The Secret Authority of Scribes


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The text was 1 Peter 2:13-17; the topic, submitting to authority. An important subject, but not one that beckoned me in any significant way. After a recent course of events and conversations that Jesus lined up for me like experiential dominoes, I settled in, prepared to listen but privately thinking that the moment, so to speak, had passed. Not so, it turned out.

Our pastor made the point that God is the author of authority. My ears perked up at that. Of course! “Author” is the root word of authority. How had I never noticed that, or thought about it? The creative Creator, yes. That He is the Author of salvation (ref. Hebrews 2:10), certainly. He’s the Potter; we’re the clay.

But the Potter has a right over the clay (ref. Romans 9:20-21), and the word translated “author” is the Greek archegos, picturing a chief leader, a prince, a predecessor and pioneer. In Christ’s example, we find the position and the quality of mastery inherent to creating. 

And if our creativity reflects the image of God, then what does His example tell us?

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes.”

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” -Matthew 13:51-52

When I blogged on these verses before, I touched on the responsibility of authority on the head of household. I consulted the Holman Bible Dictionary and learned that “house” or “household” referred to “the management of the affairs and belongings of a family” (673) and that in terms of social stability, the household was second in importance only to the state in Greco-Roman society (674). My genealogy friends may be interested to know that although the first US Federal census-takers of 1790 lacked official printed census forms, they were instructed to obtain the names of each head of household in their enumerations. Not until 1850, of course, would the Census begin asking for the names of other household members, frustrating the search for any other ancestors besides the ones whose positions of management generated records for us to find.

So we understand the head of household. However, what does it means to be a scribe?

The word rendered as scribe is the Greek grammateus. It’s not so grand a term as author. It means a clerk, a public servant, a secretary or a recorder. It could refer to religious teachers. In that sense, significantly, the basis of their authority was their knowledge of the law.

But look and see what Jesus does.

The scribes who become disciples of the kingdom of heaven, He likens to heads of households. He gives them authority based not on the law but on Himself, and it’s not a command but a pronouncement. For the servants, for the scribes, He says, headship. Authorship. A position of responsibility but also mastery, able to bring out old, time-honored heirloom treasures as well as new and beautifully fashioned treasures.

Exactly what kind of treasure we’re talking about, of course, is a question for another day.

Further Reading: If this subject touches your heart, I highly recommend Jon Acuff’s post on the value God places on artists.

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