Lawyers, Scribes & Pharisees Come Out of the Woodwork. And Jerusalem too.

Lawyers, Scribes & Pharisees Come Out of the Woodwork.  And Jerusalem too.  •
Luke 5:15; Mark 7:1; Matthew 15:1; Mark 3:22  •

The four gospels are filled with episodes of scribes, Pharisees, members of the ruling Sanhedrin, and other persons of rank engaging with Jesus during his ministries.  We count over 160 verses where some combination of these parties are mentioned.  Wherever Jesus travels to and travels from, those pesky scribes and Pharisees are nearly always just there, as if they are some sort of floating Greek Chorus.

We note with curiosity then only four instances in the gospels where the gospel writer gives a location from where the contingents of rulers and officials come.

Only one of these four instances tells us that the rulers traveled from multiple places.

Two of these instances are separate tellings of the same event by two gospel writers.

We don’t know if there is anything noteworthy to all this, but we will note it anyway.  This is our Bible Bit.


Instance #1.  In Luke 5:17-26, Jesus is in Capernaum (Matthew and Mark tell us the location, Luke does not).  He is teaching in the defacto ministry headquarters building and home on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Here he and the crowd encounter a disabled paralytic, whose friends lower the disabled man through the roof of the house. In this narrative, Luke explains that the “Pharisees and teachers of the law” have come from: 1) “every town in [nearby] Galilee,” 2) from a distance to the south in Judea, and also from 3)  Jerusalem, and presumably from the temple there. Three distinct groupings.

Luke 5:17   Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them. (NKJV)

map israel galilee sea tiberias capernaum gennesaret
The Sea of Galilee.  The region of Galilee is here and to the west.
map of israel from galilee to jerusalem
Wider view of Israel showing the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The distance between the two lakes is about 80 miles by automobile.

Instance #2.  In Mark 7:1-23 Jesus is in the “land of Gennesaret,” i.e., to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps near the lake.  He is performing healings and forgiveness in large numbers. Mark tells us that “Pharisees and some of the scribes” make the long trip to engage Jesus. In modern traffic with tolls, this 115 mile trip takes 2 hours and 20 minutes by automobile. Walking takes 32 hours, plus stops.

Mark 7:1   Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. (NKJV)

Instance #3.  Matthew 15 describes the same episode, and also carries the information regarding the traveling scribes and Pharisees:

Matthew 15:1   Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,

Instance #4.  In Mark 3, Jesus is again in the region of Galilee and the lake, performing healings and exorcisms, and putting together his team of disciples. Crowds of the sick and curious have gathered not only from local Galilee, but have also come from the south in Judea and Jerusalem, from even further south in Idumea, from the north in Tyre and further north in Sidon, and also from the lands east of the Jordan.  In the mean time, the scribes have come from Jerusalem:

Mark 3:22   And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” (NKJV)

By the way, Jerusalem sits at a higher altitude than the northern region of Galilee, especially the areas surrounding the shore of the lake.  The scribes did come “down.”

Google Maps tells us that it is 101 miles via a reasonable walking route from Jerusalem to Capernaum.  The scribes had a long hike, even if it was mostly down hill.


There are two additional verses of slight curiosity.

In Mark 8, Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee to the region of Dalmanutha.  This is on the northwestern shore.  He and his disciples have perhaps moved some distance away from the lake.

Mark 8:11   Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him.

The “Pharisees came out.”  From where?  Mark does not say.

Finally, in John 9:13-41, Jesus heals a blind man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees object and excommunicate (“cast him out”) the poor man, who then confesses his faith in Christ the Lord to Jesus himself. Jesus makes a cryptic remark to the crowd about blindness, and:

John 9:40   Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” (NKJV)

“Pharisees who were with Him… said…”

We find this addition of phrasing a bit curious. In the relatively lengthy narrative of this 41-verse episode, the Pharisees are there on the scene and active in verses 13 through 41. Why does John not simply say “the Pharisees said…?”  Why does he say the “Pharisees who were with Him?”

Was there a kind of press corps of Pharisees who followed Jesus everywhere he went?  Did they travel with Jesus on the campaign bus?  In this narrative setting, Jesus is in Jerusalem and perhaps on the grounds of the temple, so it is no surprise to see Pharisees keeping a close watch.  But is their some distinction regarding those “who were with Him?”

Is there something to this little phrase?

Perhaps not.

Woe Unto You Scribes Pharisees James Tissot
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens), 1886-1894.  Brooklyn Museum.

Does your study Bible or favorite commentary weigh-in on the general topic of scribes, Pharisees, elders, lawyers, and such, especially regarding their movement and apparently well-executed practice of having some of their numbers follow Jesus and his disciples everywhere he goes?  This has long intrigued Bible Bits.

By the way, our count of 160+ verses in the four gospels referencing the scribes, Pharisees, etc., comes from a search for these words:

scribes · pharisees · elders · priests · council · lawyers · teachers · rulers

Did we miss any?

Is there something to any of this?

Blessings to you!  And read the actual Bible for yourself!