More tips on scripture memory!

My About page has developed a thread on Scripture memory techniques which I’d like to move off of that page and into the main blog – but rather than manually moving the existing portion of the discussion from the About page, I’ll just point to it from here (and to here from there), and any future discussion can continue here.

Here’s a summary of the discussion so far: reader Viola, who discovered my blog because of a comment I wrote over on Neal Whitman’s blog, Literal-Minded, read my post on my new Scripture memory technique, and said ‘hello’ over on my About page. We got into a discussion about some of the things which were being discussed over in the thread on Neal’s blog (music therapy, autism, Oliver Sacks, etc.), as well as Scripture memory. Viola’s latest comment covers a number of useful tips that she compiled as a result of years of Bible Quiz competition when she was growing up. The rest of this post is a response to her latest comment.

Viola – thanks for sharing what you learned from your Bible Quiz days! You made some great points:

When you’re memorizing portions of Scripture, I think it’s so much easier when you get the whole picture: history, intention of writer, culture, etc. That’s why commentaries come in handy. If you have the basic background of the scripture, it is absorbed in a more efficient manner.

I do research like this as part of regular Bible study, but haven’t thought of using it as part of my approach to memorizing passages… but I see your point – the better you understand what you’re trying to memorize, the easier it will be to do so! I’ll have to keep this tip in mind for the future.

A concordance is “an alphabetical index of the principal words of a book, as of the Bible, with a reference to the passage in which each occurs” according to my friend, Webster’s Dictionary. If you’re memorizing large portions of Scripture, it’s nice to have other insights as to where themes appear in or near that Scripture. I found it easier to memorize larger portions of Scripture with a comparative study such as the concordance.

I use Strong’s concordance frequently, though I rarely use the hefty hardcover volume which my parents gave to me when I was in highschool – I mostly look up the passage I’m studying or memorizing on Crosswalk.com using the “NAS/KJV with Strong’s numbers” version, and then click on the words I’m interested in. Or I use the KJV+Strong’s Bible module in conjunction with the Strong’s Concordance using Pocket e-Sword. I also compare different translations to see how they each deal with certain words or phrases when the New King James Version presents a challenging word or phrase (more on the NKJV later). I bought a comparative Bible with 4 translations some years ago for this very purpose, but now I mostly use BibleGateway.com and Pocket e-Sword to bring up multiple translations… But back to your tip 🙂 I agree – a concordance is absolutely essential if you’re going to really understand the verses you are memorizing. Particularly if you want to grasp, as you say, the Biblical theme that the passage fits into. Also, sometimes different words in the original languages are translated as the same word (classic example: the word translated as love in English might be be agape, phileo, etc. in Greek). [Note: I have lots of useful links in my sidebar to sites which contain many commentaries, dozens of searchable translations of the Bible, and other Bible study resources.] By the way, what’s the largest passage you ever memorized? I’ve had grand plans to memorize whole books in the past, like some of the shorter Pauline epistles, but I’m pretty sure that the longest contiguous passage I have memorized was Psalm 103 last year (22 verses). What helped me with that was grouping the verses into 5-verse chunks and memorizing by chunk. You could argue that the sense of the flow of the chapter I eventually came to understand was a result of my memorizing the chapter – but I bet that, if I had studied the chapter better from the outset, I would have seen that flow, which would have made the process of memorizing it easier to begin with… Hmmm! Either way, though, I learned some wonderful things through memorizing that Psalm!

Colorcoding helps as well, especially if you have a photographic memory–you can create your very own photograph!
When I was in Bible Quiz in my younger years, I colorcoded characters, questions, parenthesis, recurring themes, and so forth. We were given large print paperback books (we studied the New Testament,) of a book of the Bible that we could make notations, etc. all over the place. I’m not super technologically inclined, but I bet Lee could show you how to colorcode scripture on a program on computer. I just like to do it the old-fashioned way!

