One of the things that set Jesus apart from the beginning of his Ministry was the authority with which he taught:
They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes. (Mar 1:22 WEB)
This verse sets up a simple comparison between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes. We can learn a lot about the scribes by looking at other sections of Scripture. The first citation concerning the nature of the scribes is in the Old Testament and it is a negative one:
“How do you say, “We are wise, and Yahweh’s law is with us?” But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has worked falsely. (Jer 8:8 WEB)
Now of course we know that to base our education of something in the Scriptures on just one verse is foolish, nevertheless, this opening bit of information about the scribes does not bode well for their reputation.
In looking through the Gospels we note that there are numerous times when the Pharisees and the scribes acted in concert to challenge and question Jesus. Examples are:
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem, saying, “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered them, “Why do you also disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition? (Mat 15:1-3 WEB)
But there were some of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak blasphemies like that? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you reason these things in your hearts? (Mar 2:6-8 WEB)
There are also a number of references in the Gospels where it is noted that the scribes operated with others like the priests and elders, who like the Pharisees were also in opposition to Jesus. For example:
From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. (Mat 16:21 WEB)
But it is from Jesus’ own words that we get some direct insight into the nature of the scribes, and how they handled the Scriptures. Look at this scathing indictment of the scribes in Jesus’ words:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves. “Woe to you, you blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold? ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obligated?’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? He therefore who swears by the altar, swears by it, and by everything on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it, and by him who has been living in it. He who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God, and by him who sits on it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and unrighteousness. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the platter, that its outside may become clean also. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and decorate the tombs of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you testify to yourselves that you are children of those who killed the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you offspring of vipers, how will you escape the judgment of Gehenna? Therefore behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me from now on, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mat 23:15-39 WEB)
From this, we see that the way that these scribes taught was not to deliver the people but to line their own pockets with gold. Look at the way the scribes prioritized gold as of extreme importance. The same thing applies to the gifts on the altar; the scribes valued the income to the temple as opposed to valuing the sacrifice to God made by the people. Look at the way they taught made themselves look good and everyone else sinners. They were more interested in form and substance; they polished the gold, they dotted their “i”s and crossed their “t”s. But inside they were rotten. Jesus says they were full of extortion and excess. They were the ones behind the killing of the prophets and the righteous in Israel. The scribes were hypocrites, “whited sepulchers” (whited tombs filled with rotting bones). For their lack of love and devotion to selfishness and the way they led others to do the same, their end is destruction.
In the comparison that we see between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes, it’s not that the scribes don’t teach with authority, but that the authority they exercised oppressed the people and led others to do the same, whereas the authority that Jesus exercised delivered people. Jesus specifically says that it is things like justice, and mercy, and faith that are missing. At the same the scribes were concerned with getting all the legal things right; the right tithe, the cleaning of the plate, and the platter. But those things are not more significant than justice, mercy, and faith.
The kind of authority that Jesus taught with as talked about in verse 22 is illustrated in verses 23 through 28:
Immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, saying, “Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching? For with authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” The report of him went out immediately everywhere into all the region of Galilee and its surrounding area. (Mar 1:23-28 WEB)
These verses talk about the authority with which Jesus taught. He had the authority to command the unclean spirits and they obeyed him. He delivered people spiritually. He healed them. And because of the tremendous power and authority with which he taught his fame grew.
Jesus is our model. It’s not about wearing the right clothes, going to the right services, paying the proper tithe, although looking nice, fellowshipping with others, and giving to the Lord are important. Important things not in the ministry of the scribes and Pharisees are loving others, leading people to the Kingdom of God, and acting with justice and mercy in delivering people. Here Jesus led the way. And just as important is teaching the truth as revealed by Jesus and the Apostles through the spirit, powerful authoritative teaching that delivers people from sin, sickness, and devilish influences as we see in the verses above.
© copyright 2010-2020 Mark W Smith. Edited 2020. All rights reserved.