The scribes were a group of people whose primary job was studying, copying, and interpreting the Holy Scripture. They thrived from the time of Babylonian exile to the destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D. They were profoundly serious in copying the Bible without error. Deprived of them Old Testament could not have been preserved in the past when there were no durable writing materials and copying devices. Though some of them were priests like Ezra (Ezr 7:5-6), Levites and common people also became scribes. They were also experts in the judicial procedures and served the Sanhedrin. Jews respected them because of their knowledge in the Bible, dedicated service, and adherence to the Laws. They gained authority among the Jews and joined Pharisees in opposing Jesus for his liberal approach to man-made laws. Some of them were members of the Sanhedrin and wise scribes were also titled as Rabbi.
Besides carefully making copies of the Pentateuch, the scribes studied them, and provided guidance to the people for application in daily lives. Their applications and directions were not written but transmitted as oral laws from generations to generations. So, the preaching of the scribes was based on the written or oral laws and was not coming as their own. Their teachings were not self-assertive and so did not carry weight. The top-level scribe was known as Rabbi. The difference in Jesus’ teaching was that he taught with his own authority (Lk 4:32) rather than relying on the traditional teachings or directions of the Rabbis. Unlike the Rabbis or scribes, Jesus’ teaching carried weight also because he practiced what he taught.
SCRIBES VS SCHOLARS OF THE LAW
The scholar of the law does not mean like the regular lawyers of our time who are experts in civil or criminal law. The lawyer who questioned Jesus (Lk 10:25-37) was an expert in the laws of Moses, given in the first five books of the Bible called Torah or Pentateuch. Some identify him as a scribe. The scribe was an expert in the whole Old Testament who used to make copies of the Holy Scripture and served in the synagogues as reader and interpreter of the Bible. The difference between a scribe and scholar of the law is that the scholar of the law was a scribe who specialized in the Mosaic laws than in the other sections of the scripture. Such scholars of the Torah were in demand because the whole lives of the Israelites were governed by the written laws and their interpretations.
Though the Scribes opposed Jesus, they had contributed to the preservation of the Holy Scripture and helped people to learn the Bible. Let us also love the Bible, learn it, and help others to understand it. Unlike the Scribes of Jesus’ time, we need to put into practice what the Bible teaches.