There is etiquette that surrounds the disposal of a flag. According to VFW, the dignified way to dispose of a tattered or soiled flag is to burn it, but to do so with discretion and to ensure that it has been entirely consumed. The reason flags are treated with respect is that they are symbolic. They are far more than just silk and dye, but actually represent a nation and what that nation stands for. To treat a flag with respect is to honor that flag’s nation.
One of the readers of this site recently asked me, “How should Christians dispose of old Bibles?” It is a good question. Is disposing of a Bible similar to disposing of a flag, a ritual surrounded by rules and etiquette, or is it just like disposing of yesterday’s newspaper? Maybe it is a little bit of both.
Christians are people of the book, people who honor the Bible. However, when we say that we honor the Bible, it isn’t the paper and ink and leather and binding that we reverence, but the words. There are some churches where the worship service begins with a processional that may include a person carrying a Bible to the pulpit. That Bible may be ornate, but it is not the book itself–the form–that is reverenced. The ornate covering is meant to symbolize the value of what that book contains.
As Christians we believe that the Bible is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword; we believe that all of the Bible is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching and reproof and correction and training in righteousness. But when we affirm these things, we are referring to the words, not to the form. This is why a Bible app on the iPad, or the Bible memorized and recited, is just as much the Bible, just as much holy Scripture, as the paper and ink. The Lord works through his words in whatever way they are communicated.
What this means is that disposing of an old Bible is not diminishing the value of Scripture. There is no need for fear or superstition. There is nothing objectively wrong with disposing of an old Bible. You can simply put it in your recycling bin or even in the trash. Throw it out respectfully (don’t toss it out a car window or make a show of destroying it) but dispose of it without fear that you’ve committed a terrible sin.
Let me offer a brief warning: We are a consumeristic society and tend to replace old things with new ones long before the old have become defunct. You do not need to replace your Bible every time there is a new version with a prettier cover or every time the translation committee makes minor updates.
Having said all of this, there are other options, and some of them may be better than throwing it away.
One option is to have it re-bound. This is a relatively expensive proposition and will only make financial sense if you have an expensive Bible, or if your Bible has been personalized with notes that you can’t bear to lose.
Another option is to send the Bible to an organization that will give it to someone who has none. The Bible Foundation receives Bibles and even just parts of Bibles and will distribute them. So too does Christian Resources International. But if you’re going to put your Bible in an box and ship it to them, perhaps you could just slip a check in there and fund a few more.