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Scripture Memorization, pt. 3

In this issue, the concluding article of the series, I will discuss memorization of long passages, such as chapters and books of the Bible.

Memorization of Long Passages


After memorizing several individual verses in the Bible, I encourage you to go on and memorize longer passages, such as chapters and even entire books of the Bible. I found that memorizing long passages was not as difficult as I thought that it would be. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to find many unexpected benefits of doing so. Here are some benefits of memorizing books of the Bible in their entirety:


1. Greater knowledge of the context of the verses in the book. This is important in understanding the Scriptures. Sometimes greater knowledge of the context will yield new insight into a verse that was not apparent from memorizing the verse by itself. Sometimes greater knowledge of the context will refute meaning that has been attributed to a verse that it never, in context, had.


2. Aids greatly in teaching a book. Memorizing a book gives one a familiarity, intimacy and understanding of it that no commentary can give. If you teach the Word, I encourage you to memorize each passage that you teach before you teach it. You will be amazed to discover the insight you get from memorization.


3. Joy in being able to recite and meditate on the book anywhere you may be and at anytime.


4. Extensive knowledge of where passages are in the books you have memorized. After you have memorized books of the Bible, you retain a knowledge of everything the book says, even if you do not retain the word-perfect memorization of the book.


5. Increased insight and understanding concerning the tone of the book and the mood of its writer. For instance, from memorizing it, I found the book of Romans to be a very confident, assertive book, strongly putting forth doctrine. On the other hand, I found the book of Philippians to be a tender book, often alluding to the possible death of its writer. In a sense, memorizing a book is like getting into the mind of the writer.


6. Knowledge of passages not normally memorized or cited. I have often received unexpected insight into passages that were unknown to me by memorizing them as part of a longer passage.


While one may reap many benefits from memorizing long passages of Scripture, there are some difficult requirements in order to be successful at it. First, to memorize an entire book of the Bible requires a large amount of work. Therefore, one must have a desire and commitment to be successful at memorizing. In addition, to be successful requires a great amount of concentration, which, in turn, requires a quiet room with no distractions. Moreover, the memorization of long passages requires a great amount of time: time to memorize and time to practice memorized passages.

Now I will gives some techniques that I have found helpful in memorizing long passages. In the last issue, I stated that I found that the set of spiral-bound 3-by-5 cards was an important tool in memorizing verses. I have found spiral-bound 3-by-5 cards indispensible in memorizing long passages, as well. To prepare to memorize, I write out a chapter of the book that I am memorizing on 3-by-5 cards. An average-size chapter can fit on approximately five cards (obviously, some take more, some less). I then proceed to memorize one card at a time, verse by verse. When I can recite the contents of a card from memory, I go on to the next card. When I begin memorizing the next card, I will often memorize the first verse of the new card along with the last verse of the previous card. This establishes a connection in my mind between the two cards. I continue memorizing cards until I have memorized an entire chapter. Once I have memorized all of the cards in the chapter, I practice reciting the chapter in its entirety. Often, by the time I have memorized the last card in the chapter, I no longer can recite the first card perfectly. Thus, I do any necessary rememorization until I can recite the whole chapter in its entirety. Once the entire chapter is memorized, I am "free" from the cards for that chapter and can practice the entire chapter anywhere and anytime.

As I memorize and practice the chapter, I speak the words as an actor would, just as if I was the author speaking. This aids in memorization. It also gives me the "mood" of the chapter, thus aiding in the understanding of the chapter. As stated above, in this way, I feel as if I am, in a sense, stepping into the mind of the author of the chapter.

For genealogies, lists, etc., I use traditional memorization techniques such as mnemonics and acronyms. Take, for example, the verse: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Rom. 8:35). To memorize this verse, I made up the nonsense word "thpfnds" (pronounced "thupfounds"). This helped me memorize the words in the list: Trouble, Hardship, Persecution, Famine, Nakedness, Danger and Sword. Silly techniques like this can be a real help!

Once you have memorized a new chapter, try to practice it as much as possible. After memorizing many chapters, retaining what you have memorized becomes a problem. One of the best aids in retention is to review newly memorized passages frequently, thus "overlearning" them. This is confirmed by scientific studies concerning memory:


The degree of learning is found to be directly associated with the amount of practice. In a metaphoric sense, specific memory may be said to grow stronger and stronger as practice proceeds. Even after a task can be performed or recited perfectly, continued practice (sometimes called overlearning) increases the "strength" of the memory. The rate of forgetting is slower when the degree of learning is greater. If there were one universal prescription for resisting forgetting, it would be to learn to a very high level initially...[Footnote #7]


Thus, for retention, it is important to overlearn a new passage. Review the passage anywhere and everywhere: while driving, while waiting in line, while waiting for the bus, while on the bus, etc. I have found that my long commute to and from work has been a great help in Scripture memorization!

Overlearning can be difficult sometimes. You may "get sick" of a passage because you practice it so much! This amount of practicing is good, though. Although you may be sick of it now, you will treasure the fact that you practiced the passage so much because, in doing so, you will have cemented the passage in your long term memory bank.

In spite of your diligence, after memorizing many chapters, you will most likely begin to forget some of them. To battle against this, for each two new chapters that I memorize, I will go back and practice (or rememorize, if necessary) four old chapters. In this way, I cycle through all of the old chapters that I have memorized, in addition to memorizing new ones. Also, as I am practicing an old passage, I will go back and reread the passage so as to make sure that I still know it word-perfectly. The memory sometimes does funny things! You may think that you know a passage perfectly, even though you are leaving out entire phrases. It is important to reread passages that you have memorized so that your memory does not play tricks on you.

So, Father, we praise You for the marvelous gift of memory that you have given us. Help us to use it for Your glory. By Your Spirit, give us the desire, time and ability to memorize Your Word. Guide us in which passages to memorize; guide us in using the memorized passages for Your glory as we teach Your Word or proclaim Your Word to others. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.


7. Encyclopædia Brittanica, "Memory", vol. 23, p.950, 1986.

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