Does A Trashed Bible Signal One’s Piety?

Q. Who is more pious, the person with the pristine goatskin Bible or the one with the ragged, dog-eared paperback Bible?

A. I'm not the best person to ask when it comes to judging the piety of others, but I'll take a crack at it. Growing up in church, I was always led to believe there was an inverse relationship between the condition of your Bible and the condition of your soul. The nastier your Bible looked, the better your chance at eternity. We were saved by grace, but with a little help from patina. 

These days, the artificial aging of everything from leather goods to jeans is all the craze. I'm surprised the publishers aren't offering pre-distressed Bibles yet. Back then, we had some shortcuts to achieving patina, too. Leaving a cheaply made bonded leather Bible on your dashboard through the Louisiana summer was a good way to get yourself elected deacon. 

So let's just say I'm skeptical about the correlation between ragged Bibles and contrite hearts.

Don't get me wrong, though. The Bible is meant to be read. That's the reason I advocate for reader-friendly format and quality production. I want to see more Bibles that lend themselves to long-term use. 

The sorry state of Bible manufacture today is due in part to the fact that consumers don't notice the difference. They don't use their Bibles enough for the poor quality to show. And when a Bible does fall apart, the last thing you want to do is replace it. That thing is Pharisee Gold, the ultimate status symbol! Come to think of it, quality publishing might not be such a good thing. If occasional use was no longer tantamount to abuse, what would become of our pretenses?

I'm not a fan of babying "nice" Bibles. I don't buy good hammers for keeping in the toolbox and cheap ones for driving nails, either. You pay for quality because you intend to use it. Patina? Bring it on. But I prefer the kind that enhances the tool rather than destroying it, and that requires quality from the get-go.

26 Comments on “Does A Trashed Bible Signal One’s Piety?

  1. Good post. Oddly enough I have wondered about the same thing. Since I began reading your blog I have purchased six or so new Bibles and read from all of them. Thus, each Bible that I own gets only 8-15% of the wear it would get if it were the only one. What do people think when they see my forever new Bibles on Sundays?

  2. Heh heh, I am thinking that if worn Bibles = piety, then I am in pretty good shape.
    Not that the majority of my Bibles look ragged, but you have to admit that the pictures that I sent you when you posted the “Blue Bibles” item demonstrate the high mark of Bible abuse, aided by the West Texas sun.

  3. I have a decent collection of study Bibles, but for my main reading and study, I’ve long since switched to electronic. One problem with that format is that it can be almost as hard to move notes from one format to another as it is to hand copy notes from one worn out Bible to a new one. When I switched form E-sword to PocketBible for Windows, I had about 900 verse notes that I had to individually copy and paste one at a time between programs.

  4. Sad, but true. I remember when I became a new Christian in college, my roommates’ bibles all looked like a car had run over them (and I knew from their lives it was through actual use). I was sure my shiny new bible screamed “lazy Christian!”, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to bend the thing out of shape and crease the pages in an attempt to look “holy.”
    It’s 8 years later, but my roommates and I still laugh about me trying to make my Bible look read despite the fact everyone at church knew I had only just become a Christian.

  5. An Old Testament professor at a local college who is also a member of the parish I serve has a HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible bound in duct tape. Not originally, of course. An archaeologist could find a standard hardcover under all that tape. Lately, the Bible’s been arriving at church in a one quart Ziploc bag.
    Now that’s piety!
    Maybe I should do a series of side-by-side photos of her Bible with my Cambridge Calfskin NRSV and submit them for review here.

  6. A professor in my Bible college used to say “A Bible that’s falling apart is a sign of a person who’s not.” Subconsciously I’ve tucked that into the back of my mind, lending, I’m sure, to the refusal to replace (or rebind) my six year old piece[s] of the Word of God. However, there isn’t really any excuse to not rebind a Bible. If it’s the innards that we’re so attached to, then rebinding is the way to go!

  7. When I was a kid we’d dip our new Bibles in puddles and then throw them repeatedly against the back wall of our church. Back then pretty much every leather bible had a sewn binding so to get some pages knocked loose you really had to zing those things. After a few rounds those things would look like they were two hundred years old. Then people would think you were a serious Bible reader.

