Friday, March 16, 2018

The Sweat like Drops of Blood and the Angel in Luke 22:43–44. An early addition?

THGNT Blog: Variants in the Passion Narrative (5)

This post is part of a series [2018] on some of the textual variants found in the Passion narratives. We will discuss the rationale behind the text adopted in the Greek New Testament as Produced at Tyndale House in (1) Mt 27:16,17, (2) Mt 27:49, (3) Mk 14:30, 49, 72a, 72b, (4) Lk 22:31, (5) Lk 22:43-44, (6) Lk 23:34.

Within the various variants found within the Passion narrative the variant found in Luke 22:43-44 is the most substantial. It is also one of the passages, together with Luke 23:34, where the Tyndale House Edition differs radically in its assessment from the NA26 – 28 editions. The THGNT prints these verses as part of the main text and signals the difficulties with the ‘diamond of uncertainty’. The Nestle-Aland editions enclose these verses in white square brackets ⟦ ⟧, indicating that, according to NA28, 55*, ‘the enclosed words, generally of some length, are known not to be a part of the original text. These texts derive from a very early stage of the tradition, and have often played a significant role in the history of the church (cf. Jn 7,53 – 8,11).’ The German version of the Introduction uses the term ‘mit Sicherheit’ (10*).

So what about Luke 22:43-44? These are the words under contention:

ὤφθη δὲ αὐτῷ ἄγγελος ἀπ᾽ οὐρανοῦ ἐνισχύων αὐτόν. καὶ γενόμενος ἐν ἀγωνίᾳ ἐκτενέστερον προσηύχετο. ἐγένετο δὲ ὁ ἱδρὼς αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ θρόμβοι αἵματος καταβαίνοντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

“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.” (NIV)

There is good evidence on both sides (note that the apparatus of THGNT failed to include 0171 in support for the presence of these words, a genuine error). Here is the Greek evidence, and the evidence for the omission is as complete as I can get—NA28 and IGNTP-Luke combined:

text: ℵ* ℵ2b D K L Q Δ Θ Ψ 0171(vid ]θρον[...]ς κα̣τ̣[.]βαι[...]π̣ι την γην) 0233 1071c 1424 Maj

omit: P75 ℵ2a A B N R T W 0211 f13(but adds after Mt 26:39, as does a later corrector of C) 158 579 713 1071* l844.

Sinaiticus: The correction hooks and dots that were added by ℵ2a were later erased by ℵ2b
Tischendorf’s transcript

In addition, a number of manuscripts that have the text obelized in the margin, which can indicate uncertainty whether to include the words or not. IGNTP Luke mentions Δ 230 1295 1424.

Depending on who you read, often the testimony of P69 is given as supporting the omission. We did not cite it as such in the Tyndale House Edition for the following reason. In P69 not just verses 43-44 are missing, but apparently also verse 42 (see for yourself here at the NT.VMR). So for all practical purposes, P69 misses our additional words because it is missing a larger section of text. Below I may suggest that P69 still might be relevant, but only in such a speculative way that it should not clutter an apparatus.

We have patristic references to this passage (and I recommend the discussion of Blumell in the TC journal, if you want to read more). The reference in Justin shows that the actual episode was known in the mid 2nd century.

The first thing with any textual variant is to see if the variant can be explained by some sort of scribal habit, things that can go wrong in the process of copying. Though text can drop out for any random reason, there is no ready scribal habit to explain its omission here. So we need to do some old-fashioned text-criticism here.

Comparable variants

Before going into specific internal reasons for the omission or addition of these words, it is good to ask the question if there are any comparable cases. Perhaps the following are the most pertinent ones:
  • It is difficult not to think of Jn 5:3-4, where we have an explanatory comment added to the text concerning another angel, who disturbs the water so that the first ill person to reach it is healed. Though the similarity between our variant unit and that in John are clear (roughly similar length, involves an angel), there are also differences. In John the expansion fills a perceived gap in the story, but here in Luke the variant interrupts rather than explains the flow of the narrative.
  • Mt 27:49, addition of piercing the side of Jesus, taken from Jn 19:34 – dealt with in a previous blog post. The cautionary tale of this variant is that even though the two oldest manuscript have the text (and some good additional support), one cannot automatically follow the rule that the oldest attested reading is therefore the best.
  • Lk 22:31 small addition in a transition – dealt with in a previous blog post
  • There is something of a parallel with Jn 7:53 – 8:11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, in that this story also appears in different locations (e.g. in f13 between Lk 21:37 and 22:1. This same family has also our passage moved.)
  • Lk 23:17 (explanation that Pilate had to release a prisoner) – again an explanatory gloss.
  • Lk 22:19b-20 omission only found in D-05 (and versions) – harmonization by omission
  • Lk 22:64 small addition – influence from parallels
  • Lk 23:34a the words ‘And Jesus said, Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’. Omitted by quite a few of the same manuscripts as omit the text here.
It seems that there is no clear parallel except for Lk 23:34a, and we deal with that variant in the next post. Unlike Jn 5:3-4 and Lk 23:17, our passage does not add an explanation, and neither is it based on a parallel elsewhere. Its varying location might be thought of as an argument against originality, but of course it is only an argument against its presence here in Luke in the source of that particular textual tradition. Wandering passages may be suspect, but are thereby not automatically condemned (1 Cor 14:34-35, anyone?)

