There are many opponents to Christ’s claims listed in the gospels; some of whom seem to overlap in function and service. Can you please explain who the “teachers of the law” are? They are referenced roughly 59X in the four gospels; some statements say that, along with the Pharisees, they are the people TO whom Jesus will be delivered and BY whom He will be condemned. (Mt. 20:19) What, exactly, was their role after the 400 years of silence? Thank you for any help you can provide.


1 Answer 1


Most English versions translate the teachers of the law as "scribes". It is the Greek word "γραμματεύς" or "grammateus" (Strong's Gr. 1122) and is defined as a writer, scribe. Usage: "(a) in Jerusalem, a scribe, one learned in the Jewish Law, a religious teacher, (b) at Ephesus, the town-clerk, the secretary of the city, (c) a man of learning generally." Source: Biblehub

Further, Thayer's Greek Lexicon offers:

"2. in the Bible, a man learned in the Mosaic law and in the sacred writings, an interpreter, teacher:....γραμματεύς as the more general (a learned man) and Hebraistic; .....The γραμματεῖς explained the meaning of the sacred oracles, Matthew 2:4 .....added to the Mosaic law decisions of various kinds thought to elucidate its meaning and scope, and did this to the detriment of religion, Matthew 5:20; Matthew 15:1ff; 23:2ff; Mark 7:1ff; cf. Luke 11:46. Since the advice of men skilled in the law was needed in the examination of causes and the solution of difficult questions, they were enrolled in the Sanhedrin; and accordingly in the N. T. they are often mentioned in connection with the priests and elders of the people: Matthew 21:15; Matthew 26:3 R G; Mark 11:18, 27; Mark 14:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 19:47; Luke 20:1; Luke 22:2." Source: Ibid.

Excerpt from Benson's Commentary at Matt. 2:4 -

"The scribes of the people — It would seem, from Ezra 7:11-12; 1 Chronicles 24:6; 2 Chronicles 34:13, that they were of the tribe of Levi only, and so were either priests or Levites. As their office was to transcribe and prepare fair copies of the law of Moses, and other parts of the Old Testament, (a very necessary work before printing was invented,) they became, of course, well acquainted with the Scriptures, and were ordinarily employed in explaining them to the people: whence the chief of them were called doctors of the law. They, or at least some of them, together with the chief priests and elders, constituted the sanhedrim, or great council of the nation." Source: Biblehub

The Lord's first condemnation of them comes in Matt. 5:20, where Ellicott's Commentary provides some more definition :

"Here, for the first time, the scribes are mentioned in our Lord’s teaching. The frequent combination of the two words (thirteen times in the first three Gospels) implies that for the most part they were of the school of the Pharisees, just as the “chief priests” were, for the most part, of that of the Sadducees. Where “scribes and chief priests” are united, it is with a different import, as the two chief divisions of the Sanhedrim, or Great Council. The New Testament use of the word differs from the Old. There the scribe is simply the man who writes, the secretary or registrar of the king’s edicts and official documents (2Samuel 8:17; 2Samuel 20:25; 2Kings 18:18). After the return of Babylon, as in the case of Ezra (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:12), it was used first of the transcribers and editors of the sacred books, and then, by a natural transition, of their interpreters; and this is the dominant sense of the word in the New Testament. As interpreters they were much occupied with the traditional comments of previous teachers, and these as descending more into particulars, and so affording a better basis for a casuistic system, had come to usurp the rightful place of the Law. As far as the three Gospels are concerned this is the first direct protest of our Lord against their teaching. St. John’s record, however, shows that the conflict had begun already in Jerusalem (John 5:10), and that the Sabbath question was prominent in it." Source: Biblehub

As the Lord then engaged in explaining the Law more perfectly ("But, I say unto you..." Matt. 5:22, 26, 28, ff), He was contrasting the real meaning of YHVH's law to the people and caused them to see the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.

As the scribes and Pharisees believed themselves to be experts in the Law, observing every ritual outward performance, and making very public display of their teaching and learning, many of them were very upset that some upstart carpenter from Galilee was questioning and contradicting their doctrinal traditions. Their role had been as leaders of the people, and Christ was turning the people away from them. They were losing their influence and control over the people. Eventually, they plotted to kill Him (John 5:18, 7:1).

  • I provided an answer in the thread titled "What position in society did the teachers of the law hold?" @Gina, I disagree with your position that the term refers to the Scribes. Strong's defines the term as meaning basically the same thing as Rabbi. It was used to describe Rabbi Gamaliel in Acts 5:34–39. As Jesus was called Rabbi by his disciples in the Gospel of John and Teacher in the Gospel of Luke. As he often discoursed with other teachers about the Jewish Law on various "halakhic" topics, I think Jesus himself can be thought of as a Teacher of the Law. See Strong's Lexicon G3551. Aug 16, 2022 at 3:20

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