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Did Scribes Add the Passage of the Bloody Sweat?

In my previous posts I’ve been puzzling over the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44, the so-called “bloody sweat” passage, where Jesus, before his arrest, is said to have been in such deep agony that he sweat drops “as if of blood,” so that an angel came down from heaven to minister to him.  These verses are found in some manuscripts of Luke, but not others.    So which text is “original”?  The version of Luke with the verses or the version without them?

In previous posts I have argued that the verses run contrary both to the structure of Luke’s passage and to the theology of Luke, who worked to *eliminate* any sense of Jesus actually suffering from his Gospel.    In my last post I began to ask, not which of the two texts the author Luke himself would have written (scholars call that kind of question “intrinsic probabilities”: what is more intrinsically likely to go back to the author?) but which of the two texts scribes of the second century, when the passage came to be altered in one way or another, would have preferred (which scholars call “transcriptional probabilities.”)

You might *think* that scribes may have wanted to omit the verses because they wanted to emphasize that Jesus was divine and so couldn’t suffer.  But we have almost no evidence of any manuscripts that were edited in order to promote that kind of view of Christ, a view scholars have called docetic.   What we have are numerous instances in which scribes altered their texts of the NT in order to stress that Jesus really was a human being (even though he was also God).  Since he was fully human, he really could suffer.

Is it possible that the text was altered by scribes wanting to stress that point?  Here is where it gets interesting.

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Ruffling the Feathers of My Fellow Textual Critics
The Bloody Sweat and the Scribes Who Changed It



  1. jhague  August 25, 2015

    Very interesting. Is it also true that Marcion had the first collection of Paul’s letters?

  2. sgodwin  August 25, 2015

    Thanks for an Interesting read. I seem to remember that there were some factions (gnostics, maybe?) who believed that the superior god was a feminine being (or spirit), while the creator was masculine. That concept would seem to be in line with more Asian philosophies of balance and harmony. Is there any evidence that Marcion believed in this kind of dualism?

  3. shakespeare66  August 25, 2015

    It seems to me more and more clearly that the battles between docetists like Marcion and the Proto-Orthodox were ongoing battles and alterations to the texts to make Jesus into the “being” they wanted him to be were a kind of game. I had a Catholic friend say recently to me that the road to Christianity was a smooth one—Jesus handed the baton to Peter and the rest was easy. ha! It was a battle, I said, it was a battle.

  4. timber84  August 26, 2015

    Since Luke was the only gospel included in Marcion’s New Testament and he was a docetist, wouldn’t that fact also support the argument that the bloody sweat verses were not part of the original gospel of Luke?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      No, because we don’t know if his version of Luke had the verses or not.

  5. rbrtbaumgardner  August 26, 2015

    Interesting. It appears the proto-orthodox scribes didn’t consider if Jesus could only seem to be crucified and die perhaps he might only seem to be in agony and sweating drops of blood in the Garden.

  6. Jason  August 26, 2015

    While we’re on the subject of parts of Mark that did or didn’t make it into Mt/Lk, what is the majority thinking on the young man in Mk 14:51?

    • Jason  August 26, 2015

      Sorry-more specificly why do most scholars think the incident was left out, and what does its absence mean in the larger context of what was happening around the authors of Mt. And Lk?

      • Bart
        Bart  August 26, 2015

        Those who think it got left out usually think, I would guess, that it wsa deleted as too graphic and made Jesus appear weak.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      I suppose the majority view is that we can’t really figure out what the passage is about!!

  7. jgranade  August 26, 2015

    Do you think that if the “bloody sweat” passage was not included in Luke, that the Book of Luke would have been excluded from the canon because it could be used to support a docetist view?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      No, because it doesn’t *advance* a docetic view (it doesn’t argue that Jesus was divine but not human).

  8. RonaldTaska  August 26, 2015

    This is fascinating, both the Biblical issue as well as the exploration of this issue by your friend and you as graduate students three decades ago. My main question is as follows: Sometimes when I read what you write about the “corruption” of scripture, it sounds like Gospel authors and Biblical scribes just knowingly made up stuff, coming up with or getting rid of verses, in order to support a given theology. I imagine that sometimes Gospel authors and scribes knowingly made stuff up. On the other hand, wouldn’t it have been more likely that there were numerous stories circulating about Jesus and these stories were constantly changed and embellished with their telling and retelling and then the Gospel writers and scribes cherry-picked and believed those stories that best fit with their other beliefs? In other words, these Gospel writers and scribes actually believed what they wrote. .

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      Yes, I agree. I think *usually* these stories get made up without anyone consciously trying to deceive.

  9. RonaldTaska  August 26, 2015

    I have been reading a series of Wikipedia articles entitled “Jesus and History.” So far, they are well referenced and quite interesting. Readers of this blog might find the series of interest.

  10. shmabdn  August 26, 2015

    It seems to me that Orthodoxy is almost always defined by heresy (eg, Augustine’s strong-worded doctrines on Free Will in response to the teaching of Pelagius); it’s interesting to see how this even seeped into the manipulation of the NT. Theologians figured out what the Church believed mostly when denouncing what they thought ought NOT be believed.

    (Been a while since I studied this stuff, but the material god you mention was known as the ‘Demiurge’, am I right?)

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      The Demiurge is the “maker” of the universe, and is a principal figure in Gnostic christologies.

      • Spaul  September 2, 2015

        Great post! I have some Christian friends who lump all “heretics” into the Gnostic category, including Marcion. But in my understanding, Marcion was technically not a Gnostic. I know they’re overgeneralizing, but I might also be wrong about where the delineation lies, if one exists. Help please?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 2, 2015

          No, Marcion is no longer seen as a Gnostic. He did not have the complicated gnostic mythology (with aeons, emanations, luminaries, a Pleroma, etc etc), or many gods, or the understanding that salvation came from secret knowledge, or any of the other many features that make gnostics gnostic.

