Although some manuscripts omit Luke 22:44, it has been used along with Hebrews 2:18 to show that Jesus was afraid. It has been proposed that if Jesus was not afraid, then He is not able to help those who are afraid. That brings me to the following question: Can the Greek word choice (ἀγωνίᾳ, agōnia̧) underlining “agony” mean “afraid” or “worried” in Luke 22:44?

In the NA28, Luke 22:44 reads:

καὶ γενόμενος ἐν ἀγωνίᾳ ἐκτενέστερον προσηύχετο· καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἱδρὼς αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ θρόμβοι αἵματος καταβαίνοντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

kai genomenos en agōnia̧ ektenesteron prosēucheto; kai egeneto ho hidrōs autou hōsei thromboi haimatos katabainontes epi tēn gēn.

In the ESV, Luke 22:44 reads:

And being in an agony [ἀγωνίᾳ, agōnia̧] he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

2 Answers 2


Yes, this seems to be a common way that it was used. As another answer pointed out, the noun is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. However, Luke was familiar with (arguably, an imitator of) both LXX and Classical Greek, and there are multiple examples of ἀγωνία with this sense available there. Because context is required, I have included only English translations here with links to the Greek to avoid an excessively long post.

2 Maccabees 3 shows the emotional aspect of ἀγωνία well. The English quoted here is from NETS; at the link you can see the Greek and Brenton. Verses 13-16:

But the other one, because of the commands he had from the king, said that this money must in any case be confiscated for the king’s treasury. So he set a day and went in to direct the inspection of these funds. There was no little distress (ἀγωνία) throughout the whole city. The priests prostrated themselves before the altar in their priestly vestments and called toward heaven upon him who had given the law about deposits, that he should keep them safe for those who had deposited them. To see the appearance of the high priest was to be wounded at heart, for his face and the change in his color disclosed the anguish (ἀγωνία) of his soul. For terror and bodily trembling had come over the man, which plainly showed to those who looked at him the pain lodged in his heart.

Another example, from Aristotle, On breath:

But there is evidence that pulsation has no connexion with breathing; for whether a man breathes rapidly or evenly, heavily or quietly, the pulse remains the same and unaltered, but irregularity and excitement occur during some bodily ailments and in conditions of fear, expectation, and conflict (ἀγωνία) in the soul.

This translation brings out the point made by another answer that the basic meaning has to do with conflict. In the Aristotle passage as well as the others quoted here, this has been extended to include intra-personal, psychic conflict. To my ear, this stretches the sense of the term in English,1 but the context makes the meaning clear.

One more example, from Demosthenes, Speeches:

He was so nervous, and so much worried by the fear (ἐν φόβῳ καὶ πολλῇ ἀγωνίᾳ) that, in spite of his Thracian success, his enterprise would slip from his fingers if you should intervene before the Phocians perished.

Anxiety and fear are very much part of the context in each of these examples. This is mentioned in definition 3 of LSJ and is the primary sense of both the noun and the verb as described in BDAG (in contrast to ἀγών.) Both of the lexicons include additional references that could be tracked down.

1. Most likely because the English has been corrupted beyond recognition by psychoanalytic constructs regarding “intra-personal conflict”.

  • I would like to share the following document (which includes some discussion on the meaning of ἀγωνίᾳ, agōnia̧ beginning on page 13) while I continue to study the additional references: rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v19/TC-2014-Blumell.pdf
    – E. Cardona
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 6:49
  • I guess my point was that, just because the word can appear alongside "afraid" or "worried", that does not make it mean either of those.
    – fumanchu
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 15:11
  • The difficulty that I came across continually when dealing with ἀγωνίᾳ, agōnia̧ in this context was how to understand Jesus' identification with man in a realistic way. The extrabiblical references to this Greek word and its related terms has provided me with some insight into its literary use.
    – E. Cardona
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 17:56
  • @fumanchu True, although I think the Maccabees reference in particular gives both a context and parallel emotional descriptors that make it seem likely that ‘agonia of the soul’ has something to do with the idea the OP was getting at. I hadn’t realized that it was derived from the idea of contest/conflict, though; this seems to have been a near enough meaning (diachronically, semantically) that it was probably evident to the writers as well, though, which is an interesting point.
    – Susan
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 22:28

No. Major lexicons render the word as a struggle, contest, or competition, even exercise or a fight, but never fear or worry. If anything along those lines, it would connote bravery (sticking it out), not fear (which would seek to avoid the agonia). One would have engaged one's thumos, not their phobia, to be in agonia.

Although the noun "ἀγωνία" occurs only once in the New Testament, other forms like "ἀγών" (contest) and "ἀγωνίζομαι" (to contend) occur 6 and 7 times, respectively, and refer to things like running a race (2 Tim 4:7, 1 Co 9:25, Heb 12:1), fighting for a kingdom (Jn 18:36), and generally working to remain loyal (Php 1:30, 1 Tim 6:12). One might have to overcome one's fear in order to contend, but the word itself does not carry that connotation.

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