Thinking Out Loud

January 22, 2017

How We Treat Our Physical Copies of the Bible

water-damaged-bible

I want to ask for your help with something I’m working on for a future article; and this possibly applies more to those of you who have been a Christian for a longer period of your life, or even grew up in the church.

I want you think about a Bible in physical (print) form that you once owned, or that you own now, and ask if you have any reservations or feelings about one or all of the following questions.  (i.e. pick one and focus on it, or attempt to answer a few…)

  1. Is it okay to leave a copy of the Bible lying on the floor? (Either flat or upright.)
  2. Is it okay to have your Bible in a stack of other books with other books piled on top of it?
  3. Is it okay for stores to sell Bibles in damaged condition? (Especially if pages are slightly torn?)
  4. If a Bible becomes damaged, what is the proper method of disposing of a Bible? (Regular garbage / recycling / never dispose of … Consider the possibility of water damage if your home is flooded, for example.)
  5. Parents: Do you lean toward letting your kids use their Bible at whatever cost to its physical condition, or do you encourage greater reverence for the physical copy? (Keeping it in a special place, etc.)
  6. Finally (here’s a tricky one) what about underlining, circling, highlighting or the current fad of coloring in Bibles; is that appropriate? *

I don’t get a lot of feedback here despite the number of readers, but I really need your help on this one. Please use the comments, not the contact page, so everyone can see your response. And feel free to share the short-link for this article http://wp.me/pfdhA-8HS on social media. (Tell your friends it’s an open-ended survey about the care and feeding of Bibles.)

Bible Journaling 2

Bible Journaling 1

Bible Journaling 4

* The coloring Bible samples were already in my picture file; please don’t focus entirely on that particular question.

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9 Comments »

  1. My darling husband, who went to be with the Lord just 3 months ago, always highlighted favourite or “newly discovered” verses and wrote notes in the margin. I have never wanted to do that, although I don’t do that in any book. However, when I’m reading my Bible, I can’t really explain it, but it “feels sacred” and if I accidentally dog-ear or fold a page, I try to smooth it very quickly. It’s the only book in my house that is constantly in my hands. Would it worry me if it was in a stack of books, magazines, etc? No – except it wouldn’t stay there because I would be grabbing it for my next devotional or reading time. Do I put it on the floor? sometimes – doesn’t worry me. The bottom line is: it’s the Word that’s sacred, not the paper and ink; a Bible that’s untouched and revered on a shelf is not really being “respected” because reading the living words on the paper is the purpose of this Book.

    Comment by Imelda Gilmore, Sydney, Australia — January 22, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

  2. Great questions! Making me think, once again!
    -I cannot personally leave a copy of the Bible on the floor. The only conceivable situation is that I have to put it down in an emergency to tend to an emergency need. Personal conviction.
    -I only stack Bibles on Bibles. I do not put other books on top of a bible but I will stack them horizontally on each other.
    -Selling damaged Bibles I do not have a problem with. But then I can have reservations with selling a copy of God’s Word for over $100! Are the notes more valuable than the text? Is there any binding really worth that much?
    -Disposing of a Bible. Wow, that is a hard one. I read recently that God’s Word is holy, not the material it is printed on. Good thought. I had the chance to hold a copy of a hand copied Chinese NT a few years ago, it was very emotional for me as I knew the importance that had to the one transcribing it. But the copy was easily traded for a printed copy of the entire Bible! Is the Bible text sacred, YES! Is the material, no. Can I just pitch a used or damaged Bible, well not yet. But I believe that whatever disposal must be reverent. Trash goes in the garbage, so throwing it out is out. I would have to either burn or bury it.
    -We always had our kids keep their Bibles in a special place and asked them to treat it with respect. In a backpack was fine, but in a Bible case. One of the few exceptions was a Gideon NT because it was too small to case. Those they could just carry with them.
    -“Underlining, circling, highlighting” is something we have always done. I did it with textbooks and reference materials to mark special passages. My wife was very adept at drawing lightly over texts with drawings referencing passages (wheat and tares, examples in parables, etc) but it was always light and artistic. Some coloring of Bibles can be done well but mostly I find it overdone, too bold or too distracting to be appropriate. I have worked with other pastors who had 100’s of sermon outlines scrawled in their Bible margins and never had to preach with any other notes. Appropriate and useful. Making them a “watercolor playland” is not appropriate and I do not see the use in it. I suppose the one relevant question is, “why would/did you do this? What is the purpose?” Then it is up to personal conviction. I may not be able to do it, but that does not make it wrong. After all, the Word of God is sacred, not the material it is printed on. But personally I believe there are limits to what is appropriate.

