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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part V:  The Meaning of Sweat as Part of the Curse

Chapter 3

The Uniqueness of the Brow

     AND SO WE come, finally, to the few significant statements which are found in Scripture on the subject of sweating. They are few indeed: Genesis 3:19; Ezekiel 44:18; and Luke 22:44. The first is a most familiar passage; the second seems almost incidental; and the third might not refer to sweating in the ordinary sense at all. Not much to go on, but. . . .

     The least-involved reference is in Ezekiel 44:18 which speaks of the priests of the temple:

     They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything that causes sweat.

     There are several points of interest here. Linen is far superior to wool for clothing, if one desires to avoid overheating. The technical reasons for this need not be entered into here except perhaps to state that the layer
of trapped air in a woolen garment (and still air is a good insulator) is much greater than in a linen one. Furthermore, it is much harder to remove substances secreted from the body, whether sweat or oil, from a woolen garment unless one has the proper kind of soap. In Deuteronomy 22:11 it was specifically stated that garments made up from a mixture of wool and linen were not to be used. In those days the method of washing a linen as opposed to a wool garment was quite different and could not be successfully applied to a mixture of wool and linen. Moreover, fibers of a wool garment may also stimulate reflex sweating by their microscopic stroking action against the skin. Altogether the clear object of this injunct
ion to the priests was the avoidance of the less pleasant phenomena associated with sweating, namely, odours and stained garments. The garment of

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righteousness which is to be provided for the saints is a linen garment (Revelation 19:8). The only garment we are capable of providing is one "spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23), "spotted" without a doubt by the sweat of the curse. I think the allusion is clear, for such a garment is not soiled from the outside but spotted by the flesh itself.

     Genesis 3:19 directly associates with the Fall the sweating of one particular area of the body, namely, the face. (2) Facial sweating is very largely limited (in many people entirely so) to the brow. It is important to notice this circumscribed association because, as we have seen, even unfallen man would have sweated over the general body surface. It is clearly the brow that is singled out here. Since Ezekiel 44:18 is aimed at avoiding the outward evidences of the Fall, reference is made not merely to the loins where thermal sweating occurs, but also to the brow where emotional and mental sweating occur, for the bonnet likewise was to be of linen.
     Why is the brow so important? Why does the curse single it out? The answer to this is partly physiological and partly spiritual. We are concerned here mainly with the physiological aspects of the problem.
     It may be recalled that on the palmar region sweating may be due to the mental or thermal stress, and in the axillary region (under the arms) sweating may be due to emotional or thermal stress. In each case there is possibly something in the way of dual innervation. In the brow region a unique situation exists, for here sweat glands respond to all three kinds of stress: thermal, emotional, and mental. The innervation must be highly complex, and the actual details are not yet clear. One thing known with reasonable certainty is that, of all areas
of the body where temperature regulation occurs by modifying the blood flow or by sweating, the brow region is maintained with the greatest stability. It appears to be highly important that this area be kept at the proper temperature. Why is this so?
     The vital structure, the metabolic activities of which may cause a rise of temperature in this region, is that section of the brain comprising the frontal lobes which may very well be the main feature in the central nervous system distinguishing man from the animals. It is here that man's powers of abstraction seem to be concentrated

2. Regarding the translation of "face" as "brow" in Genesis 3:19. The Hebrew word    'aph here rendered "face" literally means "nostril" and is usually found in the plural form as in Genesis 2:7. However, it came to mean any part of the face and more especially the forehead, which was touched to the ground in the oriental form of greeting described in Genesis 19:1. In the Septuagint the word is regularly rendered by the Greek   prosopos, meaning "face."

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or localized, if one can speak of localization. The power which provides man with a means of exercising faith, of seeing with the mind what cannot be seen with the eye, of formalizing a system of beliefs with respect to his God that satisfies his rational mind, and of communicating this to others by the written or spoken word is dependent upon his ability to think in abstract terms. He is uniquely man for this reason. All human activity which is above that of other animals finds its inspiration and ultimately depends upon its direction through this forepart of the central nervous system lying behind the brow. The metabolic activity here is quite high, and the temperature sustained during mental exercise must be held within narrow limits to assist the processes of thought. Regulation of temperature in this area is not merely a simple matter of preventing a temperature rise. Rather, it is a matter of maintaining a certain ideal level, for a reduction in temperature is no more desirable than an elevation.
     The defense against a temperature rise in this area is provided by evaporative cooling and is so adequate that if the sweating were distributed over the whole body for evaporative cooling, as much as two thousand calories could be removed per hour -- a truly fantastic heat loss! It is found by contrast that in the only domesticated animals so far examined for differential sweating rates over the whole body surface, the lowest sweating rates are in the forehead region. Evidently for such animals it is not vitally important to regulate the temperature here within closely defined limits, for within the skull in this region there are no higher centers of supreme importance comparable to man's frontal lobes that require special protection against overheating.
     The whole of man's vital activities -- physical, mental, and emotional -- are here in the closest association integrated and consummated. The Fall has affected the whole man. While the sweat of his body might have shown him to be a decadent creature physiologically considered, and the sweat of his hand decadent mentally, or the sweat of the armpit emotionally so, the sweat of his brow means simply that the whole man is fallen. There is no way in which Adam could have known this fact except by revelation, and the very latest findings of physiological research bear out the eminent appropriateness of the statement, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." 

