As I finish up the June 2021 Semester for my Unschooled Master of Theology program, one of the projects I wanted to start was a robust and comprehensive Scripture Memorization project. Several years ago, while working as a gas station attendant, and having alot of downtime on my hands, I memorized Isaiah 53, Psalm 2, and Psalm 23 and I can’t be more thankful than I have been to have those passages available to me in any circumstance I find myself in.
As a reminder, you can read all of my course assignments for my Unschooled Master of Theology in Biblical Studies here.
So, let’s get started….
Why Memorize Scripture?
As mentioned above, I started memorizing Scripture several years ago while working the graveyard shift at a local gas station. But, after having memorized three or four passages, I stumbled onto a comment made by Billy Graham, who at the time was suffering from dementia. He was lamenting all the time he’d invested in Scripture Memorization only to, in his later years, forget a large portion of it. At hearing this, I made the decision not to spend any more time memorizing the Bible. After all, we have the Bible in about every format possible, right? Printed. On our laptops. On our cell phones. In fact, I have on my cell phone, which I carry around with me everywhere I go, a library of religious and theological books that would make 20 year old me green with envy. Back when I was memorizing Scripture I was still carrying my “library”of research works in an extra large duffle bag that had wheels on one end so I could wheel it around between my truck, office, and home (It wasn’t alot of books, they were just big and really heavy). Today, on the new phone I just purchased for less than $300, I have every English translation, spanning the full spectrum of translation approaches; I have all the important original language versions, plus a program that provides searchable, compilable, access to all 2000+ books in the library. This, of course, does not include the 80,000 + titles I have in ebook form, backed up on external drives.
After this system was put together, there was simply no reason to memorize Scripture anymore. It was literally at my fingertips night and day.
But, as I finished my doctorate dissertation at the end of May (it was on future persecution of the American Church), I started to realize how fragile having a printed or digital Bible really was. What would I do if the US or even just the Western States outlawed owning or reading a Bible. Think it impossible? Just look at countries like China and the Middle East. Look at what is happening in Canada as recently as last week! A pastor will possibly be going to prison for 2 years simply for holding services.
It may never come, though, you might say. And that’s okay. But, as I took a hard look at my spiritual habits, I recognized the ROI on learning Greek was less overall than the ROI on memorizing Scripture. There is a time and a place for learning original languages, certainly. Sadly, there is not enough of it still being done in Seminary. But, given the times we live in today, and the bleak future that I see on the horizon, I think memorizing much (if not all) of the Bible would be well worth the investment.
What Do I Want to Memorize?
Well, that’s a great question. While a new believer overseas, I met several fundamentalists who memorized Scripture piecemeal. Just a few sentences here or there. But, then I read about the first century Church learning the whole of Scripture through immersion, having it read out loud week after week, year after year. Luckily for me, I do not need to find a wealthy benefactor who has a copy of Paul’s letters. I have ready access to every conceivable translation in existence.
So, for me there are the following reasons to memorize Scripture:
1. The Bible will always be relevant, even in heaven.
2. Beneficial to have the OT/NT memorized if persecution comes.
What do I want to memorize?
1. Most if not all the NT.
2. Most if not all the OT.
This is not unheard of. In fact, if I were 20 again, I would commit to memorizing the entirety of the Bible in both English and Greek (I’ll tackle English first, and then we’ll see about Greek). But, the first century Christians, especially the theologically minded (Paul, the Pharisees, etc) had much of the Bible memorized and would commit to memory out of necessity each others’ writing.
Fast forward to this century, and you see a clear utility to memorizing large tracks of the Bible or whole books. Just look at China and her indigenous house church movement. Much of their time together (whether in homes or in barns or secret rooms) is spent reciting out loud the biblical text. This is often the main thrust of the gathering itself, as individual members commit to memorizing a book or long passage, and then they take turns reciting those sections before the group.
So, there is a great precedent to memorizing the Bible in its entirety. There is also tremendous utility in such an activity, especially if persecution were ever to arise (not if but when).
How Will I Memorize Scripture?
Back when I first started the task, when I had no customers at work, I would sit out with my Bible and use a bookmark to cover over the passage I was learning. I would read it over and over again until I almost had it, then I would start covering it and try to remember. It was difficult, especially when trying to memorize a whole chapter (I’ve never tackled an entire book).
Today things are a bit easier.
On my laptop (windows) the LOGOS program has a built in memorization feature that works quite well. Unfortunately, this feature is not included in LOGOS for Android and I have recently tried my hand at abandoning my laptop and just use my android phone as my main computer (I’m actually writing this post on my phone with a bluetooth keyboard).
But, luckily, there is a quick download of another program called Remember Me that matches the LOGOS feature almost perfectly. This program uses a new kind of memorization technique. You read the text a few times, then hit a button to cover up all the words except for the first letter. Then you try to recall the verse or passage going back and forth between covered and uncovered until you memorize the entire section. I have to say, having the first letter to trigger the short term memory is incredibly helpful.
