Copying Scripture

In an age before the printing press, the fact that God chose to reveal himself in writing made for an interesting problem—that is, the problem of transmission. In order to multiply copies of Scripture, someone needed to carefully reproduce the text by hand. The kings of Israel were commanded to do just this in order to demonstrate their concern for God’s law. Most of the photographs on this page were taken at the Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve.

Deuteronomy 17:18 (KJV) “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites.”

Scribes of Ancient Israel

1 Chronicles 27:32 (LEB) “And Jehonathan the uncle of David was an adviser, a man of insight, and he was a scribe. And Jehiel the son of Hachmoni was with the sons of the king.”

1 Chronicles 24:6 (LEB) “And Shemaiah the son of Nethanel, the scribe, from the Levites, recorded them before the king . . . ”

Nehemiah 8:1 (LEB) “All of the people gathered as one to the public square before the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses that Yahweh had commanded Israel.”


Books were a much later invention, so ancient scribes would instead write on scrolls or tablets. In the case of a scroll, the text would be written in columns. As can be seen here, the way that scrolls are made (by connecting a series of animal skins together in one long strip) naturally lends itself to such an arrangement.

Jeremiah 36:23 (LEB) “And then, as Jehudi read three or four columns, he would cut it up in pieces with the knife of the scribe, and he would throw it into the fire that was in the fire-pot until the whole of the scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire-pot.”

False Scribes

Just as not everyone called a “prophet” was a faithful messenger of God’s word, so not everyone called a “scribe” faithfully transmitted truth. Both the Old and New Testaments have sharp words for those who are called scribes but who do not know what is right.

Jeremiah 8:8 (LEB) “How can you say, ‘We are wise and the law of Yahweh is with us’? Look, surely the lying stylus of the scribes has made it a lie.”

1 Corinthians 1:20 (LEB) “Where is the wise person? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Not Just the Written Word

God indeed chose to reveal himself in writing, and that has given the written word a tremendous amount of dignity. However, all of life and godliness does not exist exclusively on paper. The truth found in Scripture is something that transforms the inner heart and outer actions of a person, revealing its power in the embodied realities of life. The epistles of the New Testament, despite being epistles, make it clear that there is no substitute for lived action and face-to-face relationship in the life of believers.

2 John 12 (KJV) “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.”

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Related Websites

For a related Bible chapter, see Mark 14.

Scribe (Jewish Virtual Library). This is the entry on scribes from the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Materials Used to Write the Bible (Josh McDowell Ministry). Here’s an article discussing the materials used by ancient scribes and their implications for modern scholarship.

The Scribes (Bible.org). This article briefly examines how the identity of those called “scribes” has shifted throughout the history of Israel.

Scribes and the Ancient Art of Making a Torah Scroll (The Messianic Prophecy Bible Project). This page offers a fairly extensive description of how Torah scrolls are produced. It also features some very nice pictures.