabetic). (Of course I'm not saying Jesus sweated for that same reason -- only that I know what the heavy sweating all over the body looks like.)

Brad Williams said...

I messed up my own joke. How embarrassing.

DJP said...

Brad - you did? I thought it was funny! You're a very gifted humorous writer. Your comments often make me smile and/or laugh, and I really appreciate it!

Al - oh dear, I'm in the dark here. Is there a related Mormodoctrine?

witness said...

Thanks Dan! I have pointed this out to people repeatedly before and they reacted as though I had blasphemed God. I have even been offered medical proof for Jesus sweating blood (the hemohydrosis you mentioned).

Thanks for your dedication to a right exegesis of God's Word

DJP said...

You're very welcome.

I'm not arguing that it couldn't have happened; and I've provided a link in the post to the opposite viewpoint.

But if that had been what Luke meant, it would have been so easy simply to say "He sweated great drops of blood." If A is like B, it generally isn't B.

Brad Williams said...


I meant to say that the next thing you know you'll be telling us that Solomon's beloved didn't have the Tower of Lebanon for a nose. But my mess up might be funnier.

I use the Song of Solomon example when I am discipling folks on paying attention to genre.

DJP said...

Oh. Well, I got what you meant, anyway.

J♥Yce said...

hmmmmm, Dan(& others), I see the wording "BECAME like". Can we then reason together it to say/mean sweat of heavy drops as you shared yet rather the color of blood(because it included blood not that blood solely came from sweat pores) lest it would read from the pores came great drops of blood. Or it could have been written sweat great drops of sweat or sweat like great drops of rain or water if only colorless???

Posting and running ~ vacation day for husband(= get off puter, wife).

DJP said...

The point isn't the color, it's the flow, the profusion.

DJP said...

Only eternity will tell how many (if any) pastors read this post, said "Oh crud," opened their sermon doc, and did some quick re-editing.

Daniel said...

Thanks Dan.

Even though I have in the past towed the company line ("Jesus sweated blood") as it were, yet I have also come to see that Jesus didn't actually shed blood, but that Luke was just giving a visual description of the dripping of Christ's sweat - it was like drops of blood in that it was falling down upon the ground in drips. We all know from personal experience (your alusion to nosebleeds was bang on) what that looks like.

Yet to have someone else point this thing out, well it strengthens the certainty of those who see it but assume they must be mistaken cause everyone else sees the emperor's fancy dress.

Thanks again.

Solameanie said...

Amen. Beautiful post . . . and I concur.

P.D. Nelson said...

Thanks Dan it's nice to see a greek scholar like yourself explain the meaning. It was clear and precise and insightful.

CR said...

Excellent point. People make the same mistake in another area and that's with the Holy Spirit. In each of the gospels, the writers write that the Spirit descended like a dove, not descended as a dove.

But what do you see in a lot of pictures denoting the Holy Spirit - a dove. Now, I got no beef if people want to do that. But whatever the Holy Spirit looked like when He descended on Jesus, He must have looked stupendous, magnificent, mind-blowing and totally out of this world, and He definitely did NOT look like a dove!

But a lot of people who have big issues with pictures of Jesus like from Michelangelo don't have any problems with a false picture of the Spirit looking like a dove. Amazing.

witness said...

Here is another one...

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. ~Acts 2:3,4

I am no great scholar but, I don't think this means there were little flames of fire dancing over their heads like pictures show. Right Dan?

DJP said...

Correct, sir.

(...which is why I mentioned that in the post. (c; )

witness said...

oops... I knew I heard somewhere. :)

Brad Williams said...

You know, this is really interesting to me, especially what CR said.

It goes back to word, art, and communication in general, really. It is perfectly fine, even good, I think, to draw the Holy Spirit "as a dove." Scripture describes the Holy Spirit that way, and as long as people realize they are looking at art, then they may learn something about the Holy Spirit. (Why didn't the Bible say He descended like an eagle?)

I sing a song with my 5 year old and 2 year old called, "My God is so Big." Well, erm, technically God isn't "Big". He isn't even "strong" in the way we measure "strong." He also doesn't have arms. And, to boot, I'm a classical theist in that I do not think God has "passions." But, it is totally appropriate to describe God as having a "strong arm", to say that He is "big", and to say that the Holy Spirit descended as a "dove." It's beautiful, in fact.

God is so big that I almost cannot even speak of Him accurately. Such is the limitation of language. The beauty is that I can accurately say some things about Him, and the teeny, tiny bit I can say is more wonderful and captivating than anything else in all this creation I see.

If this goes too far astray from the point of your post, forgive me, Dan. It's Maundy Thursday, and I am overwhelmed by how little I know and can communicate about God in Christ, and I am equally overwhelmed by the fact that the little I know and can communicate is so very awesome.

