We read in the Bible that scribes were the official scholars of the oral and written law and the instructors and interpreters of it (Mark 1:22). They preserved the Scriptures by copying it carefully and meticulously. In the old testament, Ezra was a godly “skilled scribe in the Law of Moses” (ch. 7:6,11). In the new testament, most Scribes were from the sect of the Pharisees (Matthew 12:38).
The scribes kept the letter of the Law not its spirit
Although they were honored by the people for their education, their scholarly skills, and outer keeping of the law, they were in constant controversy with Jesus (Matt. 22:34–46; 23:13, 14).
The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees had an external adherence to the letter of the law but not its spirit. Jesus exposed the scribes’ faulty teachings in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:21–48). And He invited the people to cooperate with God to adopt the weightier matters of the law which are truth and mercy (Matthew 23:23).
These religious leaders taught that a man is to be judged by the majority of his deeds; that is, if his “good” deeds are more than his evil deeds, God will count him righteous (Mishnah Aboth 3. 16, Soncino ed. of the Talmud, pp. 38, 39). And to recompense for the evil deeds, they set a system of works-righteousness whereby a person can earn enough credit to outweigh the evil deeds.
The scribes encouraged “burdens grievous to be borne” but would not even “touch” one of the burdens with their own fingers (Luke 11:46). They taught that their system of righteousness by works is worthy of God’s favor. But the Scriptures teach that all man’s best works are as filthy rages in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) and less than worthless (Romans 9:31–33).
These teachers occupied their time with the traditions of their predecessors, which they considered equal or even higher than the Word of God, thus making void His law (Mark 7:9, 13). Sadly, they explained the Scriptures in such a manner that would raise doubt in the minds of the hearers rather than expel darkness.
Jesus taught a nobler way
Jesus taught that the “righteousness” of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven must exceed that of the scribes, who appeared outwardly as having superior piety but inwardly they were void of God’s spirit and love (Matthew 5:20). The scribes made allowance for the weaknesses of human nature, thus lessening the gravity of sin. They made it easy to violate God’s law, and encouraged men to do so (Matthew 23:15).
In addition, they felt superior (John 7:49) because of their knowledge and external righteous works. But Jesus repeatedly exposed their hypocrisy (Matthew 9:12) and condemned their pride (Matthew 23). Finally, they rejected His pleadings and instead of repenting, they plotted with the Pharisees to kill Him (Matthew 26:57; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:1–2). Thus, the teachers of the law, who had the truth, became guilty of the blood of the Son of God (Acts 2:23).
In His service,