QUESTION: My Bible is old and wearing out. What should I do with it? Would it be a sin to throw it away?
ANSWER: One time a young confirmand was showing off his new leather-bound Bible to a fellow church member. He said, “I hope the Bible stays like new for a long time.”
The other, more mature church member answered, “I hope your Bible wears out. That would mean you’ve actually been using it all this time.”
Christians use their Bibles well. Pages grow dog-eared, coffee-stained, and crinkled. Book bindings break. Ink fades. Occasionally, some believers have used their Bibles so well and so often that pages start to fall out of them! Over time, with consistent use, Bibles wear out.
This sometimes presents a problem because Christians understand that the Bible is the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God, living and powerful, sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), able to make a person wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). The words of Scripture declare the full and free forgiveness of sins through the perfect life, innocent death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). So it is only natural that Christians would want to give honor to the pages on which the Word of God is printed. It does not seem honorable to just throw God’s Word into a trash can.
An important distinction needs to be made, however. While it’s true that the Word of God is divinely inspired, the pages, the ink, the binding and leather—these things are not. Even though believers show reverence to Bibles both publicly and privately, what they revere is not the Book itself, but what the Book says.
Scripture itself does not provide us with a direct answer as to how to dispose of a well-used copy of a Bible. There is no command; neither is any action that could be taken forbidden. Christians are free to choose how and where to dispose of their old Bibles according to their own conscience. Provided that no one is left with the impression that God’s Word is being despised, there is no sin in throwing an old, unusable Bible away. With that in mind, here are some other options one might consider.
Rebind. Several companies will rebind old books, even old Bibles. This is the costliest option, but if you have notes in your Bible that you would like to keep, this is the simplest route to take.
Burial. Ancient Jews would take religious scrolls and manuscripts which were no longer usable and place them into a box called a genizah. The genizah would then be buried beneath the synagogue or even in a cemetery. If you chose to do so, you could also ceremonially bury your old copy of Scripture.
Donate. A Google search reveals several places that will take old, damaged Bibles—and in some cases, even parts of Bibles—to refurbish them for distribution around the world to people who need the Word of God in their lives the most.
Recycle. If your conscience will allow it, just place your copy in the recycling bin with your other paper materials.
One more thing: remember the law of love and take care to avoid offending weak brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 14). Whether someone recycles an old copy of the Bible or buries it ceremonially, either option can be carried out quietly without attracting unnecessary attention.
I’m glad your Bible is worn out. That’s because you’ve actually been using it!
Rev. Piet Van Kampen
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Green Bay, WI