Quick—what’s ? What’s the capital of Honduras? Did you answer without pulling out your phone?
You’ve probably memorized heaps of facts, numbers, and words in your life. Have you spent time memorizing the Bible? It’s an invaluable type of Bible intake, but it can be confusing to those who are new to the Christian faith or unfamiliar with the practice. Why should we memorize when we (in the West) have such easy access to the Bible? Can’t we just look up the passage in our favorite book or app?
Why to Memorize
We memorize Bible passages to help us resist temptation (Ps 119:11; Matt 4:1–11). Bible memorization is one way to let the word of Christ dwell richly within us (Col 3:16). As we commit passages to memory, we equip ourselves to share the Word of God with those who are discouraged, suffering, or outside the faith. Jon Bloom at Desiring God says that memorizing large chunks of Scripture will be one of the best investments of your life.
Bible memorization can also be an aid in Bible study. You need not memorize every passage you plan to study. But when you memorize a chapter or book of the Bible, you head into the mine equipped with extra tools to bring out piles of gold.
Memorizing and Observation
When we begin to study a passage of Scripture, our greatest need is exposure to the text. We need to read it repeatedly both to get a good book overview and to jump-start observation. Nothing beats memorizing when it comes to repeated readings! Most memory systems build their structure on the foundation of regular repetition.
As you internalize the passage, you will naturally observe important features of the text. You’ll see the repeated words and the titles/names of characters. You’ll notice the author’s transitions between sections. You will have a better sense of the mood of the text and you will be able to pick up on the comparisons and contrasts the author employs.
Memorizing will also help you identify structure. Several years ago, I spent some time trying to memorize the book of 1 Peter. I had studied the book before, but it wasn’t until I tried to commit it to memory that I noticed the repeated theme of submission and suffering for the sake of love. I noticed the phrase “in the same way” in 1 Pet 3:1 and 1 Pet 3:7. This meant that the submission and love discussed in chapter 3 was introduced earlier. In chapter 2 I saw the command to submit to God-ordained authority (1 Pet 2:13–14), the call for servants to submit to their masters (1 Pet 2:18), and the example of Jesus submitting and suffering for his people (1 Pet 2:21–25). (This theme also shows up later in the book: see 1 Pet 3:14–18; 4:1–3, 12–19; 5:1, 5, 6, 10.) Perhaps I should have picked up on all of this earlier, but it wasn’t clear to me until I started my memory work.
Memorizing and Correlation
Finally, you will see the benefits of memorization when connecting passages of Scripture. (We call this process correlation.) By memorizing a portion of the Bible, you add it to the quick-access part of your brain. So when you are studying a different passage, your memorized verses stand at the ready to help and fill out meaning. If you’ve already done the hard work of understanding the (memorized) passage in its context, you are ready to connect the ideas between passages.
I commend the practice of Bible memorization to you. Through it, you just may gain insight on a book or passage that you wouldn’t get otherwise.