Bible Plus Coffee Equals Disaster?

Jonathan Summers poses a question for those of us who enjoy reading the Bible over morning coffee (and worry about getting coffee all over the Bible):

Q. “For those of us who enjoy a good cup of java while reading Bibles, is there anything you can do about coffee stains in pages? My dad once spilled coffee all over Romans 9 in a brand new deluxe ESV.”

A. When I was a kid, I used to soak regular paper in coffee to give it the faux parchment look. I discovered the trick in one of those activities for children books — Step 1 in the “create your own buried treasure map” chapter, I think. The only thing you can do for coffee stains in a Bible is dip the rest of it, too, so you get an even, antiqued look. On hot days, or when your hands warm the pages, your Bible will give off a great aroma, too.

I have a history with coffee catastrophes. At the Genius Desk inside the Apple Store in the Houston Galleria, they used to call me “the guy who poured the latte into his 17 inch Powerbook.” I earned this reputation by setting a full 20-ounce cup of Starbucks behind my laptop screen (right by the air vent), then forgetting about it until I knocked it over. The liquid emptied straight into the vent, and I was none the wiser until the screen flickered and went dark. When I picked the computer up off the desk, coffee literally poured from the case. I figured it was done for, but once it had time to dry, everything worked fine. And whenever the cooling fan came on, the air filled with a pleasant coffee aroma.

Not that I learned my lesson or anything.

I had a Compact ESV in tan bonded leather, my favorite “take anywhere” edition at the time, that received a similar christening. The back cover and ever page from the last to somewhere around Ephesians ended up soaked. It was ruined, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. So I let it dry and it became quick stiff, like a chunk of plywood had been glued onto the back of the Bible. I even used it in church, always self-consciously, worrying that everyone was looking at my sad little Bible and concluding I had no respect for the Word. These days, I’m not sure you could even tell where the spill was. The stiffness has worked itself out and even the smell is gone.

My advice in the event of coffee stains — or inadvertent ink stains, or damage of any kind — is to shrug them off. It’s character. A Bible that gets used isn’t going to stay pristine for long. If you spill some coffee on it, so what? That just means you were reading it, not keeping it in a protective case. Consider the damage part of the Bible’s individual charm. Consider it a patina.

When I received my first Cambridge goatskin-bound KJV, my wife and I were sitting in church and I must have been gazing too fondly at it or something. She decided it would be funny to pretend to write on it. (She likes to tweak my sensibilities in this way.) Only she misjudged the distance and ended up leaving an inky slash across the page. I remember it vividly: a bold, deep gash, as if she’d been crossing out the very words of Scripture. I reacted in horror, naturally, and considered that Bible “ruined.” It went back in the box and on the shelf, where it remained a good long while. When I finally took it down to examine the damage — I had enough emotional distance — I looked in vain for the nasty mark. Eventually, I found a tiny dash of ink (in the concordance, no less) which bore no resemblance whatsoever to the terrible mauling of my memory. The moral? Whatever the damage, it’s not so bad. As a matter of fact, it can be liberating. Until the first mishap, you baby your prized edition. But once it’s taken its first battle scar, you don’t worry so much. The coffee stain, the ink, the tear . . . they give you permission to use the Bible without any anxiety about how all that touching and turning and flexing will prompt its deterioration!

15 Comments on “Bible Plus Coffee Equals Disaster?

  1. Very good advice, indeed! I once had a boss who said that if you buy a new car, one should take a hammer and smack the hood with it. Get the first ding out of the way and eliminate the anxiety.
    Not too long ago, I purchased (on purpose) an NLT large print Bible in my local store that had the cover on upside down. I figure there are very few Bibles like that. Besides, I kinda like the bookmark ribbon coming up from the bottom of the book. 🙂

  2. Great stories.
    My wife and I, for the past 7-8 weeks have had a house guest. She has been a very good friend of ours for the past 18 or so years.
    When she moved in, I saw the horrible condition of her Bibles and decided to get her a new Revised English Bible in French Morroco from Cambridge. She quickly fell in love with her new Bible.
    A week later, she was drinking a beer at the table where she kept her Bible. The bottle was toppled and she got beer on the leather of her new Bible. The pages weren’t touched. She and I panicked and dried it up quickly. I must say though, she and I both think the beer actually added to the already pleasant aroma to the French Morroco leather.
    Our guest moved two days ago but we’ll always have our beer-scented Bible memories.

  3. This is the way I view marking up my Bibles. I remember one preacher saying, “If you have a Bible you can’t write in, throw it away and get one you can write in.”
    As for coffee stains, I don’t worry about it. As you say, it just demonstrates that I actually use the Bible.

