10 Tips for Memorising Scripture

A student asked us: “Can you share any tips for memorising the Bible?”

Answer given by pastor Christian Salcianu,
24 November 2022, Watford

1. Read with purpose

Don’t just memorise parrot-fashion, but rather understand what you’re reading. My point is that understanding the text will help you follow its logical flow. Let’s look at the three stages of reading to memorise John 1:1.

“In the beginning was the Word…” 

(so, it sounds like Genesis 1:1, only that “God” has been replaced with the “Word”)

“and the Word was with God…” 

(now we have God and we also have the Word. 

Two distinct characters, but there is an implied association, a common approach, plan, etc.)

“and the Word was God.” 

(here we can see two dimensions:

(1) the explicit divinity of Jesus/the Word and

(2) an introduction to the idea of the Godhead.)

Remember Genesis 1:27 “Let us make man in our image…” God didn’t speak to angels, but to the Word and to the Spirit. Thus, memorising John 1:1 is a three-layered approach, very much connected to Genesis 1.

2. Repeat

You expected that, didn’t you? But wait, I am not talking about repeating memorised verses out loud. Instead, repeat the… reading. Before memorising verses, why not discover the whole context. Indeed, before memorising chunks of scripture, why not read entire chapters or books (for example the Epistles) several times. This will help you to get into the story, to immerse yourself within the context and maybe even see yourself as a character in the story.

You will then easily remember the flow of verses. Don’t get me wrong, memorise in bite-size chunks, but know the context.

Here’s a thought: we all know Psalm 23. But do we know Psalm 22?

You’ll be amazed to see that Jesus quoted from this Psalm when on the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (see 22:1). And if you read deeper into it you will see no less than 10 anchors to the crucifixion.

3. Listen

Find your preferred reading version in an audio format. Why not listen to the same passage whilst driving, taking the bus, or exercising? Hearing a different voice, with a different emphasis on the words will help you indeed. I’ve tried it and I can confirm it works. And sometimes, when I am preaching or even reading some well-known passages for myself, I find myself repeating it the way that voice expressed, nuanced, or emphasised certain parts of the text. It is indeed enriching it has weight and gives you an assurance of sorts.

I use “The Word of Promise” version. Listening to an audio version comes with a bonus: no chunks, as it reads the full chapter and thus helps with step 2.

4. Reflect

You may remember the many times Jesus said to his disciples, to the multitudes, even to His enemies “you have heard that it was said…” or “haven’t you read…” or “as it is written…” It then follows that Jesus didn’t just repeat (or expect) sterile expressions, vain words, or mechanical reproductions of the Scriptures. Instead, He reflected upon those texts, saw the connections between texts, situations, contexts, etc. He asked His listeners for a review, for an in-depth understanding of Scripture (Psalms 119:11). In other words: take a new look at what the text is really saying and how it impacts your life.

Remember Psalm 1? Please memorise it especially reflecting on verse 2. You don’t know it?

I know, by now you’re saying: Hey, I wanted tips (and tricks?) to memorise Scripture and now you’re giving me a study on… how to study the Bible. Indeed. It’s because if you’re memorising Scripture mechanically, you’ll be a perfect… Pharisee. A Pharisee will count words and passages, will have yellow stickers or small cards all over the place. And that’s fine for a start.

But don’t you want to become a disciple of Christ? If this is your desire, then you’ll be aiming for perfection, not in reciting the Word, but in following the Word.

5. Apply

This is another type of “repetition”. Reviewing the 4 points above: you read, you read again, you listen, and you reflect upon. These are all different kinds of repetition. But know that “learning by doing” pays off. This is when you apply things, and you learn, unlearn, and later relearn.

Just imagine applying the well-known text Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” Well, it is good. You’re a Superman/woman, right? You can memorise all Scripture if you want, as the text says… No! When reading it in context, and by repeating and expanding the reading, seeing it in its context, you will see that it talks about overcoming financial difficulties and not about developing superhuman abilities. Apply it in a given situation and move forwards.

6. Recite

To yourself first. When you’re cleaning the house, walking or running, driving, waiting. Recite. Unless you’re alone, don’t recite aloud, people might think you’re crazy. In your mind is perfect. Reciting it to yourself prepares you for doing it publicly. Another way to recite it is to… write it down. You may keep a journal.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Joshua 1:8

7. Rehearse and then express it

Recite it in public. Find an appropriate setting, like a worship time, a small group meeting, a special item in the church service, a meaningful moment in a prayer meeting, or an opportune time at a certain event. Say it out loud. It is a good test of your memorisation, and a good example as well. Did you know that “saying is believing”? (Romans 10:10)

8. Engage with others

Involve others in the study of your chosen verse/s. Remember the Samaritans (John 4:42)?

You can discuss, debate, take turns in reciting. A small contest, a partnership, preparation for a special part in a program will help you be more involved, accountable, and better prepared. Once again, don’t forget the understanding part: when you hear someone else saying the same verse you may learn something new.

9. Make it part of your life

When trials or opportunities arise, when dialogues or counselling occasions present themselves, when a debate starts or a position needs to be taken, these texts will be stored in your mind. You will have internalised them. See Paul’s argument in Acts 20:35.

10. Accept that you forget!

You didn’t expect this. But it is part of our human nature. There is only so much that we can store, and only so much that we can retain for a time. One just needs to admit that. After doing all of the above, these verses will have their moments of glory, and after a peak there will be a valley, and then the light, and maybe a shadow. And it will fade from your memory…

And then you will begin again: reading, listening, reflecting, applying, etc. And you will rediscover, and add new meaning to that “Our Father who art in heaven…” type of prayer.

So, when you forget, know that it is time to discover again. Don’t worry,

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

John 14:26

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