Chapter 4  Table of Contents  Chapter 6

How to Memorize Scripture

Memorization - Basics

by Stephen Simpson

Selecting a version to memorize

An important step in getting started is to select a version of the Bible from which to memorize. Which one should you use? It is up to you, but here are some guidelines.

Reviving an ineffective scripture memory program

Many Christians have spent time in the past memorizing scripture. Perhaps you are in the situation where at some time in the past you efforts have fizzled Or perhaps you are memorizing scripture, but are not being very productive at the task.

Most people write down the verses they memorized on small cards. Some write out the verses on larger pieces of paper or just highlight the verses they know in their Bibles. Whatever method you used, you will first have to go through all your materials and throw out everything that you cannot recite out loud with 100% accuracy. Be hard on yourself. Don't feel bad about throwing a couple hundred verse cards away, as if you are loosing something, because if you do not know them letter perfect, then you did not have them, so you cannot really lose them. Don't grieve or feel bad about lost time or effort. You can do nothing about the past, but you can do much to secure your future.

The second thing you need to do is to carefully review why you failed or had difficulty. This is important, because it is the first step in putting together a plan to make sure that the same thing will not happen again. We are creatures of habit, and if we had difficulty with memorizing scripture the last few times we tried it there is no reason to think that this will not happen again if we just jump back into it, no matter how determined you are. But if you identify the basic rules of a successful scripture memory program and put them into practice then you do not have to fail. So do not be discouraged to start again.

If you have ever tried to memorize scripture, but were not happy with the results, then print off and fill out the worksheet entitled Recovering an Ineffective Scripture Memory Program. Make sure that you do not rush through it. Many people have problems with memorizing scripture because they do not have the patience to take the time to do it properly. End the impatience habit now by determining to do what it takes to do it correctly the next time. If you are interested, here is my response to this worksheet.

How do you decide what scripture to memorize?

There are two different approaches to scripture memorization. The first is to memorize a series of short passages which have been selected from different books of the Bible. The second is to memorize long passages such as chapters or complete books. The first method can give you a broad knowledge of all the truths of scripture. This is important for new Christians and those who are just beginning to memorize scripture. It is vital to have a well-rounded understanding of the word of God as it is foundational to future growth. The second method is for those who have been memorizing scripture for some time and have achieved a certain level of success. (1) When you are comfortable with memorizing scripture and have developed some Bible study skills, memorizing chapters or an entire book can be a special blessing.

It is important to remember to get as much exposure to the word of God as is possible. Remember that every time you open that book, you are interfacing with God. Whenever a passage or verse touches you in a significant way, write down the reference in your journal in the section for verses to memorize later. Write down the date and a brief description of when and where this verse caught your attention. Write down one sentence describing why you want to memorize this verse.

You should make it a point to search for and memorize verses which meet specific needs in your life. Remember that the purpose of memorizing verses is to help yourself re-program your mind in order that you may serve God better. Memorize verses which help you in the areas you are currently struggling. These include both verses which encourage you about God's love and grace as well as the verses which warn you about God's displeasure with certain types of behaviour. For example if you know that you struggle with anger, then search for and memorize verses which will help you fight it. If you struggle with impurity then find and memorize verses which will keep you from that sort of temptation. When you are faced with a temptation, for example, to dwell on and develop a lustful thought, there is nothing more helpful than to have a verse such as Gal 5:19-21 come to mind. The words 'I warn you as I did before that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God' have a way of taking the pleasure out of sin and reminding you what it really is.

Here are some ways of finding verses on certain topics:

Memorization Routine

The following is a procedure for memorizing scripture.

  1. Each week in your performance review, you will have selected the verses you wish to start memorizing. You may wish to start by memorizing two verses per week. After a while you will be able to set your own pace.

  2. Try to understand the meaning of the passage you are about to memorize. Do some study on it if you can. It is important to read and understand the verses before and after the passage, in order to be sure you do not learn the verse out of its context. Other times you may memorize a passage that you do not yet understand with the specific intention of thinking about it during your free moments so you can gain an understanding of it later.

