A couple months or so ago I set to memorize the entire book of Philippians. There are a few of reasons I wanted to do this, but it started as inspiration from The Resurgence writer Tim Brister back in December 2010. Overall, I wanted a way to encourage myself to read more of the Bible. Not simply to read more text, mind you, but to read it with more depth of insight. For whatever reason I’ve been feeling a great need lately to meditate on the meaning of whole passages of Scripture at a time, to take in their broader meanings and get the bigger picture—and memorization was the way to do it. That way, even when I don’t have a Bible close at hand, I can easily bring some known passages to mind to think about and pray over how to apply them to my life.
Unlike their adult Christian counterparts of modern times, most ancient Hebrew children had the majority of what we today call the Old Testament committed to memory by the time they were in their early teens. (Imagine having the book of Numbers or Leviticus memorized!)
A Biblical Case for Memorizing Scripture
In addition to this humbling comparison, a scriptural basis for Bible memorization can be found throughout Scripture, such as here in Psalm 119:9-16:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
From this passage alone, we see several great reasons to memorize Scripture:
- To keep from sinning against God
- To delight in God’s word
- To have eyes fixed on God’s ways
- To keep from forgetting God’s self-revelation to mankind
In the Christian’s battle against sin, one must not only strive to kill the “old man” but also give life to the “new man” so to speak. The best way to revive the old is to starve the new, and vice-versa. Furthermore, Jesus promised that he would live within, give life to, and make fruitful those who continued in his Word (John 15:1-11). But in order to continue in the commands of the Lord Jesus, one must first remember what it is that he has said.
My Personal Assessment
All in all, the process of memorizing an entire book of the Bible turned out to be quite easy, on the one hand. Human beings possess an extraordinary ability to memorize copious amounts of
useless information such as movie quotes, sports statistics, and 67,890 digits of the number Pi. How do people do this? The process essentially amounts to repetition.
Personally, that meant not only reading, re-reading, and reciting, but also writing out the verses I set to memorize that day. Writing out a passage from memory forced me to to recite slower, giving my brain a better chance to understand the meaning behind a verse and its relation to the verses before and after it. Reciting it from memory with the occasional glance at my Moleskine further enhanced my memory as well. Eventually, after about two months of memorizing a few verses at a time, I was able to recite the entire book of Philippians during my work commute. If you decide to join in on this life-giving tradition, I’d recommend following this same pattern of reading, re-reading, reciting and writing.
What About You?
Have you set to memorizing any of the Bible? What was your experience like, and do you have any tips to offer?