Your Premium Bible “Hobby” Might be Idolatry IF…


Okay, I realize I’ll step on a lot of toes in this list (if I didn’t already do so by virtue of the title). So let me state two disclaimers from the outset. First, I am an insider to this struggle. I am quite the opposite of someone who has never owned an expensive, animalskin-covered Bible and therefore cannot understand the appeal of loading up on more of the same.  Second, note what I am not saying here. I’m not saying that collecting high-end Bibles equals idolatry, or that the latter inevitably follows the former. If you have a hobby that includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, guns, fishing rods & tackle, tools, jewelry, dining out, or frequent visits to a coffee shop, you would be a hypocrite to point fingers at a large goatskin Bible collection–you could have several goatskin Bible for less than the cost of such habits. So on the one hand, I say a hearty amen with my bibliophile-brethren, and a hearty “Lay off!”

But on the other hand, let’s be very careful. John Calvin was right–the human heart is an “idol factory” capable of turning anything–especially good things–into idols by making them ultimate things or controlling desires. For me, I have frequently been guilty of devoting too much of my thoughts and energies to the realm of high-end Bibles. (Thankfully, my wallet has not been affected too badly as I have had review arrangements to mitigate costs.)

So the following list comes from my own life, as embarrassing as it is to admit! Comical? In some cases, sure. But in other cases, certainly convicting for me personally. So here goes…

Your premium Bible “hobby” might be idolatry if

  1. …a package en route makes you giddy, signaled by such things as repeatedly tracking its progress, hoping “today will be the day”, intercepting the package at the post office, or stalking the delivery person.
  2. …you feel withdrawal or melancholy if you haven’t received a new Bible in a while and currently have none en route. You have the itch for another one you don’t need.
  3. …you panic if someone touches your Bible (God forbid it’s a child!) #FirstWorldProblems
  4. …you spend more time admiring the binding on your Bible than you do studying it.
  5. …you spend money you do not have to acquire a Bible you do not need.
  6. …you neglect giving sacrificially to the Church and missions, and yet you can scrounge the cash (or go into debt) for a goatskin Bible.
  7. …you search google images to try and see what Bibles famous pastors use. #GetALife
  8. …your “hobby” causes conflict in your marriage.
  9. …you make your kids guess the material of your new Bible(s). My 4-year-old son says, “Goatskin agaaaaiiiin?!”
  10. …you spend more time taking “Bible selfies” and enjoying other people’s Bibles vicariously through online media and blogs than you do exulting in the Scriptures and serving others out of your love for God and His word.
  11. …your quiet time sometimes ends by taking a photo of your Bible next to your chair and cup of coffee. #NotCute
  12. …you talk to yourself in the car about what Bible is your favorite and why (maybe thats good preparation for blog posts, but it sure is weird at best and idolatrous at worst!).
  13. …you check eBay 3+ times per day for new premium Bible listings.
  14. …you have owned different copies of the same Bible 4+ times.
  15. …you try to color coordinate your various Bibles.
  16. …you pester the publishers and vendors with petty concerns and quibbles. #OCD…#Perfectionist…#LongingForEden?
  17. …your counselor knows about your goatskin Bibles. #Addict
  18. …you want to have a backup of your favorite $200 Bible in case it breaks down (even though the reason it cost you $200 is so it won’t break down!).
  19. …you have difficulty connecting with God using a run of the mill, El Cheap-O Bible.
  20. …you wish you could take your Bible(s) to bed with you, but you settle for the nightstand.
  21. …you got defensive when you read the title of this post. #OUCH!

I’m going to summarize the “issues” by running a premium Bible obsession through the description of “idolatry” in Brian Rosner’s excellent book, Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline MetaphorSomething is an idol if it takes God’s place in your heart, specifically by commanding your:

  1. Love and Devotion: Does the beauty of  _________  eclipse God’s beauty in your mind, thus usurping your wholehearted love for God?
  2. Trust and Confidence: Do you think _________ is going to satisfy your longing for happiness, satisfaction, adventure, or security?
  3. Service and Obedience: Are you controlled by _________?

A good gauge is to look at your use of time, your bank statement, and your day dreaming (“if I had more money, I would get _________”). So what does the Bible suggest we do with idols? Drastic measures, to say the least. If you struggle with an obsession over premium Bibles, might I suggest four tactics to try on?

