The subject of my address is borrowed from the last part of II Timothy 4:13, where Paul writes to Timothy: “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.”
This word belongs to some personal items at the close of this pastoral epistle. Paul mentions his desire that Timothy should come to him in Rome as soon as possible. He wants to see him and talk with him: for the apostle is a prisoner in Caesar’s power for the second time, is ready to be offered, and the time of his departure is at hand. And when Timothy comes, he must bring to the apostle certain items which he needs—among them a cloak (probably a winter coat) which had been left at Troas, and among them these books and parchments that are mentioned and that are evidently known to Timothy.
But although these are personal items, yet this word belongs to the inspired Scriptures. There is a Word of God here which we must try to discern. And I believe that Word is appropriate for us as students and professors at the beginning of our new school term, as I hope to make plain. It is appropriate in general for all of us; but I am especially addressing it to our school personnel; and you, our audience, while you may also derive benefit from these remarks, nevertheless function chiefly as witnesses this evening.
THE BOOKS AND THE PARCHMENTS
First of all, we may ask the question: what were those books and parchments which Paul wanted Timothy to bring?
What are called “books” in our English translation were papyrus rolls. They were not books as we know them today, but rolls, or scrolls, of a writing material somewhat like paper which was made from the papyrus reed. The “parchments” were also such rolls, but they were manufactured from animal skins. Not impossibly these parchments were made at Pergamos, in Asia Minor, which was famous for its parchments. However that may be, these parchment rolls were a more permanent, longer-lasting writing material, and therefore more valuable. Even that fact, apart from the question what may or may not have been written on these parchments, would account for the fact that the apostle “especially” desired that Timothy bring to him the parchments in question.
Now as you might expect, interpreters have had a field day speculating as to the nature of these “books and parchments.” They are not further identified in the text. But they were evidently important to Paul, even near the end of his life. He wanted them. And that word “especially” shows that there was something important about the parchments: they were valuable to the Apostle Paul, and he especially wanted Timothy to bring them. And so there have been various suggestions made as to the nature of these books and parchments. Some have suggested that these were copies of the Old Testament Scriptures. Others have suggested that perhaps the books were copies of some of the apostle’s own writings, while the parchments were some of the Old Testament rolls. Still others have suggested that these “books and parchments” were neither Paul’s previous writings, nor copies of the Old Testament Scriptures, nor, in fact, any writings at all, but simply blank writing materials which the apostle wanted to use for his own writing during his last days on earth. Thus, of course, you could speculate without end. Why did Paul want these “books and parchments” if they were already written full? Was he, perhaps, of a mind to divide his few earthly goods when Timothy came to Rome? Were these possibly documents which he wanted Luke (who was with him in Rome) to have? Or did he want to pass them on to John Mark, whom he enjoined Timothy to bring to him? Or would he divide these “books and parchments” among the three men? Or was it simply that the apostle wanted to insure that these valuable writing materials were not lost and would not go to waste? Precisely what was his intent?
We may answer this question both negatively and positively.
In the first place, and negatively, it ought to be plain that there are several questions here which simply cannot be answered. And we may add: they need not be answered. We may rest assured that if it were necessary for us to know these details, the Holy Spirit would take care that we could discover the answers to our questions. We might like to satisfy our curiosity on this score, but the mere satisfaction of our curiosity is not at all necessary. However attractive one or the other of the suggestions which I have mentioned may be, we must note carefully that all are purely speculative. Scripture simply does not inform us as to the specific nature of these books and parchments.
But with that problem out of the way, we may also note, positively, what can be said about the character of these books and parchments. The first item may probably sound like a truism: they were books! Whatever their specific character may have been—whether they were papyrus rolls and parchment rolls already written full, or whether they were writing materials for the apostle’s use, whether they were some of the writings later incorporated in the New Testament canon, or whether they were some of the Old Testament writings, or whether they were some other, unspecified writings—they were books. And some of them, judging from the fact that valuable parchments are specially mentioned, were books of considerable worth, with contents especially worth preserving. For our purposes, we may note that a book is a means for the setting down in writing, the preservation, and the transmission and dissemination of knowledge. Whatever these particular “books and parchments” may have been, such is the character ofbooks—to one degree or another.
