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The Cloak and the Parchments
(Bible Study - October 2009)

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Why this cloak?
If Paul was cold and wanted a coat, he could have asked Luke, who was with him (2Tim 4:11), and surely Luke would have given Paul the coat off his own back. If Luke didn’t have one himself, he would have obtained one for Paul in a matter of days if not hours. And if Paul was still cold, the brothers and sisters in Rome would gladly have showered him with a roomful of coats, cloaks, quilts, and blankets.

If you were imprisoned in Rome and wanted a cloak because you were cold, you wouldn’t send a letter halfway across the Roman Empire to someone who may or may not be able to come before winter, especially if a trusted friend is able to visit you regularly. Even if you did, you would simply ask the person to bring "a" cloak, not one in particular. Is it reasonable to suppose that Paul wanted this particular cloak because it was somehow warmer than any other cloak that Luke could easily acquire?

Paul didn’t want just any cloak — he wanted the particular one he had left in Troas with Carpus. So he was asking Timothy to go out of his way to travel to Troas on his way to Rome just to get this cloak. We may confidently conclude that this particular garment was special, but what was so special about it? About this we are left to speculate, but here is one suggestion:

Clothing is useful for more than merely keeping us modest and protected from the elements. Oftentimes a particular garment can have an importance directly or because of its sentimental value. In Scripture, three quick examples demonstrate this:

  • First, there is Joseph’s coat of many colors, and it was immediately recognized by all as more than simply a garment to keep Joseph warm.
  • Second, there is Jonathan’s robe which he gave to David (1Sam 18:4). Jonathan did not offer this to David because David had gotten his clothes dirty while fighting Goliath — it was a symbolic act of pledging his allegiance to the one whom he recognized would be the future king over Israel.
  • The third example is Elijah’s mantle, which was picked up by Elisha (2Kgs 2). Elisha’s possession of this mantle was a visual indication that Elisha had largely succeeded to the work of Elijah.

But what about the cloak that Paul had left with Carpus?

Perhaps Paul wanted Timothy to bring this cloak so that he could ask Timothy what he knew about it. Timothy’s response may have been something like: ‘Paul, I remember that you were wearing this cloak when I first met you. You came to Lystra, where you were stoned by the people. I had heard your preaching and became a believer in Jesus, but then a short time later I watched as they dragged you out of town. Then, still wearing that cloak, dust and rips and all, you stood up. I have recently reflected upon that incident, just as you asked me to do in your epistle (2Tim 3:10), and as I traveled here with this cloak I have spent time reflecting on how much you and I and this cloak of yours have been through over the years. What do you want the cloak for?’

Paul’s response then might have been: ‘To give to you, Timothy. I am about to be executed, and I want you to have this cloak because you of all people know how much I have labored. Just as Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle, I want you to have my old cloak as a reminder of the responsibility that you now must take up to shepherd these people. Timothy, give them the Scriptures. Encourage them to live by them and not to be deceived by all of the false and pernicious teaching that is being spoken even now in Christ’s name.’

This hypothetical conversation is just a suggestion, but the fact remains that, whatever the exact reason, we can be sure that Paul asked for this particular cloak because it was important to him for some specific reason, and not just to stay warm.

The parchments
Paul also asked Timothy to bring "the books, but especially the parchments". Did these also have a special significance?

It is doubtful that Paul was merely asking for a written copy of the Old Testament Scriptures. As with obtaining a cloak for warmth, a copy of the Old Testament Scriptures in either Hebrew or Greek should not have been terribly difficult for Paul to obtain in Rome. Perhaps Paul was interested in a particular copy of the Scriptures that he had "marked up" with his own notes. While this possibility cannot be ruled out, there is a far more intriguing possibility: Paul wanted the original "autograph" copies of the Scriptures he had written over the previous years.

In 2 Peter 3:15, 16, we read of the apostle Peter making mention of the collection of Paul’s epistles as fully comparable to "the rest of the Scriptures". Additionally, there is clear extra-Biblical evidence that Paul’s epistles began to circulate as a recognized collection prior to the end of the first century. Let us note for now that this collection did not include the Epistle to the Hebrews.

