How Are We to Understand Paul’s Request to Timothy, ‘Bring the Scrolls, Especially the Parchments’?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 220 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

2 Timothy 4:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left behind in Troas with Carpus, and the scrolls,[1] especially the parchments.[2]

[1] Lit little books; (Gr. biblia) scrolls of Old Testament Scripture
[2] Lit the parchments (Gr. biblia, membranas) notes or letters of some type in codex form

In 2 Timothy 4:13, the Apostle Paul asks his companion Timothy to bring him various written materials, including scrolls and parchments. Textual scholar Philip Comfort offers three possible interpretations of what Paul meant by these terms.

The first interpretation suggests that Paul was asking for copies of Old Testament books in scroll form, as well as copies of various New Testament books in codex form, which are bound books made of parchment or other materials.

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The second interpretation suggests that Paul was asking for both Old and New Testament books, as well as blank parchment or notebooks for writing rough drafts.

The third interpretation suggests that Paul was asking specifically for his own parchment notebooks, which were in codex form and contained his own notes and rough drafts.

In 65 C.E., when the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, the 39 books of the Hebrew Old Testament were already established. These books were mostly written on separate scrolls, which were rolled up and usually only written on one side. Despite the relatively high cost of obtaining a copy of these scrolls, some reasonably well-to-do people, like the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in the Book of Acts, had access to them. The eunuch, a court official of the queen of the Ethiopians, was seen reading the book of Isaiah while traveling in his chariot. This indicates that he was wealthy enough to afford a copy of this scroll.

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The fact that Paul requested both scrolls and parchments, which were likely codices containing his own notes or rough drafts, suggests that he placed a high value on written documents. Furthermore, the fact that Paul was likely using codices in either book or notebook form implies that his own epistles may have been among the first to be collected into codex form.

Although we cannot be certain which interpretation of Paul’s request for scrolls and parchments is correct, his emphasis on written materials underscores the importance of preserving and studying them. This was especially important at a time when books were relatively expensive and only available to those who could afford them.

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In 2 Timothy 4:13, the Apostle Paul asked his companion Timothy to bring him his cloak, as well as scrolls and parchments. This suggests that while Paul traveled very lightly in his missionary work, he placed great value on written materials. His library was the Word of God, and the parchments, in particular, may have been copies of Old Testament books or even the sayings of Christ.

The term “scrolls” in this verse referred to little books, which were scrolls of Old Testament Scripture, while “parchments” were notes or letters in codex form. As mentioned previously, textual scholar Philip Comfort suggested that Paul’s epistles were among the first to be collected into codex form.

It is important to note that Paul had a strong education in the Jewish law and was taught by a renowned teacher of his day, Gamaliel. As a result, Paul had personal copies of the scrolls of God’s Word, which he valued greatly.

Overall, Paul’s request for scrolls and parchments highlights the importance of preserving and studying written materials, particularly in a time when books were relatively expensive and only accessible to those who could afford them. Paul’s own library was a testament to his dedication to the Word of God and the value he placed on written documents.

Christians’ Use of Scrolls

It was a great privilege for any Christian or Christian congregation to possess any Scripture, such as Old Testament books, Paul’s letters, the Gospels, and so on. During the first seven years of Christianity, from 29-36 C.E., all those who came to Christ were Jewish converts, which meant that many of the early Christians had access to the Scriptures of the Old Testament. By 65 C.E., many Christian congregations had a large foundation of Jewish Christians.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he urged him to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, and teaching until Paul could come (1 Timothy 4:13). This practice of public reading within the Christian congregation was carried over from the Jewish synagogues, where it had been a common practice for many years. Public reading of Scripture had been a part of the lives of God’s people since the time of Moses, and it was an important part of early Christian worship (Acts 13:15; 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15).

Overall, the early Christians placed great value on Scripture and the public reading of it within the congregation. While it was a privilege for them to possess any Scripture at all, they made sure to prioritize the public reading of it and teaching based on it, as a way to learn from and be guided by God’s Word.

