XFiles Friday: Sweating bloodSeptember 26, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 10.)
We’re continuing to look at Geisler and Turek’s argument that Luke and other New Testament writers ought to be believed uncritically because of such feats of historical accuracy as spelling the names of local cities and political leaders correctly. As we saw last week, God’s failure to show up in real life means that all of our faith must be based on trusting men, and Chapter 10 works hard to establish the claim that we shouldn’t entertain any doubts or suspicions about what Luke and other NT writers tell us, no matter what they tell us, because they are “eyewitnesses” (or at least have some sort of access to eyewitnesses), even if it’s not always clear what they’re supposed to be eyewitnesses of.
Geisler and Turek make the same argument with respect to Luke’s gospel as for the book of Acts: Luke correctly identified specific historical figures, and therefore we should accept, without any doubt or skepticism, all of his other claims as well. In a way, they are to be commended: they are basing their argument on the principle that the truth is consistent with itself, and that a witness, even an eyewitness, should be judged in terms of how consistent their testimony is with the real-world facts. That’s a good, reliable standard of evidence, but if we apply it equally to all of Luke’s testimony, we find that there are some problems.
Let’s take, for a specific example, the argument Geisler and Turek make from Luke’s account of the night of Jesus’ betrayal.
Another historically accurate detail can be found in Luke 22:44. That’s where Luke records that Jesus was in agony and sweat drops of blood the night before his crucifixion. Apparently, Jesus was experiencing a rare stress-induced condition we know today as hematohidrosis. That’s when tiny blood vessels rupture due to extreme stress, thus allowing blood to mix with sweat. Since Luke probably didn’t know of this medical condition 2,000 years ago, he could not have recorded it unless he had access to someone who saw it.
Unfortunately, if Luke’s gospel account is correct, it is very unlikely that he could have had access to anyone who saw it, because according to the gospel, it happened when Jesus was off by himself, and his disciples were all sleeping.
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 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.”
Parallel passages in Matthew and Mark embellish this story by having Jesus pray and return and find the disciples asleep three times, and none of them seem to notice anything unusual about Jesus’ appearance after he’s been praying (nor do any of them seem to see the angel Luke reports as having appeared to comfort Jesus in his hour of suffering).
Now, put yourself in the disciples’ sandals for a moment. Jesus is in Jerusalem (or at least within a short walk of the city). The Sanhedrin is furious with Jesus, and you know they want him arrested, or worse. You’re off by yourselves in a secluded spot, your Master goes a short distance away, by himself, in the dark. The next thing you know, he’s waking you up, with blood streaming down his face. What happened!? Have the Sanhedrin sent assassins to eliminate Jesus on the sly? Are robbers attacking in the dark? Is Jesus badly hurt? Are you next?
Just taken at face value, Luke’s version of the story seems a bit implausible, especially if we add in the two lather-rinse-repeats from Matthew and Mark. A bloodied Master in the middle of the night, in hostile territory, is not something you’re going to respond to by yawning and rolling over and going back to sleep again. Either the sweating blood didn’t happen, or it was too dark to see. Either way, there are no eyewitnesses to report to Luke that Jesus was sweating actual drops of blood.
Then again, Luke (a physician himself) didn’t actually say that Jesus sweat actual drops of blood. Though this apologetic has been circulating for a long time, the Greek text actually says only that Jesus’ sweat became like (Greek “wsei“) clots of blood. Incredibly, the Bible itself has been plainly stating, for the past 19 centuries, that Luke was only comparing drops of Jesus’ sweat to clots of blood, and not actually claiming that real blood was leaking out of Jesus’ pores—and yet Christian apologists, and even relatively reputable apologists like Dr. Geisler and Dr. Turek, still try to wave around the $2 word hematohidrosis and awe the sheep into believing that Luke or some other eyewitness actually saw Jesus manifest a rare, stress-related condition that medical science has only recently found a name for.
You might say, “Oh, surely not. Surely no Christian would ever make a bold and confident assertion, and offer it as proof of the reliability of the Gospel, when it was so trivial to demonstrate as false.” But there it is, in the original Greek and pretty much every translation since then. Luke says that Jesus’ sweat became like clots (“thromboi“) of blood, and Christian apologists claim, in writing, that Luke got eyewitness testimony (from disciples who were asleep at the time) of Jesus experiencing hematohidrosis, and that’s how we can trust that the gospel is true.
Now, if faith can lead even such careful scholars as Dr. Geisler and Dr. Turek to commit such an obvious and easily-detected error, is it not possible that early Christian apologists like Luke, in more credulous and superstitious times, and with the fervency of first-century faith, might also have had a few significant slip-ups here and there? Especially when the end result is a claim to have seen God behaving in ways that consistently and universally fail to correspond to the divine behavior we see in real life?