02.01.21 Scribes

02.01.21 Scribes

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.21 Scribes

02.01.21 Scribes. In the early years of the Old Testament era, scribes were little more than secretaries who functioned as copy writers and performed dictations.[1] But by the beginning of the Inter-Testamental Period, they were generally considered to be scholars of the Mosaic Law (Ezra 7:6; Neh. 8:1), who had excellent writing skills, and by the first century they also functioned as lawyers (Gk. nomodidaskalos), teachers of the Law, accountants, secretaries, journalists, historians, librarians, and teachers.[2] It is believed that most were clerks in a small middle-class society, but some rose to wealthy and powerful prominence.[3] The skill of writing became a monopoly for some families which insured wealth for future generations.[4]

Most people were closely aligned to the Pharisees because this religious group controlled the local synagogues, and the people felt comfortable because they had studied the Written and Oral Laws more than any other religious sect.[5]  Because Pharisees were usually synonymous with the teachers of the Law,[6] it is at times difficult to distinguish them from the scribes[7] although the scribes generally read Scripture in the synagogue. Not all scribes were Pharisees, but all the Pharisees who were members of the Sanhedrin were also scribes (cf. Mt. 23:7-8).[8] Whenever Jesus criticized them,[9] He did so for the following reasons:

  1. They imposed restrictive laws on people which they avoided themselves.
  1. They built beautiful monument tombs for the prophets who were sent by God, but whom they killed.
  1. They kept knowledge of God’s Word essentially for themselves, and made themselves judge and jury of biblical interpretation.
  1. They were incredibly prideful in dress, in greetings, and in public places such as the market and synagogue. The leading Pharisees were so self-righteous, that they often bathed after being in public with the common people.

A scribe was called in Hebrew a talmid, meaning a learned one, or the educated one, but he was also known as a chakham, meaning wise man because he studied all the laws and knew how to apply them to daily life.[10] Scribes were literary professionals who were available for the purpose of writing legal contracts. There were various divisions of scribes.  For example, some scribes functioned as royal secretaries (2 Sam. 8:17) and others were military scribes (Jer. 37:15). It appears that the art of writing was a craft controlled by selected families. The Kenites had families of scribes living at Jabez (1 Chron. 2:55) who appear to have kept a monopoly on their craft.  However, in Jerusalem, scribal schools trained priests and Levites who in turn, trained the people of the Law. Ezra could not have taught the people the Law of Moses if there were no scribal schools in Babylon. Thankfulness should be granted to the Levitical scribes who copied the books of the Old Testament (Deut. 17:18; Jer. 8:8). They wrote various documents that pertained to the maintenance of the temple facility (2 Kg. 12:10; 2 Chron. 34:13).[11]

The famous leader, Ezra, for whom an Old Testament book is named, created this separate body known as scribes or the sopherim.  They copied Scriptures for all occasions, carefully counting every letter to insure accurate transmission of the Sacred Word.[12]  By the first century they became known as lawyers[13] and doctors of the law.[14]  Since nearly every aspect of Jewish life was controlled by religious law, scribes were theological lawyers who were trained in the application of the Torah and the Oral Law. They were often given the honored position of reading the Scriptures in the synagogues and were authoritative consultants who settled disputes.[15]  

Scribes existed in all major religious sects, but most belonged to the Pharisees.[16]  Twice some are referred to as the “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk. 2:16; Acts 23:9), suggesting that there were scribes of other religious groups. However, as a group, they were technically a trade guild and not a separate religious sect or party.[17] They are best remembered for being extremely detail-oriented concerning religious law, masters of “hair-splitting details” and theological debates. This explains why they were in constant discussions with Jesus, which ultimately led to their humiliation before their favorite audiences.[18] 


[1]. 1 Chron. 2:55; 26:6; 27:32; 2 Chron. 34:13; Ezra 4:8-9, 17, 23; Ps. 45:1; Jer. 8:8; Nah. 3:17.


[2]. Hillyer, “Scribe, Writing.” 3:477-78.


[3]. Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. 417-18.


[4]. Hillyer, “Scribe, Writing.” 3:477-79.


[5]. Cited from Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 92.


[6]. Mt. 3:7; 15:1; Mk. 2: 16, 24; Lk. 11:38.


[7]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 59.  


[8]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 236. Being a scribe was a family occupation, handed down from one generation to another. For a list of families of scribes, see I Chronicles 2:55, and for a “company of scribes,” see 1 Maccabees 7:12.  


[9]. Other Jewish writers also criticized the leading Pharisees as found in 1 Enoch 102:9-10; Testament of Moses 7:3; Tosefta, Menahot 13:22. See also  Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 259, n 42.    


[10]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 173.


[11]. See also Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.3; cf. 11.5.1.


[12]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 420.


[13]. Mt. 22:35; Lk. 7:30; 11:45; 14:3.


[14]. Lk. 2:46; 5:17; Acts 5:34; Freeman, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. 420-21; Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 71.


[15]. Freeman, The New Manners and Customs.” 420.

[16]. Metzger, B. New Testament. 48-49.


[17]. Hagner, “Scribes.” 4:360-61; Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 71.

[18]. Wilson, False Trials of Jesus. 18.


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