After memorizing a section, then it simply requires familiarity to keep it. This is where I hope to eventually replace my daily reading of the Bible with recitation, or what the early monks in the Egyptian desert called μελετώ or “meditation” which went hand in hand with work and prayer to form the backbone of the pre-cenobitic way of life.
My hope is to quickly memorize large sections of both the OT and NT and replace my current “reading” (is me listening to an audio bible) with my own μελετώ of daily recitation of the Word of God in conjunction with my 3x daily prayers. I could add 4 sessions of recitation onto the 3 sessions of prayer to equal the long standing monastic tradition of worship 7 times a day (3 recitations, 3 prayers during the day, 1 recitation during the night watch).
I imagine, eventually, once fully immersed in life at the Eden property, the 1st, 6th, and 7th sessions would be completed “in-cell” while the 2nd, 5th would be done at camp amid work, and the 3rd and 4th would be completed while on trail out in the woods or possibly while out rowing or paddling on the lake.
To begin the project, I will read a book I just found online entitled, “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture,” though I don’t think there will be all that much in there except for such adages as “pick a book and do the work.” The author claims to have memorized 42 books of the Bible by no more than 15 minutes a day. Once you dig into the story, though, you discover this is not to perfect retention and he immediately begins to lose retention as soon as he stops daily review of a particular book.
I’m not certain complete memorization is possible of both the Old and New Testaments. I mean, after all, you have to take into consideration that we have television now to occupy our time, something with which Paul and the others in the first century did not have to contend. Of course, 100% retention into long term memory of all 66 books would be ideal in both English and Greek, a more practical goal might be retention of major portions of the OT and NT based on theological significance and then a functional ability to read the NT and OT in Greek with helps along the way.
All the pieces are in place. Here are the passages/verses I plan to learn during July’s Semester:
Genesis 1; Romans 10; Matthew 6
To be Reviewed:
Isaiah 53; Psalm 2; Psalm 23
Until my next assignment….
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Excerpt from Our Daughter:
“Okay, mom,” Randy said.
“You behave yourself and be nice. You’re lucky to have company while you wait for the doctors.”
The woman turned and started back the way she came.
“The nurse said it would be twenty or thirty more minutes, so we’ll eat quick and be back up here before they take you in, okay?”
“Sorry for him,” the woman said to Katie as she walked by.
As the woman left, Katie noticed the boy moving around again on the bed. Before she realized what was happening, the tiny lump disappeared and she could hear the faint sound of bare hands and feet on the tile floor.
He was low crawling under the beds toward her.
A moment later, Randy popped his head out from under the nearest hospital bed, craning his neck around to look up at her.
“Hello, there,” Katie said.
Randy disappeared back under the bed, the bed sheet draping down almost to the floor. Katie could still see three little fingers pressed to the tile.
“What are you here for?” Katie asked, readjusting her seat in the chair, trying to get the ache in her chest to lessen.
For whatever reason, the wheelchair was really uncomfortable.
“Why are – ”
Randy’s voice trailed off for a moment as he looked around.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m getting my leg fixed,” Katie said. “See?”
Randy poked his head back out from under the bed and looked at the leg she was pointing to.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The doctor said it’s broken,” Katie said. “Shattered.”
“Can you feel it?” Randy asked, able to stay out from his hiding place.
“I can feel it, but it’s not too bad,” Katie said, then tapped the IV in her arm. “This thing is giving me medicine of some kind for the pain. At least that’s what the nurses said.”
“Why are you – ”
Randy stopped mid-sentence.
He scooted out from under the bed entirely and slowly crept over to er on all fours.
“What are you, some kind of spider?” Katie asked, giggling a little.
“What are you?” Randy echoed.
He was now only about a foot away from her chair and sat there, his legs folded up under him, gawking up at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
“I’ve never – ”
Randy put out a hesitant hand and ever so gently touched her arm.
“Are you some kind of ghost?”
He looked around again.
“Are you – ”
He leaned in, talking in a whisper.
“Are you dead?”
A nurse came around the corner and stopped abruptly, spotting the empty bed in the far corner where Randy should have been.
“Randy Andrews,” the nurse said, her hands now on her hips. “You get right back into the bed and you stop playing around, please. They are ready for you in surgery.”
Katie watched as Randy scrambled on all fours under the beds and back up onto his, pulling the sheet back over top of himself again.
She started to ask him about his question, but couldn’t get the words out before his parents appeared at the door.
Katie sat there quietly, watching Randy stare back at her from under his sheet. She glanced over at his parents and the nurse, noticed Randy’s dad had no hair on the top of his head.
Are you dead?
What kind of question was that?
The snap of the wheel locks being disengaged on Randy’s hospital bed jarred Katie out of the confusion she was in.
The doctor she’d first seen was now at the door, waiting for Randy.
He was his surgeon.
They wheeled Randy out of the room, his parents following right behind, disappearing to the left, heading for his operating room.
The pre-op room was empty again.
Are you dead?
What kind of crazy question was that?
The nurse came back through the double doors.
“It won’t be long now,” she said.
Katie tried not to think about the dull ache growing just behind her sternum.
The nurse disappeared around the corner as Katie watched the double doors to the operating rooms slowly shut.
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