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     Finally we come to Luke 22:44, where it is written:

     And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood
falling down to the ground.

     Luke was a physician, and Luke's Gospel portrays the Lord Jesus Christ pre-eminently as the Son of Man, the Last Adam. There is no specific statement in the text that this bloody sweat appeared on the Lord's forehead. Yet it has always been reasonably assumed that only if it were so could an observer have noticed it and reported it with such careful attention to detail. The First Adam under the curse was to sweat ordinary sweat from his brow. The Last Adam, the only other person mentioned in Scripture as having sweated, was not yet under the curse, and therefore the question arises whether we are here dealing with a physiological phenomenon that is in any way comparable. Was this ordinary sweat, or even sweat at all?
     It may be known to the reader that Luke 22:43, 44 are missing in some manuscripts. However, one of the strongest arguments for their genuineness is the fact that this particular event is described in what may be called strictly medical terminology. In his book, The Medical Language of St. Luke, W. K. Hobart has shown that the Greek word rendered "sweat" peculiar to Luke was much used in medical language, the nature and quantity of sweat being considered by early physicians of great diagnostic value. Hippocrates frequently refers to this fact and, much later in history, Galen followed suit. The second part of the passage, "drops of blood," also peculiar to Luke, was likewise an expression very common in medical language. In fact, Aristotle himself uses the term "bloody sweat." But it appears that many of these early physicians recognized such a sweat as merely comparable to blood and not identical with it. Luke seems to recognize this when he speaks of it being "as it were" rather than simply being "in fact" a bloody sweat.
     Luke, of course, was not present, so he is supplying interpretive information under inspiration which the original reporter presumably was not able to do. Evidently one of those present in Gethsemane observed this strange sight and was able under Luke's questioning to provide the latter with sufficient detail that he could express it in strictly medical terminology.
     Man may actually sweat blood in the most literal sense, but only after extreme dehydration, i.e., a loss of about 20 percent of his body weight as water. In a sense this is not really sweating but rather the periodic escape of blood through fractures in the cutaneous layer which results from its extreme dryness. Even when this

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occurs, it does not usually occur in the forehead region but in those parts of the body where there is a considerable flexing of the skin, as in the cheeks, the lips, or the neck.
     There are some animals which are said by local people to sweat blood, such as the hippopotamus. However, this is not really blood at all but rather a highly coloured form of sweat resulting from excitement and containing compounds that render it chromidrotic. It looks like blood. The same phenomenon has been observed from time to time in humans in periods of extreme emotional stress, a phenomenon which has led some religious people to associate it with our Lord's bloody sweat. The Roman Catholic Church, referring to these local manifestations of coloured sweating as stigmata, have even used them to establish "sainthood," as in the case of the so-called palmar bleeding reported of Theresa of Konnersreuth.
     In his textbook, Anthropology, Alexander Goldenweiser refers to the fact that the performance of a shaman involves considerable psychological energy and is not simply an act. The shaman feels himself driven to perform, and if he resists this "drive" he may sweat blood and his actions become those of a madman, his suffering being acute. This is rather remarkable, because the inspiration here spoken of is surely of demoniac origin. When he resists this demonian inspiration, the effort may be so great as to cause a bloody sweat. However we interpret it, the spiritual battle is real enough.
     We are not really any closer to an understanding of what occurred in Gethsemane. All that can be said with assurance is that the Last Adam in some way comprehended in His own divine mind all the forms of toil of man as He prepared Himself to be the sacrifice which would be sufficient, and as He battled with spiritual forces. Beyond this it does not seem possible to penetrate. But of the importance of the brow in the light of man's fallen state and the fact that the Lord did indeed sweat uniquely in this unique area, there can be no doubt whatever. Even in this circumstance, the Plan of Redemption is somehow beautifully and appropriately rounded out. 

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 Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved 

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