Different, Not Contradictory

One of the challenges made by non-Christians to the authority of the Bible is that it is filled with contradictions. We hear this from atheists, secularists, Muslims, Mormons, and just about anyone who wants to diminish the divine nature of the Scriptures. In fact, there are many who call themselves Christians who point out supposed contradictions in an attempt to minimize the claims of Scripture. 

One of the biblical stories that is supposedly contradictory is found in Matthew 20:20-23 and Mark 10:35-40. Matthew says that the mother of James and John came to Jesus asking that her boys be granted a high rank in His kingdom, while Mark says that it was James and John who asked. 

Obviously, the challengers say, Matthew and Mark contradict each other. One is right, and one is wrong, and therefore the Bible can't be completely trusted. 

So, let's take a brief look at the two passages and see if a true contradiction exists.

Matthew 20:20 Mark 10:35
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 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.”

Mark says it was James and John who came to Jesus; Matthew says that it was their mother who came. Which is correct.

Both are. Notice that Matthew doesn't say that their mother came secretly, or alone, but that she came with her sons. 

Compare these sentences:

Yesterday Linda and I had a great time kayaking on the Missouri River.

Yesterday Linda and I had a great time kayaking on the Missouri River, and our son Kevin rode along on the pontoon boat.

Yesterday Linda and I had a great time kayaking on the Missouri River, and our son Kevin rode along on the pontoon boat with my mom, and our friends, Norm and Carolyn. }

Are these different? Of course. Are they contradictory? No. 

Neither are Matthew and Mark contradictory; they are just different. 

Let's continue.

Matthew 20:21 Mark 10:36-37
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.”

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.”

Who actually made the request? Matthew says that mom did; Mark says that they did. But it's not a contradiction to say that both took place. They clearly came to him with their mother. She clearly asked Jesus for this favor, and they also asked. 

Once we take the different speakers into account, the request is virtually identical, involving these two sons of mine from their mother, and us from James and John. They want to sit beside Jesus on His throne; kingdom and glory are synonymous here.

Matthew 20:22 Mark 10:38-39a
Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking.

Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”

.

They said to him, “We are able.”

Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink,

or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

And they said to him, “We are able.”

Again, the text is almost identical. Mark does reveal that Jesus gave a longer response, but it doesn't change the meaning in the slightest. It's interesting that in Matthew's account, the mother of the two makes the request of Jesus, but He answers THEM, not HER. I've marked the plurals in red:

Matthew 20:22 Mark 10:38-39a
Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.”

As you can see, even when it was the Zebedee's MOTHER asking, Jesus answered THEM, and not only her.

So, do Matthew and Mark contradict one another? Not at all. Each presents a slightly different picture of the very same event, involving the very same issue, to which Jesus gave the very same response.