    As with everything, “I’m not sayin;, I’m just sayin’ … you know that I’m sayin”?

    Comment by Michael A — January 22, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

  3. I have not been as mindful of the physical book as I have of the contents within, so if I”m looking up several versions I will sometimes have them open on the floor in front of me, and when I stack up my journal, study books etc. the bible has not always been on the top. I do have an old inductive study bible that is quite marked up with highlighters and symbols, and I still use it, although I’ve had to use duct tape on the cover. I would buy a damaged bible – but often the Christian thrift stores give them away, so I have donated bibles that might have had some minor damage. I have a friend ministering in the middle East who said that his Muslim friends would never begin to consider Christianity if they saw a cavalier attitude toward the physical book. Then I read Randy Alcorn’s Safely Home – where the Chinese protagonists had such a reverent attitude toward the box the bible had been given in – much food for thought.

    Comment by Deborah — January 22, 2017 @ 9:41 pm

  4. Most of the answers to the above questions very much depend, I think, on the principles regarding issues of conscience discussed by Paul in Romans 14. What matters most of all is not what we do; but why we do it – especially the attitudes we are expressing towards Jesus (the Eternal Living Word), his recorded Word (the Bible, as originally delivered to mankind), our attempts to communicate it in the language of our day (translations, printed and electronic copies, commentaries, etc.) and – most critically for us – the place we give Him and his Word in our hearts.

    Personal circumstances may dictate where we keep our Bibles and simple practicality where and how we make notes and the condition our Bibles may end up in. One of my favourite sayings on this theme is the one that goes, ‘Bibles that are falling apart are usually read by people that aren’t.’

    BUT, as Paul points out, we do need to be conscious of the impact our actions may have on others if we appear too casual in our treatment of our Bibles. Moslems, for example, consider their Quran too holy to even be carried below waist level. And I once travelled on a plane with a group of Indian priests who were transporting a copy of their holy book to a new location. It had a row of seats to itself in first class and was escorted on and off the plane with great ceremony. I am not suggesting that we should emulate this; but, especially when our actions may be observed by others whose conscience is more attuned to outward observance, we need to be sensitive to their preoccupation with such things and avoid behaviour that may cause them to stumble.

    Even more importantly, we should be alert for the opportunity to explain why we, as Christians, behave differently; for our message is far more sublime. Regardless of where we put our bibles, a true Christian never, ever, carries God’s Word any lower than his heart, because our bodies have become the temple of the Living Word Himself.

    Comment by kevinthekingsson — January 23, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

    • Love the “Bibles that are falling apart are usually read by people that aren’t”

      Comment by Vicki — January 24, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

  5. I think its fine to highlight, underline and circle in your bible providing you’re not just making random marks in your bible. I won’t allow a child to play with my bible.The other questions are conditional. I wouldn’t be comfortable with my lying bible on the ground for no good reason but this should be the permanent place for your bible. A person may li or sit on the floor to read their bible and move way for a period. Stores can sell damaged bibles depending on the extent of the damage, a bible with a torn page should not be sold. I don’t know if I would be comfortable disposing of a bible, it has to be badly damaged. Also the question about stacking books on your bible is conditional, if the main bible(s) you use is stacked under a pile of other books then you’re not using your bible. However if you have other bibles I don’t see a problem stacking them with other books or stacking other books on them though personally I would not do this particularly because I prefer to have things properly organised. I never thought about these questions but having to think about them you realise the value you place on the bible so I guess these are some of things we do unconsciously (which others may think is strange).

