Maybe you think, why would I even take the effort to memorize the Bible? Of course, the Bible is more accessible than ever before. But still there are certain benefits to memorization which are indispensable for every Christian, as Andy Naselli, Jon Bloom and John Piper have argued, among others. I would certainly encourage you to read those articles and to seriously consider implementing Scripture memorization into your walk with God.
In this article I want to focus not on the why but on the how. I started memorizing Scripture two years ago with my brother. Our first serious project was Ephesians (150 verses). We memorized one verse a day, six days a week (Sundays for repetition) for a few months. A number of books have been added to that in the last year. Here I will share things I learned about the best way to get Bible verses to stick, by describing the twelve steps on the road to Scripture memorization.
These tips generally work for most people, but some aspects work better for some than others. As you try out these methods, try to find your own way as to what works for you and how you memorize most efficiently.
1. Choose a book/chapter/passage
First of all, it’s important to choose the texts you want to memorize. Well, you have a lot to choose from, right? (66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,102 verses to be precise). Still, there are two things I would keep in mind when choosing your passage to memorize.
I. Are you interested in the texts? If the texts bore you, first of all, seriously!? Come talk to me, man! And secondly, you’ll probably give up sooner than later. (This one is kind of obvious, but still). Choose a passage that you have always loved: John 1, Psalm 23, Romans 8, name it.
II. Are the texts relatively easy to apply? Certain texts are primarily encouraging, exhortative, etc. Others take more study to apply. When memorizing Scripture for the first time, it’s probably best to start with, for example (!), passages from the Gospels, the apostolic letters, or the Psalms, because you can implement them relatively easily into your walk with God. But of course, feel free to start with Lamentations.
This is not to say that other books are less valuable to memorize! By no means. See the articles on the benefits of Scripture memorization, which apply to all Scripture. But I just think that some books are not easy to start with.
2. Commit yourself
Have a clear purpose in mind. Why are you doing this? (See e.g. the articles referenced above). Then commit to it. Choose a daily time and place to memorize the part you’ve chosen. For example, you can start with five minutes every morning. Along the way, you’ll figure out how many verses per week your schedule and energy levels can handle in the long term.
You can choose to take one day a week off. After having memorized, for example, six verses in six days, you could take the Sunday off. Then you can repeat the verses of the week. Or, if you skipped a day during the week, you can use Sunday to catch up.
3. Get to know the part you’re memorizing
It’s important to understand what exactly you’re memorizing. Who’s the author? Who were the original readers? When was it written? For what purpose? What’s the main message of the book? What’s the structure of the book and of the part you’re memorizing? Most of these things can be found in an introduction to a book in a study Bible.
Especially the structure is important in order to have a clear idea of where the text is going. If you know the structure, you have a ‘skeleton’ on which to put your memorized verses.
Along the way, you’ll figure out how many verses per week your schedule and energy levels can handle in the long term.
4. Listen to the passage
Next, listen to someone reading the text aloud (e.g. using audio Bibles or sites like blueletterbible.org). In this way, you get familiar with the text as a whole, and your mind starts getting familiar to it.
5. Write the whole passage down
Writing is a great way to become acquainted with every single word of the text. It forces you to consider every word separately.
6. Focus on the first verse
Read the first verse aloud a few times, and if it helps, write it down yet another time.
7. Practice reciting the first verse
Try reciting it aloud by heart. A very useful and recommended intermediate step would be the following method: write down on a separate piece of paper only the first letters of each word of the verse. Now try to recite the verse by only looking at the first letters. Your brain will trigger your memory as it sees the first letters and you’ll have memorized already more than you think! (The tool on this website is useful for that, if you’ve run out of effort).
After using this method (see image), you can move on to recite it totally by heart. You can do this by using a little piece of paper and moving over the text. In that way, you instantly check whether you haven’t skipped or mis-memorized a word or phrase. When you make a mistake, repeat the verse . When you think you know the first verse well enough, move on to the next verse.
8. Repeat the passage you have memorized
When you move on to the next verse, repeat the steps. When you’ve memorized a verse, recite all verses memorized thus far. Continue doing this till you have memorized the passage you chose. So:
- Memorize v1 + recite v1,
- Memorize v2 + recite vv1–2
- Memorize v3 + recite vv1–3, etc.
Be flexible with the amount you memorize. On very productive days I can memorize ten verses (takes time though!), on normal days it can range from 3–6 verses. I started with one verse every day and that’s totally acceptable.
Let the texts shape you, inform you, transform you. They are the very own words of God.
9. Repeat the passage you memorized the days before
The day after … Don’t hurry to start memorizing the next verse or passage. First, repeat what you memorized in the past week. Again use the same pattern as with the individual verses:
- Day 1: memorize pt. 1 + recite pt. 1
- Day 2: memorize pt. 2 + recite pt. 1–2
- Day 3: memorize pt. 3 + recite pt. 1–3, etc.
10. Keep repeating the part you’ve memorized on a regular basis
When you finished the part you wanted to memorize, first of all, yay! Good job. Secondly: I’m sorry, you’re not done yet. I’d recommend repeating it a lot for the next two or three weeks. In this way, it’ll get into a long term memory. After that, you can tune it down to, say, once a week or a few weeks.
11. Get a grasp on the meaning of the verse
It will be easier to remember verses if you understand what they mean. Study certain difficult phrases or verses. However, this doesn’t mean you have to understand every detail. I still learn many new things about texts I’ve already memorized for a long time!
12. Use the texts
Lastly and probably most importantly: use the texts. When you pray, worship, evangelize, write, or just in conversations with other people. Write texts on little post-its. Study the passages. And let the texts shape you, inform you, transform you. They are the very own words of God.
A Final Word
All my tips can be summarised as follows:
- Interact with the text as much as you can
- Repeat the text as much as you need
Finally: be flexible. Don’t over-commit yourself. Find a rhythm that you’re able to maintain in the long run. And have fun with it. The Bible’s worth it.