‘Bring the Scrolls, Especially the Parchments’

WITH the above words, the apostle Paul urged his fellow missionary Timothy to bring him some written material. To what kinds of scrolls and parchments was Paul referring? What led him to say this? And what can we learn from this request?

By the middle of the first century C.E. when Paul wrote these words, the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures had been divided into either 22 or 24 books, most of which were likely in separate scrolls. Professor Alan Millard noted that these scrolls, though expensive, were “not . . . out of the reach of the reasonably well-to-do.” Some had access to at least one of them. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch had a scroll in his chariot and was “reading aloud the prophet Isaiah.” He was ‘in power under Candace queen of the Ethiopians and was over all her treasure.’ He must have been wealthy enough to own portions of the Scriptures.​—Acts 8:27, 28.

In his request to Timothy, Paul wrote: “When you come, bring the cloak I left at Troas with Carpus, and the scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Tim. 4:13) This suggests that Paul owned a number of books. What would have had a higher place in his library than the Word of God? Regarding the word “parchments” in this verse, Bible scholar A. T. Robertson observed: “These in particular would likely be copies of Old Testament books, parchment being more expensive than papyrus.” From youth on, Paul was “educated . . . at the feet of Gamaliel,” who taught the Mosaic Law and was esteemed by all the people. So it is understandable that Paul would have obtained personal copies of the scrolls of God’s Word.​—Acts 5:34; 22:3.

Christians’ Use of Scrolls

Still, those who owned scrolls of the Holy Scriptures were privileged. How, then, did most of the Christians in those days gain access to the Word of God? Paul’s earlier letter to Timothy gives us a hint. He wrote: “While I am coming, continue applying yourself to public reading.” (1 Tim. 4:13) Public reading was a part of the meeting program of Christian congregations, a traditional practice among God’s people since the time of Moses.​—Acts 13:15; 15:21; 2 Cor. 3:15.

As an elder, Timothy had to ‘apply himself’ to reading out loud, which would benefit those who did not own copies of the Scriptures. Surely, during the public reading of the Word of God, all listened attentively  so as not to miss a word, and parents and children must have discussed at home what was read at the meetings.

The well-known Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah is almost 24 feet (7.3 m) in length. With a rod at each end and often with a cover for protection, a scroll would be heavy. Probably most Christians could not carry many with them for preaching. Even if Paul possessed some scrolls of the Scriptures for his personal use, he likely could not take on his travels all the scrolls he owned. Evidently he left some with his friend Carpus in Troas.

What Can We Learn From Paul’s Example?

Just before making his request, Paul, imprisoned in Rome for a second time, wrote: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish . . . From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8) He likely wrote these words about 65 C.E. during the persecution by Nero. This time the imprisonment was very severe. In fact, he sensed that his execution was imminent. (2 Tim. 1:16; 4:6) Understandably, Paul expressed his heartfelt desire to have his scrolls on hand. Though he was confident that he had fought the fine fight to the finish, he longed to continue strengthening himself by studying the Word of God.

Timothy was probably still in Ephesus when he received Paul’s request. (1 Tim. 1:3) From Ephesus to Rome via Troas is roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 km). In the same letter, Paul urged Timothy: “Do your utmost to arrive before winter.” (2 Tim. 4:21) The Bible does not reveal whether Timothy found a boat to get him to Rome by the time Paul desired.

What can we learn from Paul’s request for “the scrolls, especially the parchments”? He maintained a longing for God’s Word during this most distressing period of his life. Do you not see this as a secret to his always being spiritually alive and active as well as his being a source of encouragement to many?

Today, how blessed we are if we own a personal copy of the complete Bible! Some of us even have several copies and editions. Like Paul, we need to cultivate eagerness to gain a deeper understanding of the Scriptures. Of the 14 inspired letters Paul was privileged to write, his second to Timothy was the last. His personal request appears toward the end of the book. In fact, Paul’s entreaty to Timothy ‘to bring the scrolls, especially the parchments,’ was one of his final wishes on record.

Is it your ardent desire to fight the fine fight of the faith to the finish, just as Paul did? Do you want to keep yourself spiritually stimulated and prepared to engage in the witnessing work for as long as the Lord wants us to continue? Then why not do as Paul encouraged Christians to do? “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching” by eager and constant study of the Bible, which is now available to more people than ever in forms more convenient than the scrolls.​—1 Tim. 4:16.

[Map/​Pictures on pages 18, 19]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)