The Work of a Scribe

Today we live in a world where most people know how to read and write, and where rapid communication is an everyday occurrence. We have typewriters, computers, fax machines, and other things that make keeping in touch easier than ever.

But imagine what it must have been like 3-4 thousand years ago. There were no machines like we have today. Many people could not read or write. Simple things that we take for granted—like writing a letter to a friend—practically were unknown.

People who knew how to read and write held important places in society. They were known as “scribes”—a word from the Greek grammaticus, which means to write, order, or count (the same word from which we get our English word, grammar).

Scribes often worked for kings, governments, or business leaders. They wrote important letters, recorded legal papers, and took care of public documents. The Bible mentions scribes when it talks about people like the king’s scribes (Esther 3:12), Jonathan (1 Chronicles 27:32), and Ezra (Ezra 7:6). When people needed to write a letter or make a family will, they went to a scribe for help.

One of a scribe’s jobs was copying a document that already existed. Since there were no photocopy machines, scribes had to re-write the document by hand, being careful not to introduce mistakes by accident.

When God gave His Word to men and they wrote it down, one way to make it available to as many people as possible was to have it copied and passed around. It was the scribes’ job to make copies. Because the scribes were copying God’s Word, they had to obey very strict rules. For example, they counted the number of lines in the original, and then counted the number of lines in the copy. And they checked each other’s work by comparing it to the original—word-for-word, and line-by-line.

The Masoretes (ma-sor-eets) were important Jewish scribes who worked from A.D. 500 to 1000, and who are known for copying faithfully God’s Word as given in the Old Testament. Because of their dedication, today we have the Old Testament just as God gave it.

Scribes devoted their lives to copying God’s Word. Today, we can read our Bibles, and know that we have exactly what God wanted us to have. How fortunate we are that God gave us the Bible! And how thankful we should be that scribes copied it accurately so that thousands of years later we could read it and obey it. We need to remember to thank God for sending us His Word, and for protecting it through the centuries.


A copied sheet of paper

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