Contrary to the long-held idea that early Christians were illiterate, the fact that Timothy, an elder, and a traveling missionary, often read Scripture aloud to himself and in front of Christian congregations suggests that many early Christians could read and write. This practice benefited those who could not afford their own copies of the Scriptures. We can imagine entire congregations sitting attentively while listening to Timothy read Scripture and parents discussing what had been read with their children later in the day.

When we consider the well-known Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, we are impressed with its immense size, almost 24 feet in length, and would have been heavy to carry around for preaching work. Paul, being a former highly regarded student of Gamaliel, likely had many scrolls of the Scriptures in his personal library. However, he likely did not carry all of them with him during his extensive travels as a missionary. It is clear that he left some with his friends, such as Carpus in Troas.

Overall, the existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that Timothy read Scripture aloud suggest that early Christians were not necessarily illiterate. Additionally, Paul’s personal library of scrolls indicates the value that early Christians placed on written documents and preserving them for future generations.

How Has Paul Set An Example for Us?

Just before Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, he asked Timothy to bring him his cloak and the scrolls, especially the parchments (2 Tim 4:13). In verses just prior, Paul acknowledged that his time on earth was coming to an end, but he had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. He looked forward to receiving the crown of righteousness, which the Lord would award him on the day of judgment, and to all who loved His appearing (2 Tim 4:6-8).

2 Timothy 4:6-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faithHenceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Despite his impending death, Paul still desired to study and learn the Word of God. The scrolls and parchments he requested were likely the Scriptures, and the parchments were particularly valuable because they were written on vellum instead of the more common papyrus. For Paul, filling his mind with the Word of God was important, even at the end of his life. He desired to be in the presence of friends, stay warm, and refresh himself by studying the Scriptures.

Paul’s example shows us the importance of valuing and studying God’s Word, even in difficult circumstances. He was willing to continue learning and growing in his faith until the very end, and we can follow his lead by making the study of Scripture a priority in our own lives.

Paul’s request to Timothy was not an easy one, as Timothy was likely still in Ephesus when he received the request. The distance between Ephesus and Rome was approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km), and Paul had urged Timothy to come before winter (2 Tim. 4:21). It is unclear whether Timothy was able to fulfill Paul’s request and reach him in time.

However, what we can take away from Paul’s request for the scrolls and parchments is his deep desire for God’s Word, even in the most difficult time of his life. Despite facing numerous challenges, Paul maintained a strong spiritual life because of his reliance on the Word of God and his traveling companions.

Paul’s example shows us the importance of seeking God’s Word and relying on it in times of difficulty. It is a source of encouragement, comfort, and strength that can help us navigate life’s challenges.

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In today’s world, it is easy for anyone to access the complete Bible, either through a physical copy or an electronic version. Even those who are financially challenged have access to different versions of the Bible, such as the ASV, ESV, LEB, CSB, NASB, and more.

If we want to follow in Paul’s footsteps and maintain a strong spiritual life despite facing numerous difficulties, we must cultivate a deep desire to gain accurate knowledge of God’s Word and strive for a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. While a deeper understanding does not guarantee spiritual maturity like Paul’s, a lack of study is a guarantee of spiritual immaturity.

It is worth noting that Paul’s request for Timothy to bring him the scrolls and parchments came at the end of his final letter, 2 Timothy. This means that it was one of his final recorded desires in life, and it highlights the importance he placed on the Word of God. As we strive to imitate Paul, we must also make the study of Scripture a priority in our own lives.

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If you desire to “fight the good fight of the faith, to take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:12), then you must follow the advice of the apostle Paul and keep a close eye on yourself and your teachings. By doing so, you will save both yourself and your listeners.

One way to achieve this is by developing a daily personal Bible study program, which is now more accessible and convenient than ever before. Unlike the scrolls and codices of the past, today’s technology provides us with a variety of tools to study the Bible, from physical copies to electronic versions and study apps.

Through a consistent study of the Bible, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word and apply its teachings to our daily lives. By doing so, we can become more spiritually mature and better equipped to handle the difficulties and challenges we face in life. So let us follow Paul’s example and make studying the Scriptures a priority in our lives.

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