  3. You may wish to give a few of the passages you learn a topic or title. This can be helpful because the more associations we make to the things we learn, the easier it is to recall them. If you memorize the topic and reference as part of the verse, it will come to mind quickly when you think about the topic. Topics should be assigned with care, keeping in mind that it is the idea which will bring the verse to mind in a time of need.

    Topics can be assigned in the following ways:

    Choose the title of the passage keeping in mind the circumstances under which you would want to recall it. For example, a topic such as 'Anger is sin' is very practical, and will come to mind when you are tempted to be angry without cause. Do not be in a rush to pick the topic either. You may have to be working with a passage for a couple of weeks before a good title comes to mind.

  4. Write the passages, with its reference and topic on small cards. I use blank business-card sized cards which I purchased at the local stationary store.

    Fixing our eyes on Jesus
    Hebrews 12:1-3
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

    Make sure you put the date on the back of the card. This will be useful for tracking it as you go through various stages of review. In addition to the current date, write the date which is 2 months away.

  5. Learn these verses so that you can comfortably recite them without looking. Learn them word for word. Tell yourself that close is not good enough. Be accurate! Here is one way of actually committing it to memory:

    The first few times you learn new verses it will be very difficult, but after only a short time it will be much easier.

    When you are first learning a verse, make sure that you are sitting down at your desk and are free from distractions. I find that the best place to learn new material is at my desk, in the evenings, after the children have gone to bed. The place is familar and comfortable. It is quiet, and I have finished the day's chores so I have nothing bothering my mind. At this time of day I am not hungry or tired, so I can concentrate easily. When I help put the children down at eight, I end up napping for 30 minutes, so when I get up I am fresh. I am productive at this time and enjoy it too. I am a night person. Maybe you function better at a different time of day. Make sure that you do this work at a time and place where you can be most productive.

  6. After you can recite them fairly well, place the new cards in a bundle along with other cards you are memorizing. Carry these cards with you everywhere you go. Make it a point to never be without your verse cards.

    If you have a pocket, you have verse cards.

    Review them during the times you have identified earlier as scripture memory review opportunities. Review them when you have an unexpected free moment.

  7. Reviewing your verse cards:

  8. Review the cards in your bundle at least once each day for two months. It is best if you can review them a few times a day. Do not think that reviewing them two or three times a day for 60 days is too much. It is not. In fact, it is essential if you are going to be successful in the long run. You may be able to memorize it quickly, but it does not become a part of your permanent memory until it has been reviewed many many times.

    Definition: A passage of scripture is not to be considered as memorized until you have reviewed it 100 times.
    Reviewing your verses a hundred times or more takes up a lot of time in the short term, but is quicker in the long term. A verse reviewed many times is learned so well that it will require only a small amount of future work to maintain it. If you only review it a few times and then move on, it will require much more future work to maintain it.

    This is why it is quicker in the long term. Each week you will add a few verses to what you know. Each week you still have to spend time learning your new material and reviewing what you have recently learned. This will always be manageable. But what can become unmanageable is the ever-growing pile of verses which you learned some time ago and need to review to keep them fresh. This is where your scripture memory program might stop, fall apart and die. What do you do when you know so many verses that you do not have the time or energy to review them all? The problem may be that you did not take the time to learn them well in the first place. If you don't, you will have to spend more time struggling with your old verses. If you do learn them well in the first place, review will take less time and your pile of old verses will have to grow very large before it starts to becomes unmanageable.

    Therefore, make sure that you always review all the verses in your new verse pile carefully and completely. Do not rush through it just because you 'seem' to know it. Do not skip over it because you 'think' you know it. Assume that as long as it is in this pile you do not know it and it really is not 'memorized' yet. Even if you have reviewed it 50 times and have no trouble with it, do not assume you are done with it.

    I know this to be true in my own personal experience. My problems have been both with discipline and technique. I can learn a large passage of scripture quickly. I would practice it a few times and then move on. Soon, however, I would forget it and after a while I had lots of verses I could not remember in my brain. This was _almost_ a waste of my time.

  9. After you have reviewed a passage about 100 times (about eight weeks), you may remove it from this bundle and put it with the other cards representing the passages you have memorized. If eight weeks has gone by and you have not reviewed it 100 times or if you are still struggling with it, do not take it out of this bundle yet. Wait until you have memorized it properly.