  8. There is nothing wrong with wear on a Bible when it comes from “normal” use. However, I cringe when I see people do things with their Bibles that in my opinion is careless and only induces premature wear.
    For example, I gave a new Allan NIV bold print to an elder in my church about a year ago as a gift. I have no regrets for giving him the Bible, but I often cringe as I’ve watched him stuff quarterlies and other material into the Bible stressing the spine, carrying the Bible in a briefcase unprotected with other books bouncing around into the gilt edging and bending pages. The other day he told me he left his Bible on the hood of his car and drove off only to have it fly onto the pavement. Of course it was an accident, but if you look at his Bible today, it looks like it’s thirty years old and about ready to give up the ghost.
    I don’t mean to sound pharisaical, but I have respect for my Bibles. I try never to put them on the floor, I don’t put other books (non Bibles) on top of my Bibles, I carry them in a manner so that they are always protected, while at the same time not being bothered at all by the normal wear that comes from using a Bible.
    God Bless,
    David

  9. It’s still superficial but in the opposite way. Jesus hounded the Pharisee’s for looking pristine on the outside but dirty on the inside. This worn Bible thing is just the opposite, looking for something dirty on the outside to indicate that something is clean on the inside. In both cases, what’s important is the inside, not the looks of things from the outside.
    Somehow it seems shallow and superficial to desire a worn out falling apart Bible for the purpose of displaying piety. You know, in the OT God put a premium on keeping the holy vessels in pristine condition and proper care of those items. I think it a good thing to follow similar care for our Bibles and value their beautiful condition when they are new. And as they age, they begin to show the character of being an item that we use, but at some point, they will need to be replaced as all things in this world eventually rot and turn to dust. It’s not a symbol of piety, it’s the reality of our fallen world and the effect sin has on creation. One day, when creation is renewed by Jesus, all Bibles will look new. Thieves will not come in and neither will the moths or rust destroy.

  10. It’s it a twist in perspective to think, wear on our Bibles is the effect of sin on our Bibles. And to induce premature wear on your Bibles, is to artificially induce the effects of sin on our Bibles. Does that sound good!
    “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” Romans 6:1

  11. Charles Spurgeon is quoted as saying “A Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who is not.”
    But I agree with Mark in that some Bibles are falling apart because:
    A. They are poorly constructed
    or
    B. People just throw them onto their dash or back seat after church on Sunday
    We can’t judge anyone’s piety by the condition of their Bible. What if they take good care of it? What if they just got it as a gift that week? What if they take a different Bible to church on Sundays because it’s portable and their “study” Bible stays at home? I carry my main Bible, that I’ve been taking to church every Sunday for almost 3 years, in a cover and it still looks pretty good. I have had Bibles for years that I take to a lot of places but they are hardly worn because I take care of them. Plus, since I’ve been reading this blog, I stack my leather Bibles instead of just having them on the shelves getting their edges bent.
    Hopefully whatever the wear on anyone’s Bible, it’s in its present condition from use rather than misuse.

  12. We are “never judge a book by it’s cover” to a whole new level.
    Since I have been reading this blog I have acquired some pretty nice bibles. Some of the higher end ones get a little more careful treatment then some of my older cheaper bibles. I also tend to use different bibles for different situations. I am actually pretty ridiculous in this regard, in that I seem to have a different bible for ALL occassions. But there is one that has most of my hand written notes, and it shows the miles and the age, and it has a special place in my heart. I sure hope nobody is judging me based on the bible I have in my hand at any given time though!

  13. So . . .
    Do you keep the box, or toss it?
    If a Bible is rare, rather than just expensive, do you handle it differently? Like for instance, if it’s one of Mark’s Eyre & Spottiswoode Bibles new in the box from 50 years ago, or a deluxe edition from a publisher that’s long since defunct . . .
    At what price do you start to regard a particular Bible as something you should take “better than average” care of? $100? $150? $200?
    When you buy a high-quality Bible, is it always for use, or do you buy them sometimes as collector’s items, or for possible future re-sale?
    Just pondering . . .
    Lee

  14. Prior to learning so much about quality Bible binding & where to buy them from this site, my greatest frustration had been – Bibles falling apart. Just when I thought I could “invest & immerse” into a particular Bible that I bought, it fell apart or peeled away in short time. Nothing is more frustrating & disappointing!
    Praise the LORD for quality binding!

  15. I was converted in college, and the only Bible I had at the time was a paperback Living Bible (The Book).
    I don’t use that version anymore, but I keep that Bible on our fireplace mantle to remind me how much I ate it up during the first couple of years. The cover is barely attached, via scotch tape, and there are many notes inside, coming from the soul of a baby Christian hungry for the Word.
    Each time I see it, I say “thank you, Lord, for opening my eyes, then satisfying my spiritual tummy.”

  16. This brings back memories. I remember the time in high school (early 90s) I spoke in front of our student prayer group and made the point about “standing on the promises.” I took my bonded leather NKJV Experiencing God Study Bible (anyone remember that thing?), dramatically laid it on the floor with a satisfying “thump,” and stood on top of it with both feet planted firmly. ;-)
    Also, another, more recent time I took my TruTone thinline ESV (which already had one corner of it gotten hold of by a puppy after leaving it on my coffee table) and actually threw it into the congregation as an example of “sowing the Word.” :-D
    Of course, I’d never do something like that to my more precious Bibles. Then again, I do have a whole box of Bibles (hardcover and all sorts of “faux” leather) collected during my teen years sitting in my Dad’s garage…exposed to the elements…
    :-D

  17. I seem to remember DL Moody once writing, ‘Do not buy a Bible that you are unwilling to mark and use.’ I’ve taken this to heart -although, I still haven’t brought myself to mark up any of my Allan bibles… I’m still working up the courage!
    I figure I’ll mark in my paperback and bonded leather bibles for now, and work my way up to genuine leather ones, then french morocco, then calfskin, and then I can start in on the Allan Goatskin ones.
    I have an Allan ESV1 and an Allan ESV2, but I have to confess, I use my 0.50$ ESV outreach New Testament more than both of them combined. I’ve only been using it for two months, but its getting that ‘broken in’ look haha!

