Having seen how the Torah was viewed, we can now see why the scribes were so important. Someone had to tell everybody what was right and wrong for everyday living. After reading about how the scribes' systems worked it is clear why Jesus' teachings were so startling.
To give this study [of the Torah] ... a class of scholars arose. These were the Scribes, the experts in the law. The title of the greatest of them was Rabbi. The scribes had three duties.
(i) They set themselves, out of the great moral principles of the Torah, to extract rules and regulations for every possible situation in life. Obviously this was a task that was as endless...
(ii) It was the task of the scribes to transmit and to teach the law and its developments. These deduced and extracted rules and regulations were never written down; they are known as the Oral Law. Although never written down they were considered to be even more binding than the written law. From generation to generation of scribes they were taught and committed to memory...
(iii) The scribes had the duty of giving judgment in individual cases; and, in the nature of things, practically every individual case must have produced a new law.
Wherein did Jesus' teaching differ so much from the teaching of the Scribes? He taught with personal authority. No Scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin, "There is a teaching that ..." and would then quote all his authorities. If he made a statement he would buttress it with this, that, and the next quotation from the next great legal masters of the past. The last thing he ever gave was an independent judgment.
Reading about how the scribes gave the decisions made me flash on all the times that Jesus would say, "You have heard it said ... But I say to you..." and then give his own personal teaching with a definite air of authority. No wonder everyone was blown away!
All excerpts in this post are from: The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.) by William Barclay
* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.