From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

SCRIBES. —The Scribes were a class of learned Jews who devoted themselves to a scientific study of the Law, and made its exposition their professional occupation. The word which we translate ‘scribes’ is γραμματεῖς, ‘the learned,’ which corresponds to the Hebrew סוֹפִרִים. This is their usual appellation, but they are also called in the Gospels, especially in Lk., ‘lawyers’ (νομικοί) and ‘doctors of the law’ (νομοδιδάσκαλοι). See Lawyer. They are very frequently associated in the Synoptics with the Pharisees, and with the chief priests and elders, but there is no mention of ‘scribes’ in the Fourth Gospel at all, except in the special passage dealing with the woman taken in adultery ( John 8:3).

1. Origin, development, and characteristics. —(1) After the return from the Exile the Jewish community was organized under Ezra and Nehemiah on the basis of the regulations of the so-called Mosaic Law. At a great gathering of the people, of which an account is given in Nehemiah 8-10, the Law was publicly read by Ezra, and a solemn covenant entered into for national obedience to it. Being thus established as the binding rule of both civil and religious life, it became necessary that the Law should be thoroughly studied and interpreted to the people, who otherwise could not reasonably be expected to comprehend fully its principles and their application. This duty at first fell naturally to the priests, who for a time continued the main teachers and guardians of the Law. But gradually there grew up an independent class of men, other than the priests, who devoted themselves to the study of the Law, and made acquaintance with it their profession. These were the Scribes. Possibly at first their chief duty was to make copies of the Law, but the higher function of interpretation was soon added; and as the supreme importance of the Law came more and more to be recognized, so the profession of a Scribe came to be held in higher estimation than even that of a priest.

(2) During the Grecian period of Jewish history, a strong feeling of opposition was developed between the Scribes and, at least, the higher order of the priests. Even in the time of Ezra a feud had arisen between those who held strictly by the Law—especially in the matter of foreign alliances—and those who, like the aristocratic high-priestly families, had sought to increase their influence by marriage with outsiders. And when, through the influence of Hellenic culture, the priestly aristocracy became infected with heathen ideas, and fell away from the laws and customs of Judaism, the duty of upholding the Law fell mainly upon the Scribes, who from that time forward became the real teachers of the people, and dominated their whole spiritual life. They were still, however, mainly religious students and teachers, and had taken little part in political agitation. Their ideal was not to engage in any political scheme for throwing off the foreign yoke, but to establish the Law of God in their own midst. The attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to suppress the Jewish religion compelled them to change their character, and drove them into open rebellion. Among the most strenuous opponents of his endeavour to Hellenize the Jews were the Hasidaeans, or party of ‘the pious,’ who may be taken to represent the strictest adherents of the teaching of the Scribes, and who carried their ideas of the sanctity of the Law to the suicidal extent of refusing to defend themselves when attacked on the Sabbath. But it was only the maintenance of the Jewish religion for which they fought, and they had no objections to alien rule, provided they were allowed freedom of faith. This object they regarded as accomplished by the treaty with Lysias, which provided at once for their political subjection and for their religious freedom. When, therefore, it became clear that the Maccabaean party were aiming also at the political independence of the nation, the Hasidaeans separated from them, and in the time of John Hyrcanus we find the Pharisees—‘the separated’—who practically represented the same party as the Hasidaeans, in opposition to the Hasmonaean or Maccabaean dynasty. See Pharisees.

(3) From this time onward to the time of Christ the influence of the Scribes became more and more predominant. They were given seats in the Sanhedrin, and were held in very high respect by the people. They never, indeed, became the governing class, but in the councils of the nation their influence could always be depended upon to outweigh that of the priestly aristocracy, who held the high appointments. They were usually addressed as ‘Rabbi,’ i.e. ‘my master,’ an appellation which gradnally developed into a title, though not till after the time of Christ. The honour in which they were held by their pupils, and by others, was extraordinary, even exceeding the honour accorded to parents, and they were very particular in exacting it, claiming generally everywhere the first rank. Their scribal labours were understood to be gratuitous, and, if they had no private fortune, they had to provide for their livelihood by combining some secular business with their study of the Law; but the latter was always regarded as their most important occupation. It is questionable, however, if the theory of gratuitous instruction was always strictly adhered to.

From the earliest period there is evidence to show that they tended to associate themselves in guilds or families—an arrangement which would facilitate the interchange of opinion on difficult points in the study of the Law. Up till the destruction of Jerusalem the main seat of their activity was in Judaea, ‘the scribes from Jerusalem’ ( Matthew 15:1,  Mark 3:22) being spoken of as the most important and influential members of the party. But they were to be found elsewhere as well, in Galilee and among the Jews in other lands, wherever the Law and its precepts were held in esteem. As a rule, they may be said to have been Pharisees, although not exclusively. The Pharisees, indeed, were those whose professed object it was to regulate their lives in strict accordance with the Law, written and oral, as that was expounded by its best accredited interpreters. Hence there was a natural affinity between them and the Scribes, whose profession it was to interpret the Law. But it is extremely probable that there were also Scribes who were Sadducees, for the Sadducees also adhered to the written Law, and doubtless had their Scribes to interpret it. Support is lent to this view by the expressions in  Mark 2:16 ‘the scribes of the Pharisees,’ and in  Luke 5:30 ‘the Pharisees and their scribes,’ which seem to indicate that there were other Scribes than those of the Pharisees. In the time of Christ the great mass of the Scribes was divided into two schools, named after the famous leaders, Hillel and Shammai, about whom little is certainly known. The School of Hillel was distinguished for its mildness in the interpretation of the Law, and that of Shammai for its strictness, corresponding to the traditional characters of the respective founders; but the points of difference between them concerned only the trivial minutiae, and never touched the weightier matters of the Law.

2. Functions. —The functions of the Scribes are well summed up in the traditional saying ascribed to the ‘Men of the Great Synagogue.’ ‘These laid down three rules: Be careful in pronouncing judgment! bring up many pupils! and make a fence about the Law!’ The professional employment of the Scribes, therefore, fell under three heads:—(1) The study and development of the Law itself; (2) the teaching of it to their pupils; and (3) its practical administration in the Sanhedrin and other courts; that is to say, they acted as students, teachers, and judges.

(1) The study and development of the Law .—The Mosaic Law, as embodied in their sacred records, was definitely recognized by the Jews as the absolute rule of life. To direct his conduct in accordance with it in every minute detail was the ideal of the pious Jew. But there were many subjects upon which the Law, as recorded, gave no precise direction, and much of it, for popular apprehension, required interpretation and exposition. To interpret and expound it, and to till up what was lacking in the way of casuistic detail, was the business of the Scribes. They devoted themselves to a close and careful study of the Law, to the accumulation of precedents, to the working out of inferences and deductions, and to a general development of legal regulations so as to meet every possible circumstance which might occur in human life, and to keep the Law in harmony with the changing wants of the times. So diligently did they pursue this course, and so extensive and complicated did Jewish Law in consequence become, that only by the assiduous study of a lifetime could a man become an expert in its various branches. The difficulty of doing so was greatly increased by the fact that this mass of accumulated detail was not committed to writing, but was propagated entirely by oral tradition. It was called the Halacha, or Law of Custom, as distinct from the Torah, or Written Law, upon which it was understood to be based. See, further, art. Pharisees, p. 353 f.

But the Scribes did not confine their labours to the Law. They studied also the historical and didactic portions of Scripture, and elaborated with a very free hand the history and religious instruction contained therein. This elaboration was called the Haggadah. It ran into various extravagant forms—theosophic, eschatological, and Messianic. Imagination was given free play, so long as its products would fit in with the general framework of Jewish thought, and to its influence was largely due the circle of religious ideas existing in New Testament times.

(2) Teaching of the Law .—To teach the Law was also the professional business of the Scribes. In order that people should obey the Law, it was necessary that they should know it; and an elaborate system of rules such as was contained in the Jewish tradition could be learned only with the assistance of a teacher. None of these traditional rules having been written down, the teaching was of necessity entirely oral, and round the more famous of the Scribes there gathered large numbers of young men, eager for instruction as to the proper conduct of life. Of these, some in their turn would become Scribes and teachers of the Law. The chief requisite, for both pupil and teacher, was a capacious and accurate memory. The method of teaching was by a constant repetition of the precepts of the Law, as only by this means could its multitude of minute details be at all kept in remembrance. The disputational method was also followed. Concrete cases, real or imaginary, were brought before the pupils, and they were required to pronounce judgment upon them, which judgment the teacher would criticise. The pupils were also allowed to propose questions to the teacher, and to attend disputations amongst teachers over difficult problems. But the two all-important duties were these—first, to keep everything faithfully in memory; and, second, never to teach anything otherwise than it had been taught by the master. Not even the expressions of the teacher were allowed to be changed. Accuracy in the minutest detail was the most commendable achievement.

For purposes of teaching and of disputation there were special places set apart—‘houses of teaching,’ as they were called—where the teacher sat upon an elevated bench, and the pupils on the ground. In Jerusalem, lectures were delivered in the Temple, somewhere in the outer court. The ‘houses of teaching’ were distinct from the synagogues; but as it was through the influence of the Scribes that the synagogue service originated, so doubtless they availed themselves of the opportunities which the synagogues gave them of teaching the Law to the common people. The Scripture exposition, which usually formed part of the service, might, indeed, be given by any one qualified to speak; but ordinarily it fell to a Scribe, if any were present, as the one most competent to discharge the duty.

(3) The Scribes as judges .—To the Scribes, as specially skilled in knowledge of the Law, it also naturally fell to take a leading part in its practical administration. From the time of the Hasmonaeans they had formed a constituent element in the Sanhedrin, being associated in that body with the chief priests and elders, and it was usually the Scribes who exercised the greatest influence in its deliberations. In the local courts they were also naturally looked to for advice and judgment. Any one, indeed, who possessed the confidence of the community might be appointed a local judge, and probably for the most part the small local courts were presided over by unprofessional men. But whenever a Scribe—a skilled lawyer—was available, the choice of the community naturally fell upon him, as, in virtue of his qualifications, he was considered best fitted for the post.

3. Relations of the Scribes to Jesus. —The ministry of Jesus could not but excite interest amongst the Scribes. His first call, like that of the Baptist, was to repentance as a preparation for the Kingdom of God. With this they were bound to sympathize. They held that what the nation needed for its salvation was a stricter obedience to the Law, and they naturally thought that the new Teacher, who was calling to repentance for the past, would be calling also to a new and more rigid obedience for the future. There are not wanting indications that at first they were inclined to regard Him with favour. But they speedily discovered that His teaching was on very different lines from theirs, both in manner and in substance. In the exposition of Scripture their method was to give out a text, and then quote the various comments made on it by recognized authorities. Jesus followed a different plan. He had a message of His own, which He delivered with conviction and enthusiasm, not appealing to authorities, but speaking with the conscious authority of truth. And the substance of His teaching was also very different. He condemned the external, mechanical formalism which they encouraged, and declared that only the inward purity of the heart was of value in the sight of God. See, further, art. Pharisees, p. 355 f.

4. Later history. —Though it does not properly belong to our subject, it is interesting to note that after the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, the authority of the Scribes increased in importance. Under much discouragement they undertook the difficult task of the reorganization of Judaism. Working on calmly and peacefully, they were able to avoid extremes, and were successful in keeping what was left of the nation faithful to the religion of their fathers, and in stimulating hope for the future. The ordinances of the Oral Law were at last written down, and to their careful preservation by the Scribes we are indebted for the Hebrew Scriptures we now possess.

Literature.—The literature on the subject is very extensive. Every History of the Jews, every Life of Christ, every Commentary on the Gospels, deals to some extent with the Scribes. Schürer’s HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] may be taken as a standard authority; Ewald, Kuenen, and Wellhausen are all important; so are Edersheim’s LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] and W. R. Smith’s OTJC [Note: TJC The Old Test, in the Jewish Church] . A very full bibliography is given in Schürer. See also artt. in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and in the EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] .

Joseph Mitchell.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [2]

Copheerim , from Caaphar to "write," "order," and "count." (See Lawyer .) The function was military in  Judges 5:14 (See Sceptre ), also in  Jeremiah 52:25;  Isaiah 33:18. Two scribes in Assyrian monuments write down the various objects, the heads of the slain, prisoners, cattle, etc. The scribe or "royal secretary" under David and Solomon ( 2 Samuel 8:17;  2 Samuel 20:25;  1 Kings 4:3) ranks with the high priest and the captain of the host (compare  2 Kings 12:10). Hezekiah's scribe transcribed old records and oral traditions, in the case of Proverbs 25-29, under inspiration of God. Henceforth, the term designates not a king's officer but "students and interpreters of the law".  Jeremiah 8:8 in KJV means "the pen of transcribers is (I.E. Multiplies Copies) in vain." But Maurer, "the false pen of the scribes (Persons Skilled In Expounding) has converted it (The Law) into a lie," namely, by false interpretations.

