The root meaning of the name "scribe" is "one who writes" (compare to "scribble" or "inscribe"). The original occupation of a scribe was to make copies of official documents in the age before printing. They would also write letters, decrees and other documents. Jeremiah 8:8 speaks of "the pen of the scribes." In Esther 8:9, the king's scribes were called and "it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews." Because the scribe could write, he could also keep financial records and he would sometimes be used in that area (2Kings 12:10). Since the scribes often worked closely with the king, some scribes gained authority beyond that of simply copying documents. In 2Kings 25:19, "the principal scribe of the host" actually "mustered the people of the land" and prepared them for battle. The scribes were often considered to be wise by reason of their learning. An uncle of king David named Jonathan was "a counsellor, a wise man, and a scribe."
However, these uses for scribe are mostly found in the Old Testament. The New Testament scribes are a special group among the Jewish religious leaders. Their primary duties were to study the law of Moses, teach it to the people, and even to help settle disputes involving the questions of the law. The New Testament scribes traced their origin back to Ezra who is variously called "a ready scribe in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6), "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel" (Ezra 7:11), and "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven" (Ezra 7:21). Ezra received these titles because he "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezra 7:10). Ezra was therefore the ideal type for the New Testament scribe.
Unfortunately, the scribes we see in the New Testament did not approach unto this standard. Though the scribes were highly regarded by the people, Jesus saw the harm they were doing and often reproved them. In their study of the law, the scribes got caught in the intricate web of arguments over technical details that kills the spirit of God. The Jewish people found the teachings of Jesus so refreshing because "he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29). In the passage in Matthew 23 where Jesus vehemently condemned the Jewish religious leaders, the scribes are specifically mentioned by name eight times. However, toward the end of the chapter (Matthew 23:34), Jesus tells the people that scribes had been sent by the Lord to encourage them to repent but only received persecution. It was not the position of the scribe that was evil, but rather their misuse of that position.
Jesus warned the people of the scribes who through their love of recognition and pretense brought upon themselves "greater damnation" (Mark 12:38-40). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the scribes were involved in the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. They had an honorable position and worked with the highest of subjects--the word of God. Yet, through pettiness and pride they led others to destruction and brought damnation on themselves. These scribes should ever be a warning to us while the ready scribe, Ezra, should ever be an example to follow.