After some saints of my church decided to clear out our Sunday school storage area (who wants to do that job?), an unusual question was posed:
“What do we do with damaged Bibles?”
I was not quite sure how to answer the question. I figured we could donate the Bibles to the Salvation Army or another religious nonprofit.
After the damaged Bibles sat in a box outside my office for a week, another church member asked about the Bibles. I told her we were going to donate the holy books. She picked up one of the Bibles, and pages started falling out.
“We are going to donate these?” The look on her face told me these Bibles were not worthy to give to anyone, and she was right. How can you tell others about Christ when the end of the Gospel of Luke is missing?
How do you throw away a Bible? That question just seems wrong. I believe the proper question is, “How do you properly dispose of damaged Bibles?” You cannot just burn them. I think. That just evokes images of Nazi Germany. Not the route we want to go here, folks.
After some research, I discovered the answer to the question, “How do you properly dispose of damaged Bibles? Well, there is no “proper” way.
Buried Torah scrolls
Jews bury damaged Torah scrolls and even put the scrolls in a mini-“coffin.” A service follows. Catholicism provides rites to dispose of Bibles, but none are prescribed by church law. I read an online discussion room about this matter, where Catholics joked they wish their church Bibles were worn out—that would be a good sign of use. One woman even said in her 30 years as a parish employee, she never ran into the problem!
Here are some possible disposal options:
• Recycle. It is better that the Good Book could be put to something useful than just ending up in a landfill.
• Repair. The best option, but not cost-effective.
• Donate. Who wants a Bible with missing pages? Would you want to read a book that is missing the ending?
• Burn. Remember that book-burning scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Don’t burn a Bible.
• Bury. Seems respectable.
The issue at hand is just how reverent do you treat the Bible? RBC Ministries (http://rbc.org/) offers this take on this issue: “Even though we don’t venerate the Bible as a physical object, we should treat old Bibles with respect because of the sacred truth they contain. It is somewhat a matter of Christian liberty how we dispose of an old Bible.”
A Bible relieved of duty
Although we see the Bible as holy, we do not worship the Bible. We worship God. However, we respect and cherish God’s word. In turn, we must respect and cherish the words that have inspired us to become Christians. Thus, we should have a way in which we relieve a Bible’s duty to communicate God’s word because the book is not in readable condition.
My vote is for a short liturgy and burial. When communion is unused, many churches commit the elements to the ground. Should we do the same with Bibles?
What do you think?
Alan Rudnick is pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, N.Y., and a soon-to-be Judson Press author. He blogs for the Albany Times Union on faith, Christianity and culture. His column was distributed by ABPnews/Herald.