Pedro said...


Your initial sentence struck me deeply:

"My heart is in the pulpit, even when the rest of me doesn't have that blessing."

My heart goes out to you brother, it must be very hard to contain the fire within.

May our Lord bless you and grant you the opportunity and pleasure in His time.

CR said...


In my opinion, you could no more draw the Holy Spirit as dove anymore than one can draw Jesus sweating with real blood. The Holy Spirit did not descend as a dove Jesus did not sweat blood if I am to understand the writers correctly.

Daniel said...

Reading Brad's comment, I had to go there... why not say he decended like a buzzard?

Interesting how the imagery changes that picture, and the connotations. ;)

Matthew Ervin said...

ὡσεὶ merely means "as." I wouldn't be comfortable assigning it more meaning than that. With that said I agree that in this context it clearly means like blood.
My problem with your post is that you question the veracity of this verse. Don't give into the supposed problems with it. Check our Burgon's "Revision Revised."
This verse was often quoted by Church Fathers.

Brad Williams said...


I'm having trouble understanding why you would say that. Is it an aversion to iconography? John wrote that the Spirit descended like a dove, did he not? Why is it okay to use that simile in words but not in picture? What would the picture express that the words would not?

trogdor said...

On the dove issue, Luke's account is translated pretty consistently into English as "the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove". Does that make it better to picture him in a bodily form like a dove?

I don't know the Greek well enough to tell if there's something else there that's not being conveyed, so it's attached for convenience for someone who does. Have fun.

CR said...


Whatever bodily form the Spirit came down as, for sure, it did not assume the bodily form of a dove (naturally, since the Lord was so adamant about us not worshipping idols or graven images).

Al said...


The LDS folks ascribe atoning work to the blood shed in the Garden. For example:

"[Jesus Christ] is the Light of the Atonement fulfilled in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Golgotha, who took upon Himself the sins of the world, that all mankind may obtain eternal salvation. He is the Light of the empty tomb. . . . He is my Light, my Redeemer, my Savior--and yours."

Robert D. Hales, "Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light," Ensign, May 2002, 71–72

Al said...

Also this:

"To begin to meet the demands of the Atonement, the sinless Christ went into the Garden of Gethsemane, as Elder Whitney saw in his dream, there to bear the agony of soul only He could bear. He “began to be sore amazed and to be very heavy,” saying to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, unto death.”15 Why? Because He suffered “the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.”16 He experienced “temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great [was] his anguish.”17

Through this suffering, Jesus redeemed the souls of all men, women, and children “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”18 In doing so, Christ “descended below all things”—including every kind of sickness, infirmity, and dark despair experienced by every mortal being—in order that He might “comprehend all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.”19"

From Some Dream Some Guy Had.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

The passage in Luke can either be taken as the Spirit had a bodily appearance that descended like a dove or the Spirit had a bodily appearance the resembled a dove which descended. I would prefer the first interpretation to match the other gospels.

Rachael Starke said...

Al beat me to it. This is a major piece of Mormon doctrine. Whatever they believe about the atonement, they believe was accomplished in the Garden of Gethsemane, not the cross.

Yet one more way Mormonism delicately and insidiously distorts the gospel...

And thinking about CR's point about the same grammatical structure around the description of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus, I've always wondered if the description had more to do with the manner of the Holy Spirit's descent, like a bird coming to land on the earth...don't know for sure of course...

DJP said...

To me, Luke is clear:

"and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:22).

Don't know how he could say more clearly that it was a bodily, visible appearance resembling a dove. I'm open to correction, but that's the natural force of the words, to me. Since He did it, evidently it does not violate the commandment against worship. It isn't the first time a person of the Trinity took on some visible form (Exodus 24:10).

Kirby said...

Thanks for this, Dan. That word "like" has always glared at me, and so I've never actually been a strong proponent of the "sweating great drops of blood" position. Again, not that he couldn't....

Spurgeon's quote kinda bothers me, though. When he says "weight of sin" and not "impending weight of sin" it makes me squirm that he saw the atonement at least beginning there.

I'm not otherwise going to think on this as it relates to Spurgeon again, but I am eventually going to preach through Luke (after 1-2 Timothy [yeah]).

So thanks for this post.


ps: I've almost finished The D-C Rift by Magnum.

Susan said...

Dan, it sounds to me like CR is taking the phrase to mean "like a dove [would]"; that is, if I heard him correctly. (Do correct me if I'm wrong, CR.) If that were the case, then it wouldn't mean resembling a dove.

J♥Yce said...

