When the apostle Paul found himself in a Roman prison cell, approaching the end of his earthly life, he wrote the following request to my namesake Timothy: ‘When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments’ (2 Timothy 4:13).
The request divides neatly into two. Paul requested his ‘cloak’ for his physical well-being, and ‘the books and … the parchments’ for study, for his mental and spiritual well-being.
‘When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas’. The cloak referred to here was a heavy, outer garment, made of Cicilian goats’ hair. Simple in design, it would have been sleeveless and circular in shape when laid flat, the only notable feature being a hole for the head.
2 Timothy 4:21 suggests that winter was approaching. Paul’s prison cell would have lacked our central heating! His thick cloak would have helped maintain some bodily warmth and comfort.
According to the Bible, we are ‘bipartite’ beings. That is, we are constituted of body and soul; almighty God made us this way. ‘The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being’ (Genesis 2:7).
We should take care of our bodies, as they are the vehicle in which we glorify God our maker. This will always be so, for the ultimate Christian hope — that is, our confident expectation based on the sure promises of God — is not only the salvation of the soul, but also the resurrection of the body.
Even now, though, we should be good stewards of the bodies God has given us. They are actually, if we belong to Jesus, the temple of God himself. ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?’ (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Food and clothing are basic requirements for our bodily well-being. The Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, assures us that God our Father will ensure that his adopted children will never lack either, while their earthly life lasts.
Jesus said, ‘Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
‘But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?’ (Matthew 6:26,28-30).
Books and parchments
‘When you come, bring … the books and above all the parchments’. The consensus is that Paul was here requesting those Holy Scriptures extant in his day.
This would have been our Old Testament, which foretold the coming of Christ, and perhaps the sayings of the Saviour that had been written down. Luke refers to these when he researched and compiled his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4).
‘The books’ refer to papyrus scrolls; ‘the parchments’ to more expensive animal skins, on which the scribes carefully and reverently copied the sacred Scriptures.
It is evident from our verse and its context that Paul prized the Scriptures very highly. He knew that they were no ordinary writings, but the very Word of God written. He had stated to Timothy a little earlier: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God [God-breathed] and profitable…’ (2 Timothy 3:16).
He was aware that his remaining time on earth was short. Nevertheless, he wished to use well the time he had left; and nothing was more profitable to Paul than the Scriptures.
He was a life-long disciple of Christ, and the name ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’. Thus Paul, vastly experienced in the ways of God though he was, never lost the desire to learn in the school of Christ.
Paul loved the Saviour. He longed to know the Saviour better and make him better known. The means by which he did this were the Scriptures, ‘the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15).
The inspired Word and the incarnate Word are, of course, distinct. Yet in our Christian experience they coalesce and are less distinguishable. Jesus himself said that ‘the Scriptures [are] they that bear witness to me’ (John 5:39).
So Paul’s final requests on earth were for a cloak for bodily warmth, and the Scriptures for warmth of soul. His desire for the Word of God surely finds an echo in every believer. A desire for and love for the Bible is one evidence we have been truly born again.
A new life has to be fed and sustained. Hence Peter, Paul’s colleague in the faith, could write to believers, ‘As new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby’ (1 Peter 2:2).
If we love the Saviour, we will love the Book which draws us closer to him. As clothing is essential for our physical well-being, so the Bible is indispensable for our spiritual well-being. It will be so until we see the Saviour face to face, and the Word in Person renders the Word in print obsolete. It is only when we see Jesus that we will need our Bibles no more.
Dr Cross has authored many Christian books and articles, and has an honorary doctorate of sacred literature, from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC