It was John Wesley who told his fellow preachers to read – or to get out of ministry. I believe Wesley was right. Pastors need to be readers – readers in the first instance of God’s Word, but also readers more generally. Pastors need to read to be in touch with their culture. Pastors too need to read commentaries and books relating to ministry. Over the years books have always been important to me – and as a result I have developed quite a collection. Indeed, I call my study my ‘library’!
I find it interesting that books were important too to the Apostle Paul. In 2 Timothy 4.13, in his closing instructions to Timothy, he wrote: “Brings the books, and above all the parchments (New Revised Standard Version); or in the translation used by the Revised English Bible: “Bring the books, particularly my notebooks”.
But what kind of books were these? The underlying Greek is instructive.
The first word Paul uses is biblia (or in the singular, biblion) and refers to ‘scrolls’ (as the NIV rightly translates), which were made up of sheets of papyrus derived from the papyrus plants to be found in the Nile Delta and shipped in vast quantities to the ancient Lebanese coastal city of Byblos (from which comes the Greek word for book, and our English word ‘Bible’). Fastened together with glue and wound around a stick to make a roll, a typical roll was made up of 20 sheets – although longer books in the New Testament such as the Gospels of Matthew and the Book of Acts would have taken up many more sheets of papyrus. After completion papyrus rolls were often wrapped in cloth or leather and stored in some kind of container, usually a jar. Since volumen in Latin means ‘something rolled up’, a scroll was often referred to as a ‘volume’.
The second word Paul uses is membranai (or in the singular, membrana) and refers to parchment. Parchment was made of animal skins, which had been soaked in lime water, with the hair on one side and the flesh on the other being scraped off. More durable than papyrus, parchment (of which ‘vellum’ was a superior form) gradually began to replace papyrus. Parchment ‘leaves’ were folded down the middle and stitched together and were used to form ‘codices’, somewhat akin to modern books today.
But what in particular did Paul have in mind when he asked Timothy to bring the papyri and the parchments? What was written on them? The precise relationship between Paul’s papyrus rolls and his parchment sheets or codices has been much debated. The truth is that we do not really know.
It is highly probable that the papyrus rolls contained excerpts from the Old Testament and were the kind of scrolls to be found in the synagogue. Perhaps Paul in his training as a Jewish rabbi had been able to buy a number for his own personal use. If so, I am surprised that he left them with Carpus at Troas – for they surely must have been his most prized possessions.
There is less certainty as to what was written upon the parchments. However, I like the suggestion, reflected in the translation of the Revised English Bible, that the parchments were Paul’s private notebooks. We know that Paul was a ‘tent-maker’, and so was no doubt used to working with leather – working with leather is not a big jump to creating parchment. I think it is possible that these notebooks contained Paul’s reflections on ministry, which later were used as the basis for his letters.
If I am right, then we can see that on the one hand the Scriptures mattered too Paul (bring the scrolls), and so too did his personal reflections on ministry. Paul it seems to me is a good model for pastoral theologians today, who need to be equally committed to Scripture and to reflecting on ministry!