  10. There are two ways that verse cards are put into this bundle. The first is your weekly supply of new material. Also, when you are reviewing your memorized verses to make sure they stay fresh in your mind, you may have to periodically put some of them back in your review pile if you have forgotten them. There is one way that verse cards are removed from the bundle and that is to have recited them the appropriate number of times over a certain period of time. The point here is that you have to organize yourself in such a way that in the long term, this bundle grows to a certain size and then does not get any larger. If it gets larger and larger then you are not in control of your system and are not memorizing effectively. In such a case you have to do one or more of the following:

    We can state this another way. You should find that every card in your review deck stays there no longer than two months or so. You should end up having a completely different set of cards in the review deck each two months. If your cards have to stay there for more than two months before they get reviewed 100 times, then either the pile is too large or you are not working hard enough or with a proper review technique.

    When you put a card back into your review deck make sure that you write a date on the back of the card which is a week or two in the future. The purpose of the date is so you can know when the card can be removed from the review deck

    This is where discipline and self-control come it. You must stay in control of your review. If it gets out of hand, you have to deal with it. If you don't, you will eventually crash. Working harder is always a good option to consider, but it is not always the practical one. We only have so much energy. The best option is to work as hard as you can and stop adding new material until you catch up. If your bundle is very large, throw half of it away. The important thing is is to make sure you do not take any short-cuts. There is power in being slow and steady. If you can manage 2 cards per week and follow the system prescribed, you should have 1000 cards memorized after 10 years. Now typically a card is 2 or 3 verses, so after 10 years you could have about 2500 verses memorized. However, if you do not discipline yourself to follow a specific procedure then 10 years you will probably only know 3 or 4 hundred verses (or much less), if you did not end up quitting all together.

    This discipline we are talking about is hard work. Actually, it is probably beyond the ability of most people. (only time will tell if I am one of them). Perhaps I should not say 'beyond the ability of most people'. Most people could do it, but most people do not want to do the work and therefore, don't.

    Now here are some very difficult questions. How great is your desire for spiritual maturity? How much do you crave to be a obedient servant of Christ? Do you want to share in Christ as much as Paul did? The longer we are Christians, the greater our hunger for God should grow, because we learn more and more about him. What, then, are you doing to make sure that these things come to pass? Do you pray? Do you study his word? Do you memorize key portions of it? Do you obey it no matter what? Here is the most difficult question of all. How much are you willing to give of yourself in your pursuit of Godliness?

    What is it worth to you?

    Think about these things long and hard, over and over again. I think that one of the problems Christians have these days is that they do _not_ think about these questions. We have few living examples and few teachers who require us to do these things. So what is the bottom line? It is simply that if you want to memorize more than a few verses of scripture you may have to choose to work harder and smarter than you ever did before in your life. We depend on God for all things, but without the self control and discipline that is required to actually set aside the time to get the job done, we will lose our opportunity to do so.

Memorization Techniques and Tricks

There are no memorization tricks available that are so good that they can eliminate the need for the discipline of organized hard work. There are, however, some things which you should know which can make memorization a more manageable task.

  1. It is much easier to learn something if you are fully convinced that it is important. If you are working at memorizing scripture and find it a joy, then your mind will be more open to it than if you find it an unhappy chore. If you have a uncontrollable hunger for God's word, you can easily see how much easier and more natural it would be to memorize than if it was not that important to you. If you focus on developing a heart dedicated to the task, then task will be easier. There is a subtle, but important difference in saying that 'memorizing scripture is a priority in my life' and 'I am going to make memorizing scripture a priority in my life'. The former comes from the heart and describes what you are, the latter comes from the head and describes what you hope to do.

  2. Make use of the time when you are lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. You should be able to review a lot of verses this way. I have a problem doing this. When I am tired, it is hard for me to concentrate that long. My mind tends to wander (or go blank) even in the middle of a phrase. I find that I am likely to just think about some of the words of the verse instead of reciting it fully. In response to this I am careful to make sure that I think through the verse slowly. Instead of saying in my mind
    "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me"

    I would say it slowly one syllable at a time to keep myself focused.

