Book burning! What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear those words? Many people think of a tyrannical government which censors any ideas with which it disagrees and sometimes resorts to gathering books which promote those ideas and publicly burning them. This has actually taken place at times. The idea that book burning is wrong is so pervasive that some people believe it is wrong to destroy any book for any reason. Sometimes that can lead to problems.
I am active on internet Christian forums and I recall two cases when someone asked how to dispose of books that contain false teachings. In one case it was a Book of Mormon; in the other it was some books that promoted Buddhism. Both felt that simply destroying the books was wrong and asked for advice about what to do with them. The responses showed that many of the forum members shared the antipathy about destroying books. In both cases someone suggested giving the books to a local library, which would have meant that they would be available for anyone to read.
When questions of right and wrong arise the best place to look for answers is the Bible, and the Bible does say something about book burning.
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19:18-23)
It appears that book burning isn’t always a bad thing. This took place at Ephesus while Paul was teaching there. Some believers who had practiced magic before their conversion burned their books as a public testimony that they had forsaken their old way of life. They were making a considerable financial sacrifice in doing this. If they had sold the books instead they would have gotten back some of the money they had invested in them, but that would have meant that others would now be able to carry on the evil practices they had forsaken.
Book burning can be either good or bad, depending on what books are being burned and why. It is wrong for a government to seize books from their owners and destroy them, but if you happen to have books in your possession that can be harmful to others it is your responsibility to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Usually the best way is to destroy the books.
I have bought a lot of used books in thrift stores and at book sales and yard sales. You can get good books at a very low price at these places. But sometimes I find books that teach error. Should I just leave them there where someone else can buy them and fall victim to their teaching? I believe that when I find such a book God is giving me the opportunity to take it out of circulation so no one can be harmed by it.
I don’t believe that our service to God should consist only of finding dangerous books and destroying them. We are commanded to teach the truth to others as we have opportunity, but if God does give us the opportunity to stop the spread of lies we must take advantage of it.