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Should You Throw Away an Old Bible?

old-bible-1I purchased my first digital Bible several years ago. It’s become my default “Sunday Bible” for preaching and study. So I was a little dismayed when the fellas at The Gospel Coalition suggested that pastors should stick to preaching from a physical Bible. The reasons they gave are noble, but debatable.

I will agree, however, that physical Bibles possess a certain “value” that digital Bibles do not.

My favorite Bible is the one pictured here, an old Thompson Chain Reference New International Version, which I bought shortly after I became a Christian (1980). It was my go-to preaching and study Bible throughout the ministry. I made extensive notes and references in it (like the ones in the bottom picture), and have scribbled numerous margin memos. But as physical things tend to do, it has succumbed to wear, which in this case means coffee stains, excessive bookmarking, and sermon thumping. Hence, the old girl has long gone into retirement, and now collects dust in a converted wine rack in my office.old-bible-2

I have hesitated to throw this Bible away. In fact, I’ve even heard it suggested that doing so would be… sinful.

Many years ago, my friends and I attended a gospel meeting to hear an elderly evangelist preach who lived in a luxury independent retirement community. It was a young crowd, full of saved ex-hippies. We sat in the front row and had our Bibles resting on the carpet underneath our chairs. To our surprise, the preacher took affront to this “bad habit.” He noted that in many faith traditions, laying ones Bible on the ground is irreverent, even sacrilegious. “People suffered and died to get that Bible into your hands,” said the gruff evangelist. “The least you could do is respect it.”

I’ve been traumatized ever since.

old-bible-3So when we last moved and I spent time downsizing my library, I was conflicted about what to do with this old Bible. I’d cut my teeth on this baby and, in many ways, it represents a “map” of my spiritual journey. Not to mention, like the evangelist reckoned, men and women have shed their blood so that I could hold this in my hands. How dare I think of throwing it away! But it’s just binding and pieces of paper, I reasoned. The Word of God transcends the paper on which it’s written. However, if there’s something sacrilegious about laying your Bible on the floor, putting it in the trash can has got to be grounds for incineration.

To avoid lightning strikes or a plague of hemorrhoids on my household, I keep this Bible safely tucked away for… well, I don’t know what for.

When I brought this up at church recently, one man suggested that passing such Bibles down through your family is a great thing to do. In fact, he had an old Bible willed down from his great-grandmother, which he cherished. He had a point. I mean, willing my digital Bible to my family would not carry nearly as much sentiment as this ragged Thompson Chain Reference with coffee stains and a bum binding. So I immediately seized upon the idea.

Hence, I have abandoned any thought of throwing away this old Bible. It’s back in its spot, safely tucked away inside the wine cabinet where it will collect dust and decay. Waiting for my children. After I die, they can figure out what to do with it. And if they decide to throw it away… they can chance the wrath of God.

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Jay September 11, 2013, 5:36 AM

    The Bible’s printed words aren’t runic. God is more or less indifferent to the physical form His revelation takes, depending on the context at the time. Moses’s tablets, for example.

    However, good idea to keep it. Within its context as a talisman of sentiment, it can only help to redirect affections if you’re having trouble. God can deliver sentiment any way He wants in that regard but for you, Mike, in this instance, keeping it might be within the plan.

    • Jay September 11, 2013, 6:55 AM

      Forgot to mention…that pastor you visited had a Pharisaical streak in him. It was basically a way for him to buttress a sense of psychological control over complete strangers (you and your wife) within his captive audience. God laughs, to put it in light terms, at our attempts to manipulate His name to create laws out of nowhere for our benefit.

  • Kat Heckenbach September 11, 2013, 5:37 AM

    I have the Bible that belonged to my grandmother, which first belonged to her husband–my grandfather, obviously, but he died years before I was even born, so I never got to meet him. Which, of course, makes it even more special because I know the pages were turned by his hands, and by the hands of a grandmother I loved very much.

    So yeah, passing down is a good idea.

    However, if you have a Bible that isn’t so much of heirloom material, here’s a suggestion: a lot of Christian artists use Bible pages in their artwork. Maybe find one to donate that type of Bible to. Same goes for old hymnals.

  • Ramona Richards September 11, 2013, 6:01 AM

    A new Bible, an unused Bible, is just a book. One marked with the faith of those who came before us, like yours–and my grandmother’s–are treasures to be passed on. When I first worked for the Bible division of Thomas Nelson, one of my task was to cut up a Bible for scanning. Very old school–using an exacto knife to slice out the pages. Took me an hour to work up the nerve. But it was a useful lesson. On the other hand, when we were looking for a Bible to use on the cover of the Blackaby Study Guides, we wound up photographing one of Henry Blackaby’s much-used Bibles, which are treasured by his family. (http://www.amazon.com/Ephesians-Blackaby-Bible-Series-Encounters/dp/1418526479/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378904242&sr=8-2&keywords=blackaby+study+guides).

