As a lifelong law enforcement officer, I have always been interested in every aspect of criminal justice both past and present. Who were those involved in criminal justice from a historical and Biblical standpoint? Who and where were lawyers first mentioned, even going back to the Bible?

In everyday speech, the word “lawyer” refers to an attorney. An attorney is a person who represents another in a courtroom. Prosecutors and judges are also attorneys. However, the Bible attaches another definition — a religious one. The word “lawyer” concentrates on the “law” root in the Bible, meaning the Mosaic Law.

Exodus 19, Leviticus 26:46 and Romans 9:4 focus on the Mosaic Law which God gave to the nation of Israel. Mosaic Law consisted of three parts: the Ten Commandments, the ordinances and the worship system, which included the priesthood, the tabernacle and Festivals.

The Bible does not say anything about lawyers as we know them today. Israel was under the legal jurisdiction of Rome during Jesus’ time on earth. The Bible does mention “teachers of the law” in Luke 5:17 and “lawyers” in Luke 14:3. The word refers to religious leaders who were experts in Mosaic Law. The modern-day court system, with prosecuting attorneys, did not exist at that time.

Only one time in the Scriptures does the word “lawyer” apply to a specific person. It’s in relation to Zenas, the only lawyer spoken of favorably in the Bible. Although he might have been the only “attorney at law” mentioned in the Bible, he was most likely a former scribe or Jewish rabbi.

Zenas, the lawyer, was a first-century Christian lawyer mentioned in the apostle Paul’s Epistle to Titus in the New Testament. In Titus 3:13, Paul writes: “Bring Zenas the Lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them.”

Zenas’ name is a shortened form of “Zenodoros,” meaning the gift of Zeus. By tradition, Zenas is often counted as one of the unnamed 70 disciples sent out by Jesus into the villages of Galilee, as mentioned in Luke 10:1-24. Therefore, apostle Paul called Zenas “the lawyer.” This title meant that before Zenas became a Christian, he had been a Jewish lawyer.

It is not certain where Apostle Paul was when he wrote to Titus, requesting that he bring Zenas the lawyer. There is no record of Jesus and Zenas with any form of personal relationship. However, Zenas was a Christian lawyer.

The New Testament mentions teachers of the law at least 63 times. Unfortunately, not any of these references are positive. Matthew 23:23 records seven daring condemnations of these lawyers, including “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you Hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, and anise and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.”

Zenas the lawyer, however, is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and other churches.

What type of lawyer would Zenas have been today? I have come to know many fine lawyers and respected citizens of our communities throughout my career in law enforcement. However, I wish that I could have met Zenas the lawyer.

Keith Throckmorton is retired from the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia and is a Perquimans County resident.