Problem: James and John or their mother asked about sitting in Heaven
Verses: Mark 10:35-37, Matthew 20:20-21; Status: Serious

In Mark's gospel, the brothers James and John asked to sit at the side of Jesus in Heaven. This is Mark 10:35-37:

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." (ESV)

On the other hand, Matthew 20:20-21 has it that the request came from their mother:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." (ESV)

These two passages are definitely about the same incident: in both Mark and Matthew, it comes right after Jesus foretells his death for the third time, and right before Jesus heals the blind. This is a problem. Inerrantists must reply like this:

Is it not plausible that all three came together and made inquiry of the Lord with regard to the positions on His right and left hand in the kingdom?

It's possible. Indeed, Matthew indicates that all three were present. But the question is not who was present, but rather, who spoke?

I suppose you can say that the sons and their mother all spoke, one after another. But this is one of several occasions in the gospels where inerrancy requires you to believe that two authors gave half the story and nobody gave the whole story. This is very irritating. The more reasonable response is that Matthew, who used Mark as a source, altered the story to make the disciples look less foolish, by having someone else make the silly request.

Updated: 2008-05-30

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