The Parable of the Well-Trained Scribe

The Parable of the Well-Trained Scribe

The Parable of the Well-Trained Scribe.

“Therefore, every scribe trained and instructed for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings treasure out of his storehouse, things new and old.” (Matthew 13:52).

SCRIBE. The Greek word used for scribe in this parable is the source of our word for “grammar,” so scribes were traditionally accepted as “men of letters.” A true scholar knows the Torah and is intimately familiar with these Sacred Writings. Not only does a scribe know Scripture, but he knows how to teach it to others and interpret its meaning. The capable scribe has been an ardent student of the Bible, a disciple, a learner. The well-trained scribe knows how to bring out the old, traditional Word as well as the new fresh application, shedding new light on the old truths. A scribe for the kingdom is equally adept at focusing on the words of Moses in the same breath as the teachings of Jesus. A worthy scribe, according to Jesus, brings out the Scripture that is familiar to those who know the Hebrew Bible, as well as the wisdom that is perhaps unfamiliar in the words of Christ. The wise scribe knows how to present the treasures of Scripture, whether new or old. The scribe knows that the new word in Jesus completes and fulfills the old word of OT Scripture. The old truths have already been established upon what has been revealed by God. The new truths are being founded upon the words of the Son of God. The scribe in the kingdom recognizes this and will combine these old and new truths to develop a deeper understanding of God. The wise scribe is focused on the full revelation of God, whether from Moses or from Jesus.

EZRA. The most famous and celebrated scribe in Biblical history is Ezra, who lived about 450 years before Christ. As soon as Jesus used the word scribe, many would have thought of the great Ezra. He was the ultimate scholar of God’s word, trained to read and interpret Scriptures for the people. Scribes like Ezra spent their lives studying the Sacred Writings and explaining it to the people so they could understand it. “Ezra had prepared his heart to study the Law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10). God-fearing Jews revered the memory of Ezra, and recognized that that day was gone, that the new scribes were more concerned about their own reputation, their new traditions which often replaced Scriptures in their teachings. So Jesus’ mention of a well-trained scribe would have brought many in the audience back to the golden days of Ezra as the trusted scribe. Jesus presents Himself as being something of a modern version of Ezra, the Chief Scribe, well able to present and interpret Scripture and teach the people into the kingdom of God.

MATTHEW. Some Biblical scholars suggest that the parable could be a self-portrait of the scribe who put this parable into writing… St. Matthew himself. In his gospel he has mined the treasure of the Hebrew Bible, and he has put it in the context of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ. He combined the old and the new. The traditional and familiar with the fresh and new. Matthew is indeed the well-trained scribe who reveals important insights of Jewish scripture and combines it with how Jesus fulfilled the traditional word of the Law.

HOUSEHOLDER. The Greek word for householder here literally means Master of the House. There is much authority given to the housemaster, and there is much given to a scribe. The wise master here has a storeroom of various valuables, whether food or ornaments or jewelry or other possessions. The wise master knows what is contained in the treasure-house. He knows the valuables that are antiques which are still beautiful and useful, and he knows his most recent possessions which are equally valuable. When a guest visits his house, he knows how to exhibit his prize possessions, and he knows which food to bring out at the right time. He is well-versed in both the new and the old. He knows which valuable will be most appreciated by his visitors, and which valuables will need a background story. The master of the house will know which valuables to bring out of the storehouse, whether food or possessions, that will best entertain his guests.

INEFFECTIVE SCRIBES. During the time of Jesus, scribes had the reputation of being scholars of the Bible, and were laymen not priests. They helped interpret questions of the Law, and were often called “lawyers.” Because of the importance of their prestige and history, they shared spiritual authority with other Temple leaders. Jesus usually criticized the Temple scribes during His day… they don’t teach as one “having authority” (Matt. 7:29); “they love to go around in long robes and be greeted in the marketplace,” (Mark 12:38); “they say, but they do not do.” (Matt. 23:3); there is a long list of complaints against the scribes and Pharisees in Matt. 23. Since most scribes formed their own party within the Pharisaic party, the Temple scribes were usually associated with their Pharisee brethren. Jesus’ disciples must have been surprised to hear a positive reference to the scribe in Jesus’ parable, since He spent so much time condemning them in no uncertain terms. This parable is Jesus’ attempt to redefine the role of the scribe, what it takes to be an effective scribe in Jesus’ eyes. The scribe in that day tended to focus on the old and traditional, and then add their own traditions into the mix. Jesus felt they limited access to the Father, and He wasn’t happy about it. Scribes were trapped to the old and blinded by their own traditions. Jesus wanted to change all that. Jesus is saying here that this is what a good scribe looks like. You need both the old and the new, Jesus is saying. You need both to get the full picture of the kingdom of God, the very kingdom that I am inaugurating in a fresh way.

DISCIPLES. Jesus made a special point of redefining the role of scribe with His disciples. Undoubtedly, He wanted the disciples to see this role as a special part of their calling in His absence. He wanted them each to be capable and effective scribes for the kingdom. Judging from biblical history, Jesus’ goal was met. They all taught and preached and studied and interpreted and proclaimed the kingdom of Christ. Jesus yearned for this to be true, to be adept at handling the word of truth, to be everyday scholars of Scripture. The disciples learned indeed to bring out the new and the old in their teaching and preaching. And they turned the world upside down.


  1. In speaking this parable to His disciples, is Jesus suggesting that we all need to be effective scribes in some way? What would that look like in your case?
  2. Do you see any church leadership today that reminds you of what the ineffective scribes were doing? (refer to Matthew 23 and Mark 12).
  3. Do the Lord’s criticisms of the Temple scribes remind  you of yourself at all, perhaps at a weak moment?
  4. Do you have a special teacher of Scripture, one who is a scholar, speaks with authority, uses both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, has the ability to teach, and brings fresh insights from the Word? Describe him or her and what makes her/him special.