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Memorizing Scripture

By Lee Moses

The story is commonly told of a small-town courtroom. When the time came to swear in the first witness, the court clerk realized he did not have a Bible. The judge interjected, “That’s alright. Mrs. Jones is here, and she is a member of the church of Christ. Just have the witness place his hand on her head.” 

Whether historical or legendary, this story portrays the reputation New Testament Christians had in times past for their knowledge of the Scriptures. It seemed to others that their minds were overflowing with Scripture. This thorough knowledge of the Scriptures did not come by accident. Gospel preachers made determined efforts to memorize the entire New Testament, and occasionally the entire Old Testament as well. Gospel meetings would extend for weeks, with Scripture-filled sermons running at least an hour each night. Country plowboys would memorize Scripture while they worked their rows. Families would memorize Scripture together each day. Members of the Lord’s church truly comprised a “Bible-totin’ and Bible-quotin’” people. 

Very few people, if any, would affirm that members of the Lord’s church in the twenty-first century have committed Scripture to memory to the extent that they did a hundred, or even fifty, years ago. This is very unfortunate, and at least partly explains many of the other problems plaguing the church today. Christians need to recommit themselves to memorizing Scripture. 

Why Memorize Scripture?

Our desire to memorize Scripture must be more noble than to impress others with our knowledge of the Scriptures. Indeed, there are very compelling reasons to memorize Scripture, based on principles taught by the Scriptures themselves. As Christians, we are to have God’s laws placed in our minds and written in our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). As Jude wrote, “But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 17). Consider further some specific reasons to memorize Scripture. 

To Be Better Bible Students

The Lord commands us to be diligent students of Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15; compare with Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2). Indeed, our salvation depends on our having a knowledge of the Scriptures (1 Timothy 2:4; John 17:17; Romans 10:17). Memorizing Scripture certainly facilitates one’s growth in God’s word. Our time spent in Bible study will be more fruitful if related verses immediately come to mind. When one has memorized Scripture, he can study and meditate upon God’s word even when he does not have a Bible in front of him.

When reading commentaries or other extrabiblical writings, we will know what Scripture references say without having to look up each of them. We will be able to read such writings with a more discerning eye (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

Preparing sermons and classes can be a very painstaking, time-consuming process. Indeed, one should always take such responsibilities very seriously, but one who has memorized Scripture will be able to prepare sermons and Bible classes more effectively. 

Time spent memorizing Scripture is worthwhile Bible study in itself. It is impossible to do a cursory reading of Scripture while memorizing—one is forced to focus on the words much more intensely than when merely reading. Memorizing helps one understand how Scripture works together, as one has in mind other parts of Scripture well in mind while reading and memorizing. I cannot count the “Aha!” moments I have had while memorizing Scripture, as I finally understood a Biblical teaching that previously eluded me.

One plainly knows Scripture better when he has committed it to memory than when he has simply read it. 

To Live the Christian Life

We sometimes sing, “O to be like Thee, Blessed Redeemer…stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.” The Lord is not going to stamp His own image on anyone mystically or miraculously. Christ left us an example to follow (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16). We become Christ-like as we follow the truths found in Scripture. However, one cannot live by truths he does not remember.

The wise man instructs, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever is in our mind is going to direct the way we live. Filling our minds with Scripture makes us far more likely to live Christian lives.  The word hidden in one’s heart strengthens him for the trials and tragedies of life (Psalm 119:81; Romans 15:4).

Living the Christian life must remain a goal, if not the goal of memorizing Scripture. God does not only want us to know His word for the sale of knowing it—He wants us to be saved by it, and He demands that we obey it (Deuteronomy 5:29; John 13:17; 15:14; 1 Timothy 2:4). The infamous Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev allegedly had committed large portions of the New Testament to memory, yet his life was far removed from God. If one should memorize the entire Bible yet live and die apart from God, his memorization was a vain enterprise. However, as one maintains a view toward faithful obedience, no moment spent memorizing Scripture is wasted. 