Ezra's glory, even above his priesthood, was that "he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given," and "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" ( Ezra 7:6;  Ezra 7:10;  Ezra 7:12), "a scribe of the law of the God of heaven." The spoken language was becoming Aramaic, so that at this time an interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the basis of their national and religious restoration, was a primary necessity to the exiles just returned from Babylon ( Nehemiah 8:8-13). Scribe maybe meant in  Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, "master of assemblies" under "one shepherd," but the inspired writers are probably meant, "masters of collections," i.e. associates in the collected canon, given ( Ephesians 4:11) from the Spirit of Jesus Christ the one Shepherd ( Ezekiel 37:24;  1 Peter 5:2-4). The "many books" of mere human composition are never to be put on a par with the sacred collection whereby to "be admonished."

"The families of scribes" had their own special residence ( 1 Chronicles 2:55). Ezra with the scribes probably compiled under the Holy Spirit, from authoritative histories, Chronicles (  1 Chronicles 29:29 ;  2 Chronicles 9:29 ;  2 Chronicles 13:22 , "The Commentary Of The Prophet Iddo": Μidrash ) . Except Zadok, no scribe but Ezra is named ( Nehemiah 13:13). The scribes by whom the Old Testament was written in its present characters and form, and its canon settled, are collectively in later times called "the men of the great synagogue, the true successors of the prophets" ( Ρirke Αboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers"), i. 1). Their aim was to write nothing themselves but to let the sacred word alone speak; if they had to interpret they would do it only orally. The Mikra' , or "careful reading of the text" ( Nehemiah 8:8) and laying down rules for its scrupulous transcription, was their study (Compare Copherim , In The Jerus. Gemara) . Simon the Just (300-290 B.C.), last of the great synagogue, said, "our fathers taught us to be cautious in judging, to train many scholars, and to set a fence about the law."

But oral precepts, affecting eases of every day life not especially noticed in the law, in time by tradition became a system of casuistry superseding the word of God and substituting ceremonial observances for moral duties ( Matthew 15:1-6;  Matthew 23:16-23). The scribes first reported the decisions of previous rabbis, the Halachoth , the "current precepts". A "new code" (the Μishna , "repetition or second body of jurisprudence") grew out of them. Rabbinical sayings, Jewish fables ( Titus 1:14), and finally the Gemara ("completeness") filled up the scheme; and the Mishna and Gemara together formed the Τalmud ("instruction"), the standard of orthodoxy for the modern Jew. The Old Testament too was "searched" ( Midrashim ) for "recondite meanings", the very search in their view entitling them to eternal life. Jesus warns them to "search" them very differently, namely, to find Him in them, if they would have life ( John 5:39). The process was called Hagada ("opinion"). The Κabala ("received doctrine") carried mysticism further. The Gematria (The Greek Term For "The Exactest Science, Geometry, Being Applied To The Wildest Mode Of Interpreting") crowned this perverse folly by finding new meanings through letters supposed to be substituted for others, the last of the alphabet for the first, the second last for the second, etc.

The Sadducees maintained, against tradition, the sufficiency of the letter of the law. Five pairs of teachers represent the succession of scribes, each pair consisting of the president of the Sanhedrin and the father of the house of judgment presiding in the supreme court. The two first were Joses ben Joezer and Joses ben Jochanan (140-130 B.C.). Their separating themselves from defilement originated the name Pharisees. The Sadducees taunt was "these Pharisees would purify the sun itself." Hillel (112 B.C.) is the best representative of the scribes; Menahem (Probably The Essene Manaen: Josephus Ant. 15:10, Section 5) was at first his colleague, But with many followers renounced his calling as scribe and joined Herod and appeared in public arrayed gorgeously. To this  Matthew 11:8;  Luke 7:24-25, may allude. The Herodians perhaps may be connected with these. Shammai headed a school of greater scrupulosity than Hillel's ( Mark 7:1-4), making it unlawful to relieve the poor, visit the sick, or teach children on the Sabbath, or to do anything before the Sabbath which would be in operation during the Sabbath. (See Pharisees .)

Hillel's precepts breathe a loftier spirit: "trust not thyself to the day of thy death"; "judge not thy neighbour until thou art in his place"; "leave nothing dark, saying I will explain it when I have time, for how knowest thou whether the time will come?" ( James 4:13-15); "he who gums a good name gains it for himself, but he who gains a knowledge of the law gains everlasting life" (compare  John 5:39;  Romans 2:13;  Romans 2:17-24). A proselyte begged of Shammai instruction in the law, even if it were so long as he could stand on his foot. Shammai drove him away; but Hillel said kindly, "do nothing to thy neighbour that thou wouldest not he should do to thee; do this, and thou hast fulfilled the law and the prophets" ( Matthew 22:39-40). With all his straitness of theory Shammai was rich and self indulgent, Hillel poor to the day of his death. Christ's teaching forms a striking contrast. The scribes leant on "them of old time" ( Matthew 5:21-27;  Matthew 5:33); "He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes" ( Matthew 7:29).

They taught only their disciples; "He had compassion on the multitudes" ( Matthew 9:36). They taught only in their schools; He through "all the cities and villages" ( Matthew 4:23;  Matthew 9:35). As Hillel lived to the age of 120 he may have been among the doctors whom Jesus questioned ( Luke 2:46). His grandson and successor, Gamaliel, was over his school during Christ's ministry and the early part of the Acts. Simeon, Gamaliel's son, was so but for a short time; possibly the Simeon of  Luke 2:25, of the lineage of David, therefore disposed to look for Messiah in the Child of that house. The scanty notice of him in rabbinic literature makes the identification likely; the Ρirke Αboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers") does not name him. This school was better disposed to Christ than Shammai's; to it probably belonged Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others too timid to confess Jesus ( John 12:42;  John 19:38;  Luke 23:50-51). The council which condemned Him was probably a packed meeting, hastily and irregularly convened.

Translated  Isaiah 53:8, "He was taken away by oppression and by a judicial sentence," i.e. by an oppressive sentence;  Acts 8:33, "in His humiliation His judgment was taken away," i.e., a fair trial was denied Him. Candidate scribes were "chosen" only after examination (compare  Matthew 20:16;  Matthew 22:14;  John 15:16). The master sat on a high chair, the eider disciples on a lower bench, the youngest lowest, "at his feet" ( Luke 10:39;  Acts 22:3;  Deuteronomy 33:3;  2 Kings 4:38); often in a chamber of the temple ( Luke 2:46), the pupil submitting cases and asking questions, e.g.  Luke 10:25;  Matthew 22:36. The interpreter or crier proclaimed, loud enough for all to hear, what the rabbi whispered cf6 "in the ear" ( Matthew 10:27). Parables were largely used. The saying of a scribe illustrates the pleasant relations between master and scholars, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, most from my disciples."

