Paul's Last Words
When a man or woman is ready to die, you usually place great import upon the last words they might say. Paul's final recorded words were etched into history in the Epistle of II Timothy. They will shine a ray of light on what this man of God was really about. His thoughts will reveal above all about what was really important to him; of what he really valued. Hopefully, they will encourage us to esteem the priceless gift that God has given us; that required great sacrifice of human lives to insure it's survival. That gift is God's Holy Bible.
2 Timothy—Paul's Final Epistle
The Epistle of Second Timothy would be the last letter the Apostle Paul would ever write. As we begin to examine Paul's last days, we need to orient ourselves as to when the Epistle of II Timothy occurred in Paul's ministry. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem about 58 A.D. He arrived in Rome about 61 A.D. He was imprisoned in Rome, but in his own hired house from about 61-63 A.D. This is mentioned in Acts 28:30-31- "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him." We know that during this time he wrote what are commonly called the "Prison Epistles"; Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon.
It is believed he was released from prison about 63 A.D.
From about 64-67 A.D. Paul traveled a considerable distance. There is a legend that he traveled as far as Spain. During this time he wrote I Timothy and Titus from Macedonia. The horrific "Neronian Persecution" of Christians began about 64 A.D. Thousands of Christians were being martyred in Rome. In the wake of this persecution Paul was rearrested about 67 A.D., possibly at Troas (2 Timothy 4:13) and taken to Rome. This time he was arrested as a criminal by Roman agents, not as his first imprisonment, when he was brought there by the Jews for what they believed was a technical violation of their law. Paul knew there would be no release from this imprisonment. He wasn't allowed to dwell this time in his own hired house, but cast into a dark, dank and depressing dungeon. He knew his ministry was fading to it's end.
Paul now as an aged and worn veteran of the faith, is laying down his arms so to speak, that the younger Timothy might take them us as a spiritual warrior of the Gospel. Notice his final charge to the younger Elder in the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy,
Paul's Final Charge To Timothy
"4:1 - I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
3 -For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4- And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
5- But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
6- For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7- I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 -Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
9 -Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me:
10 For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
12- And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.
13- The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments."
Paul Had Needs
It is palpable what Paul is feeling and enduring at this time. He is lonesome. He has been forsaken and left alone to await his execution in a cold, cheerless dungeon. He longs for the company of the one he probably loved more than anyone on the face of the earth; his "Son In The Faith"; Timothy. It is striking that he asks for Mark; because he had refused to take Mark with him on their second missionary journey, since Mark had abandoned them. The years had probably mellowed Paul, as they do most all. Obviously, Mark has proved his worth and Paul desires wants to encourage him as well as Timothy. Clearly, because of his hasty arrest at Troas, many of his precious belongings had been left behind that he needed; including his cloak. The cloak (Greek- 'Phainole') was a great circular rug like garment. It had a hole for the head in the middle and it covered a man like a little tent; reaching down to the ground. It was a garment for the winter time. It is cold in the dungeon, winter is drawing on and Paul knows he will need his cloak for warmth.
He also desires to have the books. The Greeks word used here is "biblia" referring to papyrus rolls. Papyrus were reeds beaten together used to make ancient paper. These "books" could have been the earliest forms of the Gospels or papyrus scrolls from the Old Testament, it is difficult to say.
Paul Longed For The Scriptures
But more than anything he desires the "parchments". The Greek word here is "membrana" (#3200 in Strong's Concordance). It refers to the membrane from the skin of sheep or perhaps a goat. By Paul's time the The Hebrew scribes usually wrote the sacred text of the Old Testament on the most enduring and valuable material they could. Parchment had become the writing material of choice, though it was much more expensive than the papyrus paper. Scripture could only be written on skin taken from a clean animal.
While it is impossible to prove with certainty, they most probably were the the parchments, that is, untanned leather scrolls of the Hebrew canon. The weight of New Testament scholarship accepts this as being most likely. Adam Clarke believes he may also have desired a copy of the Greek Septuagint. He most certainly had it in hand in his ministry; it was the O.T. translation most the Greek speaking Jews and new converts relied upon.
What Paul likely wanted most of all were the sacred Scriptures. The Old Testament canon comprised the sole scriptures they taught out of at that time. The New Testament canon had not yet developed. This portrays vividly what was most precious to him in his final days. What he treasured most were the sacred Scriptures.
William Tyndale — History Repeated!
It is amazing how history has a way of repeating itself. Fast forward about 1500 years. Another courageous man of God is in prison. It is the year 1535. His name is William Tyndale. Why was he in prison? He had been accused and branded as a heretic by authorities of The Church in England. The Church at Rome accused him of heresy also. He was hated by both. What was his crime?
