Glossary of Terms

scribe / lawyer


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

lawyer. In N.T. times, a person who specialized in study and interpretation of the law of Moses, similar to a scribe. Matt. 22:35; Luke 7:30; 10:25; 11:45-52; 14:3.

scribe. In the O.T., occassionally one who made a living by writing documents, letters, and the like for others. Ps. 45:1; Jer. 36:32; Ezek. 9:2 (description).

Cheifly, in both O.T. and N.T., a professional student and interpreter of the law of Moses. The scribes were at first priests who made copies of the law. They came to be of importance during the exile, when they were probably responsible for the collecting and copying of the writings that resulted in many of the O.T. books. Because of their special knowledge they became the wise men and teachers of later O.T. times. 2 Chron. 34:13; Ezra 7:6, 10-11; Neh. 8:9; 13:13.

In N.T. times the scribes, no longer priests, were influential as teachers and lawyers. A number of them were members of the Jerusalem council. They seem to have been closely related to the Pharisees. Matt. 5:20; 7:29; 27:41; Mark 2:6; Luke 20:19; Acts 4:5.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

scribe, one capable of reading and writing, usually with competence in some area such as law, economics, or the like. The word derives from the Latin root for ‘write’ and translates Hebrew and Greek words with similar etymologies. In the ancient Near East the designation ‘scribe’ covered a variety of offices from that of the local scribe who copied documents and contracts for the people to government officials invested with serious responsibilities. Like the modern secretary, the scribe was generally concerned with written records, bureaucracy, and administration. Scribes were common to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, and other countries of the Near East. The book of Proverbs contains international wisdom traditions that were developed by the scribal class in many countries; literature from other countries shows that the scribal class engaged in a vigorous and complex educational effort to continue its functions.

In the ot the scribe first appears as a muster officer (Judg. 5:14). In the monarchical period (eleventh to tenth centuries b.c.) the scribe was a high cabinet officer concerned with finance, policy, and administration (2 Kings 22; Jer. 36:10). Jeremiah’s associate, Baruch, who recorded his words, was also a scribe (Jer. 36:32). In postexilic times (sixth century b.c.) Ezra the scribe was sent by the Persian king to instruct and guide the inhabitants of Judea. He was both an official of the Persian Empire and learned in the laws and customs of Israel (Ezra 7). In the early second century b.c. Ben Sira praises the scribe for his learning and also his involvement in affairs of government (Ecclus. 38:24-39:11). In the Maccabean period (167-63 b.c.) the learned Hasideans who sued Alcimus and Bacchides for peace (1 Macc. 7:12-13) and Eleazar, the prominent leader who was martyred (2 Macc. 6:18), are all called scribes, with the probable implication that they were learned in the Mosaic law. The term does not seem to denote a group with particular beliefs or a set political program, but rather learned men of whatever party or persuasion.

In the nt the scribes appear alone occasionally and along with other Jewish groups often. In almost all cases they are opponents of Jesus (but see Mark 12:28-34). In Mark the scribes most often appear in association with the high priests and elders (11:27) and the bulk of their appearances are in conjunction with the death of Jesus. Similarly, in the early chapters of Acts the scribes and elders are opponents of Christianity (4:5; 6:12). In Matthew and Luke the scribes are also paired with the Pharisees in questioning Jesus. Thus the scribes are seen both as part of the leadership and also as a learned class. Two passages (Mark 2:16; Acts 23:9) speak of scribes of the Pharisees, indicating that scribes could belong to other groups within Judaism.

Scribal traditions continued on into rabbinic Judaism, where the emphasis on study, knowledge of the law, and learned argument probably derived from the earlier learned class. Our sources tell us little about scribal training, but literacy and knowledge of the law demanded education, active teaching, the ability to interpret Scripture, and experience in judging individual cases. The scope of scribal authority at different periods and locations remains unclear, but they were probably influential in the Temple and at many levels of government.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
Top of page