At 30 the presiding rabbi admitted the probationer to the chair of the scribe by laying on of hands, giving him tablets whereon to write sayings of the wise, and cf6 "the key of knowledge" ( Luke 11:52) wherewith to open or shut the treasures of wisdom. He was then a Chaber , or "of the fraternity", no longer of "the ignorant and unlearned" ( Acts 4:13), but, separated from the common herd, "people of the earth," "cursed" as not knowing the law ( John 7:15;  John 7:49). Fees were paid them for arbitrations ( Luke 12:14), writing bills of divorce, covenants of espousals, etc. Rich widows they induced to minister to them, depriving their dependent relatives of a share ( Matthew 23:14; contrast  Luke 8:2-3). Poverty however, and a trade, were counted no discredit to a scribe, as Paul wrought at tent making.

Their titles, Rab , Rabbi , Rabban , formed an ascending series in dignity. Salutations, the designation father, chief seats in synagogues and feasts, the long robes with broad blue Zizith or "fringes", the hems or borders, the "phylacteries" ( Tephillim ), contrasted with Jesus' simple "inner vesture" ( Chitoon ) and "outer garment" ( Himation ), were all affected by them ( Matthew 23:5-6;  Luke 14:7). Notwithstanding the self seeking and hypocrisy of most scribes, some were not far from the kingdom of God ( Mark 12:32-34;  Mark 12:38;  Mark 12:40; contrast  Mark 12:42-44); some were "sent" by the Wisdom of God, the Lord Jesus ( Matthew 23:34;  Luke 11:49). Christ's minister must be a cf6 "scribe instructed Which Is unto the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 13:52); such were "Zenas the lawyer" and "Apollos mighty in the Scriptures" ( Titus 3:13).

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

The scribes are mentioned very early in the sacred history, and many authors suppose that they were of two descriptions, the one ecclesiastical, the other civil. It is said, "Out of Zebulon come they that handle the pen of the writer,"  Judges 5:14; and the rabbins state, that the scribes were chiefly of the tribe of Simeon; but it is thought that only those of the tribe of Levi were allowed to transcribe the Holy Scriptures.

These scribes are very frequently called wise men, and counsellors; and those of them who were remarkable for writing well were held in great esteem. In the reign of David, Seraiah,  2 Samuel 8:17 , in the reign of Hezekiah, Shebna,  2 Kings 18:18 , and in the reign of Josiah, Shaphan,  2 Kings 22:3 , are called scribes, and are ranked with the chief officers of the kingdom; and Elishama the scribe,  Jeremiah 36:12 , in the reign of Jehoiakim, is mentioned among the princes. We read also of the "principal scribe of the host," or army,  Jeremiah 52:25; and it is probable that there were scribes in other departments of the state. Previous to the Babylonian captivity, the word scribe seems to have been applied to any person who was concerned in writing, in the same manner as the word secretary is with us. The civil scribes are not mentioned in the New Testament.

It appears that the office of the ecclesiastical scribes, if this distinction be allowed, was originally confined to writing copies of the law, as their name imports; but the knowledge, thus necessarily acquired, soon led them to become instructers of the people in the written law, which, it is believed, they publicly read. Baruch was an amanuensis or scribe to Jeremiah; and Ezra is called "a ready scribe in the law of Moses, having prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments,"  Ezra 7:6;  Ezra 7:10; but there is no mention of the scribes being formed into a distinct body of men till after the cessation of prophecy. When, however, there were no inspired teachers in Israel, no divine oracle in the temple, the scribes presumed to interpret, expound, and comment, upon the law and the prophets in the schools and in the synagogues. Hence arose those numberless glosses, and interpretations, and opinions, which so much perplexed and perverted the text instead of explaining it; and hence arose that unauthorized maxim, which was the principal source of all the Jewish sects, that the oral or traditionary law was of Divine origin, as well as the written law of Moses. Ezra had examined the various traditions concerning the ancient and approved usages of the Jewish church, which had been in practice before the captivity, and were remembered by the chief and most aged of the elders of the people; and he had given to some of these traditionary customs and opinions the sanction of his authority. The scribes, therefore, who lived after the time of Simon the Just, in order to give weight to their various interpretations of the law, at first pretended that they also were founded upon tradition, and added them to the opinions which Ezra had established as authentic; and in process of time it came to be asserted, that when Moses was forty days on Mount Sinai, he received from God two laws, the one in writing, the other oral; that this oral law was communicated by Moses to Aaron and Joshua, and that it passed unimpaired and uncorrupted from generation to generation, by the tradition of the elders, or great national council, established in the time of Moses; and that this oral law was to be considered as supplemental and explanatory of the written law, which was represented as being in many places obscure, scanty, and defective. In some cases they were led to expound the law by the traditions, in direct opposition to its true intent and meaning; and it may be supposed that the intercourse of the Jews with the Greeks, after the death of Alexander, contributed much to increase those vain subtleties with which they had perplexed and burdened the doctrines of religion. During our Saviour's ministry, the scribes were those who made the law of Moses their particular study, and who were employed in instructing the people. Their reputed skill in the Scriptures induced Herod,  Matthew 2:4 , to consult them concerning the time at which the Messiah was to be born. And our Saviour speaks of them as sitting in Moses's seat,  Matthew 23:2 , which implies that they taught the law; and he foretold that he should be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes,  Matthew 16:21 , and that they should put him to death, which shows that they were men of great power and authority among the Jews. Scribes, doctors of law, and lawyers, were only different names for the same class of persons. Those who, in Luke 5, are called Pharisees and doctors of the law, are soon afterward called Pharisees and scribes; and he who, in  Matthew 22:35 , is called a lawyer, is, in  Mark 12:28 , called one of the scribes. They had scholars under their care, whom they taught the knowledge of the law, and who, in their schools, sat on low stools just beneath their seats; which explains St. Paul's expression that he was "brought up at the feet of Gamaliel,"

 Acts 22:3 . We find that our Saviour's manner of teaching was contrasted with that of those vain disputers; for it is said, when he had ended his sermon upon the mount, "the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes,"  Matthew 7:29 . By the time of our Saviour, the scribes had, indeed, in a manner, laid aside the written law, having no farther regard to that than as it agreed with their traditionary expositions of it; and thus, by their additions, corruptions, and misinterpretations, they had made "the word of God of none effect through their traditions,"  Matthew 15:6 . It may be observed, that this in a great measure accounts for the extreme blindness of the Jews with respect to their Messiah, whom they had been taught by these commentators upon the prophecies to expect as a temporal prince. Thus, when our Saviour asserts his divine nature, and appeals to "Moses and the prophets who spake of him, the people sought to slay him," John 5; and he expresses no surprise at their intention. But when he converses with Nicodemus, John 3, who appears to have been convinced by his miracles that he was "a teacher sent from God," when he came to Jesus by night," anxious to obtain farther information concerning his nature and his doctrine, our Lord, after intimating the necessity of laying aside all prejudices against the spiritual nature of his kingdom, asks, "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?" that is, knowest not that Moses and the prophets describe the Messiah as the Son of God? and he then proceeds to explain in very clear language the dignity of his person and office, and the purpose for which he came into the world, referring to the predictions of the ancient Scriptures. And Stephen, Acts vii, just before his death, addresses the multitude by an appeal to the law and the prophets, and reprobates in the most severe terms the teachers who misled the people. Our Lord, when speaking of "them of old time," classed the "prophets, and wise men, and scribes," together,  Matthew 23:34; but of the later scribes he uniformly speaks with censure, and indignation, and usually joins them with the Pharisees, to which sect they in general belonged. St. Paul asks,  1 Corinthians 1:20 , "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?" with evident contempt for such as, "professing themselves wise above what was written, became fools."

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

Scribes. (Hebrew, sopherim ).

I. Name. -

(1) Three meanings are connected with the verb, saphar , the root of sopherim - (a) to write, (b) to set in order, (c) to count. The explanation of the word has been referred to each of these. The sopherim were so called because they wrote out the law, or because they classified and arranged its precepts, or because they counted with scrupulous minuteness, every elapse and letter it contained.

(2) The name of Kirjath-sepher,  Joshua 15:15;  Judges 1:12, may possibly connect itself with some early use of the title, and appears to point to military functions of some kind.  Judges 5:14. The men are mentioned as filling the office of scribe under David and Solomon.  2 Samuel 8:17;  2 Samuel 20:25;  1 Kings 4:3. We may think of them as the king's secretaries, writing his letters, drawing up his decrees, managing his finances. Compare  2 Kings 12:10. In Hezekiah's time, they transcribed old records, and became a class of students and interpreters of the law, boasting of their wisdom.  Jeremiah 8:8. After the captivity, the office became more prominent, as the exiles would be anxiou, s above all things, to preserve the sacred books, the laws, the hymns, the prophecies of the past.

II. Development of doctrine. - Of the scribes of this period, with the exception of Ezra and Zadok,  Nehemiah 13:13, we have no record. A later age honored them collectively as the men of the Great Synagogue. Never, perhaps, was so important a work done so silently. They devoted themselves to the careful study of the text, and laid down rules for transcribing it with the most scrupulous precision. As time passed on, the "words of the scribes" were honored above the law. It was a greater crime to offend against them than against the law.

The first step was taken toward annulling the commandments of God for the sake of their own traditions.  Mark 7:13. The casuistry became, at once, subtle and prurient, evading the plainest duties, tampering with conscience.  Matthew 15:1-6;  Matthew 23:16-23. We can, therefore, understand why they were constantly denounced by our Lord, along with the Pharisees. While the scribes repeated the traditions of the elders, he "spake as one having authority," "not as the scribes."  Matthew 7:29. While they confined their teachings to the class of scholars, he "had compassion on the multitudes."  Matthew 9:36. While they were to be found only in the council or in their schools, he journeyed through the cities and villages.  Matthew 4:23;  Matthew 9:35; etc. While they spoke of the kingdom of God vaguely, as a thing far off, he proclaimed that it had already come nigh to men.  Matthew 4:17. In our Lord's time there were two chief parties:

The disciples of Shammai, conspicuous for their fierceness, appealing to popular passions, using the sword to decide their controversies. Out of this party, grew the Zealots.

The disciples of Hillel, born B.C. 112, and who may have been one of the doctors before whom the boy Jesus came in the Temple, for he lived to be 120 years old. Hillel was a "liberal conservative, of genial character and broad range of thought, with some approximations to a higher teaching." In most of the points at issue between the two parties, Jesus must have appeared in direct antagonism to the school of Shammai, in sympathy with that of Hillel. So far, on the other hand, as the temper of the Hillel school was one of mere adaptation to the feeling of the people, cleaving to tradition, wanting in the intuition of a higher life, the teaching of Christ must have been felt as unsparingly condemning it.

III. Education and life. - The special training for a scribe's office began, probably, about the age of thirteen. The boy who was destined by his parents to the calling of a scribe went to Jerusalem, and applied for admission in the school of some famous rabbi. After a sufficient period of training, probably at the age of thirty, the probationer was solemnly admitted to his office.

After his admission, there was a choice of a variety of functions, the chances of failure and success. He might give himself to any one of the branches of study, or combine two or more of them. He might rise to high places, become a doctor of the law, an arbitrator in family litigations,  Luke 12:14, the head of a school, a member of the Sanhedrin. He might have to content himself with the humbler work of a transcriber, copying the law and the prophets for the use of synagogues, or a notary, writing out contracts of sale, covenants of espousals, bills of repudiation. The position of the more fortunate was, of course, attractive enough.

In our Lord's time, the passion for distinction was insatiable. The ascending scale of rab , rabbi , rabban , presented so many steps on the ladder of ambition. Other forms of worldliness were not far off. The salutations in the market-place,  Matthew 23:7, the reverential kiss offered by the scholars to their master, or by rabbis to each other; the greeting of Abba , Father ,  Matthew 23:9, the long robes with the broad blue fringe,  Matthew 23:5 - all these go to make up the picture of a scribe's life.

Drawing to themselves, as they did, nearly all the energy and thought of Judaism, the close hereditary caste of the priesthood was powerless to compete with them. Unless the Priest became a scribe also, he remained in obscurity. The order, as such, became contemptible and base. For the scribes, there were the best places at feasts, the chief seats in synagogues.  Matthew 23:6;  Luke 14:7.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [5]

In the days before mechanical printing, copies of documents, letters, government records and sacred writings were handwritten by skilled secretaries known as scribes ( 1 Kings 4:3;  2 Kings 18:18;  2 Kings 22:8;  Jeremiah 8:8;  Jeremiah 38:18;  Jeremiah 38:26-27). The religious importance of scribes developed during the period that followed the Jews’ return from captivity in 538 BC and the subsequent reconstruction of the Jewish nation. During the captivity there had been a renewal of interest in the law of Moses, and this increased after the return to Jerusalem. The result was a greater demand for copies of the law, and consequently greater prominence for the scribes ( Nehemiah 8:1-4;  Nehemiah 8:8;  Nehemiah 9:3).

