Why you shouldn’t memorize Bible verses

flickr: chefranden

Well, actually, you should. But I got your attention, didn’t I? And I want to suggest there is something even better than memorizing Bible verses. Here it is: memorizing Bible passages.

I can almost hear you sigh. Who wants to be told they should memorize more of the Bible? If you’re anything like me, you tried to learn some Bible verses once, and you’ve forgotten them all, except a few stray words. And now I’m telling you that you should learn whole passages?

Yes, I am; but it’s not really a case of “should”. The Bible never tells me that I have to memorize this much this way. Memorizing Bible passages (and even whole books) isn’t really work to me. It’s joy. And that’s from someone with a terrible memory, even at my sparkling best. I did the bulk of my Bible memorization while I was a brain-dead sleep-deprived baby-toting mum. I’ve been doing this for years now: years of revelling in the best words in the world. I’m not asking you to take up a difficult duty, but inviting you to a feast (Psalm 119:103).

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are easier to learn. They stick in your head in a way that individual Bible verses are never likely to – at least if your brain is anything like mine. That’s because they come with meaning attached. They come with context, and meaning opening like a flower, and movement and mystery and structure and poetry and – did I mention meaning? They’re not just stray bits of information floating around an overloaded mind.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are more useful to remember. Instead of a single nail, they give you a shelf to rest your thoughts on. Instead of a dot point, they give you an argument to wend your way through. Instead of a hut, they give you a mansion where you can lay your anxieties down to rest. They give you expressions for your praise and poetry for your laments and words for your encouragement. They give you food for reflection and prayer when you can’t sleep or when you’re going for a walk or when you’re waiting for the bus.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are a lot more fun to recall, so you’ll recall them a lot. Because they’re full of meaning and sweetness, you’ll call them to mind again and again; and this will drive them so deeply into your heart that you will never forget them. You’ll do most of your memorizing when you’re not memorizing, just recalling your favourite passages, in the same way that you remember a special place, your greatest experience, or the face of a lover or a friend.

Have I convinced you? Have I even begun to convince you? I hope so. Because this is the first in a series. Next time, I’ll talk about the what of Bible memorization (which passages would be good to learn first?); then the how of Bible memorization (how on earth do I get those passages into my sluggish brain?); and, finally, the why of Bible memorization (what’s the point of all this anyway?). If going from what to how to why sounds a little backwards, yes, it is. But you’ve heard it often enough around the other way around. So I thought I’d shake things up a bit.

Why passages, not just verses? Because God has invited us to a feast. Let’s not stop at the hors d’oeuvres.

What’s your experience (if any) of Scripture memorization? How well do you remember what you learned? And how do you feel when you hear the words “Bible memorization”:

a) jumping for joy (I can’t wait!)
b) yawning widely (I’ve heard this before)
c) bewildered (No-one does that any more!)
d) guilty and anxious (I know I should, but it all sounds too hard.)?

Be honest!

15 thoughts on “Why you shouldn’t memorize Bible verses

    • Sandy, I like option E, thanks! Mine are very emotional. Yours is thoughtful and considered. Typical! :)

    • following on from my comment to Sandy: I’d say “Mine are very girly” but then that would leave you out of the picture, Sam. ;) Glad to see that at least one or two guys can relate…

  1. In my late twenties was challenged bu some Navigator friends to memorize scripture. They said, “Spiritual returns for time invested; scripture memory pays the best dividend.” I thought they were saying that because Navigators sell Scripture Memory courses. When it got through my thick skull that scripture is not for my information but my transformation, I began to memorize from different motivation. The result was life changing. I have kept it going for the thirty-five years since. It has been an enormous help and blessing to me personally and in ministering to people from the scriptures. I agree that there is great value in memorizing passages as well as verses. Very few people maintain a long-term commitment to memorizing scripture if they do it on their own. It is most helpful to share with at least one other person on a regular basis. Proverbs 27:17 and Ecclesiastes 4: 9 and 10.

    • “Not for information but transformation” – I like that. And that the benefits are both for your life and for those you’re ministering too.

      I love your advice about memorising with others. Maybe more for extroverts than introverts? I could do self-motivated things by myself all day. But great advice for the rest of humanity!

  2. I would say that initially I thought little about the importance of memorizing Scripture until I experienced first hand how important Bible memorization is for the believer. I continue to be absolutely amazed at how the Holy Spirit will remind me of verses that I had long ago memorized and thought I had forgotten and in times of joy, stress, anxiety or temptation the Scriptures are brought up by the Spirit of Truth at just the right moment. As a teacher of Scripture I am also constantly amazed at how often the Spirit will remind me of verses again that I had worked on memorizing years ago and they come up in my mind where at times I say to myself, “where did that come from?”

    I think Psalm 119:11 sums it up for us: hide away God’s Word in our heart so that we may not sin against Him. I agree too that memorizing passages instead of single verses is immensely helpful so that we are always handling God’s Word rightly not only for ourselves but also for others who we share the Word with.

    Thanks for this article!

    • I agree, Duncan. It all sounds a little irrelevant until you start doing it. Then the results are so life-transforming that you can’t stop. God’s word, brought to us by his Spirit, is so amazing and so relevant that it blows my mind over and over again.

  3. Thanks for this encouraging article!

    I must say that these lines were especially beautiful and very true:
    “They give you expressions for your praise and poetry for your laments and words for your encouragement. They give you food for reflection and prayer when you can’t sleep or when you’re going for a walk or when you’re waiting for the bus.”

    Once, I thought that memorising anything longer than 2 verses was for old people or super holy people. But having been sent this article (perhaps stealing some thunder on the articles to come):
    And sitting on the other side of the fence, I must say that memorising larger sections of the Bible is the one of the best disciplines I’ve developed just in the last year. It is definitely not an easy thing, but very fulfilling and very helpful. It gives the Spirit some ammunition when He needs to whip you back in line, and to teach you new things (to repeat it over and over to help retain it long term takes hard work, but you’d be surprised at what new things He can uncover… even 3 months after you’ve gone over the same passage). It gives you something to do while waiting. And it gives you something to pray when you don’t know what to pray.

    @Duncan – I lean more on the side of being proud in thinking I ‘know the Scripture’ because I may be able to recall it better (come on, really, as if we can claim that), so I really need to be careful not brag about it to others. But you made some great points in sharing the treasures of the word with others. I find that praying Scriptures to be a great way of blessing others.

    Psalm 1:2, Joshua 1:8

    Can’t wait for the next few articles in the series!

  4. I was in Bible Drill as a child & don’t remember squat from then. However, I had a bad attitude about doing it in the first place back then, so I’m sure that didn’t help. I can recall several passages & verses of what I have learned in the last few years. Not the exact phrasing or locations but a phrase here & there & the general gist of the entire passage. However, without Google, I would be useless when witnessing (they would call it debating) to my cousin & others online. My husband & I feel called to overseas missions & we both know we need to work on Scripture memorization, if not for those we witness to but, probably more so for ourselves to encourage us, give us confidence in the Gospel, & to rest in the promises.

    • I was the same as a young person and got into SM later. The different motivation – to know Christ and to be more and more like him, to serve others etc – made all the difference. I have found being able to quote scripture accurately gives confidence to speak, and knowing references means that I can get people to read the relevant scriptures for themselves. Then any argument is not with me but with the Word of God. After all, any authority we have only comes from the Word. Besides which, the Word alone is “living and active … ”
      I agree with the idea of using scripture as the basis for prayer. I have found that helpful to keep my concentration, and to be confident that I am praying in line with God’s revealed will. In my prayers for people, I note and use scriptures that speak to that person’s situation.

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