  • Nicole September 11, 2013, 6:24 AM

    I totally get it. On my desk is my first plain old once hardbound NIV. It’s my favorite, and it’s stayin’, baby.

  • Janet September 11, 2013, 6:45 AM

    Dear Mike,
    I was saved later in life, age 33, so I still have my first Bible with underlined passages, dates and messages 17 years later.
    When my grandmother died, who was a quiet Christian all her life, I asked for her Bible. It was an old RSV with a zippered cover. When I opened it, inside was a treasure trove of mementos. A little white crocheted cross, small pieces of paper with written sayings, each nestled in a special spot between the pages, underlined passages and notes. I received a very special gift that day, seeing a part of my grandmother I had never seen before.
    Then I asked for my grandfather’s hymnal and my mother’s old little Bible held together with black tape. Again, full of notes and underlined passages.

    My mother married an unbeliever, so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. As I grew in my walk with the Lord after getting saved, I used to wonder where was the Christian heritage in my family. In the last three years I did a bit of work on my American genealogy, and found this obituary for my mother’s great grandfather on her dad’s side. It talked about his strong Christian life, love of family and how much he was admired in the community.
    Now that little gem of Christian heritage is tucked in the pages of my first Bible.
    I guess why I like collecting the family Bibles, is it is like a visual representation of the Hebrews faith hall of fame within my own family line.
    Or it is like the Old Testament Kings, where we see one generation following God and the next wandering away from God and the next returning.
    It has given me a sense of how God has been working through my family down through the generations and now through me. God is using me as the light and salt in the rest of my unbelieving natural family.
    We cannot know the impact our old Bibles and what we have written in them will have on future members of our family, but I save all this for them, because I think it will be positive and special.

    Great post!
    In Christ,
    Janet

  • Marcia September 11, 2013, 6:52 AM

    I think that idea of “can’t lay the Bible on the ground” is just another man-made religious rule that I personally haven’t run into before and is rather silly. But if your conscience isn’t clear about discarding a worn-out Bible, then I say don’t.

    God has a way of spreading Bibles around, though. I knew of a man who went out on his bike with his Bible in a basket or pack of some sort in the back. When he got to where he was going, the Bible was gone. He said, “Lord, that was my best Bible! I had all my notes in the margins! I’ve had it for years!” And he sensed God replying, “And now it’s in the hands of someone who needs it. You can go buy another one and read my word fresh, and not depend on your own notes in the margins or the grooves in the binding that make it flip open to certain spots.”

    I think one argument for discarding a Bible is when it gets so old that Genesis or Revelation falls out of it. Now it’s no longer the whole counsel of God.

  • Margaret September 11, 2013, 7:05 AM

    I have used the same Bible for over 30 years, and like yours, it is filled with sermon notes, study notes, pithy sayings, personal meditations, etc. Its binding has fallen apart but has been rescued from complete destruction through the blessings of shipping tape (for some reason, I haven’t been able to bring myself to use duct tape, though I may need to in the future). I treasure this Bible and hope that some day one of my daughters will want it for her own, but like you said, I will leave that up to them when the time comes. At the very least, I hope they would leave it on a park bench, a library table, or an airplane for someone else to enjoy.

    Glad you decided to save yours, Mike.

  • T. W. Johnson September 11, 2013, 8:34 AM

    It’s funny you should mention old Bibles, Mike. Here’s a story for you:

    My mother has owned her Bible since, let’s see…I was born in 1973 and saved in 1981, so…she was saved before I was born, and has owned her Bible since sometime before then (don’t remember how long, actually), anyway…on to the good stuff.

    In 2004, some of my immediate family gathered at my grandparents’ house just before Hurricane Charley hit our hometown (the worst one for us since 1960’s Hurricane Donna), and utterly whipped us out.

    My mother had left her old Bible on the kitchen table, opened to a certain book and chapter, etc. (don’t remember which one). After the storm, there were damaged homes, oak trees were overturned, limbs strewn (along with just about every power line and pole), downtown buildings were obliterated, and the entire city went without electricity and running water for close to a month. Many ended up living in FEMA trailers for several years thereafter.

    However, just after the storm, before curfews were set, the National Guard stationed, roads blocked, and the main highway was cut off for a couple of weeks, my parents navigated through the rubble to check on their house. When they got home, the 150 mph wind had caved in the kitchen’s double window, along with the wall. Water was everywhere, the table was drenched, things were scattered. It took years to repair all the damage.

    Her cherished old Bible (the same one she still uses today) was as she had left it: on the same page, unscathed, and completely dry.

  • Forest (D&D Preacher0 Ray September 11, 2013, 9:59 AM

    I have a old King James that has been on My family for ages. It is filled with notes and commentary and wisdom from so many of my forefathers. I do not see it as just another old King James but something that links me to my heritage.

  • janet September 11, 2013, 10:11 AM

    You started an interesting discussion here. Certainly a much-used and loved Bible can be a treasure and a family heirloom. On the other hand, a Bible itself isn’t holy or it becomes something of in idol. It’s the living word of God that is the treasure and that cannot be destroyed.

