WHO ARE THE “LAWYERS” IN SCRIPTURE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
In everyday speech, we use the term “lawyer” to mean an attorney, one who represents another in a legal courtroom. The Bible, however, attaches another definition—a religious one. When you encounter the word “lawyer” in Scripture, concentrate on the “law” root. The “law” here is the Mosaic Law, the codified system of rules and regulations meant to govern Israel in JEHOVAH God’s ways as the nation lived in His land, the Promised Land. The suffix “–er” means “one who practices.” A “lawyer,” therefore, was an expert or scholar of the Mosaic Law.
- Matthew 22:35: “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,….”
- Luke 7:30: “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
- Luke 10:25: “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
- Luke 11:45: “Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.”
- Luke 11:46: “And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.”
- Luke 11:52: “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”
- Luke 14:3: “And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?”
- Titus 3:13: “Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them.”
A lawyer seems to be identical to a “scribe” (this latter appellation emphasizes the man’s ability to write/copy Scripture and other religious texts). The word is comparable to “doctor.” This is not a medical doctor (physician)—please note—but a doctor of theology (what we would call a “Th.D.”). He was a very learned man in Jewish religion and skilled in the interpretation and application of the Mosaic Law. While not an exact equivalent, it may help to understand him as a theologian (as we think of one).
- Luke 2:46: “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” (The Lord Jesus, a mere 12 years old, had an intense religious discourse with these much older men. He impressed them with His knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.)
- Luke 5:17: “And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” (These “doctors of the law” aligned with the Pharisees, another class of Jewish religious leaders. While they had their disagreements, they all united in opposing, falsely accusing, and crucifying Jesus Christ. For example, see Matthew 26:3-5 and Mark 14:53.)
- Acts 5:34: “Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;….” (According to Acts 22:3, Gamaliel was one of the rabbinical mentors of Saul of Tarsus [later the Apostle Paul]. Many people respected Gamaliel for his expertise during Acts, and even orthodox Jews today hold his writings in high esteem.)
Education does not mean infallibility. It should be stated over and over again. Advanced degrees do not automatically place a person beyond challenge or questioning. After all, it was the educated leaders of Israel who influenced the (less-educated) common Jewish people demand Jesus be put to death (Matthew 27:20; Mark 15:11). That was a national disaster.
Furthermore, skill in the Scripture does not necessarily lead to faith. The aforementioned lawyers were experts in the Hebrew Bible and Hebrew religion and yet it was all head knowledge. Most of them did not have a positive heart attitude toward God’s Word. Hence, when Jesus Christ came to be a fulfillment of the Law, they could not see Him for who He really was. It was all intellectual knowledge instead of heart faith. Never were educated people more wrong! Knowledgeable people are not without fault!!
As then, so today do people worship and blindly follow “religious experts.” It is highly possible that most of the theologians lauded today are little more than church members, not members of the Church the Body of Christ. They may know Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and/or Aramaic, but they do not grasp the language of God. They have the spirit of man, and the spirit of the world, but they do not have the Spirit of God to teach them the Bible (see 1 Corinthians chapter 2 quoted below). Yet, these are often the very people translating Bible versions, preaching in the pulpits, writing “Christian” bestsellers, and teaching in seminaries and Bible colleges. No wonder there is such spiritual ignorance and confusion in our local churches!!
First Corinthians chapter 2: “ But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.  But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.  For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.”
SUPPLEMENTAL: MORE FACTS ABOUT “LAWYERS” WORTH MENTIONING
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia says the Greek word is nomikos: “according or pertaining to law,” i.e. legal; as noun, “an expert in law,” “about the law,” “lawyer.” “Their business was threefold: (1) to study and interpret the law; (2) to instruct the Hebrew youth in the law; (3) to decide questions of the law. The first two they did as scholars and teachers, the last as advisers in some court.”
In Matthew 22:34-40 and Luke 10:25-37, we see “lawyers” testing the Lord Jesus by asking Him questions. One “lawyer,” speaking on behalf of the others, claims that the Lord Jesus insulted them in Luke 11:45 by telling the truth. Some “lawyers” sided with the Pharisees against Christ when He healed a disabled man on the Sabbath (Luke 14:1-3).
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says of “lawyer,” nomikos: “an adjective, ‘learned in the law’ (see Tts 3:9, under LAW, C, No. 1), is used as a noun, ‘a lawyer,’ Mat 22:35; Luk 7:30; 10:25; 11:45, 46, 52 (ver. 53 in some mss.); 14:3; Tts 3:13, where Zenas is so named. As there is no evidence that he was one skilled in Roman jurisprudence, the term may be regarded in the usual NT sense as applying to one skilled in the Mosaic Law. The usual name for a scribe is grammateus, a man of letters; for a doctor of the law, nomodidaskalos (see DOCTOR). ‘A comparison of Luk 5:17 with Luk 5:21; Mar 2:6; Mat 9:3 shows that the three terms were used synonymously, and did not denote three distinct classes. The scribes were originally simply men of letters, students of Scripture, and the name first given to them contains in itself no reference to the law; in course of time, however, they devoted themselves mainly, though by no means exclusively, to the study of the law. They became jurists rather than theologians, and received names which of themselves called attention to that fact….’”
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