If you’ve seen Easter movies where Jesus is feeling tormented in the Garden of Gethsemane, especially The Passion of the Christ, you may have noticed an odd little detail. As Jesus is praying, tiny red drops of blood appear on his forehead.
You probably figured this was a dramatic license, something to make Jesus’ pain more visual. The truth is that Jesus sweating blood has a fascinating history. This history gives us some important lessons about the biblical canon and about what Jesus went through on Good Friday.
Does the Bible Really Say Jesus Sweat Blood?
All four Gospels mention that after the Last Supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26) (Mark 14) (Luke 22) (John 17). The three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) mention that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed a fervent prayer. He asked God the Father if there was any way to accomplish his will without Jesus taking “this cup of suffering” (Matthew 22:39). Jesus prayed several times, asking if the suffering could be avoided, but only if it was God’s will. Christians call this moment the Agony in the Garden: Jesus knowing his death was coming, afraid of what it would involve, asking for escape but submitting to his Father’s plan.
The Synoptic Gospels describe Jesus feeling troubled or anguished as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, Luke’s Gospel provides an unusual detail:
On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. (Luke 22:40-46 NIV, emphasis added)
Should Jesus Sweating Blood Be in the Bible?
Most Bibles contain a study footnote by Luke 22:43-44, stating that these verses do not appear in most ancient manuscripts. You’ll see a similar note in John 7:53-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20. The note is pretty much what it sounds like: scholars have examined the many ancient manuscripts they’ve uncovered so far containing the four Gospels. For whatever reason, these verses often don’t appear in the ancient manuscripts. We must remember three things before we panic about “does the Bible have false stories about Jesus?”
First, scholars have found thousands of copies of the New Testament (from small fragments to copies of entire books) and are still finding more. So, if a disputed story is in the Gospels, it doesn’t mean that there are just one or two copies with that story pasted in. It means there are many ancient manuscripts without that story, some containing it, and many later manuscripts containing it.
Second, when we look at the history of the biblical canon, we find it has stayed pretty much the same from the start. Many early churches didn't have access to all 66 books, and some included extra books we consider part of the Apocrypha or the Pseudipigrapha. Various councils like the Council of Hippo in 393 AD verified what books would be included in the Bible, but most historians agree there was little debate. What is in the Gospels has been discussed for centuries without anyone feeling the need to make big changes.
Third, every time a reputable team of scholars plans a new translation of the Bible, they go back to the ancient manuscripts (including copies found recently) to check their work. Therefore, it’s always possible that scholars will find more ancient manuscripts containing these disputed passages. We may find in the future that some of these passages will become less disputed. Hence, many experienced Christians recommend seeking new translations (or at least new editions) of the Bible: as more ancient manuscripts are found, the translations get better.
So, while Luke 22:43-44 may not appear in all ancient manuscripts, this does not necessarily mean it didn’t happen. There are good reasons why scholars from ancient times onward have looked at Luke 22:43-44, debated removing it, and then kept it. We shouldn’t have a crisis of faith over whether it should be in the Bible. We should admit it’s disputed and be cautious about over-emphasizing it—if we discover our whole Christology hinges on this verse, we need to rethink things.
Cautiously and honestly, we can consider what this passage means and if it tells us anything meaningful about Jesus.
Could Jesus Sweat Blood?
Your first question after reading Luke 22:43-44 is probably, “Can someone physically sweat blood?”
The answer is people can sweat blood, but it is unusual. Medical doctors have explained a rare condition called hematohidrosis involves blood coming out of the pores. The National Center for Advancing Translational Diseases (NCATD) lists the symptoms as “sweating blood, crying bloody tears, bleeding from the nose, bleeding from the ears, or oozing blood from other skin surfaces.”
The NCATD also says hematohidrosis happens when the skin’s blood vessels rupture, that only a little blood may come out in the sweat, and it can happen and stop quickly. As of this writing, medical doctors are still figuring out what causes hematohidrosis. Some cases have involved “systemic disease, bleeding disorders, menstruation, excessive exertion, high blood pressure, fear, and intense emotional stress.”