  18. I seem to remember DL Moody once writing, ‘Do not buy a Bible that you are unwilling to mark and use.’ I’ve taken this to heart -although, I still haven’t brought myself to mark up any of my Allan bibles… I’m still working up the courage!
    I figure I’ll mark in my paperback and bonded leather bibles for now, and work my way up to genuine leather ones, then french morocco, then calfskin, and then I can start in on the Allan Goatskin ones.
    I have an Allan ESV1 and an Allan ESV2, but I have to confess, I use my 0.50$ ESV outreach New Testament more than both of them combined. I’ve only been using it for two months, but its getting that ‘broken in’ look haha!

  19. I think this issue spreads not just to Bibles, but other books as well. Many people are horrified at the idea of underlining in any book, but unless it is an antique or rare volume (as some of the best theological books are), I read with pen at the ready. I recently loaned my priest my old copy Geerhardus Vos’ “Biblical Theology” and was a little embarrassed by the profusion of underlining, stars and notes!

  20. I was always told to use a pencil and that way the next owner of the book could remove my toughts if they felt they had any better ones! I don’t know if pencil would last though on the paper or if it would just fade?

  21. I have half a dozen or so Bibles of various versions and ages. I usually use a NKJV, but have recently begun to use the ESV sometimes. Only one of my Bibles is significantly marked up, and that’s the one I used as a textbook at my junior college, where Bible classes were required every semester.
    I’ve noticed that some people have Bibles that are very marked up and battered, and I do tend to think they have studied and been very attentive in church and class. But I don’t think they’re the only ones who have. I don’t like to write in my Bibles because it makes it harder to read the text. Also, I have noticed that when I underline or write notes at a passage, it changes how I read the passage in the future. I tend to mentally overemphasize that passage, and think about what my notes say, rather than seeing the passage fully in context. It feels like my ability to see new insight in the passage is impaired. I have several notebooks full of notes I’ve taken in my Bible studies, where I write out my thoughts and raise questions I want to pursue further. The downsides of that are twofold: I don’t have those notes when I’m at church, and I sometimes have difficulty finding my old notes when I’m restudying something. But I’ve been typing my handwritten notes into my computer so hopefully I can fix that latter concern. And I think having an unmarked Bible to consult while at church helps me focus on the lesson at hand, rather than all the lessons I’ve done before.
    As for people deliberately trying to make their Bibles look heavily used – that’s pretty funny. It never occurred to me to do that, or that anyone would. But my Bibles are tools to me, not precious in and of themselves, so they tend to look rugged after a while. I’d rather toss an unprotected Bible into my car and have it with me than to have it pristine on the shelf at home when I’m not there to read it. (Not, I should add, that I read and study my Bibles as much as I should.)

  22. You know what? As always I think it depends. For instance, I use my R.L.Allan NIV Bold Print Edition in Highland Goatskin everyday and have owned it for a year now. I don’t keep it in it’s box or anything (just on the bookshelf when not in use). It looks the same as the first day I got it. :)
    Winston

  23. I have a Cambridge Goatskin Concord KJV. I started to write in it as I realized that I was quickly becoming materialistic with it. One time I dropped it into slushy snow, and some of the pages are crinkled, and I was mortified! I was temped to buy a new Bible just becasue of this, and also kind of regretted writing in it, but then I saw a picture of the Newberry Bible online in all of its marked up glory and quickly changed my mind. Also I know a man that attended a Bible institute in the 40’s and he still has his old Scofield bound in French Morocco by Oxford, just filled with notes, looks like a roadmap, and uses it everyday-Its over 60 years old! I was finding that when I would buy an expensive Bible, if I at all “blemished” them by writing in them, I was quickly tempted to buy a new one spending loads of money! I wrote in it, I actually use my notes in it, so I am going to stick with it, and know God willing in 60 years I will look at my old Cambridge and thank the Lord for His inspired, inerrant Word!

  24. I have an ESV PSR Bible. I love it so much. I think it is the most beautiful bible I have owned. It has only a duo-tone cover, yet I care for it like my most treasured possession. I keep it in its original box. When I am going to a bible study meeting, I carry it in that box. It looks like new. People must think I hardly use it. But that is not the case. I just believe that one should take great care of beautiful books- especially the Bible.

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