Recently, I have been asked, “Did Jesus sweat drops of blood?”
I believe that the authors of the Bible wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that what they wrote was without error in the original autographs. Verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 are very important to me.
When it comes to interpreting the Bible, I practice what theologians call ‘the grammatical-historical hermeneutic.’ In other words…I take the Bible at face value. Some people call this the ‘plain’ way of interpreting. If the language seems to suggest that something is to be understood as literal, I take it as literal. If the language seems to suggest that something is to be taken figuratively, I take it figuratively. When the gospels talk about Jesus walking on water…the language seems to imply that He actually walked on water. So I take that story literally. The same goes for the feeding of the 5000 and the rest of Jesus’ miracles.
So what about the Luke 22:44 reference?
The NIV reads ‘…and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.’ A plain reading of the text would seem to imply that the sweat of our Lord was ‘like’ blood…not that it actually was blood. In virtually every English translation of Luke, the word ‘like’ or ‘as’, or ‘as it were’ appears in this verse. That’s because the ancient Greek manuscripts on which our English translations are based include the word ‘hosei’ (meaning like or as). When you and I use the word ‘like’ we usually mean to draw a comparison. In other words, we are using a metaphor.
Several Bible scholars believe the Greek term ‘hosei’ may be interpreted as something other than ‘like’. However, I am aware of only one Bible translator that confidently takes that approach. I want to be very cautious about reading deeper meaning into certain phrases than how they have been historically understood or what they appear to be saying at face value. Having said that, I think there is a place for legitimate debate over the specific meaning of questionable terms as long as we don’t use our interpretation of these words as the litmus test of the orthodoxy of others.
Yes, I also know that the medical world has confirmed Aristotles’ ancient hypothesis that a person under great duress (with poor health) could actually perspire droplets of sweat with hints of blood. However, just because science says it could happen… doesn’t mean it actually did.
Personally I rather like the idea of Jesus actually sweating blood. I think it adds drama to the story. However I don’t feel like I have the liberty to delete the word ‘like’. This is why in Rewriting Your Emotional Script I made the statement that Luke is speaking metaphorically. (p.57)
So here’s my summary on the matter: This is the only verse in the New Testament that mentions the nature of Jesus’ sweat in the garden. A plain reading of the Greek says Jesus sweat was ‘like’ blood…not that it actually was blood. The majority of Bible scholars take the word ‘like’ to mean ‘like’.
Personally, I believe that if God had wanted us to believe that Jesus actually sweat blood He would have used more definitive language or would have had the other gospel writers clarify or confirm the matter. But, I don’t think a dogmatic view is possible since there are godly scholars on both sides of this issue.
Whether you feel Jesus shed literal drops of blood or if you believe Luke was comparing His sweat to drops of blood, don’t miss the message of the passage; Jesus decision to be obedient to the Father’s plan of going to the cross was agonizing. And He gave voice to that agony.
Either way, when I finally see him face to face in heaven, I will fall at His feet and worship Him, because His decision in the Garden led to the cross where by His blood, He purchased my salvation and freedom.