The Use of Professional Scribes in a World of Illiteracy
Due to a 90% illiteracy rate in the Roman Empire there was a group of people known as scribes who wrote letters for others.
Peter and John were Illiterate
It appears in Acts 4:13 when they make a post-resurrection speech in Jerusalem:
” When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were illiterate, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. ”
Peter used a Scribe to write his Letters
1 Peter 5:12:
” With the HELP of Silas, who I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. ”
Even Paul would sometimes use a Scribe
Romans is the longest of Paul’s letters and here he wrote to a Christian group he had not yet met. It is his letter of introduction, where he tells us his theology in an detailed way. He dictated it to a scribe who wrote his own comment in it also, in one sentence:
” Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. ”
SINCE JOHN WAS ILLITERATE BY LOGIC HE WOULD HAVE USED A SCRIBE
He would have used one for 2 reasons:
1. He was NOT a native Greek speaker ( the gospel is in Greek, so to avoid grammatical errors ).
2. Because he could not write and read. In Bart Ehrman’s “MISQUOTING JESUS”(by an agnostic) there is a part on the scribes of Antiquity and he says that they also had the custom then of getting the PRINCIPAL IDEAS of the person and writing it in their words, and later reading the text. The person would then approve or disapprove of the way the scribe wrote down his ideas. In other words, the LITERARY STYLE would be of the scribe but the IDEAS would be of the person who paid him.
WAS IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR AN ILLITERATE TO ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE?
That is one argument used against 1 Peter,2 Peter and the 3 letters of John and the gospel of John being by them, since they show knowledge of the OT and spiritual insights and illiterates can not learn it past a certain age. But we have:
The Case of Akiba ( 50-135 AD ):
He was the greatest Jewish teacher of his time,a Pharisee, a martyr to his faith, killed by the Romans after the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD. He had declared him to be the Messiah.
And yet according to our written sources till at least the age of forty he was nothing more than a SHEPHERD. Not only that, he was illiterate till late in life. It was only by sheer will that he learned to read and write and learn the Torah. He said the greatest principal of the Torah was ” to love your neighbor as yourself. ” Check it out at: