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Tuesday
May282013

Theological Term of the Week

codex
An ancient book “created by taking a stack of papyrus or parchment leaves, folding them in half, and binding them at the spine.”1 (Plural: codices)

  • From scripture:
  • 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 ESV)

  • From Canon Revisited by Michael J. Kruger:
  • Understanding the early Christian preference for the codex may … provide some illumination about an interesting passage from 2 Timothy where Paul says to Timothy “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul makes a curious distinction here between “the books” [ta biblia] and “the parchments” [tas membranas], suggesting they are two different kinds of writings.  Scholars widely regard [ta biblia] as a reference to books of the Old Testament, most likely on scrolls. We do not know how many of these Old Testament books Paul had in mind, but it must have been limited to a reasonable number that Timothy could have borne during his travels.
    But what is Paul referring to when he mentions “the parchments”? The term membranas is significant because it is not a Greek word, but a loan word transliterated from the Latin membrana. The history of this term in the first century makes it clear that it is a reference to a parchment codex… .
    As for the content of the codices which Paul mentions in 2 Tim 4:13, a number of suggestions have been made over the years.  Given that Paul distinguishes these codices from the Old Testament writings, many scholars have rightly argued that they likely contained some sort of Christian writings. This may have included a variety of things such as excerpts of Jesus’ teachings or early Christian testimonia (Old Testament proof texts supporting Messianic claims about Jesus)… . However, one of the most compelling possibilities is that these notebooks contained (among other things) copies of Paul’s own letters. 
    If these “parchments” in 2 Tim 4:13 contained copies of Paul’s letters in a codex, then this opens up fresh insights the development of the New Testament canon.  … [T]his scenario provides a compelling explanation for why some letters of Paul were preserved for the church and some letters were ultimately lost (1 Cor 5:9). The answer appears to be that some letters were lost because Paul, for whatever reasons, did not make a personal copy of them before sending them out. Thus, they were not available when Paul’s completed letter collection was circulating more broadly to the churches.
Learn more:
  1. Reading the Papyri: What is a codex?
  2. Reading the Papyri: The Contents of P46

Related terms:

Filed under Scripture

1From Canon Revisited by Michael J. Kruger

Do you have a term you would like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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