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In 2 Timothy 4:13, the text says:

Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. (NKJV)

Τὸν φαιλόνην [or φελόνην] ὃν ἀπέλιπον ἐν Τρῳάδι παρὰ Κάρπῳ, ἐρχόμενος φέρε, καὶ τὰ βιβλία, μάλιστα τὰς μεμβράνας.

The question has previously been asked (by @ScottS):

To what do the "parchments" (and tangentially the "books") refer in 2 Tim 4:13?

An excellent answer was provided, in that by referring to the μεμβράνας, Paul was likely requesting copies of his letters so that he could publish a collection of such (hat tip to @HoldtotheRod). Accordingly, the collection which we now have of the Pauline letters can be recognized as an apostolically sanctioned collection, which was gathered and published in the mid-60s. (It is my belief that Hebrews was included in this collection, as occurs in P46, because the author of Hebrews participated in the publication of the Pauline collection.)

In this present question I want to pursue the "tangential" part of that earlier question. To what do "the books (τὰ βιβλία)" refer? Further, can we see in Paul's request not only an intent to publish a Pauline collection but also an indication that work was already underway towards publishing a Gospel collection in the mid-60s?

In the NT, the singular βίβλος is used to refer to the book of Moses (Mark 12:26), book of Psalms (Luke 20:42), book of the prophets (Acts 7:42), etc. Hence, many commentators understand Paul to be requesting a collection of OT works; however, given the substantial Jewish and Christian populations in Rome, these OT works should already be relatively available. Therefore, could Paul be requesting something else here?

Notably, the plural phrase τὰ βιβλία only appears in three NT passages: John 21:25; 2 Timothy 4:13; and Revelation 20:12. Jeffrey Brickle has pointed out that the use of τὰ βιβλία as the last word in John's Gospel appears to be employed as a counterpoint or frame to Matthew's use of Βίβλος, as the very first word in Matthew's Gospel, such that this is "John's signatory way of indicating that he considered closed or sealed by his testimony what now consisted of a collection of four 'authorized' Gospels."1 John also appears to have intentionally connected his monograph with the Gospels of Mark and Luke, by his "Ἐν ἀρχῇ" (John 1:1) opening phrase, which connects with "forms of ἀρχή which occur in the opening statements of Mark (1:1) [and] Luke (1:2)."2

If Brickle's contention is accepted, then this suggests that terms such as book/books were being used to refer to the Gospels at an early date; although we can certainly debate when this terminology came into fashion. Nonetheless, the Gospels were certainly larger than Paul's writings (the μεμβράνας), so the use of a distinct term to refer to such would be fitting.

All this leads to the above questions. What say you?

(I've further articulated this question here)

1 Jeffrey E. Brickle, “The Memory of the Beloved Disciple: A Poetics of Johannine Memory,” in Memory and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity: A Conversation with Barry Schwartz, ed. Tom Thatcher, Semeia Studies 78 (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014), 196.

2 Further, "These terminological correspondences not only indicated John’s Synoptic-consciousness but also invited his readers to participate in a multilevel reading that dynamically compared and contrasted his account with the other three." Brickle, "Memory," 196.

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  • Many translators render the term τὰ βιβλία as "scrolls" or "papyrus rolls". This would explain why they are distinguished from "parchments." Books as we think of the term had not been invented yet. This doesn't help with the main question, except perhaps to make Brickle's hypothesis a bit less likely. Commented May 9 at 15:34
  • Thanks, @DanFefferman. Agreed, am not trying to argue for early codex formats, but am just exploring the possibility that Paul might be intentionally distinguishing between two categories of literary works.
    – Dan Moore
    Commented May 9 at 16:11

2 Answers 2

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The earlier question to which you provided a link is indeed excellent and covers the text thoroughly. I’d be a little concerned about the detailed inferences that some people draw regarding sets of collections of books that Paul may or may not have referred to. The danger of torturing this text enough is that one might extract any desired confession. I think someone famous once said this.

A word search on the word book or books in the scriptures yields many results, including some books that have been lost and others that were burned.

As previously noted, Paul treasured the parchments more than the “books” that would have been written on papyrus. The parchments might have been from the Tanakh, although I wonder why Paul didn't refer to these as scrolls in that case rather than the medium on which they were written. Paul didn't list them, which might mean there were a lot of them.