This learned scholar had set his heart to provide the first printed New Testament, translated from the original Greek, for the English speaking people. Neither the authorities of the Church at Rome or the newly established Church of England under King Henry VIII wanted the common man to have access to the scriptures. They feared the truth that lay people would receive by a Bible could surely limit their power and control. Because of this William Tyndale was forced to defy the English King, the Pope, and all other authorities. He had in addition openly condemned many of the practices, false doctrines and hypocrisy of the organized Church that contradicted scripture.
Forced To Flee England
He was compelled to flee from England, where he continued his work translating the Greek scriptures into English. He hid out in several cities in Germany, Holland and Belgium; always trying to stay one step ahead of the agents sent from England to arrest him. He finally was able to get the job done and this branded "outlaw" gave the English-speaking world it's most priceless heritage; the original Greek scriptures in it's mother tongue. It is estimated that up to 83% of the New Testament in the King James Authorized Version has it's origins from the translation of William Tyndale. This translation was finally completed and the Bible's had to be smuggled into England, being shipped from Germany.
Partially Translated Hebrew Old Testament Into English
We know he also desired to translate the Old Testament canon from the Hebrew into English, though he did not live to complete it. He was able to translate the Pentateuch(First five books of the Old Testament), Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, First and second Chronicles, and the book of Jonah from the Hebrew into English. It is estimated that up to 76% of the KJV Old Testament finds its origin from William Tyndale. If you will look into your Bible in Leviticus 16:30 for example you will see the word "atonement". The Hebrew word in the original is "kaphar" (#3722 Strong's Concordance). It essentially means "to cover", "to forgive" or "to expiate". William Tyndale was looking for a word which represented our reconciliation with God through the offering of blood. He combined two words, "at" + "onement" and coined the word "atonement" which we find today in our English Bibles! His influence on the translation of the the English Bible is lasting!
Wiliam Tyndale Captured And Imprisoned
He was finally captured, arrested and imprisoned in the the Vilvorde Castle about six miles north of Brussels, Belgium. The castle had been erected in 1374; modeled after the castle in Bastille. It was a grim castle indeed with it's moat, seven towers, three draw-bridges and massive walls making it virtually impregnable. William Tyndale was thrown into one of it's foul smelling damp dungeons; with dripping walls and rats scurrying about inside. In it's solitary darkness he waited for his end. He had been imprisoned in May of 1534.
Suffering In Prison
But he remained till the end a diligent defender of the truth. He continued to write in defense of the Gospel. As the autumn of 1534 faded, he shivered with chill through the day and more so through the night. He suffered continually with some type of miserable cold and upper respiratory infection. He penned his little treatise Faith alone justifies before God. As winter drew on and the light began to fail; a few hours a day were all he could use for writing with the scant amount of light that came from the window. It was a dismal view to the outside with the depressing moat surrounding the castle. But he wanted to finish his work; after all it was what he would soon be dying for. In the mean time, the pompous scholars of his time sat in their warm libraries, with their servants scurrying about for more logs for their fires; defended the false doctrines of the popes. The little, frail reformer shivered and toiled on in his writing.
Letter Asking For His Needs
The winter of 1535 was so harsh, he decided to write a letter to the Marquis of Bergen for a few essentials to continue his writing and study and to preserve what little life he had left in his depleted body. This letter was written in Latin; it is the ONLY letter in Tyndale's hand that has survived. He would write:
"I believe ... that you are not unaware of what may have been determined concerning me. Wherefore I beg your lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here through the winter, you will request the commissary to have the kindness to send me, from the goods of mine which he has, a warmer cap; for I suffer greatly from the cold in the head, and am afflicted by a perpetual catarrh (some type of upper respiratory infection), which is much increased in this cell; a warmer coat also, for this which I have is very thin; a piece of cloth to patch my leggings. My overcoat is worn out. He has a woolen shirt, if he will will be good enough to send it. I have also with leggings of thicker cloth to put on above; he has also warmer night caps. And I asked to be allowed to have a lamp in the evening; it is indeed wearisome sitting alone in the dark. But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have the HEBREW BIBLE, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study. In return, may you obtain that which you most desire, so only that it be for the salvation of your soul. But if any other decision has been made concerning me, to be carried out before winter, I will be patient, abiding the will of God, to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ; whose SPIRIT (I pray) may ever direct your heart. — W. Tindalus
Most of All He Wanted His Hebrew Bible
The letter is typical of the simplicity of Tyndale. There is no cringing flattery, no frantic pleads for mercy, no sniveling about his hardships. He only asks for his needs and above all his Hebrew Bible, with the Hebrew study aids. He fervently desired to continue to study the scriptures. Perhaps he also wanted to continue to work on his Old Testament translation from the Hebrew into English. He always desired to share his knowledge and insights with everyone. William Tyndale was an unselfish, giving man.
