Thank you for your question about how to properly dispose of a Bible. It can be a troubling thing to contemplate discarding the Word of God in something so unceremoniously as tossing it in a garbage can or even a recycling bin. It is good to be thinking about it in such a way. So, to properly answer your question, let me ask you another one.
Question: What is the Bible?
Answer: Simply put, the Bible is the written record of God’s work throughout time, but ultimately serves as our source for pointing us to the person and works of Jesus Christ (John 5:39).
What happens when a beloved Bible begins to fray and tatter? This has always been a concern. During the temple period in Jerusalem, it was common to take the scrolls that were beginning to wear out and put them into ceramic jars (2 Kings 1:3-8) and put them into the walls of the temple. As a matter of fact, the discovery of those scrolls has helped modern man ensure that he has an accurate rendering of the Holy Scriptures by have generations of copies (worn and tattered as they may be) to look at and compare to other copies. This was true with the Dead Sea scrolls as well. In the 1940s they were discovered buried in Jars in a cave near the Dead Sea.
So getting back to your question, I believe it is fair to say “Some things never change”. By this I mean that people still struggle with what to do when the precious word of God is no longer being well-contained on the often brittle pages of the Bible. To that end I am also very happy to tell you that some things have changed quite a bit. Consider this: 2,000-3000 years ago, copies of the Scriptures were in scarce supply compared to today. In fact, until Guttenberg’s press, all Bibles were pretty much hand-written. Today, they are in a great supply.
If your Bible has come to the point where you are unable to read it, it no longer serves as the witness to Christ it once did, and should be retired. Remember, we don’t love the cover, the pages and the spine of the Bible, we love the word of life that the pages, cover and spine hold together. That is the difference between loving the Word of God as a proclamation and simply loving the idol of pages, cover and spine.
OK! No more hamming and hawing… what should you do with the Bible?
Here are two very respectable choices:
1. As much as it may bother you, recycling it is not a terrible option. Why? Because it takes an unreadable and tattered book and gives it a chance to be recycled into something useful (perhaps even another Bible). Don’t feel bad about doing this. We don’t worship “The Bible” we worship Jesus, who is pointed to in the Bible.
2. You may choose to do something similar to the ancient temple practice. You might choose to put it in a container and bury it somewhere it won’t be disturbed. It is not a better or worse option than recycling it, but it may be the way you are more comfortable in retiring this old friend.
Regardless of which option you choose, I pray that you have a new Bible that you continue to read, mark and inwardly digest!
I hope this helps! God bless you!
In His service and in yours,
–Rev. Brandt Hoffman
Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS)