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by Wayne Blank
The earliest scribes served as official secretaries, with the responsibility of writing and issuing royal decrees (e.g. 2 Samuel 8:17, 20:25; 1 Chronicles 18:16, 24:6; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 12:9-11; 18:18-37). Eventually, the scribes performed other authoritative duties of the nation. There was also a secondary level of scribes, most of whom were Levites, who served as writers e.g. Baruch, who was a scribe for Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 36:4,32).
After the return from the Babylonian Captivity (see Why Babylon?), when the people of Judah had lost their independence and had no king of their own to serve, the scribes concentrated their activities on the law, becoming "experts of the law," or "lawyers." (Ezra 7:6,10-12; Nehemiah 8:1,4,9,13).
By the time of the New Testament, the scribes became closely associated with the Pharisees, who added greatly to the writings of the original God-given Law with their own opinions and traditions. It was their view of the Law that brought them into dispute with Jesus Christ:
"And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?" And He said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' You leave the Commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." And He said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the Commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!" (Mark 7:5-9 RSV)
After their participation in the killing of The Lord (see The Fateful Night), they were also generally hostile to the early church (Acts 4:5-7, 6:12), including the martyrdom of Stephen, although some, such as Gamaliel, seemed to view Christians in a better light (Acts 5:33-39).
Fact Finder: What more did Jesus Christ have to say about the "experts of the law" who opposed Him?