They were the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time. They were religious and educated in the Scriptures and also the Law, which was the list of special rules for Jewish people to follow. The scribes were like the official recorders of the day, writing legal documents.

We might think such an educated group would be the best examples to teach the people how to follow God’s ways. But Jesus called them hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who says they believe a certain way, but then then secretly acts in the opposite way. They were also self-righteous, looking down on those thought to have a lower place in society.

The self-important Jewish leaders felt threatened by Jesus’ teachings. Matthew (7:28, 29 Good News Translation) says, “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowd was amazed at the way he taught. He wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.” According to John, even the temple guards sent to arrest Jesus reported to the Pharisees, (John 7:46, NLT) “We have never heard anyone speak like this!”

In many instances, they tried to discredit Jesus with trick questions, in order to make him appear as though he didn’t know God’s law, but they never succeeded. Thinking Jesus would take away their power, they plotted to kill him. (See Matthew 12:14)

There was one Pharisee, however, named Nicodemus, who was different from the others. He was sincerely interested in what Jesus had to say, but because of his high position, he didn’t think he could risk being seen with Jesus, so he visited him at night in secret. 

The Apostle Paul was also a Pharisee, who initially persecuted Christians. But after the resurrected Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, he changed his life and redirected his focus to preach the gospel message, becoming the 12th Apostle of Jesus, replacing Judas.

So, who were the scribes and Pharisees? The religious teachers of the Jewish Law in Jesus’ day. Threatened by Jesus’ teachings and the possibility of losing their power, they plotted to kill him. Most of them felt they were superior to others because they held high positions in society, but we know social status means nothing to God and it pleases Him when we are humble. 

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