Matthew 23:1-2 (Who Are the Scribes?)

Recall that it is Tuesday of Passion week and Jesus is in the temple where the religious leaders have made multiple attempts to ensnare Him in something He might say by posing various questions (Mat 21:23, 22:15,23,34).  From envy (Mat 27:18) they were seeking some reason to deliver Him up to the Roman authorities to be executed (Luk 20:20) since they themselves were not permitted to put anyone to death (Joh 18:31).  How successful were they to catch Him in His words?  See Mat 22:46.  What does this remind us about the inevitable outcome for all who are deceived by their pride to suppose that in their present circumstances they are smarter than God and can somehow prevail against His righteousness?  See Rom 3:19 and cf. Job 9:2-3, 23:3-4, 31:35, 38:1-3, 40:1-5, 42:1-6.  To whom does Matthew say Jesus now addresses Himself?  See Mat 23:1.  About whom does He address them?  See Mat 23:2.

Who were the scribes, what did they do, by what other names are they referred to in Scripture, and what would we call them today?  Note: from the Greek word grammateis  used to describe them we get our word “grammar”, which reflects their skill in matters related to writing and education; see Acts 19:35 where the term is used to refer to the town clerk who kept the records of the city.  Notice in Luk 22:66 that the Sanhedrin or “Council of elders of the people” was composed of “both chief priests and scribes”.  See also Mat 17:10 and observe that the scribes were teachers of the common people.  In Luk 5:17,21 they are referred to as “teachers of the law”, which the KJV translates as “doctors of law”.  Compare also Mat 22:35 with Mar 12:28,32 and Mat 23:4,13 with Luk 11:45,46,52-53 to see that they were also referred to as “lawyers”.  Today we would refer to them as theologians, and those who are in training as seminarians; those who have completed their training are most often called pastors, preachers, or religious teachers—though not all pastors, preachers and teachers are necessarily scribes.  In honor of their heavenly aspirations or extensive education they may also have the title “reverend”, or even “doctor”.  Although great learning is typically revered by the world, should it necessarily be so among God’s people, even when that learning is religious in nature?  Cf. 1Ti 1:5-7, 2Ti 3:7, Ecc 12:12.  Although often referred to negatively in Scripture, were the scribes necessarily all bad?  See Mat 13:52, 23:34, Mar 12:32-33, Luke 20:39, Act 5:34.  How is that like today?  Who does Scripture describe as a most righteous scribe, who became an archetype for all scribes after him to emulate?  See Ezr 7:6,9-12,14, Neh 8:1-3,7-8,13,18.

What close relationship does Scripture indicate between the scribes and the Pharisees?  See Mat 5:20, 12:38, 15:1, 23:2,13-15, Luk 5:21, 6:7, Joh 8:3.  Were all Pharisees scribes, or all scribes Pharisees?  Notice that whereas 20 verses in the New Testament refer to the scribes and Pharisees together, 43 verses mention the scribes apart from the Pharisees, and 73 verses mention the Pharisees apart from the scribes.  In addition, no verses mention the scribes and Sadducees together, so it is clear that while a distinct class, the scribes as a whole were more closely allied with the Pharisees than with the Sadducees.  See also Mar 2:16, Luk 5:30, and Act 23:9 that speak of the “scribes of the Pharisees”, indicating again that the scribes were a separate class and implying that there were scribes of other religious sects as well.  Thus, it is likely there were also scribes of the Sadducees, though, like the Sadducees themselves, they were less numerous than their Pharisee counterparts.

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  • What is the relationship between Jesus’ sacrifice and our redemption, forgiveness and receiving an inheritance per the terms of the covenant / will that was effected by His death?
  • From what, and to what, are we saved? Is it Jesus’ death alone that saves us? What part does His resurrection have in our salvation?
  • Does the justice of God demand the satisfaction of blood before He will forgive, similar to what pagans throughout history have believed?
  • What was the purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices?
  • Does blood alone atone for sin?
  • How does Christ’s death render powerless the devil?
  • To whom was Christ’s life given as a ransom? From what are we ransomed?
  • Why did Jesus not only die, but suffer and die? If all that was necessary was His shed blood, why didn’t God sovereignly ordain a more merciful death for His own dear Son?
  • What is the relationship between a will or testament, and a covenant? What was willed to Jesus as an inheritance from His Father, and what was willed to us through the new testament in His blood?


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