    "I - have - been - cru-si-fied - with - Christ - and - I - no - lon-ger - live, - but - Christ - lives - in - me"

  3. Our minds also absorb things that we understand and are relevant to our own lives. I remember a senior math class in University when we got together to study for a certain exam. We were trying to memorize things which we did not really understand that well and which seemed to have no application to real life. It was hard to do. Sure enough, we 'memorized' it, but about a day after the exam we had 'forgotten' it already. This brings out two points:

  4. You will find it more difficult to memorize scripture during the times when your fellowship with God is at a low point. You will find that sin in your life will act as a barrier between you and effective review and memorization. If you are anxious, depressed or angry, you will find it difficult to concentrate. Make sure that you are walking closely with our Lord at all times and that you are living a life of balance and moderation. Seek to be well emotionally and be careful about the things that you spend time thinking about. Keep a pure heart and a pure mind.

  5. Be careful of wasted time. Whenever my wife and I are reviewing our finances, we often ask ourselves 'where did all the money go?'. Most of it goes to maintenance, such as food, the mortgage, clothes, etc., but there should be a lot left over. Often there is not. What we discovered is that the money which should be available to us was spent on multiple small items. We found that it is important to control our spending when it comes to small, inexpensive items. Ten dollars here and five dollars there add up to a significant amount over the months. A lot of our time is either used or wasted in small chunks. It is easy to justify not spending a certain ten minute time period reserved for scripture review doing what you said you would do. But in the long run 10 minutes here and five minutes there add up to a significant amount over the months. Make sure that you actually use the opportunities that you have available to you.

  6. Carefully develop a scripture memory program and stick to it. Much of what this book is about talks about developing a plan of well-ordered discipline. Keeping yourself organized will certainly aid in memorization.

  7. The more exposure we have to something, the more familiar we become with it. Someone once told me that after they study a passage for a while they find it very easy to memorize since they are familiar with it already. Use different ways of exposing yourself to the same material. This is the best way to learn. If you are reading it, envisualize that you are reading loud and strong before your Church congregation, or that you are reading it to the original recipients of the book or letter. When you do this, you can be enthusiastic and make the text come alive. If you have a friend who is working on scripture memorization with you, you can recite a passage to him and them briefly explain what it means to you. If you use the passage in some practical application, it reinforces the passage in your mind in a different way than if you kept it to yourself. When it comes down to it, review and more review is the only way to learn. The reason for this is to make sure that you have over learned the passage. If you do, forgetting takes much longer. Just as a piano teacher will say to his student 'Practice! Practice! Practice!' so I say to you 'Review! Review! Review!'.

  8. Be careful that you do not get in a 'rut', where your scripture memory program becomes un-interesting. Always be reviewing your reasons why you are doing this and continually dedicate yourself and your work to the glory of God. If see the fruit of your labour in your life it should keep the process from becoming to routine.

  9. Keep your materials organized. Print out your verses clearly. You can get blank cards in several sizes - 4x6, 3x5, 2x3-1/2. Select the one which best suits your needs. The smaller cards are easier to carry around, but cannot hold larger passages. The larger cards give you more space, but do not fit in your pocket as well.

    I prefer the smaller cards (2 x 3\1/2 inch) cards. They are the size of a business card. If you hinge two or three cards together along the bottom and top with tape, you can write out a long passage and then fold them up to make them fit in your bundle.

  10. Write out the verses in such a way that it makes it easier for you to memorize. For example, you might write out Romans 1:28-32 like this:

    Consequences of a depraved mind
    Romans 1:28-32

    Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.

    This is a hard verse to memorize because it contains a list of items. Instead of writing it out in one paragraph, write it out as shown below. The visual help given by breaking it up into phrases makes it much easier to memorize. Seeing that the six phrases in the middle start with 'they' is helpful.

    Consequences of a depraved mind
    Romans 1:28-32
    Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

    They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.

    They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.

    They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful;

    they invent ways of doing evil;

    they disobey their parents;

    they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

    Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

    Similarly, the following is also a helpful way to write out a verse:

    Are we safe in Christ?
    Romans 8:38-39

    For I am convinced that

    neither death nor life,
    neither angels nor demons,
    neither the present nor the future,
    nor any powers,
    neither height nor depth,
    nor anything else in all creation,
    will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  11. Make use of silly images, phrases, words and songs.

