Have you ever thrown away a bible before, literally, in the trash, the garbage, never to see the light of day again? I have, probably in the order of over 100 bibles, when I was in the book business. That did get me to actually think about why we have any problem at all with doing the proper thing to a book that needs to be culled, even if it is the word of God.
The Bible is More than the Sum of It’s Parts
Perhaps my other working title would have been a little better; “Is the Bible Your Idol?” Not [idol] worship of the living Word (who is actually God), but of the ink and paper. Because what we hold in our hand is just that, ink, paper, leather, and glue, made from the hands of men, just like Aaron’s golden calf (see Exodus 32:4). Not in the same respect of course, but both were physically made by men. I come across believers, and even non-believers for that matter, all the time that when faced with an old, literally worn out (not generally from use), torn, water damaged, bible, they just refuse to throw it away.
It makes me wonder where we have placed our trust, and what do we place our trust in, the bible (paper and ink), or the Word of God. A friend of mine has a small bible he has used for years and years. It rarely leaves his side ever, and I might guess it is one of his most valued earthly possessions, but I am certain that he would tell you the value is in the power of the relationship, not the physical book.
I am sure he would never think of throwing it away, so when it had worn out from use, he had it recovered. A great option, especially when you have made the book your own, through daily conversation and worship, years of notes, folds that open to exact pages, and a history that reminds you of your walk with God. But there is a huge difference between a bible that is worn out from study, prayer, and contemplation, and one that is damaged beyond repair due to neglect.
God’s holiness does not reside in the ink and paper. Crossway when they began to print the ESV several years ago did not go out and get some special printer that only prints holy. They are a publishing company. They put together one of the best literal translations we have seen in the English bible in recent decades, but they didn’t just come up with a way to make paper, ink, leather, and glue sacred.
God’s word is a living breathing thing, that was present before creation. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God (John 1:1) and the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). John tells us that the word is not dependent on paper and ink, the word was God before we had the scribes translating the scrolls, before Gutenberg’s breakthrough that gave the bible to the world, and God’s word is not dependent on anything we can or can’t do.
Two Examples from Jeremiah and Moses
The two quick examples that come to mind are Jeremiah and Moses. Jeremiah was a prophet who was told by God to write down the words God has spoken to him (the large part of which became the book of Jeremiah), and have those words read in front of the king, Jehoiakim. Jeremiah then dictated those words to Baruch his editor, who wrote them on a scroll for Jehoiakim. Jeremiah then tells Baruch to take the scroll to the king and have it read to him, and this is what happened.
As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot (Jeremiah 36:23). Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Take another scroll and write all the former words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned (Jeremiah 36:28).
Another great example is with Moses when he came down the mountain with the 10 commandments. These tablets were “the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets” (Exodus 32:16).
Unlike our bibles, the 10 commandments was actually physically written by the hand of God. When he “saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 32:19). When Moses broke the 10 commandments, he knew that God’s word was not destroyed. God then told Moses to “cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke” (Exodus 34:1).
What is similar in both examples of course is that God had His words re-written. In a round about way it reminds me of a recent movie called The Book of Eli, which showed a world intent on destroying all existence of God’s word. No matter how hard our culture, society, or any other force, tries to remove the word of God from His people, it will be unsuccessful. God’s word is not dependent on us to keep it alive, it IS alive. The physical book has meaning to us only because God has breathed life into His eternal Word, not because we currently digest it through the limits of ink and paper.