When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.

2 Timothy 4:13 ESV

I forget sometimes that New Testament letters are letters. They have greetings, benedictions, personal remarks, narrow contexts, and, in the case of 2 Timothy, fundamentally practical content. In his last God-breathed letter (to anyone), Paul requests his cloak, books, and parchments (4:13). Not exactly the kind of verse that makes the Baptists wail, “That’ll preach, ole son!”

Paul “left” the cloak “with Carpus at Troas,” which does not necessarily imply that he forgot it there. Maybe Carpus was anemic. If anything, we learn that the Apostle who had learned contentment in every situation (Philippians 4:11-13) preferred a coat on a snowy morning. The Apostles were not, it would seem, superheroes. Paul also wanted “the books” (2 Timothy 4:13), which betrays either his love of learning or his inability to remember what he already learned.

The most significant request is the third, which Paul claims to require most: “…above all the parchments.” “Parchments” is from membrana, a hapax legomenon (a word occurring only once in the New Testament). Pertaining to form, this could refer to individuals sheets or a collection (i.e. parchments sown into books/scrolls; ibid.). If it is a collection, then Paul’s meaning is, “…the books, and above all the books made of parchments.” The other option would be papyrus, but without a reference in the text we are left with conjecture. The explicit contrast is between biblion (books) and membrana (parchment), which is a distinction of binding/form. Therefore, I conclude that Paul probably has in mind individual sheets of parchment.

Pertaining to content, this could refer to either blank or filled parchments (Louw-Nida, V1, p.59). Membrana is typically associated with Jewish Scriptures (DBL, Swanson, 3521). In this option, Paul was requesting that Timothy bring him certain Old Testament Scriptures. However, it is highly unlikely that these documents would be unbound. If Paul wanted Timothy to bring Old Testament Scriptures, it is probably that this was intended in biblion (books). If our first decision is correct (i.e. that the form was individual parchments), then this second matter of content seems resolved with blank, unwritten upon parchments.

I’m holding this with a loose hand, mind you – but I’ll comment on this, all the same. Paul wanted a cloak and books, but most of all he wanted writing material: parchments for the pen. This communicates how important Paul’s writing ministry was to him, and how eager he was to maintain it up to the eve of his death (which was fast approaching). In this writing ministry, Paul produced personal letters (e.g. 2 Timothy), ecclesial addresses (e.g. 1 Corinthians), systematic theologies (e.g. Romans), covenantal treatises (e.g. Hebrews), and obviously, Holy Scripture itself (e.g. all of the above). he undoubtedly wrote more than we have preserved, but what we have preserved exemplifies well the scope of his expertise and efforts.

To write, therefore, may be a noble venture. It can certainly a fruitful ministry, as Paul seems to have believed. Luther agreed: “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”

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