The next issue of Lee Strobel’s Investigating Faith newsletter goes out tomorrow, April 5th, and it’s not too late to sign up!
Investigating Faith is broad look at the contemporary issues surrounding faith. Lee is a respected and skilled communicator with an extensive knowledge of apologetics. In the following excerpt from the last Investigating Faith newsletter, Lee answers a reader’s question about the Bible story in which Jesus sweat blood:
Q. The New Testament says that Jesus sweat blood when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Isn’t that just hyperbole that we shouldn’t take literally?
A. That’s what I thought when I was a skeptic. Then I went to California to interview Dr. Alexander Metherell, a physician, former research scientist and expert on the crucifixion of Jesus.
“This is a known medical condition called hematidrosis. It’s not very common, but it is associated with a high degree of psychological stress,” he told me.
“What happens is that severe anxiety causes the release of chemicals that break down the capillaries in the sweat glands. As a result, there’s a small amount of bleeding into these glands, and the sweat comes out tinged with blood. We’re not talking about a lot of blood; it’s just a very, very small amount.”
Interestingly, it was Luke, a physician, who notes this phenomenon. He said of Jesus in Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Jesus’ anguish and passionate prayers over his impending torture could certainly have been enough to trigger this medical phenomenon. A 1996 article in the Journal of Medicine analyzed 76 cases of hematidrosis and concluded that the most common causes were acute fear and intense mental contemplation.
I asked Dr. Metherell what affect this bloody sweat would have had on Jesus. “What this did,” he replied, “was set up the skin to be extremely fragile so that when Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldier the next day, his skin would have been very, very sensitive.”
What could have prompted Jesus to willingly endure the misery of Gethsemane, the brutality of the flogging and the unspeakable torment of the cross?
“Well,” said Dr. Metherell, “I suppose the answer can be summed up in one word – and that would be love.”