We cannot know for sure what these books and parchments were. They might, of course, have been the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We bear in mind that the New Testament Scriptures were only beginning to exist at this time as a collection of books. They certainly were not yet put together in the form of a completed New Testament. So in all likelihood these books and parchments included the Old Testament Scriptures. But Paul was a prolific reader and an indefatigable student.
‘The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.’
— 2 Timothy 4:13
Paul is in prison and in a short time is to lose his life at the instigation of the Roman Emperor Nero. But in prison he invites Timothy to bring with him books and parchments. It is a most interesting scene. Here is a great man, full of the Spirit of God, with a life of fruitfulness almost unparalleled in the history of mankind. Soon he will leave this world and go to be with Christ. But in his prison cell he longs for something which Timothy can bring — books and parchments.
We cannot know for sure what these books and parchments were. They might, of course, have been the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We bear in mind that the New Testament Scriptures were only beginning to exist at this time as a collection of books. They certainly were not yet put together in the form of a completed New Testament. So in all likelihood these books and parchments included the Old Testament Scriptures. But Paul was a prolific reader and an indefatigable student. It is probable that amongst these books and parchments were other books, perhaps commentaries on Scripture or even secular books written by Greek writers of the pagan world. You will know that on two or three occasions Paul reveals his familiarity with pagan Greek literature. He evidently did not despise the best of the Greek literature.
At this point we might ask a question of our text. If it was the Bible of the Old Testament that Paul was asking to be brought, my question would be, ‘Why did he need it?’. He had a consummately good memory. He had studied the Scriptures from his childhood, and he must have been almost able to quote the Old Testament from memory. Some people have achieved something similar. Why then would he need the Scriptures, if he had them stored away in his own mind?
On the other hand, if it was not the Bible of the Old Testament he was asking for, but other books, one might ask, ‘Why would he want them?’ He was, after all, so close to death and to glory. Soon he would see his Saviour’s face and receive his immortal honours from Christ. You would hardly think that such a man would be interested to read anything but divine, spiritual and inspired literature. But whatever it was he wanted, and whatever it was he needed, he asked for these books to come. So we are faced with the question: Why?
Let me suggest three reasons.
First, I would suggest that if a man is once a reader, he is always a reader. And a prison cell to a reader becomes a home from home when there are books. A small shelf of familiar books is like a small cluster of familiar friends. How the apostle in prison at Rome would have rejoiced to see these old ‘companions’ beside him!
And then, as a second reason, it does not matter how advanced a Christian is in knowledge, grace, wisdom and experience; in this life he has not yet come to perfection. The apostle was forever pressing on to that perfection which was his desired goal.
Even as the shadow of eternity fell upon him, he was anxious that his dying days should be also learning days and days of progression. Evidently there were still things he had to learn, and he was humble enough to indicate his readiness to learn from books.
Let me offer to you a third reason. I would suggest that the apostle includes these words for Timothy’s sake, as though to say to Timothy, ‘You must be a reader, Timothy. You are taking up the work that I am laying down.’
Technically, Timothy was what we call an evangelist. An evangelist in the New Testament sense is what we would call an apostolic helper. He did not have plenary divine inspiration as the apostles did. Whenever the apostles opened their mouth officially to preach, what they said was infallible, conveying the very Word of God. But Timothy did not have that gift. His work was the consolidation of the churches of Christ, and it was essential that amongst other responsibilities that Timothy would take upon himself was reading the best books.
So I do not think it is straining the passage to say to you that the doctrine from these words is surely this: A Christian man or woman must be a reader, all his or her life. We are to be readers to our dying day.