If anything, the variants listed above raise the possibility that just as the earliest manuscripts have a big harmonization by addition in Mt 27:43, and a harmonization by omission in Mark 14, so it is at least possible that some of the early manuscripts also have harmonized by omission here in Lk 22:43-44. Since the story of the sweat like drops of blood and the comforting angel is not found in the parallel accounts of the passion, a part of the tradition which is not known to be collecting bits and bops anyway, left the passage out.

Scholarly opinion

Nothing as nebulous as the consensus of the scholarly world. When somebody has published an article, and nobody writes a rebuttal in 10 or 20 years, it is a fallacy to assume that therefore everyone agrees with you (people who know the literature on this variant may recognize this). There have been voices in favour of its authenticity and also against. The NA26 – 28 editions are clear though, they do not regard these words as original by Luke as original.

So what could be the reasons for regarding the words as an addition, if they are not original to Luke?
  1. Adding details – Embellishment of an existing narrative. If these words were part of the common, popular memory of the Passion narrative, they were bound to find their way into the biblical text.
  2. They interrupt the flow of the narrative, there is no need for this heightening description of Jesus’ agony.
  3. Both the appearance of an angel and the sweat like drops of blood have a folklore feel about them and are unnecessary supernatural expansions.
  4. Better too much than too little. In cases of doubt, leave the words in.
  5. Ehrman and Plunkett: These words were added as an anti-docetic improvement of the text.
What could be the reasons for seeing these words as original?
  1. There is no obvious explanation for their origin other than that they are part of the original composition.
  2. Luke has an angel motif throughout his writings. From the announcement of Jesus’ birth, all the way through Acts, finishing with an angel encouraging Paul before the shipwreck. Thematically this passage fits Luke.
  3. As learned above, this could be a case of bringing Luke’s account into line by omitting an unknown episode (harmonization by omission).
  4. The words are original, but were omitted because of theological embarrassment – Jesus is portrayed as too weak (a crude summary of Blumell’s argument).
  5. The words are original, but were omitted because of an anti-Gnostic improvement of the text (Clivaz).
Without doubt there are many refinements and additions to these two sets of arguments, but this a blog post, not a full-blown review article.

I am wondering, though, what we can learn from P69. Often this papyrus is dated quite early, to the third century. It omits 22:42-44, uniquely so. Whether or not this was done by the scribe or copied from its exemplar is irrelevant, what is interesting though is that it raises the question that here we have an omission that clearly is secondary, nobody is going to defend this larger omission as being original. This could be because P69 copied a text without 43-44 and happened to omit another verse. Or it may have copied a text in which 43-44 were marked for deletion and simply deleted too much. Or, and this I find the most interesting possibility, P69 omitted roughly the same passage as is omitted in other manuscripts, and for similar reasons (whatever they may have been). Independently, P69 may have done the same (by and large) as was done elsewhere (and perhaps also earlier) in removing a section that was too unlikely to be correct.

In the end though, on one hand there is the relatively simple observation that manuscripts from any age and affiliation do harmonise, and I am fine to go with this. On the other hand there is the subsequent, more fraught exercise to come up with possible theological motivations behind an addition or omission. Therefore I am perfectly content to print 22:43-44 as part of the main text and signal the difficulties by means of a diamond in the apparatus.

Some literature

Blumell, Lincoln H. “Luke 22:43–44: An Anti-Docetic Interpolation or an Apologetic Omission?” Textual Criticism 19 (2014): 1-35 (you can find it here).

Clivaz, Claire. “The Angel and the Sweat Like “Drops of Blood” (Lk 22:43–44): P69 and f13.” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 4 (2006): 419-40 [and also her monograph on the issue – not for the fainthearted: L’ange et la sueur de sang (Lc 22,43-44): ou, Comment on pourrait bien encore écrire L’histoire (Biblical Tools and Studies 7. Leuven: Peeters, 2010)]

Ehrman, Bart D., and Mark E. Plunkett. “The Angel and the Agony: The Textual Problem of Luke 22:43-44.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983): 401-16.


  1. << There is something of a parallel with Jn 7:53 – 8:11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, in that this story also appears in different locations (e.g. in f13 between Lk 21:37 and 22:1. This same family has also our passage moved.) >>

    Surely more should be said about the influence of lection-cycles on the passage, esp. in fam 13.

  2. Not really a parallel, since (as Chris Keith has noted) no relocation of the PA occurs among the MSS before the tenth century.

    This does not, however, necessarily negate a possible early relocation of Lk 22:43–44 in relation to certain liturgical preferences, as otherwise demonstrated by family 13.

  3. A harmonistic omission of such a large passage? That strikes me as running against the grain of expected scribal practices, Dirk.

  4. What I find intriguing is the idea that scholars today assume that only additions were made to ancient mss. I have yet to see them consider the fact that subtraction may have been done to some of their favorite ancient fragments and mss.

    In other word, it is foolhardy to think that some mss. were not handled like many Bible translations have been handled over the centuries. Cultists, unbelievers, alternative believers and so on could have had a hand in many of those ancient mss. that are so treasured and used to say there are conflicts and problems in the Bible.

    To assume that they were written by true Christians only without supporting evidence is not a wise conclusion to make.

  5. It may not be decisive, but the nicely structured chiasm in Luke 22:31-62 (with this variant near the focal point of Jesus' prayer) is more balanced and concise when the variant is omitted. The structure can be viewed at chiasticstructures "dotcom."