Dr. Alexander Metherell gives a good summary of what sweating blood would look like:
“What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there’s a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood. We’re not talking about a lot of blood; it’s just a very, very small amount.”
(Excerpted from The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel)
This description fits what Luke describes: he doesn’t say Jesus had blood pouring from his face. He says that Jesus’ sweat “was like drops of blood,” still clearly sweat yet tinged with blood.
As Mike Leake observes, Luke may be the only one who mentions Jesus sweating blood because Luke was a medical doctor. We know this because Acts establishes that Luke traveled with Paul, and Paul mentions Luke in Colossians 4:14: “Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings.”
The Associates for Biblical Research observe that Luke’s Gospel gives other details that only a doctor would likely bring up. Only Luke’s Gospel records Jesus saying, “Physician, heal yourself!” (Luke 4:23). Luke seems to show professional courtesy when describing the woman with internal bleeding: unlike Mark, he doesn’t mention the many doctors who couldn’t help her (Mark 5:25-26) (Luke 8:23). Michael Card observes that Luke gives many other specific medical references, such as telling readers that Peter’s mother-in-law “had a high fever” (Luke 4:38).
We also see specifically medical details in Acts, when Luke describes being stranded with Paul on Malta. When a snake bites Paul, Luke specifies that locals expected Paul to “swell up or suddenly drop dead” (Acts 28:6), not just that they expected him to die. He also notes that Paul heals a man who is specifically “ill with fever and dysentery” (Acts 28:8).
Although this isn’t a major opinion, Michael Card suggests that Luke could have been a slave, which would explain why he emphasizes Jesus’ care for overlooked people. In ancient Roman times, slaves who could choose or change professions often became doctors—specialized positions kept them from being expendable. A slave who became a doctor would be very interested in the medical details and in whether Jesus took time for overlooked people.
What Did Jesus Sweating Blood Mean?
(Note: This section discusses the suffering of Jesus, including graphic descriptions.)
The fact that Jesus sweat blood tells us at least two things.
First, Jesus was feeling severe emotional distress even before he reached the cross. He knew he would be crucified (Matthew 20:17-19). For Jesus to be so distressed that he sweat blood means he wasn’t joking when he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus knew what was coming. He feared it and asked God if there was any way out. As he waited for God’s answer… the friends he asked to be there for him kept falling asleep. Like someone experiencing a panic attack with no one to calm him down, Jesus felt immense pain and his surroundings gave no comfort. Trusted friends couldn’t see what he was feeling. He could only stay put and trust the Father.
Second, Jesus sweating blood means his body was in agony before he reached the cross. Dr. Metherell observes that sweating blood makes skin “extremely fragile,” which would continue into the next day.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is sweating blood. His skin may already feel over-sensitive. Then Jesus’ skin is being bruised as people grab him (likely binding him with chains) to take him to the religious leaders. A few hours later, his skin feels the blows as the religious leaders beat him (Matthew 26:67-68) (John 18:22-23), and their guards finish the job (Mark 14:65) (Luke 22:64-65).
Within a day of sweating blood, Jesus stands before Pilate, who orders his soldiers to flog Jesus. The Romans tear his clothes off (Matthew 27:28)—and they’re probably not doing it nicely to avoid a rug burn. Leather whips, containing lead (Matthew 27:26) and probably broken bone, tear into Jesus’ back and upper legs. At some point, the Romans hit his head with a reed stick (Matthew 27:30) (Mark 15:19). To top it off, they take Jesus’ scalp that sweat blood… and shove a crown of thorns onto it (Matthew 27:29) (John 19:2).
And there’s still the walk to Golgotha, carrying heavy wood crossbeams that Jesus knows he will be nailed to.
Even before the crucifixion, Jesus experienced torment that would kill many people. Amid that torment, Jesus did not lash out at his torturers or turn from what was ahead. God the Son carried the pain so that he could reach his destination. He would die so that the lost could be saved.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/jmbatt
G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,000 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
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