We agree on the profusion though easy for me to understand great drops of sweat from a work perspective. Yup...great drops ~ thrombos. :-) Promise to understand the hosei use in Luke amidst so many commentary I do "get it" in Rev. 1:14 ~ and elsewhere.

J♥Yce said...

And one of those voices(MacArthur) correlates Luke 22:44 with Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34, & Hebrews 12:3,4. Rolling up the sleeves, Dan ~ thanks for this post! :-)

tim said...

Dan great post...
Why is Luke the only person to mention this...Well he's a doctor and he refers things to his field...AS blood....the other night i was working on my car and sweating could hear my sweat hitting the son ask "dad are you bleeding"....dont you think if you seen someone sweating blood you would have mentioned it due to the rareness...wouldnt his clothes have been stained...But the best argument to me is that the whole Bible teaches us not to worry or stress or take thought of our if Jesus sweated blood wouldnt that be a sin...and He could not have been that perfect lamb without spot or blemish...I believe the teachings of Jesus sweating blood is blasphemy and taking the focus off of his resurrection which is what gives us Eternal who would want to do that.....hmmmmm SATAN

DJP said...

Oh Tim, I wouldn't say that at all. We know Jesus started bleeding well before the Crucifixion — the beatings, the whipping, the crown of thorns.

It's simply a matter of the text not supporting that interpretation. Those Christians who seemingly overlook the "as if" take it as indicating what a terrific struggle Jesus had in His prayer in the Garden — which is just how I take it as well.

No great doctrine hangs on it.

Donald Miller N.D. said...

Striving against sin and paying the price for sin are two different things. I believe Paul was taking up the thread Dr. Luke laid down when he said in Hebrews 12:4, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” In the Garden, Jesus was struggling under the weight of our sins, of every sin that had ever been committed or would be yet. He felt the awful weight of each and every one of them and the eternal separation such sins will cause between the sinner and God, and that makes His condition, according to the only doctor amongst Christ’s followers, of hemohydrosis not only plausible but inevitable. “Like great drops of blood,” shows Luke’s attention to medical detail. It wasn’t blood and blood alone, it was a dilute, caused by the bursting capillaries surrounding the sweat glands brought about by a sudden reversal of the superhuman stress Christ felt relieved when the angel came and ministered to Him. It is a classic case of hemohydrosis. Your premise is well taken, but to in any way lessen the struggle Christ went through in the Garden would release us from the reality of “resisting unto blood striving against sin” and accept the notion of cheap grace. Christ’s struggle must be our struggle, but in Him, it is a “good fight of faith.”

Darryl Martin said...

Cool to see the truth posted!

FilaBrasileiro05 said...

I finally found someone that noticed the word "like" in the verse. Thank you so much for the relief. Now if someone will only be so kind as to give Dr. Frederick Zugibe english lessons. Thanks again.

Michael Coughlin said...

Thanks for the post. Makes sense and seems to anticipate the contrary comments.

Question about the "dove" thing though. Isn't is possible that the Holy Spirit DESCENDED like a dove rather than TOOK BODILY FORM like a dove?

Terry Rayburn said...


In addition to your actual exegetical point (which I agree with, despite Donald Miller N.D.'s interesting comparison with Hebrews -- Donald is apparently a Seventh Day Adventist, and therefore exegetically challenged to start with, IMHO), I can't help but think how often Bible teachers pass on things they've heard from other Bible teachers, without studying or verifying the thing.

(Understandable, by the way, since it's often reputable preachers whom they've heard it from -- this is not really a criticism).

An example is the oft-taught idea that agape is a sort of non-human "God's kind of love", as opposed to the other forms of love made popular by C.S. Lewis.

(Agape is not only used "secularly" in Scripture, but in non-biblical Greek writings.)

Don Carson makes this and many other wonderful points in his "Exegetical Fallacies", a favorite book of mine.

Steve Hakes said...

A good blog, and like yourself have reservations about a textually insecure concept. Agreeing that Jesus did not sweat blood, IMO Donald Miller’s interpretation of ὡσει (bloody sweat) remains, like your, a possible. I discount your discount of that phenomenon. "I Stand Amazed in the Presence" was written by (a) Gabriel, but on a number of counts I’d reject it, and appreciate Terry Rayburn’s point that too often we run with whatever we pick up: 1 Ths.5:21.
Luke or later scribe clearly said, not blood. I think Rm.5:9f. makes it fairly clear that, as you said, it was not sacrificial bleeding in Gethsemane. I think we too often speak of Jesus’ blood. Even as it puzzled the ancient Romans, how many nowadays think we’re Buffy huggers, drinking his blood (metaphor, not simile)? Death can be symbolised by blood, going back to Lv.17:11: metonymy. It’s his death, not his small amount of bleeding before death, which somehow saved us.