Who Made the Request to Sit at Jesus’ Side?

From Issue: R&R – October 2011

According to Matthew 20:20, “the mother of Zebedee’s sons” requested that her two sons (James and John) sit at Jesus’ side in His kingdom. Mark, on the other hand, indicates that “James and John…came to Him [Jesus], saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask…. Grant us that we may sit, one on your right hand and the other on your left, in Your glory” (10:35,37). Some believe that Matthew and Mark’s accounts are inconsistent. Since Mark wrote that James and John made the request, while Matthew mentioned that it was their mother, allegedly at least one of the gospel writers was mistaken.

Consider the following modern-day analogy. The President of the United States takes two well-known newspaper reporters with him on the campaign trail as he seeks re-election. Over a period of several days, the reporters carefully record the questions and answers that many different people ask the President. Later, the New York Times reporter writes about a mother who asked the President about the out-of-control national debt and how it would affect her sons. The reporter from the Chicago Tribune writes about how this woman’s two sons questioned the President about the massive amount of debt that the country has accumulated. Which reporter is correct? The fact is, they both are. The New York Times’ reporter chose only to mention the mother because he wrote a story that focused on questions that parents had asked the President. The writer from the Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, highlighted questions that were on the minds of young people. The articles were different, but both were truthful because both the mother and her sons had asked the President the same question.

Similarly, both Zebedee’s wife and his sons made a request to Jesus. It could be that all three made the request at the same time. Or, it might be that the mother made the request first, followed by her sons’. Regardless, no one can prove that what Matthew and Mark wrote was contradictory. Different? Yes, but that is to be expected from different writers who wrote for different reasons to different people.


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