Ask any preaching student what was his most daunting task in preaching school, and he very likely may say, “Memory work!” I can still remember the first time I saw a syllabus for a class in the Memphis School of Preaching. My heart sank. How was I going to memorize that many verses in such a short period of time? And to think that this was just one class!
Memorization of Scripture is generally recognized as one of the most basic requirements for a gospel preacher, but this practice should not be limited to preachers only. The Bible contains many reasons for this. For instance, consider Psalm 119:1-3: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (emphasis mine). The blessed man described in Psalm 1:1-3 delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates in His law day and night. The diligent parent described in Deuteronomy 11:18-23 lays up God’s Word in his heart and soul and teaches it to his children, speaking of it when he sits in his house, when he walks by the way, when he lies down, and when he rises up. Furthermore, consider also that the teaching, admonishing, and singing mentioned in Colossians 3:16 is predicated upon individual Christians letting the Word of Christ “dwell” in us. With these and other verses in view, the importance of Scripture memorization can be seen.
In times past, I believe this concept was better understood among members of the Lord’s church. It used to be said that members of the church of Christ were walking Bibles, that we were a people that lived “by the Book.” (If you want evidence for this, I would suggest that you search for the video of Garland Elkins’ magnificent defense of the truth on the Phil Donahue Show. Notice also how ably the members of the church who were in the audience quoted Scripture.)
So what has changed in the last few decades? I believe that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is that our modern technology has become a crutch upon which many of us lean. Why memorize verses, chapters, and whole books of the Bible when we could just memorize bits and pieces of those verses and then do a quick search on our phones? Why spend hours memorizing Scripture when said search can be accomplished in a matter of seconds? These are legitimate questions that need answered, and the best answer for them lie again in the verses already mentioned.
The Bible doesn’t say that we should hide the Word of God in our iPhones; it says we must hide it in our hearts Ps. 119:11; Deut. 11:18). The Bible doesn’t say that we should meditate with tablet in hand, with fingers at the ready for a verse search; it says we are to meditate in the law of the Lord “day and night” (Ps. 1:2), implying the desire to ruminate over the Word while awake and asleep. The Bible doesn’t say to let the Word of Christ dwell in our computers, resulting in teaching, admonishing, and singing; it says to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly,” resulting in those things (Col. 3:16, emphasis mine).
With that said, the Bible is clear that the noble task of Scripture memorization takes effort. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, emphasis mine). Even though it is not easy, Scripture memorization is a task that is worth our efforts, and it can be accomplished through diligent study.
One may ask, “But how do I go about memorizing Scripture? What is the key to being able to do this?” The answer is simple: repetition, repetition, repetition. If you can memorize a phone number or an address or someone’s name, you can memorize Scripture! While it is true that memorizing Scripture takes some getting used to, I believe you will find it easier than you think. Just keep working at it, and don’t give up!
For the remainder of this article, I would like to offer some tips that helped me tremendously in learning how to memorize Scripture. First, aim small, miss small. What I mean by this is that you must start down the path of Scripture memorization by focusing on small, easy-to-memorize verses. If given the choice between John 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:10-12, choose John 3:16! Chances are, you will be much more familiar with the passage in John, and it will aid you in building confidence in your memorization. Then once your mind has warmed up to memorization, you can tackle the more difficult verses.
Another tip that I would recommend is to focus on important doctrinal passages. Do not get me wrong, every passage in Scripture is important and is there for a reason! That said, it is much more useful to memorize passages regarding baptism or worship or truth rather than passages such as genealogies or salutations of an epistle.
Next, I would say it is crucial to memorize the verse by breaking it down, phrase by phrase. For instance, rather than trying to memorize the whole verse, try memorizing John 3:16 one phrase at a time: “For God so loved the world — that He gave His only begotten Son — that whoever believes in Him — should not perish — but have everlasting life.” By breaking the verse or passage down phrase by phrase, a daunting task becomes much more attainable.
Finally, it is important to take regular study breaks and sleep on it after you have studied. The human brain is capable of storing a tremendous amount of information, but even the smartest among us can have a difficult time if our brains become overloaded with too much information all at once. Therefore, when studying a passage of Scripture you want to memorize, make sure you put it down and go do something else in order to give your brain time to process the new information. Then go back to memorizing and you should find it easier the second time around! Also, realize that your brain will process this information while you sleep at night, so when you come back to study the passage the next day, you should find the ability to memorize it much more smoothly.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if members of the Lord’s church once again became known as “people of the Book”? Let us renew our efforts be more like Christ Who answered, “It is written.”
Chase is a 2017 graduate of MSOP and preaches in West Monroe, LA, alongside his wife and children.