Luke, the author of the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, by profession, was a physician. His writings manifest an intimate acquaintance with the technical language of the Greek medical schools of Asia Minor. For example, of the four gospel writers, only Dr. Luke referred to Jesus’ ordeal as “agony” (agonia). It is because of this agony over things to come that we learn during His prayer “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat (idros), a much used term in medical language, and only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat as consisting of great drops of blood (thromboi haimatos)—a medical condition alluded to by both Aristotle and Theophrastus (Hobart, 1882, pp. 80-84). The Greek term thromboi (from which we get thrombus, thrombin, et al.) refers to clots of blood (Nicoll, n.d., 1:631; Vincent, 1887, 1:425). Bible scholar Richard Lenski commented on the use of this term: “‘As clots,’ thromboi, means that the blood mingled with the sweat and thickened the globules so that they fell to the ground in little clots and did not merely stain the skin” (1961, p. 1077).
The Greek word hosei (“as it were”) refers to condition, not comparison, as Greek scholar Henry Alford observed:
The intention of the Evangelist seems clearly to be, to convey the idea that the sweat was (not fell like, but was like drops of blood;—i.e., coloured with blood,—for so I understand the hosei, as just distinguishing the drops highly coloured with blood, from pure blood…. To suppose that it only fell like drops of blood(why not drops of any thing else? And drops of blood from what, and where?) is to nullify the force of the sentence, and make the insertion of haimatos not only superfluous but absurd (1874, 1:648, italics in orig.; cf. Robertson, 1934, p. 1140).
We conclude that the terminology used by the gospel writer to refer to the severe mental distress experienced by Jesus was intended to be taken literally, i.e., that the sweat of Jesus became bloody (cf. Robertson, 1930, 2:272).
A thorough search of the medical literature demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, can and has occurred. Commonly referred to as hematidrosis orhemohidrosis (“Hematidrosis,” 2002; Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp. 1393-1394). During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes. While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful….
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