Why did the disciples, and the mother of James and John, seem so concerned about their status within the group of disciples? eg Mark 9 - but others too.

I am wondering if there is more to this than pride - which is surely part of the answer. However, though as adults we are definitely concerned about our status, arguments between adults about 'I am greater than you' are far from common - in my experience.

Is there some detail about the rabbi-disciple relationship here that is missed by a simple discussion of pride? Was there something at stake that is more significant than just 'I am better than you'?

(originally posted on 'Christianity' but was told that was the wrong place)

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    Welcome to BH. You will need to supply a specific text of scripture for us to be able to hermeneutically examine anything, This site does not debate and discuss biblical topics but examines the text of scripture. Please see the Tour and the Help (below, left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. Questions about 'motivation' may be off-topic on this site as 'opinion-based'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 11:49
  • Theyb were human in a shame and honor society. Simple.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 21:47
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    You need to ask this with respect to a passage, such as Mark 9:33-37. Is this so surprising for men in their 30.s or younger?
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 0:14
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    ok - I see this is perhaps (again) the wrong board. I suspect there is more than just 'that's what young men do' - its what kids do. My theology studies suggest to me that there is something else going on here. I'll look for another board then
    – maxelcat
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 10:49

2 Answers 2


I think we need to focus on the "sons of Zebedee" episode (Mark ch10 vv35-45) which may help to explain the others. With your permission, I will take that one as the text that needs to be explained.

In that case the key to answering your question is the phrase "in your glory" (v37). This refers to the occasional teaching of Jesus that the world will see the Son of man arriving "in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark ch8 v37). Similarly "they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew ch24 v30). We kearn later that "when the Son of man comes in his glory", he will sit on his "glorious throne" where he will judge and separate all the nations (Matthew ch25 vv31-32).

When the sons of Zebedee say "in your glory", they are taking it for granted that Jesus is talking about himself in these predictions. He is the Son of man, and he will be returning in glory to judge the world.Thus putting to shame those modern scholars who resist this conclusion.

In other words, there is a lot more at stake than mere social status among those following Jesus around in Galilee. They want to be sitting alongside Jesus on the great day of the judgement of the world. Only a couple of places below the Father himself. Perhaps the debate in Mark ch9 v34 was on the same theme.

We are obliged to believe there was something of pride or inappropriate ambition in all this, because Jesus rebukes it in both chapters and strongly recommends that they turn their minds towards thoughts of service (ch9 v35, ch10 v43).


To understand why the disciples acted as they did, the society of their time must be better understood.

Cultural Background

Observant scholars of the Bible will notice cultural cues embedded in its stories. The society of that day was more typical of an Eastern collectivist mindset than a Western individualist mindset. One's identity in an Eastern culture is highly dependent on one's relationships with others in the group.

For example, in the Eastern society of Asia today, one fairly common question that may be asked upon meeting someone for the first time is, "How old are you?" This is because age is one of the factors for the determination of status, and it is important to know whether one should be respected as senior by, or should respect as a junior, this new acquaintance. Additional factors include education, wealth/income, position/rank, political connections, family ties, gender, etc., so one's status is not limited to age alone.

In the Bible, we see evidence for some of these cultural aspects sprinkled throughout in various stories. For example, in the story of Joseph meeting his brothers in Egypt (see Genesis 43:15-34), Joseph, of much higher rank (governor of all Egypt) and "an Egyptian," eats at a separate table from his brothers. He also arranges his brothers around their table in age order. Then Joseph does something that goes against the culture, just to see how the older brothers will react: he gives Benjamin, the youngest, the most favorable treatment. (The eldest should usually be the most favored.)

The status system is further reinforced by the forms of government which became most common in Bible times. Most Western civilizations today do not have a king, and have a voice in matters of government; but this was not the case in Bible times. The people were under the rulership of kings and governors who, for the most part, did not answer to the will of the people. The rulers' status gave them the power to dictate.

In this type of a society, one must be meek and subservient for as long as one is of junior rank. Once one has gained seniority, then it is the others who must be subservient. The common tendency within this type of culture is to look forward to and to covet that time of seniority, and there is frequently a certain amount of jockeying for position so as to obtain it.

Cultural Application

Among the disciples, not only were the disciples themselves jealous for position, but also the mothers of some of them were desirous of seeing their sons promoted to positions of honor. Certainly, as noted in the question, pride is involved. But it should also be noted that the pride of their mothers is affected by the position which they have. If one's family member is of high rank, it elevates one's own rank within the society.

A Westerner might brag about his or her relative being famous or important, but in Eastern society it is not merely a matter of bragging rights: it literally affects one's day-to-day relationships with others. For this reason, status becomes more significant, and more emphasis is placed on it within the culture. And the disciples were no exception.

33 And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34 But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34, KJV)

The disciples' actions were fairly normal for the environment in which they lived. The Pharisees engaged in the same spirit of "who should be the greatest," and the disciples were influenced by this. Jesus, however, was disappointed in them, for he had been teaching them from a different set of principles and their desires for self-aggrandizement showed they had not been learning their lessons.

Jesus' Response

Jesus took time at this point to emphasize the lesson he wanted the disciples to learn, with a live illustration.

35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36 And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, 37 Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me. (Mark 9:35-37, KJV)

Using a child to indicate who was the greatest was as nearly opposite to the disciples' thinking and culture as one could get. Children are junior in virtually every respect: they are younger, less educated, have no income or wealth, etc. This lesson must surely have made a lasting impact on the disciples' minds.

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