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Their teaching on this point was that Moses himself had delivered to Israel an oral as well as a written Law.
This oral Law, according to their theory, had come down in an authentic form through the Prophets to Esdras, the first and greatest of the scribes, and rested practically on the same Divine authority as the written Word.
Together with the Pharisees they are represented in the Gospels as being very ambitious of honour ( Matthew 23:2-7 , Mark -40 ; Luke , 45, 46 ; ), and as making void the weightier precepts of the Law by their perverse interpretations by means of which they had gradually laid a most heavy burden upon the people.
They are also rebuked by Christ because of the undue importance ascribed by them to the "traditions of the elders".
The earlier scribes, like Esdras himself, belonged to the class of priests and Levites ( Ezra ; Nehemiah 8:7, 13 ; 2 Chronicles ) 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 laymen, and thus little by little the scribal profession became differentiated from the priesthood, while the latter remained chiefly occupied with the ever-growing sacrificial and ritualistic functions.
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(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.
With the increasing formalism, which their influence doubtless helped to develop, the character of the scribes and their activities underwent a marked change.
They neglected the deeper and more spiritual aspects of the Law, and from being men of sacred letters they became mainly jurists who devoted most of their attention to mere quibbles and subtle casuistry.