Also as previously noted, Paul most likely treasured these for their content—their value to him. It might be inferred that he left these, as well as his cloak for safekeeping rather than forgetting them like an umbrella. Leaving his cloak, which would be immensely useful on a long journey, might indicate that he had taken short side trips or temporarily hiding from a threat, intending to return. But these are all speculations based on likelihoods.

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  • I appreciate the caution about torturing texts. And yet, this forum seems like a good place for floating new perspectives, which I might not want to be held to (yet) when writing elsewhere. Brickle's relatively recent observation about how John appears to be intentionally closing out the fourfold Gospel appears quite insightful, and there has been much recent research/thought concerning NT sub-collections and who might have been involved in publishing such, so putting these together seems like a reasonable speculation. I welcome the critiques!
    – Dan Moore
    Commented May 10 at 18:44
  • I also like to consider all possibilities, but I also try to find a supporting clue. For example, it might be worthwhile considering whether Paul's experience with Alexander the coppersmith might have been the reason that Paul left his valued possessions with Carpus at Troas. I think it's possible considering contextual flow of thoughts in this passage, but it would still be nice to find one additional clue.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 11 at 1:08
  • +1. You gave a balanced yet reserved response. Commented May 11 at 15:53
  • Thank you, @Nephesh. The BH forum disciplines me to think rather than react, and to carefully consider other perspectives. In trying to support my statements, I'm forced to look deeper into questions and controversies that I've never considered before.
    – Dieter
    Commented May 11 at 17:33
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Answer

The “books” refer to the Old Testament Scripture and the “parchments” (membranas) refer to the New Testament Scripture.

Explanation

God is the real author of the Scriptures and as such He decides when and where to begin and end His writings.

He never asked any of the Patriarchs to write any of His words. The first command to write is given to Moses by God:

“And Jehovah said to Moses, Write this, a memorial in a book” (Exo 17:14).

So Moses began the Scriptures of God.

God prophesied in advance when and where He will end His Word:

Bind up the Testimony (New Testament), seal the Law (Old Testament) among My disciples (Isaiah 8:16).

Scripture Completed and Ended by the Apostles

The Scripture was to be bound up and sealed (completed) by the disciples of Yahweh.

Who was this Yahweh? Let us see.

“Sanctify Jehovah of Hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear; and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary, and for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of falling to the two houses of Israel; for a trap and for a snare to the ones living in Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the Testimony, seal the Law among My disciples” (Isaiah 8:13-16).

Both Peter and Paul quoting Isaiah’s prophecy, identify who this Yahweh of Hosts is:

“But to disobeying ones, He (Jesus) is the "Stone which those building rejected; this One became the Head of the Corner, and a Stone-of-stumbling, and a Rock-of-offense" to the ones stumbling, being disobedient to the Word, to which they were also appointed” (1 Pet 2:7-8).

“For they stumbled at the Stone-of-stumbling, as it has been written, "Behold, I place in" "Zion a Stone-of-stumbling," "and a Rock-of-offense," "and everyone believing on Him will not be shamed” (Rom 9:32-33).

Yes, both Peter and Paul identified the Yahweh of Hosts as Jesus Christ. This is undeniable!

So, it was Jesus’ disciples who were predestinated to complete and bind up the Scriptures. Thus, bind up and seal the Scripture (both OT/Law and NT/Testimony of Jesus) was to be done by the disciples of Jesus.

Peter and Paul Knew This

Both Peter and Paul knew from prophecy through the Holy Spirit that they were to complete and bind up the Scripture.

Peter identifies Paul’s epistles as Scripture:

“as also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them concerning these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unsettled pervert, as also they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3:16).

Rest of the Scripture” means clearly that Peter considers Paul’s writings as Scripture.

Paul identifies Luke’s gospel as Scripture:

“For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox treading out grain," and, “the laborer is worthy of his pay” (1 Tim 5:18).

Here Paul considers Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 (laborer’s pay) on an equal footing. This clearly shows that Paul considered Luke as Scripture!

Peter Arranges New Testament

“I think it only right for me to stir up your memory of these matters as long as I am still alive. I know that I shall soon put off this mortal body, as our Lord Jesus Christ plainly told me. I will do my best, then, to provide a way for you to remember these matters at all times after my death” (2 Pet 1:13-15; GNB).

