The Instructed Scribe

Then said he to them, Therefore every scribe [who is] instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a man [that is] an householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure [things] new and old. (Matthew 13:52)

It is usual to speak of the seven parables of Matthew 13; yet, although it does not appear to be generally recognized, the one-verse parable, about the scribe, which closes the conversation of Jesus and the disciples is as much a parable as the story of the pearl merchant. Finishing the parable of the Net, Jesus asked his hearers if they had understood what he had told them. They answered, "Yea, Lord" - an answer which in view of the discussion on the meaning of the parables which has since taken place in every generation, appears to have been given rather light-heartedly. The answer, however, does suggest that they felt they had received some clear idea of what Jesus meant to tell them, and this further shows that some of the prophetic and fanciful interpretations since devised could not have been intended as the primary meaning of the seven parables Jesus had spoken.

Jesus answered them: "Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old" (verse 52). "The scribes were a class of learned Jews who devoted themselves to a scientific study of the Law, and made its exposition their professional occupation." The word used by the gospel writers has to do with "letters", but just as that word in English is used not only of everyday correspondence but of a cultured knowledge of literature, so the scribe was an instructed, learned man. Ezra was a scribe of the law, a worthy pattern for all others to follow. That the Scribes of Christ's day, like the Pharisees, had fallen much below the original ideals of their class, is evident; but the function of the Scribes was such that Jesus could refer to them for the basis of his lesson. A traditional saying of the "Men of the Great Synagogue" laid down three rules for scribes: "Be careful in pronouncing judgment, bring up many pupils, and make a fence about the law". The professional employment of the Scribes, therefore, consisted of the study of the law, teaching it to their pupils, and its administration. Some of the methods and practices which had developed in the pursuit of these aims led to sharp clashes with Jesus, whose teaching contrasted so emphatically with the traditions they had built up.

Jesus spoke of "a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven". That involved a different kind of schooling from that which the Jewish scribes received. The instruction given to the scribes was academic; they were learned in all the lore of the teachers of their nation, and their exposition of Scripture consisted of citing a text and then quoting the opinions of the Rabbis. The scribe of the kingdom is versed in the Word, and his method of teaching consists of reasoning out of the Scriptures and explaining Scripture by Scripture. Jesus compares such a scribe with a householder. The word is the same as is elsewhere translated "goodman of the house" and "master of the house". In the parable of the Tares the Son of Man is the householder, and the use of the word of the instructed disciple in the same context suggests that some parallel was intended between the Lord and the disciple.

The instructed scribe of Christ's own household has a duty towards his fellow-members of the house. That duty is to "bring forth out of his treasure things new and old". The qualified scribe has his "treasure" - the knowledge of God's Word, and to the extent that he has prayerfully studied it, seeking to divide it rightly as a good workman (2 Tim. 2:15), so he is a good scribe. Such is the quality of the "treasure" that its full beauties are never fully comprehended, and the most diligent students know how unsearchable are the riches of God's revelation. Hence there is a never failing interest in the "food" the scribe provides, things ever "new" while "old". Without any deviation from first principles of God's word there is a continued freshness in its presentation.

It is probable that the reference to "new and old" had a connection with the disciples' assurance that they had understood the parables the Lord had spoken. They had comprehended in a general way their meaning, but passing time would show them "new" significances not then perceived. Experience would show how the tares were sown, how men reacted to their message, how very different kinds of men responded to their preaching of the gospel.

The short parable is an encouragement to men of every age to follow the Lord as teachers, to be like him students of God's word, like him to present in full loyalty to the Scriptures the unfailing wonder of the grace of God as it is revealed in the many-sided presentation of the oracles of God.

From: Parables of the Messiah by John Carter