Scribes: anciently held various important offices in the public affairs
of the nation. The Hebrew word so rendered (sopher) is first
used to designate the holder of some military office (Judg.
5:14; A.V., "pen of the writer;" R.V., "the marshal's staff;"
marg., "the staff of the scribe"). The scribes acted as
secretaries of state, whose business it was to prepare and issue
decrees in the name of the king (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25; 1 Chr.
18:16; 24:6; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 12:9-11; 18:18-37, etc.). They
discharged various other important public duties as men of high
authority and influence in the affairs of state.
There was also a subordinate class of scribes, most of whom
were Levites. They were engaged in various ways as writers.
Such, for example, was Baruch, who "wrote from the mouth of
Jeremiah all the words of the Lord" (Jer. 36:4, 32).
In later times, after the Captivity, when the nation lost its
independence, the scribes turned their attention to the law,
gaining for themselves distinction by their intimate
acquaintance with its contents. On them devolved the duty of
multiplying copies of the law and of teaching it to others (Ezra
7:6, 10-12; Neh. 8:1, 4, 9, 13). It is evident that in New
Testament times the scribes belonged to the sect of the
Pharisees, who supplemented the ancient written law by their
traditions (Matt. 23), thereby obscuring it and rendering it of
none effect. The titles "scribes" and "lawyers" (q.v.) are in
the Gospels interchangeable (Matt. 22:35; Mark 12:28; Luke
20:39, etc.). They were in the time of our Lord the public
teachers of the people, and frequently came into collision with
him. They afterwards showed themselves greatly hostile to the
apostles (Acts 4:5; 6:12).
Some of the scribes, however, were men of a different spirit,
and showed themselves friendly to the gospel and its preachers.
Thus Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin, when the apostles were
before them charged with "teaching in this name," to "refrain
from these men and let them alone" (Acts 5:34-39; compare 23:9).