Because scribes had developed special skills in copying the details of the law exactly, people regarded them as experts on matters of the law ( Ezra 7:6;  Ezra 7:10). Although the priests were supposed to be the teachers in Israel ( Deuteronomy 33:10;  Malachi 2:7), people now went to the scribes, rather than the priests, when they had problems of the law that they wanted explained. During the centuries immediately before the Christian era, the scribes grew in power and prestige, and were the chiefly cause of the striking changes that came over the Jewish religion. They were also known as teachers of the law, lawyers and rabbis ( Matthew 22:35;  Matthew 23:2-7).

Power of the scribes

The increased interest in the law produced not only the scribes as a class of teachers, but also the synagogues as places of worship (see Synagogue ). The scribes developed the structure for synagogue meetings, and controlled the synagogue teaching  Matthew 23:2;  Matthew 23:6;  Luke 6:6-7;  Luke 20:46). They also developed and promoted the midrash as a form of teaching. (A midrash was an explanation of the ‘deeper meaning’ of a portion of Scripture, or in some cases a practical sermon based on a portion of Scripture.)

There was, however, a great difference between Ezra’s explanations of the law and the expositions of the scribes of Jesus’ time. Over the intervening centuries, the scribes had produced a system of their own, which consisted of countless laws to surround the central law of Moses. These new laws may have grown out of legal cases that the scribes had judged or traditions that had been handed down. The scribes then forced the Jewish people to obey these laws, till the whole lawkeeping system became a heavy burden ( Matthew 15:1-9;  Matthew 23:2-4; see Tradition ).

As leaders in the synagogue and teachers of the people, the scribes enjoyed a respected status in the Jewish community ( Matthew 23:6-7). Some were members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish Council ( Matthew 26:57; see Sanhedrin ). In addition to controlling the synagogues, the scribes taught in the temple and established schools for the training of their disciples ( Luke 2:46;  Acts 22:3). They then sent these disciples to spread their teaching, till it became the chief force in the religious life of Israel ( Matthew 23:15).

Most of the scribes belonged to the party of the Pharisees (one of two major groups within Judaism; see Pharisees ; Sadducees ), and are often linked with them in the biblical narratives ( Matthew 5:20;  Matthew 12:38;  Matthew 15:1;  Matthew 23:2;  Acts 5:34;  Acts 22:3). They opposed Jesus throughout his ministry, helped to crucify him, and later persecuted his followers ( Matthew 16:21;  Matthew 21:15;  Matthew 26:57;  Acts 4:5-7;  Acts 6:12).

Later influences

With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jewish temple rituals ceased; but the influence of the scribes lived on. By AD 200, the scribes (now better known as rabbis) had put into writing the oral traditions that earlier scribes had built up around the law. This document was called the Mishnah.

After the completion of the Mishnah, the rabbis added to it their own commentary. This commentary was put into writing between AD 400 and 500, and was known as the Gemara. The Mishnah and the Gemara together made up the Talmud, which has remained the authoritative law for orthodox Jews ever since.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

SCRIBES . Sometimes a phrase gives the key to a great history. Such is the case here. ‘The scribes of the Pharisees’ (  Mark 2:16 ) points us to the inseparable connexion between the Pharisees and the Scribes. In other places in the Gospels they are also grouped together (  Matthew 12:38 ,   Luke 6:7 ,   Mark 7:5 ). If we would understand the Scribe or Lawyer , we must set him against the background of Pharisaism (See art. Pharisees).

For every community that carves out for itself a great career the supreme problem is law and its administration. Now, after the Exile, the task being to hold together the parts of a nation widely scattered and lacking the unifying power of a common and sacred fatherland, the Mosaic Torah, the Divine Law for Israel, became, in course of time, the moral and spiritual constitution of Israel, its code of duty, the fabric of its right. The Torah is the informing principle of the community. To grasp this principle and apply it to the changing conditions and questions of the nation’s life was the supreme need of the time. This need was analogous to the similar need of any great State. And it always necessitates, as at Rome, a great body of lawyers. A fundamental need gives rise to an authoritative function, and the function creates for itself the agents to exercise it. So, in course of time, appears in Judaism a new type, the Scribe. There is, however, a peculiarity in the case of the Scribe that sets him apart from the Roman lawyer or the modern judge. The Torah which he interpreted and applied was a good many things in one. It was the text-book of a society which was both Church and State; it was at once the constitution and the catechism of the Jews. So the mastery and administration of it developed in the Scribe a variety of functions which with us are parcelled out among preacher, scholar, lawyer, and magistrate. It is easy to see that history owed him a fortune. He came to occupy a great position in the Jewish community. By the 1st cent. he had forced his way into that aristocratic body, the Sanhedrin (Gamaliel in  Acts 5:1-42; Nicodemus in   John 3:1-36;   John 7:1-53 ). He sat in ‘Moses’ seat’ (  Matthew 23:1 ). He had the power of ‘binding and loosing,’ i.e. of publishing authoritative judgments upon the legality and illegality of actions.

We see here a situation which had the making of great men in it. To grasp and administer the Mosaic Law, to ‘sit in Moses’ seat’ and become the trustee of the supreme interests of a great people, there can be no better school. Naturally, there were many noble Scribes, men whose character and learning were commensurate with their task. Such were Hillel and Shammai, elder contemporaries of our Lord. Such also was the Gamaliel at whose feet St. Paul sat ( Acts 22:3 ), and who spoke, with noble feeling, against the persecuting zeal of the Sadducees (  Acts 5:34 ff.). As a class, too, they had their noble side. Their work, both educational and judicial, was gratuitous. They were to receive no pay. Probably this rule grew out of the idea of an impartial judge (  Exodus 23:8 ,   Deuteronomy 16:19 ). Of course, there must have been many exceptions. Yet the mere idea was ennobling, and must have served to enkindle devotion. But, on the other hand, their position encouraged vast pride and vanity. They stood on their prerogatives as ‘Teachers.’ They loved the title of ‘Rabbi.’ So our Lord, when He bids His disciples refuse such title (  Matthew 23:7 f.), has the Scribes in mind.

This leads us to the deeper defect of the Scribes as a class. All their training went to unfit them for understanding our Lord. As we have seen, the situation of the Jews in the centuries after the Exile called for a new type of man. The prophet passed off the stage. The Scribe or Lawyer took his place. In the 1st cent. of our era be had become antipathetic to Prophetism. So be had no sympathy with John the Baptist, and to the meaning of the creative force in spiritual things brought into history by the Saviour he was totally blind. Hence our Lord’s fearful denunciation of the Scribes ( Matthew 23:1-39 ). See also artt. Pharisees and Sadducees.

Henry S. Nash.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [7]

 Judges 5:14 2 Samuel 8:17 20:25 1 Chronicles 18:16 24:6 1 Kings 4:3 2 Kings 12:9-11 18:18-37

There was also a subordinate class of scribes, most of whom were Levites. They were engaged in various ways as writers. Such, for example, was Baruch, who "wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord" ( Jeremiah 36:4,32 ).

