How to memorize Scripture
I had the privilege of living in the Holy Land for four years where I earned two master’s degrees at Jerusalem University College. During my stay I was able to do some really amazing things like meeting my wife Sarah, walking around the Sea of Galilee, living with the tent dwelling seminomadic Bedouins in the desert, and being part of evangelism teams throughout all of Israel. But the most impactful experience I took away was being able to rub shoulders with Jews and Christians who are really serious about memorizing Scripture and gleaning from them the three main techniques of how they and those who went before them went about memorizing.
Memorizing is hard, especially for us in the west who live in a copy, paste, Facebook, Tweet, file and forget world. It might be hard for you to conceive of 8-year-old children that had all 150 Psalms memorized! But memorizing the Word of God is so important to our spiritual life and it is achievable with discipline, prayer, and hard work.
While in Jerusalem, I learned the three pillars of memorization: Reading, Hearing, and Writing. Let me briefly explain how each of these techniques or a combination of them can help you achieve the goal of hiding God’s Word in your heart. These memory techniques have helped me to memorize 20 complete books and I have used them to inspire thousands of Christians across this country to do it too.
The first technique is: Reading.
After you have selected a verse to memorize, read it aloud over and over. When you read the verse aloud, your eyes work together with your mouth and ears to give you a much better chance of retaining the verse than if you were reading it silently. Another technique related to Reading is the power of Format.
The Jews have really figured this out; every printing of the Talmud has the exact same format, that is to say page 58, 59, etc. are exactly the same in every printing throughout the world. This greatly enhances their memorization efforts. I have heard stories of Jewish students that had a memory so strong that you could put a pin through any word say on page 58 of the Torah and without looking they could tell you the very word and letter the pin went through on page 59. That is amazing!
To apply the principle of Format, read aloud the verse you want to memorize while looking at the verse in your Bible, using the same Bible every time. I know it might sound to easy to be true but the principal really does work. When we use the same Bible long enough, we know where certain verses are on the page and where certain chapters start, don’t we? This is the power of Format. So read the verse aloud over and over while looking at your Bible.
The second technique to memorize is: Hearing the Word of God.
While living in Jerusalem I was often told that the Bible was originally meant more for the ears than the eyes. It’s kind of like reading Mozart versus hearing Mozart. You can read Mozart on the page all the day long and imagine how beautiful it would sound, but when you hear someone play the piece well on the piano, the document almost takes on a different life, doesn’t it? The Bible repeatedly tells us that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), to hear O Israel (Deuteronomy 6:4), to be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22), etc. So, if we can listen to the Word of God a chapter at a time while we are in the car, doing errands around the house, etc. we can hear the spoken Word of God will all the emotions, drama, etc. over and over. This is probably the most ancient way to memorize.
I have a friend who had a two hour commute every day; for part of the trip he would listen to a chapter from Romans. About a year later he had memorized the entire book of Romans while driving to work. What an excellent way to redeem the time. Hearing the Word of God is also the best way for children to memorize. Before we put our kids to bed, I will recite a few chapters dramatically from memory and you know how quickly kids pick things up, now they can practically tell the chapters themselves just from hearing them over and over. A great way for you to implement this technique is to play the Word of God to your kids when they are in bed on a CD or an App.
The last memorization technique is writing the verse out.
Let me briefly explain. Every Bible in the world is printed in such a way that doesn’t foster memorization. That’s why I created a version of the Bible called The Memorization Study Bible. The method of the Bible goes something like this.
1. Prayerfully select a verse.
2. Divide the verse into several lines. Count the words in each line and write the number in the right-hand column as a memory aid. When the ancients used this technique, they would always keep eight words or less on each line. They called this an eye’s glance; it was a phrase short enough that you could keep it in your short-term memory.
3. Copy the right-hand column’s numbers onto a fresh sheet of paper. Write out the verse with pen and paper just the way you’ve divided it using the numbers as a crutch. If you draw a blank, you can look at the number column as a cheat sheet to help you know how many words go on that line.
4. While you are writing the verse, try speaking it aloud. That way your mind, eyes, mouth, hand, and ears are working together in unison. You can’t use any more of your members than that.
Finally, whether you memorize Scripture by Reading, Hearing, or Writing, or a combination of those techniques, the way to retain it is to review it.
We know that if we don’t use it, we lose it. The process of reviewing Scripture you have memorized is called meditation in the Bible (Joshua 1:8) and is critical to our spiritual life. If we can let the Word of Christ “abide” or remain in us (1 John 2:14), then we can draw upon it in times of need. This will give you or your kids the best fighting chance to overcome the world. With the Word of God hidden in our hearts we can now have the mind of the living God in reach, we can provide words of comfort from the Scripture to ourselves or others in a time of need, we can continually remind ourselves of who we are in the light of God’s Word, and we can be like Jesus who quoted the Word of God from memory when he was under attack from our enemy (Matthew 4:1-4).
Tom Meyer, the “Bible Memory Man,” is a professor at Shasta Bible College and the author of The Memorization Study Bible. He is also a guest speaker at churches and conferences where he presents the Bible spoken dramatically from memory. For more information, visit www.thescripturecannotbebroken.com