The Books and the Parchments

In the Apostle Paul’s last letter, he asks 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)

Paul was no longer under house arrest. This time, he was in a Roman prison, and we can imagine how horrible it must have been. Damp, cold — the words “bring the cloak” are touching, but the last phrase tells us about Paul’s character. A mind like his needed stimulation! The word translated “books” refers to fragile papyrus documents, and the “parchments” were valuable leather scrolls.

It is interesting how our reading materials have changed over time. The earliest documents, like the Ten Commandments, were chiseled in stone. The Babylonians wrote on clay tablets and baked them in the sun. Later came the papyrus documents formed from ribbons of pith taken from the Nile River plant’s stem. The ribbons were laid side-by-side horizontally, and a second layer was added vertically. Finally, the whole sheet was soaked in muddy water and pressed together while it dried. Most of the New Testament was probably written on this fragile material. The next great innovation was parchment – fine leather scrolls and books.

Have you thought about how difficult it would be to use a scroll? They were unrolled with one hand and wound up with the other. It would be challenging to follow a series of scripture readings during a sermon! The book form was a tremendous innovation. Sheets were folded and stitched together, then bound between two covers. Now it was possible to turn the pages and follow along. They were much more convenient to use in studying the Word of God. For two thousand years, the form reigned and filled the great libraries of the world. In our generation, we’ve seen the next big step in the evolution of books: the digital age.

I was slow to adopt an electronic library. I love the feel of a fine book. Leather covers with gilded pages, fine type, and flowing fonts are a work of art, but when Jan and I moved aboard our sailboat, we disposed of most everything. That included most of my library. It was indescribably hard for me to part with the thousands of books that formed my carefully collected and cherished library. However, they would never survive a life at sea. I never thought I would preach again, but God had other plans.

In San Diego, I was called to fill the pulpit in my childhood church. Now I was desperate for a library, but my loving wife, the librarian, introduced me to electronic books. Today I have more books on my cell phone than I ever had on my selves!

The advantages of an electronic library are clear. I can take my study with me anywhere. While I wait in the hospital for a member’s surgery to conclude, I can study, read, and research. It is so easy to search for topics electronically. As I get older, my eyes are getting weaker, but I can easily enlarge the print in electronic books to any size with the flick of my finger. The list of wonders goes on and on.

On the other hand, when the power goes out during a winter storm, like Paul, I may find myself looking for “the books and the parchments.” What do you think? Are you using eBooks now, or are you holding on to hardbacks?

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