The second item of importance about these books and parchments which may surely be established is that their contents and their use and their usefulness for the apostle stood in relation to the Word of God and the preaching of the Gospel. We may rest assured of that—again, whatever their specific character may have been, and whatever the Apostle Paul intended to do with them. You might probably wonder what in the world the apostle in prison, shortly before his death, wanted to do with these books. And we might like to lift the curtain of mystery a bit. But there are no answers to such questions. Except this one: these books were useful, profitable to Paul with a view to the history of the Gospel. Even at this late point in his life—or perhaps especially at this point—this was surely the situation. This was why he wanted Timothy to come. This was literally why he wanted Timothy to bring John Mark: he was profitable to Paul for the ministry. And this was also the usefulness of these books. It is the apostle who wants them. And the preaching of the Gospel, the setting forth of the knowledge of the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, was the all-consuming purpose of his life. These books and parchments and his desire for them were necessarily connected with that all-consuming purpose.
And thus, today there are various and many “books and parchments.” We live in an entirely different age, an age in which, due to modern printing processes, there is a glut of books in virtually every area of learning—many of these books, even in the theological field, not worth the paper they are printed on. Nevertheless, there are for us what may be classified as “parchments,” that is, books which are especially valuable and worth preserving and using; and there are also many books, that is, publications of comparatively less value, but nevertheless useful and needed.
We may mention various kinds. There are, first of all, the Scriptures themselves, both in their original languages and in various translations. These are “parchments” of a unique sort, being the written record of God’s infallible Word. There are the “parchments” of our confessions, those documents in which our Christian faith and our Reformed faith is set forth and preserved and. transmitted. There are the writings of the Reformers, of the church fathers. There are books and parchments in dogmatics, in church history, of an exegetical nature, and writings in every area of theology. There are also books and parchments in those fields of study which are necessary for the ministry, but which are nevertheless only tools. I have in mind the study of the languages, for example. You need a knowledge of various languages; and therefore you need good grammar books, syntax books, lexicons and dictionaries. And thus there are many such studies, and books and parchments for all of them. Again, there are the books and parchments of heretics. They are needed, too, You cannot simply say that they are no good, and that you will pay no attention to them, will not have them in your library. You must know and understand their errors, so that you can oppose and combat them.
“… bring the books, and especially the parchments.”
WHY THEY ARE NEEDED
That brings us to a second question: why are these books and parchments needed?
That they are indeed needed is self-evident.
First of all, the Apostle Paul needed them. The text here assumes this. Whatever Paul’s reason may have been at the moment and whatever his specific purpose may have been—this is not stated. But he wanted to have these “books and parchments,” and Timothy must bring them when he comes. Hence, they were needed. You might argue to the contrary. You might argue that Paul was an apostle, that he was inspired in his knowledge and his words; and therefore he certainly did not have to read and study. Or you might argue that he was nearing the end of his ministry and that he was soon to die apparently. But the fact stands: he wanted them, and therefore he needed them. They were necessary.
Secondly, there is the same necessity for us.
There have always been those who denied the need of a trained, educated ministry. They are mystics. They make a false disjunction between the Spirit and the Word, between the leading of the Spirit and the need of “books and parchments,” that is, the need of education and study. There have been others who are inclined to minimize and belittle the need of thorough training and study. And it is true, of course, that there is reason to have a healthy fear of much that goes by the name of “scholarship” today—not, however, because it is scholarship, but because it is unbelieving. No, the books and parchments are necessary. They must be used diligently. They must be read. They must be studied. I believe it was the homiletician Klaus Harms who once said that if he did not study and prepare to preach, but supposedly trusted to the Holy ‘Spirit’s guidance when he went to the pulpit, the Holy Spirit would indeed speak to him, but would say, “‘Klaus, Klaus, du bist fad gewesen, (Klaus, Klaus, you have been lazy.)” No, all other things being equal, the more books and parchments you have and make use of, the better ministers you will be.
There are certain patent facts which constitute the reason for this necessity of books and parchments.
