New Testament Religious Groups

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Religious Groups in First Century
Disciples of John the Baptist
Elders   -   Essenes   -   Herodians
High Priest   -   Pharisees   -   Priests
Sadducees  -  Sanhedrin  -  Scribes  -  Zealots

New Testament scribes, the organization of which began at the time of Ezra the prophet, were men trained to write. At first they were merely transcribers of God's law and synagogue readers. They later became interpreters of God's law whose responsibility was to teach the Torah to the Jewish masses and to the Jewish youth in particular. They produced legal documents, recorded deeds, etc. and could act as notary public and court secretary. Although some of the scribes copied documents, this was not necessarily a part of their job.

As in other parts of the world, scribes were considered honored professionals whose modern day equivalent would be judges or lawyers. They were generally the most educated men in the nation and as such became influential. In fact, since writing was practiced only by those with a certain level of intelligence, scribes were often considered wise men (1Chronicles 27:32). They were eligible to be elected to the Sanhedrin (the supreme and highest council of the Jews).

The high regard of such people as teachers of the law was such that the apostle Paul warned Timothy to be wary of those who pretended to be one of them " . . . desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm." (1Timothy 1:5 - 7). Many of them were also Pharisees. Jesus referenced their authority to convey God's word to the people when he said: "'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat . . . '" (Matthew 23:2). Yet, when people heard Jesus teach, they said he taught with a divine authority and power that even such professional writers lacked (Matthew 7:29).

Map of Palestine in New Testament Times
How do Jews get to heaven?
The Temple in the New Testament

Scribes, along with other religious leaders, are usually portrayed in the Gospel accounts as opponents of Jesus who actively sought to put him to death (Mark 11:27). Jesus knew in advance, and stated such to the disciples, that their role would be big in regard to helping bring his ultimate death on the cross (Mark 8:31, Matthew 16:21). Acts also portrays them as opponents of early Christianity (Acts 4:5; 6:12). Some few, however, were neutral (Matthew 13:52), or were even praised by Jesus (Mark 12:28 - 34), or rose to defend the apostle Paul (Acts 23:9).

The following meticulous procedures and methods were used for making copies of God's law (Torah). Those who performed the copying were permitted to use ONLY animal skins that were clean for writing. Additionally, the ink they used had to be prepared using a very special formula. The color of the ink had to be black. Before each time they wrote the name of God they were to completely wash both their writing instruments and themselves. Each word had to be read aloud before it was written down.

Additionally, every column written by one of the scribes had to have a minimum of 48 lines of text. They were not allowed to write columns that had 61 lines of text or more. Their work was generally reviewed within thirty days. If 3 or more pages required any corrections, the entire manuscript had to be rewritten. Scribes had to count the number of letters, words, and so on of each manuscript they wrote. If just 2 letters touched each other the document was deemed invalid. Once completed, the manuscripts were usually put in a sacred place.

Additional Study Materials
WHO preserved the Old Testament?
How did we get our modern Bible?
What is the Holy of Holies within the temple?
First Century Religious Groups
EldersHigh PriestSanhedrin
Essenes PhariseesScribes

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