Probably, however, he intuitively knew his life work was flickering out to it's end. He was simply a man who love to study and be comforted by God's Word. That passion for Bible Study still fired his spirit; even till his last days. Whether is request was ever granted we will never know. But what is most striking of all about this , is the similarity of the situation he had with the Apostle Paul shortly before his death. Both of these servants of God, above all, desired the sacred Scriptures. That was what was the most dear to them. They wanted to continue to study and be refreshed by the sacred text.
Sentenced To Death
Early in August 1536 William Tyndale was condemned as a heretic and sentenced to his death. One day, early in the month of October he was led out of the castle toward the southern gate of the town. The sun had barely risen above the horizon when he arrived at the open space where his execution would take place. People were jostling forward for a good view. A circle of stakes enclosed the place of his execution. Brushwood was piled inside this that would be used to burn the accused heretic. In the center was a large pillar of wood in the form of a cross and as tall as a man. A strong chain hung from the top and a noose of hemp was threaded through a hole in the upright. Attorneys and great doctors seated themselves comfortably in front and looked on. William Tyndale was brought in. A final appeal was made for him to recant. Would he deny the faith for which so many of his friends had died?
His Final Prayer
Would he renounce the words he had so faithfully declared from the scriptures over the years. Tyndale stood immovable. His keen and clear eyes gazed towards the common people that he pitied for their ignorance of scripture. His eyes met the cruel, merciless stares of his judges and accusers and doubtless pitied them as well. A silence fell over the crowd as they watched the lean form and thin, tired face of the prisoner. His lips moved with a final, impassioned prayer that would echo across the stillness to the whole world. The words would reach to God in Heaven who governs the affairs of men: "Lord, open the King of England's Eyes". The details of what followed his prayer are too painful to recount. He was strangled and then burnt at the stake. The trials and work of William Tyndale were ended. But one thing would not end. The powerful faith of his fervent prayer continued to live on. God was not through with the work of William Tyndale.
England Receives The English Bible
In the year of Tyndale's death two Bibles were circulating in England. One came from the pen of Miles Coverdale and the other called the "Matthew's Bible" from the pen of John Rogers, the converted chaplain of the English House in Antwerp. Both Bibles were dedicated to His Majesty and awaited his Royal consent. BOTH contained Tyndale's New Testament, virtually unaltered and heavily dependent upon his Pentateuch and the aforementioned books of the Old Testament. Everyone held their breath. King Henry VIII ran his eyes over Coverdale's Bible; Tyndale's name did not appear. That could not be revealed. Tyndale's work was there within it's pages however. The Bishops assured the King they could find no errors. "Then if there be no heresies" roared Henry, "in God's Name let it go abroad among the people".
The King's Eyes Opened! — His Prayer Answered!
A year later King Henry gave this even more weight when he authorized a small phrase of immense significance to the foot of the title of Mathew's Bible. It read, "Set forth with the King's most gracyous lycense." The King of England's eyes had been opened! Three years later, in 1539, Henry VIII required every parish church in England to make a copy of the English Bible available to its parishioners. Bishop Fox of Hereford declared, "The lay people do now understand the Holy Scripture better than many of us." The English speaking people finally had the Bible! Yes, God answered the final prayer of William Tyndale who died for the scriptures and the common people he loved so much.
Two Servants of God Who Loved The Bible
We thoughtfully consider these two wonderful men of faith, who sat in their prisons awaiting death, longingly desiring to have the Word of God to study and be comforted with. I think most of us, who are veterans in the faith, understand. I believe most of you who are new in the faith will quickly come to this understanding as well. I know I did. I look at my old King James Version Bible, worn with time, that has comforted, strengthened me through trials and the experiences we all must go through, in our walk of faith. And then I ask myself, "What would I have done without this 'old friend' by my side?" I know Jeanette, my wife and companion in the faith, looks at her worn out, marked Bible with the same devotion. It is really inexpressible how we come to feel about this inspired Book of Books. What a gift of God the Bible is. Only the gift of His Son and His Spirit is greater. But of course, most would have not known about our Savior or how to receive the Holy Spirit without the Bible.
Comfort of The Scriptures
We are encouraged by the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:4 "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." We visualize these two wonderful servants of God, sitting in a cold, cheerless prison, awaiting their death and how much they longed for the comfort and encouragement of the scriptures. We think of our own life and how many times the only place we could go to was our Bible for encouragement and refreshing of our inner selves. It's an experience that is too profound to put into words, how the Bible fills a hole in our heart that nothing else in this world can. And it moves us, because we can so dearly relate to why Paul told Timothy, as he awaited his death in prison, "The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but ESPECIALLY THE PARCHMENTS."
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