There’s an interesting one – and I can see it really helping if you’re a visual learner. (Total tangent: I wonder how much an approach like this approximates certain forms of synesthesia? Synesthetes are often described as having superior memories…) And yes, if you can describe the rules you used to create your notations or color coding, I could write a program to do it 🙂

I TOTALLY recommend memorizing in the King James Version. The reason: pattern. In the other versions, you will not find a particular writing pattern as much as you would find in the King James Version. It’s easier to have a flow or “mojo” about memorizing when you can follow the particular pattern of writing that King James Version has to offer. Memorizing is mostly about repetition. What is a pattern? Repetition. It’s also easier to memorize verbatim this way. Years after I graduated and was out of Bible Quiz, my sister used to coach a team and she said they switched to the New International Version. She felt it was easier to understand, but definitely harder to memorize.

For years I didn’t do much (if any) Scripture memory because I was conflicted about what version to use… a totally lame excuse, I know. When I began to be much more disciplined about it in January, 2006, I picked the NKJV. I grew up reading and memorizing the KJV, but didn’t quite want to continue with it, as much as I still love reading it (especially Psalms and Proverbs). If I need to use verses in conversation with someone, especially a non-believer, the KJV might become an obstacle. But again, I love the flow (as you mentioned) and the poetry of the KJV. I’ve found that the NKJV is a nice compromise – most of the flow of the KJV, but without the archaic pronouns, verb forms, etc.

Something I did on my own that most people did not do…..rewrote the scripture in my own handwriting. I took index cards, cut them in half, put the reference on one side, and wrote the reference and verse on the other side. Then I punched a hole in it and put it on a large metal ring that was to be used as a belt holder. I could recheck myself by matching the reference to the scripture and it helped me to remember when I rewrote everything by hand (repetition.) I guess it goes along the same lines as colorcoding–different way of recognition. I still do this with my favorite recipes instead of putting them on the computer because I recognize them more easily in my own handwriting. It’s also a comfort when others write down their recipes in their own handwriting for me!

I used to do this, too – my mom introduced me to the technique when I was in elementary school (I think). Are you saying that nobody else used the index cards, or nobody else rewrote in their own handwriting? I’d be very surprised if nobody else rewrote the verses – that’s all we were ever told to do in Sunday School or later in Bible class (well, perhaps some of the teachers mentioned flash cards…) But you’re right – the more formats you use (reading, writing, reciting, …), the faster and better you learn. And for memory verses, of course, one needs to add meditation to reap the full benefit of the discipline.

I’m not sure if this helps, but if you are primarily a visual and tactile learner, you may get some benefit from this information. Please feel free to add, comment, or offer suggestions that would help. I felt this way of studying gave me a well-rounded view of Scripture. Now when I study Scripture, I do read it in other versions just to get a better and more complete picture. HAPPY MEMORIZING!

Thanks again for sharing all of this! I’m curious – having done all that work memorizing Scripture when you were young, what have you retained? Personally, though I still remember a few passages I learned as a child or a teenager (for Sunday School or Bible class at my Christian jr./sr. high school), I’ve mostly forgotten what I memorized back then; oh, I might remember the gist of a lot of the verses, and the book (and maybe the chapter) they came from, but I’m not even close to being able to recite those passages word-for-word.

For anyone else following this meandering thread – if you have additional insight into the process of memorizing Scripture, please add a comment below!

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10 Comments

  1. Lee,
    I must apologize about the meandering of the blogs. I think I need to learn more blog etiquette so as to not send you on a wild goose chase! Thank you for being so patient, as I just started commenting/blogging a few weeks ago.
    As far as the longest amount of scripture verbatim I memorized? The books of Matthew, Luke, Acts, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Bible Quiz made it fun! Over those years I developed a system and yes, I still remember quite a bit, especially when I need it. The one thing that I struggle with a lot is putting references to verses. If you start a verse, I can usually finish it, but not verbatim. Now that I’m older, it’s easier to actually APPLY the Scriptures to life’s circumstances (although not as simple as it sounds due to the fact that the mind can rationalize just about ANYTHING.) I noticed when I stopped memorizing that life sort of got in the way, and trying to find a balance with staying in the Scriptures has been extremely challenging. Currently, I am meditating on what I can remember in the Love Chapter–1 Corinthians 13, simply because it’s my ultimate favorite passage in the Bible and something we all could use a little boost with. 🙂
    As far as writing and rewriting scripture by hand, I just didn’t see a lot of the other kids doing it at that time. Most of them did not, but a small percentage of them definitely did and benefited by the fruits of their labor.
    By the way, I like the New King James Version too, but when you’re 13 and full of yourself, it’s awesome to say “thee’s” and “thou’s” and “thy’s” and “thine’s” because you sound sooooo coool! Heh heh. I think the fact that I was a hopeless romantic and didn’t understand how much of a poetry lover (and goofy goober) I really was helped out too.
    HAPPY MEMORIZING!