As Paul wrote his various epistles over the years, they were surely shared among various ecclesias, although probably not in an organized fashion. Our suggestion here is that as Paul neared the end of his life, he recognized it would be helpful to collect the various epistles so that they could be circulated as a collection in a more organized manner. If indeed this was Paul’s motivation, who better than Timothy to gather these epistles, and indeed the original autograph copies if possible? One way or another, Timothy was involved in each and every one of Paul’s epistles. Let us examine this by considering Paul’s epistles according to the order in which they seem to have been written:

  • Galatians appears to have been written between the First and Second Missionary Journeys, at about the time of the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15. Recall that at the beginning of the Second Journey, Paul found Timothy so well spoken-of that he decided to ask for his assistance. Timothy was from Galatia and was thus one of the intended recipients of the Epistle to the Galatians, but he may have been more than just one recipient among equals. Paul entrusted young Timothy with a great deal of responsibility almost immediately, and this suggests that perhaps Timothy had been the literate brother who had read Paul‘s epistle aloud to the ecclesias in Galatia, and then explained it.
  • Shortly after picking up Timothy at the start of the Second Journey, Paul and Silas found it necessary to write two epistles to the young ecclesia in Thessalonica. These two epistles are thus addressed from "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy."
  • During Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, he wrote the two Epistles to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Romans. In 1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10, we learn that Paul sent Timothy to Corinth as an ambassador from Paul at about this time. And by the time a couple of months later when he wrote 2 Corinthians, we know that Timothy was with Paul because the letter is addressed from the two of them. In Romans 16:21, we read of Timothy sending his greetings to the saints in Rome, and thus we know he was with Paul at the time of the writing of this epistle, as Acts 19:22 and 20:4 also strongly suggest.
  • During Paul’s First Imprisonment in Rome, he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. While none of these specifically mention Timothy, we can have full confidence that Timothy was very aware of these three epistles because of Timothy’s later ministry in Ephesus (see 1Tim 1:3) and because these letters were specifically to be shared amongst the ecclesias involved. (Ephesians was probably originally addressed as a circular letter to the seven ecclesias in Asia, beginning with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea, as was Revelation later, and was thus "the epistle from Laodicea" mentioned in Col 4:16.)
  • Later during this same two-year period of imprisonment (Acts 28:30), Paul wrote to the Philippians, and also wrote the first "Pastoral Epistles" to Timothy and to Titus. Timothy is listed as a co-author of Philippians, and was clearly the directly intended recipient of First Timothy. The Epistle to Titus was very similar to First Timothy, and it is not hard to imagine that Timothy could have gotten a copy of this epistle from his close fellow-worker Titus.
  • That leaves us with just two epistles, Second Timothy and Hebrews. No word is here needed about Timothy’s relationship to Second Timothy!
  • Earlier we noted that Hebrews was not universally understood by early Christians as one of Paul’s epistles, and did not circulate from an early date with the rest of Paul’s epistles. While we will not here take up the question of whether Paul wrote Hebrews, we will note that if he did, Timothy was clearly associated with Paul at this time period (Heb 13:23).

This leaves us with an attractive but ultimately unprovable hypothesis concerning Paul’s desire to collect the earliest possible copies of his epistles so they might be circulated among the ecclesias. As he reached the end of his life, Moses spoke and wrote words of exhortation to his young helper Joshua, and exhorted Joshua to be faithful to the words of that written exhortation (Deut 31:23-30; see also Josh 1:1-9). Joshua and the generation with him indeed were faithful (Josh 24:31; Jdgs 2:6-10), but then Israel fell into a long period of idolatry. It would seem that Paul likewise asked Timothy to gather the Scriptures which Paul had authored, so that the early Christians would have a written record of Paul’s exhortations to them. It seems reasonable to suppose that this is what Timothy gathered when he collected the "books, but especially the parchments", so that these epistles continue to serve as an inspired witness to us today, as surely as the Books of Moses do.

Dean Brown

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