The objective reason lies in the fact that it pleases God to cause the riches of the truth, the riches of the knowledge of Himself as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ, to be unfolded ever more and more and transmitted to His people down through the centuries through the means of “books and parchments” and in the line of generations. This is true, first of all, with regard to Scripture itself. God’s Word does not have to be revealed anew to each generation. But it has been preserved for us in “books and parchments” and copies thereof from generation to generation down to the present. But that is true, secondly, of the whole organism, the whole body of the truth as it has been mined from the gold mine of God’s Word and has it been expounded and systematically set forth by the church and under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth, down through the centuries, and then transmitted to us in hundreds and thousands of books and parchments. You see, each generation does not have to begin anew and independently of the church of all ages to discover and to understand the truth. We do not, and we may not, in our seminary simply turn to the Scriptures as though we are the first ones to do so and to be able to understand them; that would be an insult to the Spirit of Truth Who has always guided the church into all the truth. No, we have a heritage which has come down to us from the church of all ages. And it is preserved for us in books and parchments. And we must make use of that heritage, and therefore of the thousands of books and parchments available to us. At the same time, it is true that each generation does not have to begin anew to discover error and heresy! This, too, is preserved in books and parchments; and we must read and study them in order to be equipped and to be able to combat it.
Let me stress, too, that ours is a great responsibility in this regard. This is for the simple reason that today, more than ever before, the amount of books and parchments in which the heritage of knowledge is preserved for us is so vast.
Moreover, that responsibility is increased by the fact that we live in an age when the same media of “books and parchments” have been the means for the propagation of the very opposite of the true knowledge of God, that is, the lie, and that, too, more than ever before.
For, you understand, what I am talking about tonight is not mere learning for learning’s sake, so-called scholarship for scholarship’s sake. There is such a thing. And you must even be on guard against it, especially if you are of a somewhat intellectual bent of mind. You see, you may go to school and become a great scholar in Greek or Hebrew, or even a world-renowned scholar in Dogmatics, let us say. But if all your learning is not strictly in the service of the Word of God as recorded by the infallible Scriptures, then all your scholarship is an abominable evil in the sight of the Holy One. And then you are nothing but a learned fool, no matter how the whole world may hail you as a great scholar. No, all your use of “books and parchments” must be in relation to and in subservience to the Word of God, and that, too, antithetically and over against the lie.
The subjective reason why the books and parchments are needed lies in the fact that God has given you a mind to understand; and that intellect is the channel through which the Spirit of Truth conveys to us the riches of our salvation, the riches of God’s grace. The Spirit works through the Word. And that Word addresses the mind, first of all, and only through the mind the heart. That is simply the God-ordained way. God does not simply pour the riches of salvation into us as I may pour water into a glass. No, He speaksto us. He addresses us through our minds. And so the Scriptures are replete with references to the necessity of knowledge and understanding. And this, in turn, implies that we have need of books and parchments from which we can gain such knowledge and understanding. Moreover, the more richly the Lord endows you and me with good minds, minds which are able to think and to reason clearly, minds which are able to penetrate to the meanings of things, the greater is our responsibility not to let those powers of intellect lie unused, not to let them atrophy, not to waste them on worthless trash, but to use them in order that we may be enriched in the knowledge of the truth.
WHO NEEDS THEM?
Obviously, it was the Apostle Paul who needed these books and parchments in the first instance.
But if that is true, then how much more true it is that we all, as the people of God, are in need of them.
Let me take this opportunity to stress this point for you, my audience, in general, first of all. It is a rather striking fact that there are more books and parchments available today than ever before; but it is also a fact that our generation is, to put it mildly, not known for its avid reading, and known still less forgood reading. I dare say we will find this to be true only too often in our own homes. I will let you judge as to the reasons for this. But I assure you that the reasons are not valid, and the situation is not salutary for ourselves or for the church. We must read more; and we must read more good, solid, instructive, spiritually edifying materials. And this holds true for our children and young people, too! Well may we say: ” . . .bring the books, and especially the parchments,”
Nevertheless, my main purpose tonight is to address this word to you, our pre-seminary and seminary students. You are students! You are students who look forward to the ministry of the Word! Well, then,be students indeed! And that means that you must put forth every effort to use diligently the books and parchments available to you. I refer not merely to those which you must use for your classes, nor merely to those which you are prodded to use by collateral reading assignments. No, you must immerse yourselves as much as possible in good, beneficial books and parchments. You must do it all in obedience and subservience to the Word of God. You must do it now while you have the time and opportunity as students. You must do it to become prepared as well as possible for your future ministry. And you must do it so that you form good habits for the future: for do not forget that you are going to be students all your life!
Bring the books and the parchments!