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The scribes are frequently referred to as acting alone, or mentioned in association with
the chief priests, and they formed part of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court in Israel. (See
Acts 23: 1-10, where the word "council", verses 1 and 6, is the Greek sunedrion,
Sanhedrin.) They must, therefore, be seen as an authoritative body, exercising great
influence over the affairs of Israel from a religious standpoint. From this point of view
they would appear to be a separate section of the community from the Pharisees, although
they may only have been the more learned section of the Pharisaic party.
There being no reference to the Pharisaic party in the O.T., together with their
appearance without explanation on the opening pages of the N.T., leads to the obvious
conclusion that they originated in the Malachi-Matthew period, during which God gave
no inspired record. There is therefore a certain amount of obscurity about their origin.
The word Pharisee, Pharisaios, is evidently related to aphorizo, `separate', which is
twice used by the Apostle Paul of himself:
"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called . . . . . separated unto the Gospel of God."
"God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me" (Rom. 1: 1; Gal. 1: 15).
The connection between these words is even more significant when it is remembered
that the Apostle was "as touching the law, a Pharisee" (Phil. 3: 5). He was a separated
one, both before and after his conversion on the Damascus road.
The history of the People of Israel was likewise one of separation:
"I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. And ye shall
be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye
should be mine" (Lev. 20: 24, 26).
Israel were given special laws by the Lord, laws which governed their everyday lives,
and extended even to what they could or could not eat. They were God's inheritance, and
as such, were to be separate from other peoples. They were being prepared to fulfil their
place in God's purpose for the earth, to be a channel through which the knowledge of the
Lord might reach the ends of the world. Hence they were to be holy, separate, sanctified,
meet for his use.
But they failed. Consistent failure brought God's judgment upon them, until finally,
they went into the captivity of Babylon, and the separation which had been enjoined upon
them, became impossible in many respects. After the captivity, many of Israel returned
to their land, but it was a land which, from now on, was to be dominated by Gentile
Powers. It passed in succession from Babylon to Medo-Persia, to Greece, until, at the
time of the Lord's coming, it was dominated by Rome. No people can be so ruled
without losing some of their individuality, and Israel were no exception. Greek thought
and culture were a powerful influence which many could not resist, and a Hellenizing
spirit began to prevail. The idea of Israel as a separate nation, with separate laws, began