  11. dragonfly  August 26, 2015

    I like Marcion. His logic has more holes than swiss cheese but I like the idea that God was fooled by a superior God. Do you think his ideas were original or he just inherited them from someone else?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 26, 2015

      He allegedly got some of his ideas from some forerunners, but he probably refined and certainly popularized them.

  12. Wilusa  August 26, 2015

    “The Jewish God is the God who created this material world. He’s the one who called the Jews to be the chosen people. He’s the one who gave them his law. The problem with the law (for Marcion) is that everyone breaks it. And there’s one punishment that comes to lawbreakers. They are condemned by the God who gave the law. The Old Testament God, the creator, is not evil for Marcion. But he is ruthlessly just. Everyone gets what they deserve. But they deserve condemnation.”

    I know, of course, that this is Marcion’s view – not yours. But I’ve always had a problem with this claim some have made about the Jewish God. What’s “just” about punishing people for breaking “laws” *they* never agreed to? How could it be “just” to consider them bound by some sort of pact that had supposedly been entered into by their *remote ancestors*? (When their culture didn’t even believe in reincarnation?)

    It certainly doesn’t seem this demanding God had ever done much for *them*!

  13. ALIHAYMEG  August 26, 2015

    Ahhhhh…I see where my confusion has come from. I wasn’t clear on the difference between Docetism (The belief that Jesus was not human at all) and Dualism. (which is the belief that Jesus was the human person Jesus being controlled by the spirit of the Christ) Did I characterize those beliefs correctly? So…assuming that the verses were added rather than deleted…it then seems that Luke favored a dualistic view of Christ. That one handy addition completely transformed Luke’s message. It seems much more likely that it was added to thwart a dualistic interpretation than removed to create one. But I can see why there isn’t much of a consensus either way. So incredibly interesting.

  14. bnongbri  August 29, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    Thanks for this series of posts. I’ve used your treatment of this passage in _Misquoting Jesus_ in my classes before with good results. I wonder, however, if you have seen the recent article by Lincoln Blumell which argues the opposite case (that the verses were excised by scribes for apologetic reasons). It’s an interesting read:

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2015

      No, haven’t read it yet; a couple of people have pointed it out to me.

  15. Theonedue  August 29, 2015

    You stated earlier that you believed that Josephus wrote in his ‘War of the Jews’ (written in 75 A.D) that eyewitnesses told him that they saw soldiers battling in the sky over Jerusalem (an event thousands would have witnessed). If this indeed did not occur and was fiction, how could he get away with such a lie 9 years later after his work was published and Jews started to read it and talk about it (it was so popular that even Tacitus recounts the story)?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2015

      Many people believed it.

      • Theonedue  August 31, 2015

        How could they believe it if it wasn’t true? Couldn’t people say they would surely have remembered soldiers in the sky 9 years ago if it happened?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 1, 2015

          People believe crazy miracle stories all the time. Millions do today. About miracles in our own time.

      • Theonedue  September 1, 2015

        Since Jesus crucifixion was handled by the romans, that means he was likely treated with the roman punishment of being left on a cross for a couple of days and thrown into a water ditch, or dry ditch, correct? In response to your book, someone said the Sanhedrin still would have been involved with Jesus crucifixion, and that getting a decent burial was not inconsistent with roman practice. But it is still possible (with that in mind) that he could have been tossed in a ditch correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 1, 2015

          Yes, you should read my full treatment of this question.

  16. Theonedue  August 29, 2015

    What do you think of the Pre-Pauline Creed? Do you think that it was related to Paul about 5 years after the death of Jesus? If so wouldn’t that be great evidence to suggest that Jesus was buried in a tomb and not left to rot on the cross?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 31, 2015

      See my book How Jesus Became God.

      • Theonedue  September 1, 2015

        Can you just tell me if you believe Paul received a tradition of Jesus being buried in a tomb within 5 years? Or was it later? Or did Paul make the tradition up?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 1, 2015

          Paul doesn’t say anything about Jesus being buried “in a tomb.”

          • Theonedue  September 1, 2015

            I doubt he received a tradition from Christians stating that Jesus was buried in a ditch. Robert M Price stated the Greek word Paul used for buried is neutral, but I think he was stating that to show the tomb he was referring to wasn’t exclusively referring to Joseph.

          • Theonedue  September 1, 2015

            What about all the implications that Jesus was buried in a tomb in Acts? Were they just written in by Luke or another scribe?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 2, 2015

            By Luke.

          • Theonedue  September 3, 2015

            Couldn’t you be accuse of making an argument from silence?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 4, 2015

            I’ve been accused of stranger things.

  17. Rogers  August 31, 2015

    Given four gospels, Bart, why do you suppose the proto-orthodox singled out Luke to tamper with in order to mount a Docetist counter?

    Is it perhaps that Docetist had been in the habit of using Luke to their own purposes of making a Christology point that reflected their views?

    Is author of Luke basically a Docetist?

    Is interesting that the proto-orthodox frequently claim textual tampering as committed by others (those they regard as heretics), yet they stoop to that very tactic.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 1, 2015

      There are definitely anti-docetic alterations in the other Gospels as well.

  18. jbjbjbjbjb  August 31, 2015

    Very interesting series of posts about the bloody sweat. Is there somewhere we could understand more about quite why Luke would have wanted to remove references to physical suffering from his account relative to Mark’s account? It also needs to account for why the suffering theme would be maintained anecdotally or prophetically (see Luke 24:26, 9:22) if to be discounted in the narrative. Currently, I am nodding with a lot of the analysis, but am still failing to grasp the basic thrust of Luke’s passionless description.

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