Memorising the Bible

In Bible times, access to books and written materials was a luxury. In an era before the printing press, let alone the Internet, the stories of a culture were maintained through oral tradition. The retelling of stories from generation to generation was a surprisingly (to us) effective way of preserving history.

Memorising the Bible

In an orally based culture, brains were attuned to this method of transmitting information. The advent of various information technologies has resulted in modern brains being attuned differently, with a resulting dip in the retention of information. We no longer need to memorize since data are stored for us, a few simple clicks away, in cyberspace. In an oral culture, the memorization of information was basic to life, but is of little consequence in today’s world wide web. Consequently, the memorization of scripture will only be accomplished by those who understand its benefits and are willing to discipline their minds to do it.

The fundamental reason for memorizing and familiarizing oneself with the Bible is to enable God’s word to act on our lives. 

Words in a closed book on the shelf or an unopened Bible app can never be described as ‘living and powerful...piercing even to the division of soul and spirit...a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12). Timothy’s mother and grandmother appreciated this, and were keen to teach him the Old Testament scriptures from childhood, recognizing that they were ‘able to make [him] wise for salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:15). This was firmly in the tradition that Moses commanded the people of his day. The communication and transmission of God’s word was to be taught diligently, rehearsed to the children in all circumstances – sitting in the house, walking along the road, going to bed and waking up. God’s word was to be at the front of their mind, governing their familial and social interactions (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7-10). Thus the salvation for which the word of God trains us goes beyond the initial moment when we pass from death into life to our ongoing daily walk with God which Jesus described as the narrow way (Matthew 7:14).

Having experienced the word of God’s enablement in victory over sin, the psalmist  exclaims, ‘Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You’ (Psalm 119:11). The Lord Jesus Himself proved the value of memorized scripture in overcoming temptation when, at the beginning of His earthly ministry, He quoted it to the devil in the wilderness. He had used His time wisely in preparation for such a moment (Isaiah 50:4) and was thus able to be an example to us in the proper use of the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). For example, an awareness of our personal besetting sins could be countered by a corresponding list of memory verses to be called to mind when facing temptation.

On the other hand, the memorization of scripture is positively useful in our communication with God. The prayers of the early church are full of quotations; it is an act of faith to bring before God His promises and rest in them. Writing out and prominently displaying a portion of scripture that is of particular help can be an aid in committing it to memory. Our worship and appreciation of God is mediated through our knowledge of His word; one should therefore expect memorized portions of scripture to permeate our communion. It follows that the act of committing appropriate passages to mind in view of worship enlarges our appreciation of Him. The first chapter of many New Testament books is worthy of such an effort.

Happily, communication with God goes both ways. Since memorization often couples with meditation and study, as one ponders a passage the Spirit of God will bring to mind other portions previously memorized and apply them appropriately to the passage at hand. The more one commits to mind, the greater the pool of passages the Spirit of God has to work with as He seeks to teach us God’s truth (John 16:13). 

A starting strategy is to commit to memory a key verse of each chapter in a book so that the shape of the book’s argument becomes fixed in the mind.

Having affected us, the word of God uses us as a conduit to affect others. If we wish to share God’s truth, it must be part of the very fabric of our life, hidden in our hearts. If we are going to be ‘ give an answer’ (1 Peter 3:15, KJV), then the appropriate passage must be on our lips.  The gospel preacher, Sunday school teacher, and student all need a roster of verses at the ready. Make a list of key verses that meet a specific issue of interest and commit them to memory. A passage to be taught or preached is best memorized so that it flows out of a mind permeated with it!  Creative mnemonics can help - for example, gospel verses from A-Z: All have sinned, Be sure your sins will find you out, Come unto me, etc.

Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote asking Timothy to bring ‘the books, especially the parchments’ (2 Timothy 4:13). Were these copies of scripture? Whatever the case, Paul was not hindered as a Christian without them.  Obviously, having committed much of the word of God to memory, he was able to rely on it to inform his daily decisions in life. Most of us do not think a similar situation could ever happen, but the reality is that disease and/or persecution could rob us of the ability to read the written word. What then? Should such a situation arise would the Spirit of God have a reservoir in your mind on which to draw?