I am a scribe but not a Pharisee – that is, I am a Christian scribe.
In Jesus’ day, the scribes and Pharisees were opposed to His teaching.
Jesus accused them of hypocrisy: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you close the kingdom of heaven against mankind: for you neither go in yourselves, neither do you allow those entering to have entered’ Mat 23:13.
He also exposed the inadequacy of the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees and taught that ‘except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ Mat 5:20.
Opposing such scribal teaching, Jesus asserted the truthfulness and reliability of His own teaching in His repeated refrain: ‘truly, I say to you’, used 77 times in the four Gospels. His self-confident authority is seen repeatedly throughout the four Gospels. This astonished His audience at the end of His Sermon on the Mount: ‘And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine, because He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes’ Mat 7:28-29.
The scribes were not mere copyists, copying manuscripts. They were also teachers Mat 13:52, to which Mat 2:4 and Mat 7:29 and other texts agree.
So how did the scribes teach? They appealed to ancient authorities and drew their own credibility and authority from their ability to do so. One may hear similar rabbinical preaching to the present hour on the internet. The scribes were scholars who interpreted Jewish law by their familiarity with ancient authorities.
Jesus cut through all this because their biblical exegesis was wrong. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly contradicted the scribes and their appeal to these ancient authorities upon which they relied.
The Beatitudes, such as ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ Mat 5:3, introduced Christ’s radical correction of the rabbinical misinterpretation of God’s Law. He illustrated His sermon with examples of the rabbinical misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments. ‘You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment’ Mat 5:21-22. Jesus carried on with the next commandment: ‘You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart’ Mat 5:27-28.
He continued His corrections: ‘Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not …: but I say unto you …’ Mat 5:33-34 about swearing, then Mat 5:38-39 about ‘an eye for an eye’, then Mat 5:43-44 about loving your enemies, teaching us the more perfect Christian way Mat 5:48. The Sermon on the Mount continues with the Christian method of giving charity, praying, fasting, and the Christian attitude to money, to the future, setting priorities, and putting first things first – ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you’ Mat 6:33.
So the people were surprised at Jesus’ teaching. The scribes taught by quoting ancient authorities but Jesus went directly to the Scripture and exegeted it authoritatively and directly with a freshness of meaning and application that left them confounded Mat 22:41-46.
Jesus did not rely upon the academia of the scribes but He repeatedly corrected their mistakes and the ancient authorities upon which the scribes relied, using the repeated refrains ‘but I say unto you…’ and ‘verily, verily, I say unto you’.
However, Jesus did not denigrate academia. Instead, He corrected poor academia. What is more, He continues to give us Christian scribes. ‘Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them you shall scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city’ Mat 23:34.
Jesus is effectively saying that He will replace these misleading scribes with proper scribes – Christian scribes. Tertius was a Christian scribe Rom 16:22. Have you ever met one?
Those who know me socially know that I am constantly writing and studying. When people ask me, Why? I reply: “I am a scribe, but not a Pharisee.” Sadly, we live in sucha biblically illiterate day that this quip needs to be explained to people – so now you have it! and I can refer folks to this blogpost.
14 Jan 2019: I telephoned another Christian scribe today – the Rev. Dr John M. Brentnall. He knew my brother Andrew, who would have been 67 years old today, but he went to glory last year. Brentnall followed him to heaven on 30 Nov 2021.
17 Oct 2019: Christian scribes and note-taking.