(Greek grammateis, nomodidaschaloi, teachers of the law).
In the New-Testament period the scribes were the professional interpreters of the Law in the Jewish synagogues. The origin of the profession dates from the return of the Captivity, and its subsequent growth and importance resulted naturally from the formal and legalistic trend of Jewish piety during the post-Exilic period. The Law was revered as the precise expression of God's will, and by its multifarious prescriptions the daily life of every pious Jew was regulated in all its minute details. Love of the Law was the essence of piety, and the just or righteous were they who walked "in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame" (Luke, I, 6). But as these commandments and justifications were exceedingly numerous, complicated, and often obscure, the needs of popular guidance called into existence a class of men whose special occupation was to study and expound the Law.
The earliest mention of the title occurs in I Esdras, vii, 6, where Esdras is described as a "ready scribe in the law of Moses". What this meant is set forth in verse 10: "For Esdras had prepared his heart to teach in Israel the commandments and judgment". This description doubtless applies to the subsequent scribes of that period. They were pious men who through love of the Divine law occupied themselves in collecting, editing, and studying the sacred literature of the Hebrews and in explaining it to the people. The earlier scribes, like Esdras himself, belonged to the class of priests and Levites (I Esdr., vii, 12; II Esdr., viii, 7, 13; II Par., xxxiv, 13) who were originally the official interpreters of the Law, but unlike other priestly duties, the study and exposition of Holy Writ could be engaged in by pious...