Peter, knowing that he, as a disciple of the Lord of Hosts, was to “seal the OT” and “bind up the NT” says that he will make sure that the true Christians will have always “a way” to remember the true faith.

Paul Compiles the New Testament and Entrusts Timothy

“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he can help me in the work. When you come, bring my coat that I left in Troas with Carpus; bring the books (OT) too, and especially the ones made of parchment (the New Testament writings)” (2 Tim 4:11, 13).

There is an “urgency” in this command to Timothy. Luke is already with Paul. He asks Timothy to get Mark and bring him with Timothy to finish the work.

(It is significant that both Luke and Mark, as the Gospel writers, are together with Paul just before his death to assist him in the work!)

Second epistle of Timothy is Paul’s last epistle. He says he is about to be “poured out” (verse 6), that is, about to be martyred. So, as another disciple of the Lord of Hosts, he urgently needs to compile the NT. He already knows that Peter has edited the NT books. Now he wants to finish the final editing together with Mark and Luke and entrust the same to Timothy before his death.

What Coat

The Greek word for “coat” is “phelones”. Adam Clarke commentary:

“Τον φελονην is by several translated bag or portmanteau; and it is most likely that it was something of this kind, in which he might carry his clothes, books, and travelling necessaries.”

I thank Ray Butterworth for giving me the invaluable information regarding the Peshitta Bible in Syriac (an ancient translation) which translates the “coat/cloak” as a bookcase:

“When you come, bring the bookcase and the books that I left in Troas with Qarpus, especially the parchment scrolls” (emphasis mine).

(as provided by Ray Butterworth in his answer Are verses like 2 Timothy 4:13 of exegetical and hermeneutic significance?)

Yes, Paul was not worried about his cloths at his last breath. He was concerned about the bag with the OT books and the NT parchments he left with Carpus at Troas.

The “books” are definitely the OT books. What about the parchments or “membrana”. The parchments were made of sheep skin and were very expensive in those days. These were used only for very important documents.

In the first century the New Testament writings were made on parchments. These are the documents he meant by parchments. He made the final editing of the NT together with Luke and Mark after Peter had finished his part. Both the OT and NT were entrusted to Timothy for sacred use.

Conclusion

Paul knew about the Isaiah prophecy of the completion of OT and NT among the disciples of Jesus Christ.

He, as part of the disciples of the Lord, knew he was writing the Scripture. Hence he charges:

“I charge you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the holy brothers” (1 Thess 5:27).

“And when this letter is read before you, cause that it be read also in the Laodicean assembly, and that you also read the one of Laodicea” (Col 4:16).

“But if anyone does not obey our Word through the letter, mark that one, and do not associate with him, that he be shamed” (2 Thess 3:14).

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  • Thanks, Nephesh. Am not quite following the argument that "the books" must refer to the OT. Would not the Christians in Rome have had ready access to the OT? There was certainly a large Jewish presence there, so there must have been more than a few copies of the law, prophets, and writings floating about, yes?
    – Dan Moore
    Commented May 10 at 18:35
  • My answer to "Are verses like 2 Timothy 4:13 of exegetical and hermeneutic significance?" contains similar and complementary ideas. ¶ If you find any of them useful, feel free to incorporate them here without credit. Commented May 10 at 18:43
  • @RayButterworth. I love the φαιλόνης observation. I own a reproduction of a Roman cista (basket), as used for holding scrolls, and as seen with many statuaries. Now I'm curious to go chase this angle! That would make more sense than desiring a "cloak"! Am going to go upvote you!
    – Dan Moore
    Commented May 10 at 18:55
  • Book of Moses (Mark 12:26), book of Isaiah (Luke 3:4 and 4:17), book of Psalms (Luke 20:42 and Acts 1:20), book of Prophets (Acts 7:42), book of Law (Gal 3:10) etc. Often “book” in the NT referred to OT. Though I am not certain about it, I read somewhere that there was a Temple copy of the Scripture (in the Temple in Jerusalem) that was the most accurate of all copies. As an apostle Paul could have acquired one copy of that for his mission work. Together with his study notes and other scribbling, he left the books and the parchments in the bag (phelones) with Carpus. Commented May 11 at 15:38
  • My sincere thanks to you Ray Butterworth. I have cited the Peshitta rendering with due credit to you. God bless you. Commented May 11 at 15:41

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