Passover, the Apostle Paul and Forgotten Parchments

Passover, the Apostle Paul and Forgotten Parchments April 22, 2024

Passover table decorated with lavendar
Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash

Power and purpose in storytelling and letter writing

Passover and Storytelling

We are wired for connection and storytelling is one of the ways in which we achieve this. Stories were passed down by oral tradition, long before the printing press. One of the many powerful stories in the Bible is that of the Passover, in which the Israelites, led by Moses, were delivered from slavery in ancient Egypt. The celebration of Passover includes the seder meal, which includes foods that have symbolic significance. For example, during the week of Passover, all leaven is prohibited, and only unleavened bread (matzo) may be eaten. The unleavened bread signifies the suffering of the Jews while in bondage and the haste with which they left Egypt. The celebrations also include prayers and recitations, including the following questions, asked by the youngest child:


“Why does this night differ from all other nights? For on all other nights we eat either leavened or     unleavened bread; why on this night only unleavened bread?”

“On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; why on this night only bitter herbs?”

“On all other nights we need not dip our herbs even once; why on this night must we dip them twice?”

“On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; why on this night do we all recline?”


The answers to the questions are recited in unison, giving spiritual meanings to each custom. For example, the bitter herbs are reminders of the bitterness of slavery and freedom is celebrated by reclining on cushions like royalty.


The Last Supper

The significance of the Passover story is not limited to Judaism. In Christianity, the Last Supper, as recorded in the synoptic gospels, was a Passover dinner and, it is what we commemorate by participating in Holy Communion. A proper understanding of the story of Passover can help deepen our appreciation of the significance of Holy Communion. As my colleague, Arthur Lazarus, MD, MBA, so eloquently states:

 “The power of the Passover story lies in its ability to weave together compelling narrative, deep symbolism, universal themes, and historical continuity.”  

There is a lot to be learned from the stories in the Bible, but it is important for us to realize that the Bible was not written directly to us. This is clearly demonstrated when we examine the letters of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.


Apostle Paul, the letter-writer

There are 27 books in the New Testament, several of which are letters written by Paul, the Apostle.

It is evident that he was a highly educated scholar, but beyond his academic credentials, he was in many ways a storyteller. His letters to the churches include stories of his interactions with groups of people and individuals alike. We can get a sense of some of the problems that the church in Corinth was experiencing by reading Paul’s letters to them. While there is much wisdom to be gained from Paul’s epistles, ignoring the fact that these letters were written to specific people or groups of people to address their situations at the time can be problematic.

When Paul makes statements about women keeping silent in church, confirmation bias would easily lead those with a patriarchal worldview to take this as evidence that women can’t hold positions of authority in the church. It takes a lot more effort to study the context in which Paul was making this statement and the reasoning behind it, not to mention the challenges of translation. (People often need to be reminded that the Bible wasn’t written in English). To complicate things further, there are several other passages where Paul praises women leaders and he tells women how to conduct themselves when they prophesy. Would this be the case if he genuinely believed that women should be silent? (For a thorough discussion of this topic, I recommend the book: The Bible vs Biblical Womanhood: How God’s Word Consistently Affirms Gender Equality by Philip B. Payne).

Taking a more nuanced approach to biblical interpretation requires a lot more effort, but it is definitely worth it. You can read more about approaches to biblical interpretation in this essay: “How Should We Interpret the Stories in the Bible?


And now, to the parchments

“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


Let’s say I went to visit a friend for the weekend and after returning to my own home, I realized that I forgot my laptop. The weather was warm on the day I was leaving, so I didn’t need a coat, forgot that I had brought one with me, and ended up leaving it behind. My friend had given me autographed copies of books she had written, but I couldn’t take them with me because my suitcase was full and I didn’t want to pay for a carry – on (that’s a new thing with some airlines).

So what do I do? I send her an email:

Hi, Sue

It was so nice seeing you again! I had a great time! Thanks so much for your hospitality!

I really look forward to your visit this summer. If it’s not too much trouble, please bring my laptop and coat with you. Fortunately, I have another laptop, so there’s no rush!  Oops! I almost forgot! Please bring the autographed books, too! I can’t wait to read them! 

Thanks so much! Can’t wait to see you again!


I don’t think anyone would read anything particularly spiritual into this message. It is simply a note from one friend to another, similar to what Paul wrote to Timothy in the verse quoted above.

As far as I know, no one develops doctrinal statements based on Paul’s asking Timothy to bring the things he left behind. It is clearly a specific instruction that was meant for the recipient. Yet, when it comes to other issues, it is sometimes harder to differentiate specific instructions from timeless doctrines. It is far too easy to assume that statements apply to us – simply because they are in the Bible, even when they don’t.

True inspiration from Bible stories requires a proper understanding of the context and meaning

We routinely hear pastors encouraging us to claim promises that were made to ancient Israelites (not us), because they are in the Bible. Similarly, statements of general principles that may sound like promises, but aren’t, are often “claimed” as promises. I have written about this issue in a separate essay titled “Is Every Promise in the Book Really Mine When it Comes to Adult Children?”


To quote Dr. Lazarus again, … “the Bible’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to speak to the human condition and offer timeless wisdom and inspiration to generations of readers. Its “greatest” stories have captured the imagination of readers for centuries and continue to be celebrated for their depth, complexity, and enduring relevance.”


The richness and depth of the stories in the Bible is lost when we simply take everything at face value, make faulty assumptions and come to wrong conclusions. Unfortunately, this can have dangerous consequences.

In conclusion, whether it’s the story of the Passover, the Last Supper, or one of Paul’s letters, there is so much more that we can learn when we take the time to understand the context, the culture and the deeper meanings attached to the stories and letters in the Bible. It is not easy, but definitely worth it.

Happy Passover to all who are celebrating!





About Olapeju Simoyan, MD, MPH
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan is a physician, board certified in family medicine and addiction medicine, with a special interest in the connections between faith and health. She strongly believes that faith and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive. As a female physician, Dr. Simoyan is also interested in women's issues and writes about religious abuse and trauma, with a focus on how misinterpretations of biblical texts have led to the perpetration of abuse within church settings. She has combined her writing and photography in several books, including Living Foolproof, a devotional based on reflections from the book of Proverbs. Her latest book, Transformation and Recovery - Lessons from the Butterfly, is a workbook suitable for people in recovery from addictions and other behavioral disorders. You can read more about the author here.
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