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Why Did Scribes Add the Bloody Sweat?

I have explained why it is almost certain that Luke did not himself write the passage describing Jesus “sweating blood” in Luke 22:43-44: the passage is not found in some of our oldest and best manuscripts, it intrudes in a context that otherwise is structured as a clear chiasmus, and it presents a view of Jesus going to his death precisely at odds with what Luke has produced otherwise. Whereas Luke goes out of his way to portray Jesus as calm and in control in the ace of death – evidently to provide a model to his readers about how they too suffer when they experience persecution – these verses show him in deep anguish to the point of needing heavenly support by an angel, as he sweats great drops as of blood.

But if the verses were not originally in Luke, why were they added by scribes?

The key to answering the question comes from considering two data.   First, when were the verses added to the text?  And second, how were they first “used” by readers/writers who knew them?   On the first point, almost everyone agrees that the verses — if  not original to Luke, who was writing toward the end of the first century (80-85 CE?)—must have been thought to be part of the Gospel already by the middle of the second century, as the story of Jesus’ sweating blood was “known” (found only here in the NT) by church fathers as early as Justin (ca. 150 CE), Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE), and Hippolytus (ca. 200 CE) (all three of whom refer to the passage). So they were added by scribes no later than 60 or 70 years after Luke first produced his Gospel.

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Jesus Going to His Death in Luke



  1. Avatar
    hwl  September 12, 2012

    I almost misread the title: “Why Did the bloody scribes add the Sweat?”

  2. Avatar
    Jerry  September 12, 2012

    Since we are talking about Jesus’ death and why did the scribes add that he sweated blood. I have a very basic question for you: Why was there the need in the Gospels to have Judas betray Jesus? Why couldn’t he be arrested and crucified and not have Judas involved at all? What were the motives of the Gospel authors to say it that way?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 13, 2012

      Good question. I’d like to add it to my longer and longer list of questions to address in a post on the blog. Thanks.

      • Avatar
        tcc  September 13, 2012

        Didn’t Judas represent Judea? The gospels’ increasing vilification of him was just the early Christians distancing themselves from the Jews during the Jewish revolt, and catering towards the Roman crowd.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

          I think Judas was a real person. I deal with the issue of his name, a bit, in my book on the Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 12, 2012

    Good series. Thanks.

  4. Avatar
    tcc  September 12, 2012

    The more I read about docetism vs fully human debates, the more ancient people sound like they viewed reality in this weird, comic-book type perspective where facts didn’t matter at all, and you could give superpowers to your favorite prophet if you felt like it. I get that it was 2,000 years ago, but I have no idea how people could invent these theological ideas whole-cloth without the use of psychedelics or something.

  5. Avatar
    proveit  September 13, 2012

    Are you familiar with the work of Rabbi Tovias Singer? He works in opposition to Jews for Jesus by doing a lot of debunking Christian claims of prophecy regarding Jesus in the “Old Testament.” Some of these sound familiar after reading your work on Isaiah. He talks a great deal about why the Jews don’t believe Jesus is/was the messiah.

    He is Orthodox and not a big fan of atheism (a lot of them are Jews), but none-the-less interesting. He has a large body of work on the internet.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 14, 2012

      I’m afraid I don’t know his work. It sounds like it’s worth getting to know!

  6. Avatar
    taylorcg  September 14, 2012

    What I find most interesting about the idea of Christ sweating blood is the fact that it would appear to be the precursor to the medieval idea of a bloodier than normal crucifixion. It is my understanding that as time went on, the narratives surrounding the Passion continued to grow ever more intense and gruesome thanks to the mystical revelations of ascetic nuns. One can only ponder the connection. But it is clear that at some point, Christ’s blood garnered worship of it’s own.

  7. Avatar
    James Dowden  September 24, 2012

    If Ur-Lukas was indeed capable of a Docetic/Marcionite reading, where does that leave Tertullian’s machaera (39.9)? Is it as simple as “wicked, wicked heretic Marcion, using a MS without the interpolations I wrote yesterday”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 24, 2012

      I’m afraid you’ll need to expand on your question a bit for all of us, as I’m not sure what you’re asking! But my view is that almost *any* text is open to a docetic (or any other) reading, if you have the right hermeneutic and work hard enough at it….

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