Among the very last words written by the great Apostle Paul were these: "The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments" (II Timothy 4:13). When he wrote, Paul was in a cold, damp, dark Roman dungeon, awaiting his imminent execution by Nero and knowing that "the time of my departure is at hand" (verse 6).
Yet he still wanted to read! Evidently his arrest by the emperor's officers had been so abrupt there at the home of his friend Carpus that he could not even gather up his winter coat, let alone his personal library. As to what these books were (the parchments were probably the Old Testament Scriptures) we can only speculate, but we do know that Paul was well educated and well read.
Whatever they were, we can be sure they were books that would be helpful in understanding and teaching the word of God. He had urged his followers always to "redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 4:5), and he certainly would not have wasted his last days in reading "profane and vain babblings" (I Timothy 6:20), nor "the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought" (I Corinthians 2:6).
And he surely would not want books dealing with the "curious arts" of occultism or mysticism—books such as those which his Christian converts at Corinth had once used but, after receiving Christ, had voluntarily decided to destroy—even though they could probably have been sold (at today's prices) for a million dollars (Acts 19:18-20).
Paul's books may well have included books dealing with creation and ancient history (it is fascinating to note that Paul quoted from three early Greek writers who had dealt with this theme, when he debated with the evolutionary philosophers at Athens—Acts 17:23-28. It is also worth noting that Paul quoted from or alluded to references in the Book of Genesis approximately 100 times in his epistles. He was profoundly interested in the primeval origin of the world and of the nations, especially Israel.
In any case, he had previously urged young Timothy (who had "from a child . . . known the holy scriptures"; see II Timothy 3:15) to "give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (I Timothy 4:13), and Paul would surely continue to do so himself as long as he lived.
Now if reading good books was of such vital importance for Paul and the early Christians, it is surely even more important for us today.
Actually, books have always been important. The very first man on Earth probably wrote the very first book on Earth—"the book of the generations of Adam" (Genesis 5:1)—in which he recorded the great events that took place at the Creation, the Fall, and the Curse. Archaeology has shown that people have been able to read and write throughout all known history. Literally thousands of clay and stone tablets have been unearthed at Ebla, Ur, and other ancient cities, dating back to well before the days of Abraham. Furthermore, these were not just books written by scholars for other scholars. They included grocery lists, property transactions, and all kinds of mundane documents. Everyone knew how to read and write, long before Abraham or Moses.
There is good evidence that the Book of Genesis was written by Adam, Noah, and the other ancient patriarchs, then finally compiled and edited by Moses as the first book in the Pentateuch. People have been reading books since the beginning of history.
Interestingly, the first mention of "book" in Scripture had to do with Adam's book, as noted above. The first mention in the New Testament is in Matthew 1:1—"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ."
Thus the Old Testament deals with the heritage of "the first man, Adam"; the New Testament with that of "the second man . . . the Lord from heaven" (I Corinthians 15:45,47), and both were written in books as the Lord's "Word . . . forever settled in heaven" (Psalm 119:89).
The truly indispensable books, of course, are the 66 books of the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. In fact, this collection is called THE Book—the Bible. The word "Bible" comes from the Greek biblion, which means "book" and is used some thirty times in the New Testament. The final occurrence of biblion seems clearly to refer to the completed Bible, warning men not to take any of the words away "from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:19). Like Paul, however, we do need to be selective in what we read. Many authors have had great influence for bad (Darwin, Marx, Mao, Kinsey, etc.), and time is too precious to waste on harmful or trivial reading.
We now are living in what many are calling "the information age," though much of the information being disseminated might better be called "disinformation," just as much of what is called "science" is really "science falsely so-called" (I Timothy 6:20). Serious reading, whether of the Bible or substantive books of any kind, is being phased out of the lives of many people—even Christians—in this "information age." Movies and live entertainment, television and video, and now the great Web, are providing so much mini-information and absorbing so much time that good books and the Good Book itself are being forgotten.
This is not good. Communication via video and the Internet can be greatly used by Christians, as well as others, of course, and ICR has produced many fine videos and has a significant Web Page, but the best way to really learn is still through direct personal reading and study—especially of the Bible, but also of other good books—books that are sound and substantive, Biblically as well as scientifically and historically.
Dr. Gertrude Himmelfarb, one of our finest living historians, recently made the following insightful comment concerning the Bible:
If we want, for example, a concordance to the Bible, we can find no better medium than the Internet. But if we want to read the Bible, to study it, think about it, reflect upon it, we should have it in our hands, for that is the only way of getting it into our minds and hearts.1
Dr. Himmelfarb was using the Bible as an example but, in context, she was stressing the unique importance of reading good books in general. She herself is not writing as a Christian, but merely as a distinguished scholar concerned about the decline of the humanities in modern thought. She is Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of the City University of New York.
One of her early books, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959, 422 pp.) was a devastating critique of the social impact of Darwinism. Her latest book, The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995) won the annual Templeton Foundation Prize as the Outstanding Contemporary Book for 1997.
In her article for the American Scholar (the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society), Dr. Himmelfarb was deploring the over-computerization of modern university libraries. While appreciative of computer catalogs and the ability to retrieve information rapidly, as well as other advantages, she was concerned with the fact that "workstations" were replacing carrels and that students and faculty were consulting the Internet more than the books, especially the great books that reach both mind and heart. She concluded her study with these words:
These are the books that sustain our mind and inspire our imagination. It is there that we look for truth, for knowledge, for wisdom. And it is these ideals that we hope will survive our latest revolution.2
Professor Himmelfarb was concerned (and rightly so) about the decline of reading the great books of the past (Augustine, Milton, etc.), and we need to encourage Christians as well to "give attendance to reading"—both the Bible and substantive Christian books of both past and present. It is especially important to get our young people in the habit of reading good Christian books that are both sound Biblically (particularly with reference to creation and history) and also reliable factually.
In the closing words of his gospel, the Apostle John made an amazing claim: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).
How could this be? Such a statement seems like a gross exaggeration. But there is at least one intriguing possibility.
The footnote on this verse in The Defender's Study Bible makes this comment:
This apparently hyperbolic statement is actually quite realistic. The four Gospels only record what Jesus began both to do and teach (Acts 1:1). These works and words have been continued throughout the world for 2000 years by all those in whom Christ dwells by the Holy Spirit. If every such person could write a complete autobiography about all that the indwelling Spirit of God has done in and through him, the number of books would indeed be astronomical. And this will continue throughout eternity.
In this sense, another seemingly exaggerated observation, way back in the days of King Solomon, might also turn out to be precisely true. ". . . of making many books there is no end" (Ecclesiastes 12: 12). Solomon then complained, however, that "much study is a weariness of the flesh," and this can be true today as well. Serious reading does take time, of course, and may well involve discipline and prioritizing of one's time commitments. Remember that the good can be the enemy of the best.
For whatever my personal testimony may be worth, studying the Bible and good books have been of inestimable blessing to me for almost 60 years. I believe many others could say the same.
Therefore, I would commend it to you as well!
1 Gertrude Himmelfarb, "Revolution in the Library." American Scholar, Spring 1997.
* Dr. Henry Morris is Founder and President Emeritus of ICR.