The Berean Expositor
Volume 45 - Page 29 of 251
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time of restoration and reformation when the text of the Hebrew Bible began to be set in
order. (See Companion Bible Appendix 30.)
The revision of the text having been completed, a work which lasted over a hundred
years, the Sopherim, scribes proper, ceased to exist as such and were succeeded by the
"teachers of the Law", nomikoi and nomodidaskaloi, the scribes of the New Testament.
"Scribe", grammateus, derives from the Greek gramma, "letter", and the duties of a
New Testament scribe included the reading, copying, explaining and protecting of the
Law. They performed their functions in schools, synagogues, the outer courts of the
Temple (Luke 2: 46), and even in the streets.
Their method of teaching was in sharp contrast to that of the Lord Himself
(Matt. 7: 28, 29):
"And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished
at his doctrine: For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
Dean Farrar writes:
"Secondhandness, the slavish dependence on precedent and authority, is the most
remarkable characteristic of Rabbinical teaching. It very rarely rises above the level of a
commentary, at once timid and fantastic."
Rabbi Eliezer actually made it his boast that he had originated nothing. The style of
the scribes was, "Rabbi A says on the authority of Rabbi B", whereas the manner of
Christ's teaching was, "I say unto you"; no wonder the common people were astonished
at his doctrine.
The scribes prided themselves on their accuracy to the letter of the Law (Acts 22: 3,
J. N. Darby translation):
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of
Gamaliel, educated according to the exactness of the law of our fathers."
Unfortunately, in their slavishness to the letter of the Law, they missed the spirit. (See
Rom. 2: 17-29).
The scribes and the Pharisees loved to be called "Rabbi", but the Lord bade His
disciples not to accept the title (Matt. 23: 1-8). Both John the Baptist and the Lord
Himself were addressed with the title "Rabbi", and it was as Rabbis that they taught
prayers to their disciples (Luke 11: 1). The Lord is never actually called a scribe in the
N.T., yet it was testified of him, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned",
and, "Never man spake like this man". Christ was undoubtedly the greatest Rabbi that
ever lived.
It must not be imagined, however, that Rabbinic teaching was wholly devoid of moral
significance and wisdom. There is the example of Gamaliel in Acts 5: 33-40, a man
much honoured by the people, whose wise counsel saved the necks of the Apostles. He is