Spring 2012

The Easiest Way to Memorize the Bible

By Kenneth Berding

One of my professors in college was really old. I can hear everyone asking: “How old was he?” (No, his social security number wasn’t 7 ....) Let’s put it this way: He was the founder of the college at which I was studying (Multnomah in Portland, Ore.), and the school was celebrating the half-century mark of its founding while I was there! In fact, Dr. John Mitchell was over the age of 90 when he taught the two classes I took from him. He continued to teach well into his mid-90s.

Not surprisingly, he was getting forgetful about some things by the time I had him as a teacher, but what he definitely was not forgetting were the Bible verses he had memorized. His ability to recall Bible verses was astounding. I do not know this for a fact, but I would guess that he had all of the New Testament and large sections of the Old Testament committed to memory. All of his students were profoundly impacted by his immersion in the Scriptures.

I only had one opportunity to sit and talk with him while I was a student. I had a single question to ask him that day: “How did you come to memorize so much of the Bible?” He answered, “Well, I never really tried to memorize.” (Oh no, I thought, this isn’t going to be very helpful ….) “But before I prepare to preach a series of sermons on a book of the Bible, I first read it out loud 50 times before preaching it.” (OK, this might be helpful.) “Since I preached a lot in my younger years,” (… now that is an understatement; read his biography!) “I had lots of opportunities to read passages over and over again.”

Dr. Mitchell’s comments that day were a helpful turning point for me in my own commitment to memorize the Scriptures. I had already tackled some large chunks of the Bible and committed them to memory, but the process of getting there had been rather painful. Rote memory (“look at the verse, cover it with your hand, look into the air and try to quote it by memory, uncover the verse with your hand to see what you missed, fix whatever mistakes you made, try again”) was hard work, and the results were not always satisfying from a long-term, remember-what-you-memorized standpoint.

After that single conversation with Dr. Mitchell, I changed tactics. From then on, before traveling down the “rote road,” I would read the passage I wanted to memorize 50 times out loud with great emphasis. Then — and only then — I would try the rote method. I learned three things by doing it this way:

  1. I discovered that I had already memorized most of the passage I was trying to learn before I ever really started to try to memorize it.
  2. I found out that the process of reading a passage over and over again in-and-of-itself became a wonderful means of God working his grace in my life. I wasn’t just learning words, I was thinking about where the passage was going. God used it to help me understand the passage better, to think about its implications in my life, and to impact my actions and affections.
  3. I discovered that this process helped immensely in holding in my long-term memory the passages I had memorized. It is a far better process for retention.

So, why don’t you try it yourself? Here is a summary of the process.

Step 1: Begin by selecting a passage of Scripture that takes approximately 15 minutes to read out loud. Here is a short list of New Testament passages that would fall into this category that also would probably yield you a lot of personal spiritual fruit: Matthew 5-7; John 14-17; Romans 6-8; Philippians (all); Colossians (all); 2 Timothy (all); Hebrew 11-13; James (all); 1 Peter (all); 1 John (though this one is tough because of how cyclical it is).

Step 2: Read your passage through once or twice a day aloud. Keep track of how many times you have read it through.

Step 3: Once you have read it aloud 50 times, then try to rote memorize it. Keep working on it faithfully until you can get through the entire passage by memory.

Step 4: Quote through it at least 25 times without looking to fix it in your memory. An additional step you can take that would ease the process would be to read your passage onto a digital recorder and listen to it whenever you can as you drive, walk, cook or wait for something. Your own recorded voice will work a little better than someone else’s voice, since it will match the intonation of your daily oral readings, but you can use a prerecorded section if you prefer.

I’ll close with this thought: If you started today, read aloud through Philippians once a day for 50 days, spent the following 15 days doing the rote-memory thing, reviewed for another 25 days, you could have all of Philippians memorized in three or four months by only spending a relatively painless 15 minutes a day doing it. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!


Ken Berding (M.A. ’96) is a professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology and the author of several books, most recently Walking in the Spirit (Crossway, 2011). He holds a Ph.D. in hermeneutics and biblical interpretation from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

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  • John Martin May 20, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Funny, how I 'accidentally' picked up a brother's Biola Magazine this morning and began reading - the eschatolgy of the Rapture (I was one of those unsuspecting readers caught up in "Left Behind" - that is until a theologian friend brought some biblical admonishment) - well done and helpful analysis, Alan. Then I found this crazy article on memorizing the Bible. Read passages 50X? Then memorize? Huge chunks? Yeah, sure. (I do recall reading about Jerry Lucas, of bball kicks fame, running a summer bible memorization camp - sounded more like a bible 'prison camp' when I first heard about it, in which they used Lucas' and Harry Lorraine's technique of memorization - he could memorize a whole page of the phone book after a brief time with it!). But I think I might give it a try. My confirmation (from the Lord?) came when I saw the suggested beginning passage - ALL (!) of Philippians - and I remembered we were studying that beautiful book in Roy's Thurs nite bible study here in Long Beach. OK, I guess I will. Thanks, Ken....(I think). - John

  • Patrick Davis June 19, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Dr. Berding,
    I attended Multnomah in 1973, (grad Biola '78), and dearly loved my Spiritual Life classes. Dr. Mitchell has given me a life long passion for memorizing the Word, though I certainly do not have his great mind.
    Thanks for the visit down memory lane! I found your article stimulating me to work more on memory.
    Patrick Davis
    Fourth Grade Teacher
    Sacramento

  • C Mettler June 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    We really need to read yadayah.com -- we need to study God's testimony, and we need to understand what the words really mean -- it is not sufficient to read it in English without studying the underlying Hebrew . . . yadayah.com

  • John Bonner June 29, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    @John Martin - your comment led me to read the article to which you refer - regarding the end times. Posted at the end of that article is this very same response. It is not completely clear where you stand on the issue but it seemed a good idea to express it here as well for your consideration.

    To quote part of Dr. Hultberg's answer to one of the questions early in the interview: There is debate over the timing of the rapture in relation to the final tribulation, the final period of unparalleled persecution by the Antichrist. Some argue that God will not allow the church to suffer under Antichrist. But God does allow the church to suffer in this present age (John 16:33; Acts 14:22), so what makes the difference, if there is one?

    It is clear to me the difference is God's judgement. Christians have been persecuted since the beginning of the faith. You are correct that some argue that God will not allow the church to suffer under the Antichrist. This point is in error. To clarify: The purpose of the rapture is not to end the persecution which has not ended but to protect His bride from the judgement to come. Persecution although extremely uncomfortable is nothing like the unbridled judgement that is coming when He removes His restraining influence. That to me is the worst form of judgment. When God lets people do whatever they want with no restraint. That is judgment and that is why my belief in the Rapture is ever more strong thanks to this article. Blessings and see you here, there or in the air.

  • Philip Freimann June 29, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Hey Ken, when were you at Multnomah? I studied at Conqueror's Bible College in Portland in the early sixties and we used to use the library at Multhomah for special projects.

  • Jen June 5, 2014 at 6:02 PM

    This is marvellous, thank you so much! I've a chronic health condition that has really wreaked havoc upon my memory, but this sounds doable. I'll have to begin working on it in addition to my everyday Bible study.

  • MICHELLE DRAKE June 15, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    thankyou for the tips and encouragement. I have three children and was wanting to start memorizing scripture with them. i remember verses i learned as a child. This will be how we will do it. Thankyou

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