In later times, after the Captivity, when the nation lost its independence, the scribes turned their attention to the law, gaining for themselves distinction by their intimate acquaintance with its contents. On them devolved the duty of multiplying copies of the law and of teaching it to others ( Ezra 7:6,10-12;  Nehemiah 8:1,4,9,13 ). It is evident that in New Testament times the scribes belonged to the sect of the Pharisees, who supplemented the ancient written law by their traditions ( Matthew 23 ), thereby obscuring it and rendering it of none effect. The titles "scribes" and "lawyers" (q.v.) are in the Gospels interchangeable ( Matthew 22:35;  Mark 12:28;  Luke 20:39 , etc.). They were in the time of our Lord the public teachers of the people, and frequently came into collision with him. They afterwards showed themselves greatly hostile to the apostles ( Acts 4:5;  6:12 ).

Some of the scribes, however, were men of a different spirit, and showed themselves friendly to the gospel and its preachers. Thus Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin, when the apostles were before them charged with "teaching in this name," to "refrain from these men and let them alone" ( Acts 5:34-39; comp 23:9).

Morrish Bible Dictionary [8]

In the Old Testament this word is applied to the officer who carried on the correspondence for a king, the army, etc., what is now generally understood by secretary.  2 Samuel 8:17;  2 Chronicles 24:11;  Esther 3:12;  Isaiah 36:3 , etc. It is also applied to those who wrote and explained the scriptures: thus Ezra was "a ready scribe in the law," even "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord," though he was also a priest.  Ezra 7:6,11;  Nehemiah 8:1-13 .

In the New Testament the word is used in the sense in which it is applied to Ezra, and scribes are classed with the chief priests and the elders. They are described as sitting in Moses' seat, and what they taught was to be observed; but, alas, their works were not to be followed.   Matthew 7:29;  Matthew 23:2,13-33 . Many woes are proclaimed against them, and they are addressed, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" Thus these men, who ought to have been examples to others, were publicly denounced because their practice denied what they taught. They did not form a separate sect in New Testament times, a person might be both scribe and Pharisee or Sadducee: cf.  Acts 23:9 .

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

skrı̄bz  : The existence of law leads necessarily to a profession whose business is the study and knowledge of the law; at any rate, if the law is extensive and complicated. At the time of Ezra and probably for some time after, this was chiefly the business of the priests. Ezra was both priest and scholar ( ספר , ṣōphēr ). It was chiefly in the interest of the priestly cult that the most important part of the Pentateuch was written. The priests were therefore also in the first instance the scholars and the guardians of the Law; but in the course of time this was changed. The more highly esteemed the Law became in the eyes of the people, the more its study and interpretation became a lifework by itself, and thus there developed a class of scholars who, though not priests, devoted themselves assiduously to the Law. These became known as the scribes, that is, the professional students of the Law. During the Hellenistic period, the priests, especially those of the upper class, became tainted with the Hellenism of the age and frequently turned their attention to paganistic culture, thus neglecting the Law of their fathers more or less and arousing the scribes to opposition. Thus, the scribes and not the priests were now the zealous defenders of the Law, and hence, were the true teachers of the people. At the time of Christ, this distinction was complete. The scribes formed a solid profession which held undisputed sway over the thought of the people. In the New Testament they are usually called ( γραμματεῖς , grammateı́s ), i.e. "students of the Scriptures," "scholars," corresponding to the Hebrew ( ספרים , ṣōpherı̄m ) = homines literati, those who make a profession of literary studies, which, in this case, of course, meant chiefly the Law. Besides this general designation, we also find the specific word ( νομικοί , nomikoı́ ), i.e. "students of the Law," "lawyers" (  Matthew 22:35;  Luke 7:30;  Luke 10:25;  Luke 11:45 ,  Luke 11:52;  Luke 14:3 ); and in so far as they not only know the Law but also teach it they are called (νομοδάσκαλοι , nomodidáskaloi ), "doctors of the Law" ( Luke 5:17;  Acts 5:34 ).

The extraordinary honors bestowed on these scholars on the part of the people are expressed in their honorary titles. Most common was the appellative "rabbi" = "my lord" ( Matthew 23:7 and otherwise). This word of polite address gradually became a title. The word "rabboni" (  Mark 10:51;  John 20:16 ) is an extensive form, and was employed by the disciples to give expression to their veneration of Christ. In the Greek New Testament "rabbi" is translated as (κύριε , kúrie ) ( Matthew 8:2 ,  Matthew 8:6 ,  Matthew 8:8 ,  Matthew 8:21 ,  Matthew 8:25 and otherwise), or ( διδάσκαλε , didáskale ) ( Matthew 8:19 and otherwise), in Luke by ( ἐπιστάτα , epistáta ) ( Luke 5:5;  Luke 8:24 ,  Luke 8:45;  Luke 9:33 ,  Luke 9:19;  Luke 17:13 ). Besides these, we find (πατήρ , patḗr ), "father," and (καθηγήτης , kathēgḗtēs ), "teacher" ( Matthew 23:9 f).

From their students the rabbis demanded honors even surpassing those bestowed on parents. "Let the honor of thy friend border on the honor of thy teacher, and the honor of thy teacher on the fear of God" ( 'Ābhōth 4 12). "The honor of thy teacher must surpass the honor bestowed on thy father; for son and father are both in duty bound to honor the teacher" ( Kerı̄thōth 6 9). Everywhere the rabbis demanded the position of first rank (  Matthew 23:6 f;   Mark 12:38 f;   Luke 11:43;  Luke 20:46 ). Their dress equaled that of the nobility. They wore (στολαί , stolaı́ ), "tunics," and these were the mark of the upper class.

