A friend who owns a couple of worn-out-beyond-repair Bibles posed the question: “How do you dispose of an old Bible?”
That’s a question worth asking. The Bible is the most published book of all time, a perennial best-seller, so there are bound to be plenty of old ones around. As I noted in an earlier blog, many of us have shelves full of them, including many that we no longer use.
So is there a proper way to dispose of a Bible that’s too far gone to donate?
My first thought was that, while we should treat Bibles with respect, we should also guard against treating the Bible as an idol. We call it the “Holy Bible,” but it’s the message conveyed in the biblical story that is sacred, not the paper and ink. So, any proper method of disposal might do … but it’s hard to envision throwing a Bible in the trash and knowing it’s headed to a landfill along with food scraps and dirty diapers and junk mail.
It occurred to me that I’ve never had the heart to dispose of a Bible, other than the ones I’ve given away. I still have the first Bible I remember getting (a hardback official “Sword Drill” KJV), and the second (with a fake leather burgundy cover, also KJV), and the third (a black leather Schofield KJV), and my ordination Bible (a Thompson Chain Reference KJV). I don’t use any of those any more, but they have sentimental value, and are still on the shelf, along with my first Good News Bible, RSV, Williams translation, NASB, NIV, Living Bible, NRSV, TNIV, along with a bunch more in various translations or languages.
When I die, they’ll probably still be on the shelf, and Samuel or some poor librarian will have to decide what to do with them.
Back to the original question: is there a proper way to dispose of a Bible? I’m not aware of any official church doctrine among either Catholics or Protestants, but there are customs.
It’s traditional in some circles to burn sacred texts when they are too far gone to be useful. That was the practice among some of the monks responsible for making hand-written copies of the scriptures, and it remains the standard practice in synagogues, where Torah scrolls that can no longer be read are ceremonially burned.
Some people prefer to bury old Bibles, either in a box or not, depending on how quickly they like to imagine the pages returning to the soil. Either burning or burying could be done with some ceremony, if one wished.
The American Bible Society takes a more pragmatic view, suggesting that it would be quite honorable to recycle old Bibles as we do other books.
If anyone has other suggestions, I’m sure many readers would be interested in hearing them. How do you dispose of old Bibles — or do you?