anciently held various important offices in the public affairs of the nation. The Hebrew word so rendered (sopher) is first used to designate the holder of some military office (Jg 5:14; A.V., "pen of the writer;" R.V., "the marshal's staff;" marg., "the staff of the scribe"). The scribes acted as secretaries of state, whose business it was to prepare and issue decrees in the name of the king (2Sa 8:17; 20:25; 1Ch 18:16; 24:6; 1Ki 4:3; 2Ki 12:9-11; 18:18-37, etc.). They discharged various other important public duties as men of high authority and influence in the affairs of state.
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" (Jer 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 (Ezr 7:6,10-12; Ne 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 (Mt 23), thereby obscuring it and rendering it of none effect. The titles "scribes" and "lawyers" (q.v.) are in the Gospels interchangeable (Mt 22:35; Mr 12:28; Lu 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 (Ac 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" (Ac 5:34-39; comp. Ac 23:9).
Copheerim, from caaphar to "write," "order," and "count." (See LAWYER.) The function was military in Jg 5:14 (See SCEPTRE), also in Jer 52:25; Isa 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 (2Sa 8:17; 20:25; 1Ki 4:3) ranks with the high priest and the captain of the host (compare 2Ki 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". Jer 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" (Ezr 7:6,10,12), "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 (Ne 8:8-13). Scribe maybe meant in Ec 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 (Eph 4:11) from the Spirit of Jesus Christ the one Shepherd (Eze 37:24; 1Pe 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 (1Ch 2:55). Ezra with the scribes probably compiled under the Holy Spirit, from authoritative histories, Chronicles (1Ch 29:29; 2Ch 9:29; 13:22, "the commentary of the prophet Iddo": Midrash). Except Zadok, no scribe but Ezra is named (Ne 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" (Pirke Aboth ("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" (Ne 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 (Mt 15:1-6; 23:16-23). The scribes first reported the decisions of previous rabbis, the halachoth, the "current precepts". A "new code" (the Mishna, "repetition or second body of jurisprudence") grew out of them. Rabbinical sayings, Jewish fables (Tit 1:14), and finally the Gemara ("completeness") filled up the scheme; and the Mishna and Gemara together formed the Talmud ("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 (Joh 5:39). The process was called hagada ("opinion"). The Kabala ("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 Mt 11:8; Lu 7:24-25, may allude. The Herodians perhaps may be connected with these. Shammai headed a school of greater scrupulosity than Hillel's (Mr 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?" (Jas 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 Joh 5:39; Ro 2:13,17-24). 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" (Mt 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" (Mt 5:21-27,33); "He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Mt 7:29).
They taught only their disciples; "He had compassion on the multitudes" (Mt 9:36). They taught only in their schools; He through "all the cities and villages" (Mt 4:23; 9:35). As Hillel lived to the age of 120 he may have been among the doctors whom Jesus questioned (Lu 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 Lu 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 Pirke Aboth ("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 (Joh 12:42; 19:38; Lu 23:50-51). The council which condemned Him was probably a packed meeting, hastily and irregularly convened.
Translated Isa 53:8, "He was taken away by oppression and by a judicial sentence," i.e. by an oppressive sentence; Ac 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 Mt 20:16; 22:14; Joh 15:16). The master sat on a high chair, the eider disciples on a lower bench, the youngest lowest, "at his feet" (Lu 10:39; Ac 22:3; De 33:3; 2Ki 4:38); often in a chamber of the temple (Lu 2:46), the pupil submitting cases and asking questions, e.g. Lu 10:25; Mt 22:36. The interpreter or crier proclaimed, loud enough for all to hear, what the rabbi whispered "in the ear" (Mt 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 colleague
Sometimes a phrase gives the key to a great history. Such is the case here. 'The scribes of the Pharisees' (Mr 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 (Mt 12:38; Lu 6:7; Mr 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 Ac 5; Nicodemus in Joh 3; 7). He sat in 'Moses' seat' (Mt 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,
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. 2Sa 8:17; 2Ch 24:11; Es 3:12; Isa 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. Ezr 7:6,11; Ne 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. Mt 7:29; 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. Ac 23:9.
(Heb.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,
may possibly connect itself with some early use of the title, and appears to point to military functions of some kind.
The men are mentioned as filling the office of scribe under David and Solomon.
We may think of them as the king's secretaries, writing his letters, drawing up his decrees, managing his finances. Comp
In Hezekiah's time transcribed old records, and became a class of students and interpreters of the law, boasting of their wisdom.
After the captivity the office became more prominent, as the exiles would be anxious 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,
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.
The casuistry became at once subtle and prurient, evading the plainest duties, tampering with conscience.
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."
While they confined their teachings to the class of scholars, he "had compassion on the multitudes."
While they were to be found only in the council or in their schools, he journeyed through the cities and villages.
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.
In our Lord's time there were two chief parties:
1. 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.
2. 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,
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,
the reverential kiss offered by the scholars to their master or by rabbis to each other the greeting of Abba, father
the long robes with the broad blue fringe,
--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
Mt 23:6; Lu 14:7
SCRIBES. 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," Jg 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, 2Sa 8:17, in the reign of Hezekiah, Shebna, 2Ki 18:18, and in the reign of Josiah, Shaphan, 2Ki 22:3, are called scribes, and are ranked with the chief officers of the kingdom; and Elishama the scribe, Jer 36:12, in the reign of Jehoiakim, is mentioned among the princes. We read also of the "principal scribe of the host," or army, Jer 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," Ezr 7:6,10; 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, Mt 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, Mt 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, Mt 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 Mt 22:35, is called a lawyer, is, in Mr 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," Ac 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," Mt 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," Mt 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, Mt 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, 1Co 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."