  1. Go on a buying freeze
  2. Commit to using the same Bible for a time, and consulting software or for other translations
  3. Tell someone who can walk with you
  4. Read your (one) Bible expectantly, longingly, looking for the glory of Christ, the only one who can give deep and lasting soul-satisfaction, and asking him to become the most glorious, weighty reality in your life.

Also, I highly recommend episodes 53-48 on the Church at the Cross podcast, which comprise JR Vassar’s series on idolatry. It is kicking my butt so far! Vassar calls humans “cauldrons of craving” and “deep wells of wanting”, and he is doubtlessly correct. He’ll help you figure out what motivations (“source idols”) lead you to compulsive / idolatrous “Bible behavior”. Also, do yourself a favor and read Timothy Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods.

Again, I’m not saying that a shelf filled with nice Bibles means you are guilty of idolatry. But I am saying it might mean that. Then again, having one (or none) might do the same, if Bible design preoccupies your thoughts more than God, and if the book creates in you a stronger longing for more goatskin than more Jesus. In all of this, I realize that enjoying a fine Bible and enjoying Jesus are most certainly not mutually exclusive. So let me say, on the flip side, that the artful craftsmanship that goes into these Bibles points to our artful Creator, if we let it.

This post is not meant to be judgmental, but simply a call for all of us who read blogs like mine to examine ourselves and make sure our hearts belong 100% to Jesus, particularly in relation to these beautiful Bibles that we love. Basically I wrote this post for myself, as I probably need this more than anyone. But I thought others could benefit from it too, and perhaps it will spark some good reflection and discussion. [Side note: If you’re angry at me after reading this, stop and think long and hard about why that is.]

Let me conclude with a quote from John Calvin, the very same who calls our hearts “idol factories”:

The evil in our desires so often lies not in what we want, but that we want it too much.


21 thoughts on “Your Premium Bible “Hobby” Might be Idolatry IF…

  1. I actually did laugh out loud but I also cringed and feel so embarrassed by a a couple of these I’ve been guilty of. Well, if I needed a reality check this week, this was it! Nevertheless, it’s good to ponder over certain habits and “hobbies” I have and consider if I’ve got some subtle (or not so subtle!) idolatry issues in my life.

  2. Excellent article and one to take to heart. We must all remember that it is the content that is precious in even the most luxuriously bound Bible.

  3. Great article, I’m a collector, but I think the ease of reading & the words are what make me the most giddy, just that I like it bound in a wonderful goatskin/calfskin & knowing that it’ll go down to my children. But I agree, there are time especially when it’s new that I like to take in the smell of the leather or just admiring it’s beauty, but this is short lived, I read everyone of my Bibles & I’m not upset by scratches on the art guild, crinkled pages, I mark them… Etc. They are there to be used, I think anyone that collects them simply to sit on a bookshelf or in a board has an issue, if I’m not using it, I give it away to someone who will… All except for one of my very old paperback Bibles, that has sentimental value, worth very little to anyone but me… LOL

  4. I took awhile to found a good bible at first one was over 30 years ago and more. had bad buys gave away and got money back. Found review online was good I look hours and hours and days I did not care the money and yes could expensive I found out. When you got it don’t need another one I will death before then. I really wanted a beautiful bible with the paper also and what’s in the bible better also for reading, studying etc. I am not working and wife also having garage sales etc. I still wanted bible if I am homeless at least have my bible with gods words. I get cheap one with but wanted without buying another at that. I bought Allan 63 Longprimer Sovereign Black Highland Goatskin have nice stuff inside as well for inside as well. I love it I don’t need anymore a bible I do want another one tho. I reading ever day love the smell leather and smell the print. Gods word in every bible I never had KJV before I hard years ago couldn’t understand in old English. I also review about type version I see lots review and decide KJV I am like it but have look around what it means mostly need to Strong’s Concordance helps a lot. It online as well is great. If is idolatry then is in idolatry my God not cant be no one Gods word? Is my bible should not touch anyone theirs unless the had clean hands and how move the papers is how that after all you know I mean.

