648. The Scribes

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Matthew 7:2929For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:29). He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Anciently the scribes were merely officers whose duties included writing of various kinds; but, on the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity, the sopherim, as the scribes were called, were organized by Ezra into a distinct body, and they became interpreters of God’s law as well as copyists. Among other duties, they copied the Pentateuch, the Phylacteries, (see note on Matt. 23:55But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, (Matthew 23:5), #697) and the Mezuzoth. See note on Deuteronomy 6:99And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. (Deuteronomy 6:9) (#190). So great was their care in copying that they counted and compared all the letters, to be sure that none were left out that belonged to the text, or none admitted improperly. On stated occasions they read the law in the synagogues. They also lectured to their disciples, and commented on the law.
The scribes were not only copyists of the law, but they were also the keepers of the oral traditionary comments and additions to the law. Gradually accumulating with the progress of time these were numerous, and were regarded by many as of equal value with the law itself. To this Jesus alludes in Mark 7:5-135Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. (Mark 7:5‑13). Paul represents himself as having been, before his conversion, “exceedingly zealous of the traditions” of his fathers. Galatians 1:1414And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:14). The scribes also adopted forced interpretations of the law, endeavoring to find a special meaning in every word, syllable, and letter. Thus the Saviour charges them: “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Luke 11:5252Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. (Luke 11:52).
At the time of Christ the people were increasingly dependent on the scribes for a knowledge of their Scriptures. The language of the Jews was passing into the Aramaic dialect, and the mass of the people, being unable to understand their own sacred books, were obliged to accept the interpretation which the scribes put upon them. Hence their astonishment, as indicated in the text, at the peculiar style of teaching adopted by Jesus, and especially illustrated in his Sermon on the Mount. The scribes repeated traditions; Jesus spake with authority: “I say unto you.” They had but little sympathy with the masses; he went about mingling with the people, and explaining to them in a simple practical way the duties of religion.