    The following examples illustrate how lists of somewhat random looking information can be made easier to remember:

    The same things can be applied to memorizing difficult parts of scripture. Consider the following example:

    Are we safe in Christ?
    Romans 8:35

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

    (the handsome price found nine dead snakes)

    If you can remember "the handsome prince found nine dead snakes", you can remember "Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword". An acrostic such as the above phrase is useful only as much as you can remember it. So take the time to make up something which you can remember easily. It has to be a real sentence, or it will be too irregular for your mind to recall. The image created by the memory aid you select must be vivid, and were possible related to something you already know. For the example above, you could visualize a handsome prince looking carefully at the nine snakes the found on the floor of his palace. Write down the acrostic on the memory card so you can see it each time you review the verse. This is the way you can memorize a hard passage instantly.

Keeping the verses you have memorized fresh

After you have reviewed a passage about 100 times over a period of about 2 months, then you may remove it from your review bundle and put in in the box with the other verses you have memorized.

By this time you should know the verse very well, but it still needs to be reviewed periodically to make sure that it stays fresh. You will need to review a few verses from this box each day.

Now this is the point where the whole task can become difficult to manage. This box of verse cards will soon grow too big to review easily. Review is time consuming. Even if you review 10 cards per day it will take two months to review 500 cards. This would be easy, but you are spending time on your newer verses too! How can it be managed?

  1. Make sure that you follow through with the plan to over learn the verse in the first place. If you do then you can get away with infrequent review.

  2. Be a thinking person. Review these verses as they come to your mind as you are going to sleep, doing chores and such. You can cover a lot of ground this way.

  3. If you find a verse in this box which you have forgotten, put it back in the review deck for 2 or 3 weeks so that it can be learned again. If you have forgotten it altogether, throw it out and put the reference back on your list of verses to learn. You will learn it better the second time.

  4. Try to keep these verses organized in some logical sequence that can act as a review aid. If you organize them in sequence by book and chapter then you can review them book by book. If you organize them in sequence by topic then you can review related verses together. This last sequence assists you to group similar verses together in your memory for more practical recall. The first sequence allows you to get a better recollection of where they are in the Bible.

A different approach to review

It would be nice if you could figure out a way to automatically pick out the verses that most needed to be reviewed at any given point. This would assist in the review process because you could spend more time on the verses that need to be reviewed because you have skipped over the verses that do not need as much review.

You cannot easily organize a pile of verse cards like this, but your computer can. With this thought in mind, I have developed a program to assist in the process of reviewing scripture which I have already memorized.

I would like to introduce the Scripture Memory Review System. This is a computer program for IBM computers developed over a two year period designed to assist you in scripture memory review. The program keeps all the passages you have memorized organized in the same format as your review cards. It presents you with a verse and you type it in. When you are done it marks your work. Then it presents you with the next verse to review. Since the computer can keep track of how often you have reviewed it, you average scrore and how many times you peeked at the answer, it can decide which verses need review most and which ones can be skipped until later. The other advantage of a computer is that it can accurately check your work. If you are reviewing verses on cards, it is harder to correct yourself. If you can type, then this program might be for you. For those of you who are thinking that typing will be way too slow ...

  1. You will get better fast enough.

  2. It is probably worth the time.

  3. I have built the program for fast data entry.

    For example consider Psalm 119:9-11

    How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your Word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

    I agree that it would be impractical to have to type the whole thing in as typed above. However the system is smart enough to recognize the following as being correct. This enables you to type much faster because it accepts all sorts of sloppy typing and most spelling errors.

    How can a y man keeep his way pure by liv acc to your W I s you with all my hea do not let me stry from y coms. I have h your w in my h that I m not sin a y

    or even:

    h c a y m k h w p b l a t y w i s y w a m h d n l m s f y c i h h y w i m h t I m n s a y

    To be specific, it does not look at punctuation. If you type a word as one character it is considered right if the 'correct' word starts with the same letter. All other words are cut after the third character, so you can spell that last half of the word wrong or forget it altogether. The word the is accepted if you spell it 'teh'

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  1) Discipleship Journal Issue Nine, 1982 'Scripture Memory Secrets'. Bob Seifert. - page 36

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