    Comment by Ulanda — January 23, 2017 @ 5:00 pm

  6. A Bible is a sacramental (blessed object). We have them on a reserved shelf (we have several Bibles, study guides, and daily missals and the kids have their own Bibles in their rooms). The one I use all the time is on my night-table. I have piles of other books but never on top of the Bible. As to writing or coloring — I highlight verses I love or want to remember. There’s not usually space to write. But I do have some Ignatius study guides for some of the books of the Bible and there’s plenty of margin to write. I am a convert so my Bible isn’t falling apart yet but when it does, we have a bin for old sacramentals in the parish hall because we are not to put blessed objects in the trash. They have to be disposed of reverentially, either burned or buried. I hope this is helpful. God bless.

    Comment by Vijaya — January 23, 2017 @ 10:11 pm

  7. Here are my thoughts. Leaving the bible on the floor – I’m a bit of an outdoorsy girl and there have been many a times that my bible has been left on the ground around a campfire (open and closed) or out in the rain overnight. I always leave my bible on the floor, I read a verse on my way out the door in the morning and place my bible on the stairs at my door. I then leave it there until I do my next devotional or reading or something. All the bibles I use for kids ministry are stacked on the floor and I usually start by telling the kids to each pick one. I’ve never thought of this as a bad thing. Although we usually sit on the floor to read it so that is probably why.

    I often have other books around my bible. Usually concordances or reference books or devotionals. These get all stacked up and put on the table when I need them off the floor, or haven’t had the opportunity to put them away. All my books in my bookshelf are stacked and I don’t have a specific system for them just where they fit. There are about 4 bibles mixed in with all the other books. I pull them out when needed and replace when I don’t.

    I have no problems with bookstores selling damaged bibles….as long as they tell you they are damaged.

    As far as disposing of bibles, I usually don’t. I keep them in my bookshelf as reference books…by that time they are usually quite tattered and torn (I take it with me almost everywhere) my last bible the pages from Romans – Revelations fell out, and I lost them. I still have that bible, I still look at the notes in the margins, I still love that bible and I’m not ready to part with it. It took me from childhood to adulthood and survived all the memories in between and personally I’m not ready to part with it. I just feel like there is so much in them that I’ve never been able to part with any of my bibles.

    Not a parent so can’t really answer that one.

    I highlight and note in my bible constantly. I have a friend that actually has asked to use my bible to look up a verse because he knew he’d need the reference verses and note that I had in the margin, and while he was sharing he didn’t want to have to search for them. I sometimes see pictures of them and think that’s excessive, or wow that’s really pretty. But bottom line is that if helps the person learn, study, and share I don’t see an issue with it. It took me a long time to get here, I was told as a kid to never write in my bible or highlight anything etc. (my dad had a photographic memory so he never had to note anything anywhere and didn’t get it when we did) so at first this was like a culture shock to me….now mine is crammed with notes. It’s how I think & study (my textbooks look the same way). I remember the first time I wrote in my bible, I felt so guilty that I went to my mom to confess and pray….she laughed told me it wasn’t something to be ashamed of and showed me her highlights and notes in her bible. My parents had never told me not to, but I had been told not to at church, and Sunday school so I thought it was something we shouldn’t do. I don’t think it’s okay to mark up someone else’ bible or a community bible….but if it’s yours personally have at it.

    I feel like God says to commit the words to your heart and we need to do that in whatever way possible…the rest is just logistics in my mind.

    Comment by Vicki — January 24, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

  8. I believe a Bible should be USED – coloured, underlined, annotated, dog-eared even, if that’s what happens. That being said, I still treat it with reverence (keep it clean, handle it lovingly, store it flat on my devotional table).
    If it became too damaged to use, I would keep it anyway if possible, due to all the notes and the memories it holds of special times with God. But if not, I would recycle it as the paper it is.
    I don’t leave my Bible on the floor – but same goes for other books. I treat all books with respect, and this Book with more respect, but to return to my first point, the main thing is, are you reading it and letting God feed you through it?

    Comment by Laurie Robertson — January 24, 2017 @ 3:53 pm


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