  2. Viola,

    Re: Blog etiquette – no problem! I’m relatively new to blogging as well (I started my blog last August, and only began commenting on other blogs a few months earlier in the year), and I didn’t realize what the differences were between a page (like About) and the main blog in a WordPress blog… (Now I understand why so many people turn off comments on their About page!)

    Re: all the books you’ve memorized – *wow*! [picks jaw up off of the ground] I had no idea that BibleQuiz was so intense! I can imagine that attaching references to specific verses would be a challenge under the circumstances! I have a hard time with the 22 verses of Ps 103 🙂 And yes, 1 Corinthians 13 is a fantastic passage to memorize! I think it’s great that you’ve retained so much – I wish I had a better grasp of the verses I learned when I was younger. Review, review, review, I know 🙂

    Actually, now that I think about it, one of the reasons I chose the KJV was very practical – it was usually the most compact compared to the other translations! (We usually had the choice of 2-3 translations to use when memorizing in jr/sr high.) But it was also truly my favorite translation growing up.

  3. When I memorize I tend to do whole books of Scripture at a time. I feel it helps to maintain context, which is usually lost in most Scripture memorization.

  4. Christopher – I’ve often felt the same way concerning context, but I haven’t had the discipline to follow through and memorize a whole book…

    If you have some helpful hints to add here, please do!

  5. Suggestions?

    Well, 1. My best suggestion would be to remember that memorizing whole books of Scripture is more of a marathon and less of a dead sprint. It is SO easy to get discouraged (my wife could tell you) when you think about how many more verses or chapters you have left to go.

    2. Get other people around you doing the same book. That helps since when they are going slow you can come up and encourage them, and vice versa.

    3. As far as the how to, everyone memorizes differently. My wife and I do the following by a pastor named Andrew Davis in North Carolina. But, again, every one is different. I say memorize each verse like you would an individual verse. Just make sure that you review what you memorized the days before. So, if you memorize Jude start with Jude 1:1 on Monday. Make sure you know it well, and you are done for the day. Tuesday: Review 1:1 and learn 1:2. Wednesday review 1:1-2 and learn 1:3. And so on….I will give more later.

    Christopher

  6. Christopher, thanks for the tips! I checked out your blog a little bit after I saw your comment – congratulations on publishing your book! (On scripture memory, for those of you who are reading this.) I’m sure you have a lot more in terms of helpful guidelines in your book. Feel free to share whatever you want to here – and point to your book for the rest!

  7. Hey, thanks for the checking out the blog. I have since “upgraded” to a full blown website and begun a ministry called Dwelling Rich. You can find me on http://www.dwelling-rich.org. You can also e-mail me at cpearson@dwelling-rich.org. I like what you are doing here and I may have to ask you to write an article or something once I get every thing up and running.

  8. Christopher – you’re welcome! I just checked out your new site – it looks great! If I might make one suggestion – take a look at Setting Captives Free as an alternative to X3Church… And the “Sacred Sandwich” looks pretty funny!

    You’d like me to write an article? I don’t feel like much of an expert, but I’m willing to share what I’ve been learning! I’ll send you a note offline to follow up.

  9. I also like to create funny pictures that link to one another to memorize full chapters. Since I create it, and try to make it crazy, I can memorize faster.
    Brennastull.com

  10. Brenna – interesting! Kind of like a visual form of the memory technique the ancient Greeks used?


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