Easter. The Passion of Jesus X. Gethsemane part 8. Passion as Parable. Bloody Sweat, or Just a lot of Sweat?

Part 11, here.
Part 9, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane VIII. This is it for Gethsemane. On to the arrest next time.

The Passion is a parable in itself. The kingdom is not coming in power. It comes by having the King become powerless. (Now, John would not like that idea, he has a much different vision of Jesus’ psychology, his position.) This is remarkable because Jesus has demonstrated power previously, conquering death (Lazarus), calming the sea (storm on sea of Tiberius), healed the sick merely by the touch of his clothing. Now he will soon be in the power of “sinners” as Mark says at the end of the Gethsemane story. And Jesus has to live through this, he doesn’t have power to stop it. He’s asked God to stop it, the answer is no. Finally, he comes to a point of utter aloneness on the cross. It’s through this weakness, isolation, impotence, suffering, that the kingdom will finally emerge. The sleeping disciples fulfill the tale at the end of Mark 13. They aren’t ready for the end trial, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak–they aren’t ready, Jesus must do it alone.

For Mark, Gethsemane is a picture of being crushed down (below all things). Luke wants to tell things a different way. Luke tells of Jesus saying to the disciples to pray before he goes off by himself, Luke says it’s a stones throw. How does he know this? It’s dramatization I think, but perhaps he has another source besides Mark for this. He’s making it real, and Matthew also does this with Jesus’ prayers. Mark simply has Jesus pray the same thing twice (and it’s inferred he does it one more time, because he comes back to them a third time) but Matthew has three prayers, the second and third seem to admit that he’s not going to be rescued. After the first prayer, he comes to the disciples and repeats the instruction to pray. Luke does not single out Peter, James, and John. Jesus’ prayer requests are to the whole group of disciples. Luke’s narration of Jesus’ prayer has Jesus’ begin with, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, nevertheless not my will but yours be done.” God’s will is at the beginning and the end. John’s version of the prayer prior to the Supper involves an angel, but it’s by confusion (read John 12).

Luke, the Angel, the bloody sweat.

I mentioned the Book of Mormon reference and the Doctrine and Covenants reference to the next part of Luke’s Passion story, it’s in verses 43, 44. This is the NRSV text:

43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. [And there is this footnote: other ancient authorities lack verses 43 and 44.]

The footnote suggests the following rather interesting scenario, which I piece together from a number of sources. These verses are missing in many manuscripts. And these verses are not the only ones in Luke that are missing from many mss. We always want to know how those manuscripts are distributed chronologically. For these verses, it’s both the earliest (P75, ca. middle-late second century) and the most reliable texts (Codex Vaticanus ca. 300AD) that are missing them. In the second century then, there were groups of Christians hearing Luke without vss. 43, 44. Contra this, Justin Martyr, who wrote ca. 150, knew of these verses. And there is a collection of manuscripts, not as old as P75 it is true, that contain these verses. So there is a problem.

There is evidence for and against it manuscript-wise. Scholarship mirrors this division. The obvious alternatives seem to be that either someone added it in at some point or someone deleted it. I’m not sure the modern Mormon texts are useful for the question. (See note 5 here for a discussion of the issue.) There are several arguments around the text, one that argues for its addition to Luke is that it secures a very human picture of Jesus. An angel has to come to him, and he sweats profusely (whether the sweat is actually blood is not clear–the drops are large like blood drops perhaps). This is important when considering the rise of gnostic Christianity in the 2nd century. In gnosticism, Jesus was not human, he was either a divine apparition of some sort, or possibly possessed by a superior spirit which leaves before the passion takes place. The idea is that it was added to work against gnostic elements. The arguments for deletion stem from critics of Christian narrative. Celsus criticized Jesus as not divine exactly because of things like the weakness illustrated by needing an angel and sweating profusely as if in great fear. The passage may have been deleted from copies to have less exposure to such criticisms. That’s the argument. Editing scripture to deflect criticism or conceal information may seem strange, but it happened in the publication of Mormon revelations. And redacting scripture was not uncommon in the time of Jesus, it’s clearly in evidence in the earliest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures (Dead Sea Scrolls).

Some have argued that the verses don’t fit with Luke’s overall strategy, because they show Jesus in agony. There is an interpretation of the Greek ἀγωνία, agonia, that suggests a somewhat different meaning to the pericope. In Greek athletic contests, coaches might help the athlete warm up, doing movements of various types, making practice runs, building mental tension. The nervous tension increases and reaches a peak at the starting line, the athlete sweating, mentally tense. Agonia was used in this sense. Some have seen the angel as coach in this way, preparing Jesus for the final run as it were.

The other Gospels don’t have an angel here, but they do have an angel visit Jesus at a different point, after the Temptations at the beginning of the ministry. Luke has no angel there. It’s a trade perhaps. Maybe the important thing is that there is an angel in evidence in very early traditions. For Luke, the angel is God’s answer to the prayers. The answer is no. This echoes the Maccabean martyrs in the furnace (the story is found in Daniel). The three are put in the furnace but they don’t burn. And there is an angel in the furnace with them. These moments are prototypes for stories of Christian martyrs in later centuries.



  1. Have you seen Lincoln Blumell’s article on Luke 22 and sweat/blood here? It’s long and technical, but he argues for the validity of the passage.

  2. Nice article. Thanks for the link. Any readers who are dying to see source citations on the issue can find them there.

  3. Clark Goble says:

    Interesting link Ben.

    It seems to me the most interesting thing for Mormons is whether the blood is the simile (as I think most take it) or sweat is the simile (he’s bleeding in some way – as in Mos 3:7; D&C 19:18). If we take the bleeding interpretation we can of course still take it as hyperbole (although most don’t).

    When you take this issue relative to the Docetism problem it gets more interesting. After all the Mormon riffs on Luke seem to move more towards the Docetism position rather than its opposition. (If Christ bled at every pore in a literal way then his body is simply far less human than ours in key ways)

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