  5. I don’t think it’s idolatry to keep people from touching my $200 Goatskin Bible with their filthy fingers, jam covered, oily, greasy, and ink stained! Very few people, it seems, are careful when handling anything that belongs to someone else. Yes, I will lend them or give them, if I know they will read it, my hardcover ESV Study Bible. To me, this is not idolatry, but good stewardship.

  6. Idolatry? It is worth wondering. Ultimately, it may be a matter of defining what the end is of one’s interest in the…luxury bible market. Frankly, lets be honest, that is what it is, it is similar to any “luxury good.” So, if we would normally ask “do you really need another Porche or Mercedes?” it might be well asking “how many premium bibles is enough?” So, what is the end of the interest or hobby? Is it simply the material book itself? Does it help or hinder the practice of a genuinely Christian life? Questions to consider.
    This said, what were once fairly common publishing practices aome fifty or sixty years ago are now horribly rare. There is a legitimate need to have well bound editions of Scripture built to last and the growing interest on the web implies that decades of poor publishing standards has a left a void to be filled. Well made bibles (printed in first world countries no less) are largely relegated to niche` publishers and the audience and a limited audience, largely because the profit margins on poorly made products just can’t be beat. For anyone who loves Scripture there is a natural desire to have a well made Bible that will last decades and seems well constructed for holy worship. So, it may be natural to fawn over the latest “premium Bible.” But it has to be held to the basic proposition, has such interest made one a better Christian? If not, then all the highland goat skin is moot.

  7. Great comment Joseph & I’m glad you mentioned the publishing standards of 50 so years ago, my view is that with the rise of eBibles on iPads, Kindle & smart phones, the commercial publishers moving their resource to cover this very lucrative form of media (apps like Olive Tree charging huge fees for downloads that are a lot cheaper to produce than printing a Bible). Deforestation occurring at the rate it is, we maybe seeing the end of the printed Bible over the next 50 years, especially well crafted, limited quantity items.

    Does it make one a better Christian, well, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t read several pages out of one of my premium Bibles, so I’d say yes. No point in purely collecting them & not reading God’s wonderful Word.

    1. Hi Clinton, glad I could contribute something thoughtful.

      The end of the printed Bible? God, I hope not! In my experience, I may read faster on electronic media, but I tend to absorb more with a physical copy.

      But…then again, with publishing standards at such a low watermark…I don’t know…I often wonder how much of the change in binding materials that took place over the past few decades was really a matter of sourcing costs (maybe paper prices really are just THAT high), or if it isn’t so much publishers dictating the market.

  8. Well said. I too wonder how long premium bound Bibles will continue to be produced in the future. I don’t keep mine in their boxes. I use all of them from time to time, some more frequently than others of course. I have more than I personally need, but hopefully after I’m gone my children and grandchildren will continue using and appreciating them. I want each of them to have one.

    These quality-bound Bibles, like all Bibles, are first and most importantly God’s word. It’s the content that’s precious. As long as that fact is foremost, I don’t think they are idols. (In a sense, what other object on earth deserves the honor of the best materials and workmanship?) But if that fact is not foremost, we need to be aware there’s a problem–and fix it.

    1. There is, I believe, a legitimate argument to be made that Bibles ought to be constructed to reflect a scared purpose. Physically, they ought to convey permanence and be built to last and endure daily use. Again, the production standards features in contemporary premium bibles used to be pretty well standard. I suppose what has to be hoped for is a premium bible at something of a mid-line price that gains enough market share to put pressure on publishers to up their game. Whether or not this is feasible is anybody’s guess.

  9. Some very good points! But doesn’t the word of Almighty God deserve nice packaging! Now back to my Cambridge interlinear (in Nigerian goatskin)!

  10. Fantasic Entry. I laughed and cringed as I read because I could relate. The hardest part for me is that I have never found one bible with everything I am hoping and looking for. Thus, if a company were to come out with a custom highend bible option… my troubles would be solved!

    I should also say, I only have about 4 Bibles that fall in this end and what I try to do is go through the entire OT and NT in each one in a year. And then I switch to another one with a different translation. This keeps the Word fresh in different translations and puts those high end Bibles to use. I make notes, mark them, add XR and many other things.

    Someone else said it best, “Its only idolatry if they are not being worn, read, and digested.” I couldn’t agree more. But for me, 4 is plenty. Maybe in 4 years Ill hit RL Allan up for another one. 😉

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