Since the scribes were lawyers (see Lawyer ), much of their time was occupied in teaching and in judicial functions, and both these activities must be pursued gratuitously. Rabbi Zadok said: "Make the knowledge of the Law neither a crown in which to glory nor a spade with which to dig." Hillel used to say: "He who employs the crown (of the Law) for external purposes shall dwindle." That the judge should not receive presents or bribes was written in the Law ( Exodus 23:8;  Deuteronomy 16:19 ); hence, the Mishna said: "If anyone accept pay for rendering judgment, his judgment is null and void." The rabbis were therefore obliged to make their living by other means. Some undoubtedly had inherited wealth; others pursued a handicraft besides their study of the Law. Rabbi Gamaliel Ii emphatically advised the pursuit of a business in addition to the pursuit of the Law. It is well known that the apostle Paul kept up his handicraft even after he had become a preacher of the gospel ( Acts 18:3;  Acts 20:34;  1 Corinthians 4:12;  1 Corinthians 9:6;  2 Corinthians 11:7;  1 Thessalonians 2:9;  2 Thessalonians 3:8 ), and the same is reported of many rabbis. But in every instance the pursuit of the Law is represented as the worthier, and warning is given not to overestimate the value of the ordinary avocation. It was a saying of Hillel: "He that devotes himself to trade will not become wise." The principle of gratuity was probably carried out in practice only in connection with the judicial activity of the scribes; hardly in connection with their work as teachers. Even the Gospels, in spite of the admonition that the disciples should give without pay because they had received without pay ( Matthew 10:8 ), nevertheless also state that the workman is worthy of his hire ( Matthew 10:10;  Luke 10:7 ); and Paul ( 1 Corinthians 9:14 ) states it as his just due that he receive his livelihood from those to whom he preaches the gospel, even though he makes use of this right only in exceptional cases (1 Cor 9:3-18;  2 Corinthians 11:8 ,  2 Corinthians 11:9;  Galatians 6:6;  Philippians 4:10 ,  Philippians 4:18 ). Since this appears to have been the thought of the times, we are undoubtedly justified in assuming that the Jewish teachers of the Law also demanded pay for their services. Indeed, the admonitions above referred to, not to make instruction in the Law the object of self-interest, lead to the conclusion that gratuity was not the rule; and in Christ's philippics against the scribes and Pharisees He makes special mention of their greed ( Mark 12:40;  Luke 16:14;  Luke 20:47 ). Hence, even though they ostensibly gave instruction in the Law gratuitously, they must have practiced methods by which they indirectly secured their fees.

Naturally the place of chief influence for the scribes up to the year 70 Ad was Judea. But not only there were they to be found. Wherever the zeal for the law of the fathers was a perceptible force, they were indispensable; hence, we find them also in Galilee ( Luke 5:17 ) and in the Diaspora. In the Jewish epitaphs in Rome, dating from the latter days of the empire, grammateis are frequently mentioned; and the Babylonian scribes of the 5th and 6th centuries were the authors of the most monumental work of rabbinical Judaism - the Talmud.

Since the separation of the Pharisaic and the Sadducean tendencies in Judaism, the scribes generally belonged to the Pharisaic class; for this latter is none other than the party which recognized the interpretations or "traditions" which the scribes in the course of time had developed out of the body of the written Law and enforced upon the people as the binding rule of life. Since, however, "scribes" are merely "students of the Law," there must also have been scribes of the Sadducee type; for it is not to be imagined that this party, which recognized only the written Law as binding, should not have had some opposing students in the other class. Indeed, various passages of the New Testament which speak of the "scribes of the Pharisees" ( Mark 2:16;  Luke 5:30;  Acts 23:9 ) indicate that there were also "scribes of the Sadducees."

Under the reign and leadership of the scribes, it became the ambition of every Israelite to know more or less of the Law. The aim of education in family, school and synagogue was to make the entire people a people of the Law. Even the common laborer should know what was written in the Law; and not only know it, but also do it. His entire life should be governed according to the norm of the Law, and, on the whole, this purpose was realized in a high degree. Josephus avers: "Even though we be robbed of our riches and our cities and our other goods, the Law remains our possession forever. And no Jew can be so far removed from the and of his fathers nor will he fear a hostile commander to such a degree that he would not fear his Law more than his commander." So loyal were the majority of the Jews toward their Law that they would gladly endure the tortures of the rack and even death for it. This frame of mind was due almost wholly to the systematic and persistent instruction of the scribes.

The motive underlying this enthusiasm for the Law was the belief in divine retribution in the strictest judicial sense. The prophetic idea of a covenant which God had made with His select people was interpreted purely in the judicial sense. The covenant was a contract through which both parties were mutually bound. The people are bound to observe the divine Law literally and conscientiously; and, in return for this, God is in duty bound to render the promised reward in proportion to the services rendered. This applies to the people as a whole as well as to the individual. Services and reward must always stand in mutual relation to each other. He who renders great services may expect from the justice of God that he will receive great returns as his portion, while, on the other hand, every transgression also must be followed by its corresponding punishment.

The results corresponded to the motives. Just as the motives in the main were superficial, so the results were an exceedingly shallow view of religious and moral life. Religion was reduced to legal formalism. All religious and moral life was dragged down to the level of law, and this must necessarily lead to the following results: (1) The individual is governed by a norm, the application of which could have only evil results when applied in this realm. Law has the purpose of regulating the relations of men to each other according to certain standards. Its object is not the individual, but only the body of society. In the law, the individual must find the proper rule for his conduct toward society as an organism. This is a matter of obligation and of government on the part of society. But religion is not a matter of government; where it is found, it is a matter of freedom, of choice, and of conduct. (2) By reducing the practice of religion to the form of law, all acts are placed on a paragraph with each other. The motives are no longer taken into consideration, but only the deed itself. (3) From this it follows that the highest ethical attainment was the formal satisfaction of the Law, which naturally led to finical literalism. (4) Finally, moral life must, under such circumstances, lose its unity and be split up into manifold precepts and duties. Law always affords opportunity for casuistry, and it was the development of this in the guidance of the Jewish religious life through the "precepts of the elders" which called forth Christ's repeated denunciation of the work of the scribes.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [10]

Scribes, a learned body of men, otherwise denominated lawyers, whose influence with the Jewish nation was very great at the time when our Savior appeared.

There is every probability that they must have taken their rise contemporaneously with the commencement of the Mosaic polity. They were both a learned and a sacred caste. They had the care of the law; it was their duty to make transcripts of it; they also expounded its difficulties, and taught its doctrines, and so performed several functions which are now distributed among different professions, being keepers of the records, consulting lawyers, authorized expounders of holy writ, and, finally, schoolmasters—thus blending together in one character the several elements of intellectual, moral, social, and religious influence.

In the New Testament the scribes are found as a body of high state functionaries, who, in conjunction with the Pharisees and the high-priests, constituted the Sanhedrim, and united all the resources of their power and learning in order to entrap and destroy the Savior of mankind. The array of influence thus brought against 'the carpenter's son' was very great. That influence comprised, besides the supreme power of the state, the first legal functionaries, who watched Jesus closely in order to detect him in some breach of the law; the recognized expositors of duty, who lost no opportunity to take exception to his utterances, to blame his conduct, and misrepresent his morals; also the acutest intellects of the nation, who eagerly sought to entangle him in the web of their sophistries, or to confound him by their artful questions. Yet even all these malign influences failed. Jesus was triumphant in argument; he failed only when force interposed its revengeful arm.