While I was growing up, my parents would put out Christmas decorations each year. One of those beloved decorations was an old black leather Bible with gold trim. It was placed on the coffee table and opened to the book of Luke. I don’t remember my parents ever explicitly saying, “Don’t touch it,” but it certainly was implied.
That image marked my life for many years. I believed the Bible was the sacred book that we needed to handle with white gloves and a delicate hand. This type of thinking was underlined by a Sunday School teacher that I admired telling us that she never let any other book or object lay on top of her Bible. Slowly this sort of idolatrous image of the Bible came to stand at the forefront of my mind.
I am not the only one who feels this way. Through the years, I have had numerous people come to me and say, “I have a Bible that is falling apart. What should I do with it?” When I mention the possibility of throwing it in the trash, they prepare to call their friends and burn me at the stake. The idea of throwing away a Bible is sacrilegious at best and pure evil at worst.
Recently I overheard a person in the congregation I lead say something like this, “I would never mark in my Bible, because it was a gift from my grandmother, and is just too special.” While I appreciate the sentiment, this is not actually a good thing. Your view of the Bible as a book might be keeping you from growing spiritually.
My suggestion to people is to take a lesser view of the printed pages of the Bible. In the realm of paper and ink, it is just a book. It can be used, marked up, written in, highlighted, and even thrown away. If those concepts scare you, then my response is along this line, “Do you love it as a book or the content of the book?” If you love the content, you will read it and know it; otherwise, you are falling for a Christian idolatry of valuing paper and ink over the knowledge of God.
Take grandma’s Bible and put it on the shelf. Then go to the store or amazon and buy a cheaply printed, easy to read translation of the Bible (something like ESV, NIV, NKJV, or NASB). Then dive into the pages with reckless abandon. Underline things that speak to you, highlight common themes, write on the page margins, and do whatever else makes the pages come alive. Then when you are finished, throw it away and start the process over.
I started this practice five years ago at the prompting of a college professor. He bought Bibles by the box and would read and highlight different topics, noticing the kingdom of God or all the parables or whatever he chose to focus on that time through. When he finished, the old one was thrown away, and the process started again. I have never known a man who knew his Bible more. He carried a five-dollar Bible and cared little about its paper or ink. He focused on understanding its content.
Perhaps one of the greatest things you can do on your spiritual journey it to think less of the Bible as a grand religious book and more as God’s love letter made available for you to read.