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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The World into Which Jesus Came

Don Stewart :: Who Were the Scribes?

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Who Were the Scribes? (The Teachers of the Law)

The World into Which Jesus Came – Question 9

The Greek word grammateus translated “scribe,” in some older English translations, means “writer.” The scribes were the teacher of the Law; the ones who drew up legal documents. They also copied the Old Testament Scripture. The scribes also devoted themselves to the study of the law, and the determination of its applications on daily life. These men also studied the Scripture with respect to doctrinal and historical matters. Noted scribes, or teachers of the Law, had their own disciples. Many of them were members of the Jewish council.

From the New Testament we learn the following about these teachers of the Law and their interaction with Jesus.

1. Some of Them Believed in Jesus

Some of the teachers of the Law, or scribes, responded favorably toward Jesus and His message. Mark records this exchange between Jesus and one of them:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other.’” (Mark 12:28-32 NRSV)

Here we find one of these teachers of the Law in agreement with Jesus. This shows that not all of them were unresponsive to the message of Christ.

2. One Offered to Follow Jesus

On another occasion, a teacher of the law came to Jesus and offered to follow Him as a disciple. The Bible says,

Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you no matter where you go!” (Matthew 8:19 NLT)

Consequently, there was not total rejection of Jesus by these teachers of the Law. Indeed, some actually became His disciples.

3. Most of Them Opposed Jesus

While there were some of the teachers of the Law who believed in Jesus the New Testament makes it clear that most of them were opposed to Him. In fact, thee scribes were in a large part responsible for Jesus’ death. We read the following in Matthew:

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:21 NRSV)

They were part of the group who wanted to kill Jesus.

4. They Were Strongly Denounced by Jesus

These teachers of religious law, along with the Pharisees, were strongly denounced by Jesus. He said the following about them. Matthew records Jesus saying some very harsh things about them and their behavior:

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don't follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. (Matthew 23:2-3 NLT)

These religious leaders would say one thing, yet, they would do something else. Their hypocrisy was evident to everyone.

5. They Continued the Persecution of Jesus’ Disciples

These religious teachers were also associated with the later persecutions of Peter and John. We read about this in the Book of Acts:

The next day the Jewish rulers, leaders, and scribes met in Jerusalem. (Acts 4:5 God’s Word)

The persecution of Jesus and His message did not stop with His death. Those who followed Him were also persecuted. Among the persecutors were these scribes or teachers of the religious law. They wanted to stop this movement which Jesus started.

6. They Were Involved in the Martyrdom of Stephen

These scholars of the law were involved in the martyrdom of the righteous man Stephen. In the Book of Acts, we read about his death. It says,

And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. (Acts 6:12 NKJV)

Again, they are concerned with stopping the movement that began with Jesus. Yet, they could not. Indeed, nothing could stop it.

Therefore, when we look at the overall picture of these religious rulers we find that, for the most part, they were not receptive toward Jesus or to His message. In fact, they were among His greatest enemies.

Summary – Question 9
Who Were the Scribes? (The Teachers of the Law)

The scribes were scholars of the Old Testament Law. They were not mere copyists of the Scripture as the name sometimes implies. Indeed, these men figured prominently in the ministry of Jesus. The New Testament has the following to say about them.

To begin with, they were not all unbelievers of Jesus. Indeed the Scripture records that certain of them actually became Jesus’ followers. However, this was certainly the minority. Indeed, while there was a few of them who believed in Jesus for the most part they persecuted Him.

In fact, we find that they were responsible for bringing Him to trial. When Jesus predicted His upcoming death, He specifically mentioned these teachers of the Law as instigators. The Scriptures then tell us that they were indeed involved in the plot to kill Him.

Their ministry against Jesus did not stop when He completed His earthly ministry. The Book of Acts records the fact that the persecution of Christians continued after the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

Indeed, we find the scribes persecuting Peter and John as well as being directly involved in the death of Stephen. Their attempt to stop the ministry of Jesus failed as have all attempts.

In sum, the New Testament picture of the scribes, or teachers of religious law, is not that of a group who was seeking the truth of God. Otherwise they would have believed in Jesus.

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