Apologetics, Bible
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What was on those parchments?

A 1,500+ year old Gospel fragment -- Image: George Redgrave | Flickr

A 1,500+ year old Gospel fragment — Image: George Redgrave | Flickr

In 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul, imprisoned in Rome, made a strange, but some believe a very significant request of Timothy.

He asked the young pastor to bring Paul’s cloak, books and parchments when Timothy visited Paul in Rome.

When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13 NASV)

It was possible winter was coming and the cloak was needed. The books probably included complete copies of Old Testament books, such as Isaiah which Paul quoted from 25 times in his epistles. He may have even had Jewish commentaries of the Old Testament.

There also may have been a few other books in Paul’s collection. When addressing Greek philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:22-34), Paul quoted a couple of pagan writers in verse 28 including a Greek poet Aratus (315 BC – 240 BC). Paul took “‘For we also are His children” from Aratus’ book — Phanenomena. Paul also used “for in Him we live and move and exist” from Cretica, written by Epimendes, a 7th century Cretan seer.

What was written on the parchments?

But the question that has puzzled many is what was on the parchments? It was clear from Paul’s letter, that the parchments were the most important items he wanted.

Parchments (literally membranes) were skins of either lambs, goats and calves, that were specifically prepared for writing. They were our equivalent of note paper. They were used to keep notes. They differed from books in that they were not complete works.

Some have suggested these parchments contained notes Paul had written on his study of the scriptures. They may have been drafts of letters he was writing.

But perhaps the most intriguing suggestion is that these were copies of notes taken by Christ’s disciples as they traveled with Jesus.

This was a common practice for teachers and prophets of that day. In the Old Testament, scribes would tag along with the prophets and write down their prophecies. We see an example of this in Barach, who wrote down Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 36:1-8).

At this point, scribes served  largely as note takers and letter writers. They were also copyists. If you needed a copy of Isaiah, you called on a scribe who would meticulously copy it out word for word.

However, by New Testament days, scribes had organized into a powerful, religious and political organization. Their role had expanded to include interpreting the law. They were considered a separate group within the pharisees.

When Jesus showed up, the scribes opposed Christ (Matthew 7:29). They even played a major role in Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 14:43). But despite their resistance, the Bible records that some scribes became followers of Christ:

19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” (Matthew 8:19 NASV)

It would have been a natural step for these scribes to start taking notes of what Jesus was saying and teaching. Other scribes were found defending Paul when he was taken before the Sadduccees (Acts 23:9).

There were also disciples quite capable of taking notes. This included Matthew, a levite and tax collector (Luke 5:27-32). Because of his religious training and record-keeping background, it would have been second nature for him to take notes of what Jesus was saying publicly and privately. Not surprising, it was Matthew who wrote one of the Gospels.

Justin Marty (100 AD – 165 AD) was an early Christian apologist and teacher. He lived a few decades after Christ’s death. He writes in his book Dial Tryph, that he knew of 26 topically arranged collections of Jesus’ sayings.

We will never know what was written on Paul’s parchments, but when Paul requested that Timothy bring them along, the apostle used the word “malista,” translated “especially” to emphasize their importance. The word means “chiefly.”

Timothy could forget Paul’s cloak and even his books, but he could not forget the parchments.


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