How many unused Bibles do you have on your shelves? If you are anything like me, you probably have several. I still have the first Bible I used as a child, the first study Bible I ever owned (“The Believer’s Study Bible” edited by WA Criswell), and my first preaching Bible (which is worn-out beyond belief).
Some have estimated that American Christians have anywhere from 6-12 spare Bibles at home. Why do we amass such collections? For starters, I think it is because many of us are not sure how to dispose of an old Bible. Should we just chunk it into the garbage can along with the dirty diapers and casserole leftovers? Or is there some kind of official observance required, a kind of last “rites,” for a Bible?
In our culture, we show respect, even ceremony, when disposing of something cherished. As Americans, we do this when disposing of a tattered flag. The Veterans of Foreign War have specific guidelines that should be followed when a US flag becomes unusable. (FYI – The proper way to dispose of a US flag is to burn it, respectfully, until it is entirely turned to ash.) To dishonor our nation’s flag is a symbolic dishonoring of our nation.
With this in mind, what should we do about an old Bible? As Baptists, in particular, we pride ourselves on being “People of the Book.” We read and honor the Bible. However, when we say that we love the Bible, we don’t mean that we cherish the tissue-thin paper, black (or red) ink, and leather that binds it together. We love the words. We love the message. We love the revealed truth that it contains.
When we call it the “Holy” Bible – the holiness refers to the words not the container. There is nothing inherently sacred about the paper and ink of a copy of Scripture (like in Islam). There is no need to be particularly superstitious about disposing of it. Disposing of a copy of Scripture is one of those Romans 14 issues where each person should act according to their own conscience.
I have heard of some people who feel that an old Bible should be buried or ceremonially burned (like a US flag). If you feel that is respectful and important, I would encourage you to do it. Just don’t do it as a spectacle.
Of course, such ceremony is not necessary. If your conscience is not bothered, you can dispose of it by simply placing it in the paper recycling bin just like any other old book. Rest assured, you are not sinning by getting rid of an old Bible. (For those that are more digitally inclined, there is nothing wrong with uninstall a “Bible app” either – even if you need the space for Angry Birds. It’s ok.)
If burning, burying or throwing away an old Bible is still a bothersome idea, here are a few alternatives that you can consider.
1. Rebind it.
In our consumer-driven society, we are constantly allured by new editions, fresh designs and updated versions. Unfortunately, this is also true in the world of
Christian literature. We are often tempted to buy the latest translation or newest study Bible. Let me encourage you to think twice before impulsively buying a new one.
If your Bible, though is getting worn, consider having it Bible rebound. Very often, a Bible that we may think is too old, could provide another 10 years of reading after a new cover is applied. Compared to the cost of a brand new, leather Bible – rebinding can be an affordable alternative. The best part: you can still find everything exactly on the page as you remember read it for the past several years. J
2. Preserve it.
By this I mean, keep it for future generations as an heirloom of faith. Scrawled notes, quotes, and insights in a grandfather’s or grandmother’s Bible can be an invaluable treasure for future generations to thumb through. If you have multiple Bibles with notes, rewrite them into one and pass that one Bible on to your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren. A tangible reminder of a loved ones faith can go a long way to foster faith in those who come after them.
3. Donate it.
There are some wonderful para-church ministries that gladly receive used/donated Bibles and distribute them to men and women worldwide. The cost of printed materials, in some countries, is astronomical – and Bible recycling programs, such as this, enable people to have their own copy of God’s Word. You can simply mail your old Bible to them and they take care of the rest. (If you do mail a Bible to them, why not include a donation to help them with their effort. That would be awesome!)
This local, Lynchburg ministry distributes used copies of the Bible to inmates across the state of Virginia.
Find out more at: www.hopeaglow.com
With Bible gatherings networks throughout the US and Canada, The Bible Foundation has a vast system of churches and organizations ready to receive and redistribute old Bibles.
Find out more at: www.bf.org
Established in 1975, Love Packages has been sending, not only Bibles, but used Sunday School literature and other Christian materials to missionaries and international churches. Since their founding they have sent over 1,000 tons of Christian materials abroad.
Find out more at: www.lovepackages.org
Established in the 1950’s, CRI has the largest known ministry for Bible and Christian literature redistribution. Not only do they mail materials worldwide, but they also house a 10,000 square foot warehouse where stateside missionaries can get the literature and materials they need.
Find out more at: www.cribooks.org
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Suggestions and tips for this article came from Tim Challies’ “How Do I Dispose of A Bible?“