[Gr., gram·ma·teusʹ, a scribe, a man of letters].
In the municipal government of the free cities in Asia Minor under the Roman Empire, the city recorder was the most important public officer. He was apparently elected to office by the people and functioned as the leading member of the municipal government. We might compare him in some respects to a modern-day mayor, as some translations render the term. Consequently, he was very influential in city affairs, and his dignified office was held in esteem by the people to a greater degree than is implied by the word “clerk” or “town clerk,” as used in several Bible translations at Acts 19:35, where gram·ma·teusʹ appears in a setting and connotation differing from its usual usage as applied to the Jewish scribes. The influence the city recorder wielded is shown by the manner in which this official in Ephesus quieted the mob that gathered against Paul and his companions.—Acts 19:35-41.
The city recorder had direct access to the proconsul of the province and served as the liaison between the city government and Rome’s provincial administration of which Ephesus was one of the centers. This enabled the recorder to act as a buffer between the power of the Roman authorities and the people of the city.
His duties and responsibilities included (1) supervision of the city archives, reading all legal and state papers that were to be made public at the assemblies, recording the minutes of senate and assembly sessions, properly recording and filing copies of decrees as well as treaties and edicts from Roman officialdom and, in general, attending to all the miscellaneous paper work associated with administering the affairs of the city. (2) He might draft into proper form the official decrees of the city council or senate before they were presented to the public assembly, and would preside as chairman at the assemblies.
As an executive officer, the city recorder also had charge of public funds, a responsibility that included administering the endowment for doles to the citizens, and, after the first century C.E., he had charge of the distribution of money gifts from the city treasury on the birthday of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius. Another task he had was the supervision of the erection of monuments to various men that the senate and people decided to honor.
The high station of the city recorder is attested to by many inscriptions and coins. They reveal that he was allowed to mint coins for the city with his name on them. On occasion, he assumed some of the responsibilities of the commissioners of festivals and games.
In the Asian cities, the city recorder was held accountable by the Roman authority for maintaining law and order within his jurisdiction. This accounts, in part at least, for the concern expressed by the city recorder when the people of Ephesus had been stirred up by the Ephesian silversmiths over the preaching done by the apostle Paul. It was a disorderly mob, an illegal assembly in the theater. There was the liability of a charge of sedition, as the city recorder pointed out to the people. He feared that the Romans would hold him personally responsible.
In Grecian cities outside Asia Minor, there were public servants who had the title gram·ma·teusʹ, but they did not have the rank and dignity of those in the free cities of Asia Minor. Instead, they were true menial clerks or secretaries and, in many cases, were slaves.