    I think I feel about how to treat the Bible the way I feel about what to wear to church. While I know God simply wants me to be in church and isn’t concerned about what I wear, I also feel that spending time with the Lord and other believers is special enough to generally wear something a bit dressier than what I normally wear and certainly not to wear anything provocative (although definitions of that can certainly vary.) In the same way, I take care of my Bible because of what it represents, not because of what it is.

    janet

  • Ray Ferguson September 11, 2013, 11:02 AM

    I heard a long time ago that one should never cover the Bible with another book. That has had a spooky effect on me to this day, decades later. For me, reading and studying it with a heart’s desire to be enlightened by God, seeking His face, and trying to apply it to my real life is the key. As I look over to my right, my KJV is uncovered, but my NLT has my NKJV on it, under a Bible commentary, under a notebook. To my left, my old KJV Thompson-Chain is on top, with a Bible dictionary under it. Never thrown a Bible away yet, but will leave all my books to my kids. Guess I may be a little superstitious, but I have no problem with putting it between my feet at church when we’re doing the “up and sing” part….

  • Tom Wright September 11, 2013, 11:24 AM

    Some years ago, our senior pastor was preaching from a dilapidated old NIV that had been his since he gave his life to Jesus when he was eight. It was an embarrassment to look at! He had taped it together first with duct tape and then with electrical tape OVER the duct tape. So, a month in advance of his birthday, I arranged with his wife to ‘kidnap’ the Bible with the goal of having it re-bound.

    I took it to the local Parable bookstore and they arranged to have it completely rebound in leather with the pastor’s name on the front fo about $40. I took up a collection from staff and we all enjoyed the pastor’s ongoing question of, “Have you seen my Bible?” for the next 4 weeks.

    On his birthday, I wrapped it and gave it to the pastor’s youngest daughter to present to him in a staff meeting with all of us present. The pastor, in receiving this gift, simply said, “This is the best gift anyone has ever given me.”

    What do you do with an old, beat-up Bible? Re-bind it and keep it, or give it away to someone who will valued it as much as you do.

    TW

  • GEOFF WRIGHT September 11, 2013, 4:03 PM

    I would keep it on hand to give to someone. There’s something charming about a well read book. You could tell them it’s one of your oldest and therefore special.

  • Susan Norris September 12, 2013, 3:35 AM

    Have you considered having your old Bible rebound? Just a thought.

  • Katherine Coble September 12, 2013, 1:39 PM

    I have saved my grandmother’s old Bibles as much for her notes as for the Bibles themselves. I keep all my Bibles for the same reason. Any Bibles I don’t find a personal need for I donate to various hospitals, schools and library book sales. But it’s been awhile since I’ve had spare Bibles to be honest.

    The matter of the Bibles I’ve had stolen is an entirely different and more perplexing question. 🙂

  • Nick Houze September 12, 2013, 7:57 PM

    I got an NIV Thompson Chain in 1983, and it was full of my notes. I used it for about 23 years when it walked away from a men’s breakfast at church. I began to use the NKJV New Spirit-filled Life Bible, and consider that an act of God.

  • Robert H. Woodman September 13, 2013, 7:34 PM

    Here are some thoughts for those of you who say the Bible is just a book:

    What is the American flag? It’s just a fancy piece of colored cloth.

    What does the American flag represent? It represents liberty, sacrifice, blood shed, wars fought, slaves freed, and 237 years of history, much of it ignoble or even infamous (think slavery, Jim Crow, oppression of Native Americans, and so forth), and yet much of it noble, glorious, and transforming for the whole world (I could list a huge number of things here).

    How are we as Americans supposed to treat the American flag? With greatest reverence and respect.

    Are there rules and procedures for disposing of American flags that are no longer serviceable? Yes.

    What is the Bible? It’s just a book, made of paper, ink, and glue, or electrons stored in computer memory in this digital age.

    What does the Bible represent? It represents liberty, sacrifice, blood shed, wars fought, slaves freed, and over 6000 years of history, including the central event of all history, salvation for all mankind by the grace of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is God’s Word to Mankind. Indeed, it is God’s revelation and love letter to every human being who has ever lived, lives now, and will ever live.

    I humbly submit to you readers that if you will treat an American flag with greater respect and care than you treat a Bible, you have your priorities inverted.

    I will also point out that if you want to have a real, effective witness to the Muslim world, you have to treat your Bible with respect. To Muslims, the Q’uran is Allah’s revelation to the world through Muhammad. Christians claim that the Bible is Yahweh’s revelation to the world through many inspired writers who all point to the central event of the Bible: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians who don’t treat their Bibles with respect have no legitimate witness to devout Muslims. This is not my opinion. This is reality based on my interactions with Muslims.

    If a Bible is no longer serviceable, it can be disposed of, but only with reverence, respect, and care.

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