  4. I have the same philosophy towards guitars as well. I can still remember (in painful slow motion, of course) the first ding happening on my brand-new Gibson J-45. Well, 12 years later, it now has lots of other “character” marks as well, which I wouldn’t trade for a shiny new one for any price. None of which would have happened if I hadn’t loosened up after the 1st one

  5. Mishaps like coffee spills (or crayons, or peanut butter) usually don’t do nearly as much damage as my reactions to them.
    My dad’s a saddlemaker by trade, and once when I was about eight I messed up a project in his shop. He got really frustrated with me and the whole experience made a pretty strong impression. I suppose that it was almost a decade before I did anything in the leather shop again.
    I spend a lot of time in my home office (as a student and teacher). A few days ago my (almost-)three-year-old daughter proudly presented me with the labels from the filing cabinet that she had just pulled out. I suppose that it was a combination of divine help and a good day, but my usual reactions didn’t surface. I’m grateful for that because I’d really regret it if she ever didn’t want to come in my office for fear that she’d get in trouble for messing something up.
    I’m hopeful that I can be aware enough to handle it helpfully when she and her little brother start to “customize” my books (including Bibles). I would hate to have them not want to pick up a book or use it for fear that they would get in trouble if they hurt it.

  6. Wow Tod, that’s great. I have a little girl who loves to “help”, and at 15 months help usually means grabbing whatever it is and running for the border…… Those little ones are so impressionable aren’t they. It’s great to remind us that nothing is worth the relationship we have with our babies, even if it’s our best whatever. So true, and I hope to teach my babies to love and write in and cherish the coffee soaked ink stained word of God.
    Thanks. You made my heart smile.

  7. Now that my lawyer son has revealed my spillage on Romans 9 let me say that I will always remember the occasion as I see that big stain, and that memory is a good one– thirty people meeting in a home one Sunday morning, our Bibles open together (with coffee at hand), seeking to understand God’s sovereignty from that chapter, and any question open for discussion. Is there anything better in this life? Thank you my young java apprentice.

  8. I spent a day out the Abbey of Gethsemani earlier this year (the home of Thomas Merton). During my time on one of the giant hills with statues of the crucification I read the Christ hymns in Isaiah during a rainstorm. Those pages are forever marred now, but I remember the time I spent there everything I open the Old Testament.

  9. I had a virtually-new Dell laptop and was doing payroll on it one Monday morning when I spilled a large coffee in it, it also went dark and fizzled out. I took it to my local computer shop south of Houston, where they pronounced it dead from a fried motherboard. I went that day to Best Buy in Houston and bought a new Vaio, jammed the Dell in my trunk. Cleaning the trunk 2 weeks later I pulled the very warm Dell out and plugged it in, and sure enough, it works perfectly now–except for the CD/DVD drive!
    Perhaps I’m just lucky, but I’ve never had any coffee accidents with my Bibles. My little Cambridge NAS New Testament, which travels in my suit pocket daily (and has been recovered by McSpadden) has certainly been imbedded with all sort of road food odors, but continues to serve in the best Cambridge tradition.

  10. I have a goatskin Cambridge Concord KJV. I remember being so afraid to write in it or even use it much. I have a Scofield that is all marked up, and it has served me well in Bible college and in the pulpit. I wanted to buy a Cambridge, and when I did I treated it with so much care that I was almost afraid to turn its pages. I would keep it in the box, and only bring it out once and a while more so to admire the leather and craftmanship- I admit, I did not read it much for fear of ruining it. All of my study and preaching was done from my wonderful Scofield. Well anyway, one day I realized that I had spent 189 dollars on somthing that I do not use. I was using it as a piece of furniture or somthing and it is the Word of God! Why did I buy it then? I realized that I was sinning and being materialistic, so I went for it. I threw away the box, and used it, and took it everywhere. I tranfered all of my notesd into it, not an easy feat as it is not the wide margign. Whta freedom. It is God’s Word, we must not fall into sin by being materialistic with God’s Holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. Look past the leather and study and mine it’s depths!

  11. I was walking back to my car after our services on an icey sidwalk. I was wearing tassel loafers with leather bottoms and-swoosh- I slipped and landed on my backside. I looked and saw my papers scattered everywhere, and my Bible in a pile of icey sludge. It was weird how my Bible landed in this pile, like a T shape, with the pages in the icey sludge and the cover spread open across the surface. The pages were water logged, and now they are crinkly after I dried them. I was thinking of getting another Cambridge, but I looked at my wife’s Scofield where she spilled coffee on it, and how that did’nt stop her from using it. I guess it took that mishap for me to appreciate the fact that I should not be afraid to use my Cambridge for fear of tearing a page or whatever.

  12. Serious question:
    How do I actually fix my J. Vernon McGee NKJV? I have accidentally spilled coffee all over it! Any help is much appreciated!

    Lee Bailey

  13. Lee,

    You either keep it as is, or throw it away and get a new Bible. There really isn’t any other fix.

  14. It’s how I feel when I shoot my pristine collector pistols for the first time after a thorough cleaning (after purchase). Then come the usage nicks and tiny scratches. This is the world we live in – nothing will ever be perfect or remain in pristine condition this side of heaven! 😉

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