To Resist Temptation

Immediately following His baptism, our Lord faced fierce temptations from the tempter. However, Jesus was well-armed for the temptations that came His way. Whether a temptation appealed to the lust of the flesh, to the lust of the eyes, or to the pride of life, Jesus met each temptation with “It is written”—He quoted Scripture from memory (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). For our battle against the tempter, we likewise arm ourselves with Scripture (Ephesians 6:14-17).

Each of us faces numerous enticements to sin, probably every day. Although the world pressures us to be like the world, God tells us we must not let that happen and what must happen to keep that from happening: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). We are acceptably transformed by the renewing of our minds, and our minds are renewed by the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. The world places thoughts in our minds that will conform us to the world if not countered, but we can counter that conformation by placing thoughts from Scripture in our minds (Philippians 4:8). And we should not merely have an awareness of what Scripture says, but we should deeply etch the precious Scriptures in our minds. As the psalmist penned, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). 

To Avoid Doctrinal Error

Avoiding error might well be classified with resisting temptation, because error can be very alluring, and succumbing to it is sin (Isaiah 30:10; Micah 2:11; Romans 16:18). To avoid error, one needs to know the truth. “I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me…Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:102, 104). Many have departed from the truth because they did not thoroughly engrain the truth in their minds; they did not hate every false way because they did not grasp the truth.

The restoration of New Testament Christianity that took place in the nineteenth century required numerous honest-hearted individuals to come out from under the haze of denominational error. There can be little doubt that Scripture memorization helped many of them to do just that. Elias Smith, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, Raccoon John Smith, Alexander Campbell and many of the other preachers of the restoration made a great commitment to memorizing Scripture. It is altogether possible they would have remained under that haze had they not made that commitment.

Almost without fail, those I have known to take the strongest stands against error have had a great deal of Scripture memorized. However, I have seen many succumb to error because they did not know the Scripture, or at least did not retain knowledge of it. In the time of Hosea, the LORD lamented, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hosea 4:6). We want to ensure that we do not fall into the same lack of knowledge; we want to ensure that we do not forget the law of our God. 

To Better Teach Others

Christians are commanded, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). How can a Christian be better prepared to “give an answer” regarding his hope than to know specifically what God’s word says about it? A memory of Scripture will help one teach others. If you are able to remember exactly what a passage says and where it is found, will you not be much more effective in what you have to say?

Parents are to teach their children the word of God, and prior to instructing parents how diligently they are to teach their children (Deuteronomy 6:7-9), the Israelites were told, ““And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (verse 6). If we are to teach our children successfully, we will need to have the words of God already in our hearts and minds.

Also, one who has memorized Scripture will be more effective in delivering sermons and Bible classes. Quoting Scripture gives time for the preacher or teacher to look his hearers in the eye instead of reading to them. Some say, “I memorize my sermon outline and illustrations, but read the Scriptures.” Which is more valuable, for the preacher to memorize his outline, or to memorize his Scriptures? Which is more valuable, for the preacher to memorize his illustrations, or to memorize his Scriptures? Sermon outlines and illustrations are useful tools, but their usefulness is limited—“But the word of the Lord endureth for ever” (1 Peter 1:25). 

For Love of God’s Word

The Christian’s love of God’s word should nature stir in him the desire to memorize it. “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word” (Psalm 119:16). “I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me” (119:93). Our appreciation for God’s word, and our gratitude for God’s salvation granted through the Gospel, should create in each of God’s children a burning desire to write God’s message deep in our hearts.

Many elderly people do crossword puzzles and similar activities to keep their minds sharp. Memorization has also been shown to be very good mental exercise. If one is going to spend time exercising his mind, why not spend that time deriving spiritual benefit out of that exercise as well?

Memorizing all 6200 verses of the Koran is a fairly common accomplishment among Muslims. Memorization schools, devoted to this task, are found throughout predominantly Muslim countries, and have sprung up in several places in the United States. While the Bible is much longer than the Koran, the New Testament is not much longer. If Muslims can devote themselves to such an extent to memorizing a most unholy book, can we not match or exceed such devotion in our own love for the Divinely-inspired word of God?

[We will conclude this study next month as we consider “How to Memorize Scripture” – LM].

 

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