The foundation for any conversation about Christianity should be the Bible. But, in order for someone to base their life on the teaching of Jesus, or more importantly, come to make him lord of their life, the Bible needs to be trusted by that person.
There are many characteristics of the New Testament writings that give a critical reader confidence that they are accurate, eyewitness accounts. I’ve talked and spoken in the past about the Early, Eyewitness, Extra-Biblical, Embarrassing, and Excruciating testimony that is in the Bible. Today, I want to focus in on two events and behaviors in the life of Jesus that the Gospel writers couldn’t understand, but modern medicine and science can explain. Then, we’ll look at why it’s so important.
1. Jesus Sweat Blood
“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” — Luke 22:44
On the night of his arrest, Jesus is in Gethsemane praying with his disciples. Or, at least he was praying and they were sleeping (but that’s an angle of examination for another time). Evidently, he felt such anguish — was under so much stress — that his sweat looked like blood. Luke, probably due to his medical interest, is the only one who includes this.
I’ve never seen anyone sweat blood, and you probably haven’t either. It’s extremely doubtful that the disciples, living in the first century, had witnessed this type of phenomena, and it’s even more doubtful that they knew why it happened.
Jesus was suffering from a condition know as _ Hematidrosis_. In extremely rare cases, almost always involving extremely high stress, people really can have sweat in their blood. Your sweat glands are surrounded by many tiny little blood vessels. These vessels can constrict and then expand to the point to where they rupture, and blood becomes infused into a person’s sweat.
It’s no wonder that Jesus was under such intense stress, is it? He knew he would be going to the cross, and he knew all of the torturous events he would endure on his way to that and as a part of it. But more than than, he knew our sin — every single prideful, autonomous, God-dishonoring one of them. Yet, he chose to move forward with the plan to provide a path for our redemption in a way that only he could, since we certainly couldn’t redeem ourselves.
One of the powerful lines of argument for the trustworthiness of New Testament is that what is written matches reality. It correctly describes history and fits into the greater fabric of history. Well, it also includes descriptions of events that the Gospel writers didn’t understand, and as a result, wouldn’t have made up. Yet, these events, like the sweating of blood, happen just as we, in our medically-advanced 21st century context, would expect them to.
Jesus’ sweating of blood is but one small detail that is part of the larger context of NT writing that inspires great confidence in the accuracy of the Bible.
2. Blood and Water Flowed Out When Jesus was Stabbed
The second interesting medical event that is described in the context of Jesus’ crucification is that blood and water flowed out when he was stabbed.
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe. — John 19:33 (NET)
Early Christians, and indeed many in recent history, weren’t quite sure what to make of this, and when the church fathers were writing commentaries on this section, around the second century, they weren’t sure how to interpret it either. People back then weren’t familiar with blood and water flowing out of a person when they were stabbed.
The church fathers thought that maybe this was symbolic, where the “blood” is a reference to the “flesh” and the “water” is a reference to the “spirit”. In fact, there are many commentators today who also take this symbolically.
However, there’s another explanation for this phenomena. It’s probable that blood and water did actually flow out of Jesus when he was stabbed. Jesus most likely had a pericardial and pleural effusion. “Pericardial” refers to the heart, and “pleural” to the lungs. A pericardial effusion is when fluid leaks into and pools around the heart, and a pleural effusion is when that happens around the lungs.
This is just want we would expect for someone who had been tortured like Jesus had. He would have lost a life-threatening amount of blood, due in part to his 39 lashing. As a result, his heart would have been racing to pump much needed blood, but there wasn’t much available. This is called hypovolemic shock.
Due to the heart being so stressed, and the lungs being under duress too, fluid starts to accumulate around these organs. So, when Jesus was stabbed — most likely through his left side, so as to ensure he was dead by hitting his heart and lunges — the solider punctured the area around those organs, releasing the pooled blood and water.
What Does It Matter?
Once again, we see that a rare and previously unexplainable event now has greater meaning and significance, due to just how far medical science has come. But what’s even more important is that John included these details, when he didn’t understand them and couldn’t have made them up.
All of this leads us to have even greater confidence in the reliability of the New Testament, specifically in the events which surround the most important and central claim of Christianity — The Resurrection.
What gives you confidence in the NT? Are these or other details helpful to you? Comment below (or on Facebook) to respond!