One way to show contempt for something is to publicly burn the symbol associated with that thing. For example, burning a nation’s flag (the symbol of the country) is a statement of disrespect and contempt for that nation. Burning a person in effigy is an act of contempt for the person represented. And burning Bibles is a statement of contempt for God, for the church, or for religious authority.
During the 2020 riots in Portland, Oregon, groups of protesters burned stacks of Bibles (in addition to American flags). While there was no official spokesman to interpret the meaning of this gesture, it was obviously meant as a protest against traditional American values. Burning Bibles is not a subtle act. It loudly proclaims a rejection of God, spiritual truth, and the church in general.
The first recorded account of someone burning God’s Word is in Jeremiah 36:23–25, when the tyrant King Jehoiakim sliced up Jeremiah’s scroll and threw the strips into the fire: “Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes. Even though Elnathan, Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.”
What can we learn from this biblical example as to how we should respond to the burning of Bibles?
First, like Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah, we should urge the protestors not to do it. Burning a Bible is not only an expression of contempt for Christianity, but it is also against the Holy Spirit, the ultimate author of God’s Word. We can point out to the protesters that they’re desecrating something sacred.
Second, after respectfully confronting or speaking out against the physical destruction of God’s Word, trust the Lord to hold the Bible-burners accountable. The Lord did not mince words with King Jehoiakim about the earthly discipline that was coming upon him. Because of his contempt for that which is holy, Jehoiakim and his nation would face severe judgment (Jeremiah 36:30–31).
Finally, we can use demonstrations like these to build bridges for the gospel. We can ask those who sympathize with the protestors to talk about their concerns. If the issue behind the burning of the Bible is the abuse of religious power, we can agree with them that the using the Bible to justify immoral behaviors should not be tolerated.
Given the abundance of physical and digital copies of the Bible in the world today, no protester’s bonfire is going to put the existence of God’s Word in peril. However, after confronting the profanity of such an action, we can use the opportunity to address possible emotional wounds—and perhaps create a space in the mind of a Bible-burner in which the Holy Spirit can heal and do a mighty work.