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A story from Religion News Service reports that if someone could gather up all the Bibles either being used or gathering dust in U.S. homes, the stack would be 29 million feet tall – a tower that would rise more than 5,400 miles. For comparative purposes, the International Space Station‘s orbit is only 278 miles at its highest point.

Why do we have so many Bibles? The growing number of new translations and niche versions is one reason. Bibles generate huge profits for the publishing industry so they’re constantly trying to capture new markets with specialty versions for people of different ages and with different occupations or hobbies (think teens, truckers, fishermen and so on).

I’m sure that’s not the only reason we own so many Bibles, however. Unlike many other books, it’s hard to throw away a Bible. I mean, who wants to put a Bible in the trash can? Wouldn’t that bring down the wrath of God? It’s hard enough to donate one to Goodwill or another charity. Somehow, getting rid of a Bible feels like admitting that we don’t really read it or use it.

I’ve done my part to contribute to the high population of Bibles. While the Barna Group says the average American family owns three, I probably own more than 30 print editions in English alone, along with versions in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and a variety of modern languages. I could add more than 100 additional Bibles if I counted those I have access to in Bible software programs, but they wouldn’t add much to the stack.

Owning a tower of Bibles or displaying a giant version for the coffee table may appear impressive, but we all know the Bible’s true message doesn’t seep out by osmosis – or else Americans would be a far more just and righteous people. None of our Bibles do us any good unless we take time to read them, meditate on the stories they tell, seek God’s guidance in understanding what it means to live as Scripture teaches.

Maybe the important question is not how many feet of Bibles we own, but whether our Bibles put feet to our faith.

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.

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