Many have suffered needless frustration because of fruitless efforts to retain certain passages of Scripture in their memory. Perhaps you have tried and repeatedly failed to commit to memory important verses from our Maker’s Instruction Book.
On the other hand, the ability to remember chapter and verse and to dazzle others with this skill becomes a fetish with some! There are those who delight in “showing off” their capacity to quote from memory long sections of Scripture or even whole books of the Bible. Some might claim to have “the fastest Bible in the West” (or the East as the case may be!). On a moment’s notice these individuals will fire a rapid series of scriptural verses at their helpless victims, hoping to impress them with their spirituality.
Is this a proof of spiritual mindedness? Or is it rather merely evidence of great, toadishly swollen vanity?
Is Memorizing Word for Word Necessary?
Let’s be balanced! Let’s understand that salvation does not depend on one’s ability to quote chapter and verse from the Bible! If it did, it is conceivable that none of the original apostles and authors of the New Testament would ever have qualified for the Kingdom of God!
Why? Because in the days of the twelve apostles and the writers of the New Testament, the Old Testament writings had not yet been divided into chapters and verses. In fact, it was not done until long after those men were all dead!
The sole exception to this was the Book of Psalms. The Psalms are actually songs. They were composed by a number of authors and originally intended to be set to music. Therefore it was necessary to divide them into chapters and verses for musical and poetical expediency. And as songs, of course, they were intended to be memorized. For ease of memorization the verses were sometimes arranged acrostically (alphabetically).
Now consider this fact: The New Testament authors quoted directly from the Psalms 116 times — yet in only one instance did they mention the chapter from which they were quoting! This one case is Acts 13:33: “…as it is also written in the second psalm…” The remaining quotes from the Psalms make no mention of either the chapter or the verse.
Other than those from the Psalms, the New Testament contains 167 more direct quotations from the Old Testament and, of course, no chapter or verse is referred to in a single instance. In some cases, when quoting from the Old Testament, the speaker or writer did not even mention the name of the person or the book he was citing. Take, for example, the time when Jesus Christ was being tempted by the devil. Jesus quoted directly from the Book of Deuteronomy, which was written by Moses, yet he did not even mention the author or the name of the book! Check that for yourself in Matthew 4:4, 7 and 10.
In other instances where the prophets of old are referred to, they are simply mentioned by name, but, of course, no verses or chapters are given. For some examples, read Matthew 2:17; 8:17; Luke 4:17.
The Bible was not divided into chapters until about 1250 A.D. when Cardinal Hugo composed a Latin concordance or index of the Scriptures. Over 300 years later, in 1560 A.D., the first Bible translation wholly divided into chapters and verses was produced in Geneva, Switzerland. It was known as The Geneva Bible.
It should be apparent, then, that the ability to quote chapter and verse from the Bible like a human computer is not necessary, and is in some cases nothing more than sheer vanity! If, however, a person is gifted with an exceptional memory for scriptures, it is certainly to his advantage if he exercises his ability in right humility and for an honorable purpose. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an excellent memory!
It IS Important to Retain Knowledge
We are told to “grow in grace and in knowledge” (II Peter 3:18). As Christians, we should be continually increasing our knowledge of God’s Word. Peter also instructs us, “… 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” (I Pet. 3:15).
Memory is therefore one of the important attributes that God has given to humans. For most people, however, remembering does not come easy. It seems many have difficulty retaining even the simplest things! Perhaps you have that difficulty.
If so, then you can take heart from this fact. Even though most of the Bible was not originally written with chapters and verses, the Bibles we use today are! And since they are, we can certainly take advantage of this valuable aspect of modern translations.
The present chapter and verse divisions do make it easier to locate the scriptures we need, and to do it in a systematic way without having to wade through whole books and sections of the Bible to find them. By increasing our memory of scripture locations, we can improve our overall knowledge of God’s Word and be better able to “rightly divide the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).
We should stand in awe of the authority of the scriptures inspired by the great Creator of mankind! We should tremble before the Word of the living God! (Isa: 66:2.) We should fear to misuse, twist, or misquote the Bible! A fast, flippant answer, hastily given to “save face,” is often inaccurate and wrong! Therefore it is important that we come to really know our Bibles and develop the ability to use them correctly as Peter said.
Understanding More Important Than Rote Knowledge
It may be impressive to be able to “rattle off” dozens of scriptures from the Bible. But it is more impressive and vastly more profitable to have a good understanding of the Scriptures!
Of what value (spiritually speaking) is a man who has the capacity to cite from memory a large number of scriptures without understanding? An inexpensive concordance may be purchased for about eight dollars and likely contains a far greater list of scriptures than any man could normally memorize.
Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, recognized the transcendant importance of gaining understanding. He said, “… lift up your voice [pray] for understanding….” “… Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding.” He said we should “… get understanding” (Prov. 2:3; 3:13; and 4:5). There is a tremendous joy and a sense of exhilaration in realizing you have grasped and understood a spiritual principle for the first time!
Why is it so much more important to have understanding of the Scriptures than merely to be expert in locating and quoting them? Simply because the ability to cite verses and chapters from the Bible is merely a mechanical operation. But comprehending their meaning is a spiritual accomplishment! Read Romans 7:14 and I Corinthians 2:14 in connection with this.
Surely you can see that the important thing is to study for understanding, and not merely to memorize by rote!
Of course, it is also fine to want to increase your skill and ability in rapidly locating and citing scripture verses. And since it is, here are some pointers that will help you — if you practice them habitually — not only to understand, but also to be better able to recall verses of the Bible.
Get the Overview of the Bible
Many have failed to recall the location of certain scriptures because they have thought of God’s Word as a disjointed and disconnected collection of thousands of unrelated verses. Therefore, you should strive to see the Bible as an organized whole. Get the big picture! Learn the books of the Bible first and try to have a general idea of what they are about. Become familiar with the basic divisions of the Bible, the types of books, and the general subject of each book.
In order to get the overview of the Bible, you should at your earliest opportunity quickly read through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Studying just bits and pieces, here and there, will never enable you to grasp the broad picture — the panorama of the Bible.
To read the whole Bible through, you need to set up a program of Bible study. You should set aside a certain period of time each day to read perhaps five chapters. In order to be sure you don’t bog down, read rapidly to get the general idea of what each chapter is about. Don’t worry about little details. Skim more rapidly over genealogies and those areas where you may be tempted to lose interest.
As you read you’ll find the Bible coming alive with fascinating stories about the lives of godly men of old, gripping true exploits of Biblical heroes, and containing encouragement, exhortation, and valuable instruction in every part!
Study by Subject or Chapter
Many chapters in the Bible were made chapters because of a natural subject content. For example, I Corinthians 13 has been called the “love chapter” because it primarily deals with that subject. Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 both discuss the Ten Commandments. Revelation 20, I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 are concerned with the resurrection.
Hebrews 11 is known as the “faith” chapter. Psalm 51 is David’s psalm of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 119 deals extensively with the Law of God. Isaiah 11 speaks in detail of the millennial reign of Christ. On and on I could go.
It is easier to remember the subject of an entire chapter than individual verses. But to really remember what is in entire chapters, you need to familiarize yourself with them by studying and poring over them. Doing this will help your overall ability to retain Bible knowledge! And when you do learn the overall content of some of these basic chapters, you will begin to more rapidly locate individual scriptures on the subjects covered in them.
Be Impressed With the Verses You Are Studying
If you were driving a nail into a board and you tapped very lightly on it with the hammer, it would not penetrate the wood very deeply. Your mind is the same way.
Our minds adequately retain for instant recall only those things that have left a deep impression on them. Unless you are sufficiently impressed with something the first time you hear or study it, chances are it will soon fade from memory. Therefore, you must allow the verses you are studying to make a deep mental impression!
If you merely read superficially over verses, simply skimming them, they will leave little or no impression! There is a proverbial saying to the effect that if you eat Chinese food, half an hour later you will wonder what you ate. If you study superficially, half an hour later you will wonder what you read!
It is imperative, therefore, that you dwell on and concentrate intensely on what you are studying! Let the words of the Creator sink deeply into the innermost recesses of your mind.
Associate What You Study with Real-Life Situations
Do not allow your Bible study to be merely academic or impractical. Relate what you are studying in the Bible to actual situations in this life. Relate it to history or future events in world affairs.
When you study prophecy (about one third of the Bible deals with prophecy) ask yourself, “Has this ever happened? Is it happening now? Or is it yet future?” Then, as you read the daily newspaper, and as things happen on the world scene, certain verses from the Bible will spring to mind!
When you study a section in the Book dealing with a law or some aspect of Christian conduct, ask yourself, “Am I obeying this? How can I perform this?” Then when you come up against a situation in daily life which involves that principle, the verse will come to mind.
If in your mind the Bible is relevant to life, both past and present, its verses will spring to LIFE! They will become living oracles which have a definite BEARING on human life in general — and yours in particular! This will make them much easier to retain and recall.
Meditate and Think on the Verses You Have Studied
The old cliché “out of sight, out of mind” applies here. After you have closed the Book, unless you continue to mentally digest its words, they will tend to fade from conscious thought. They will be crowded out by other things.
The example of King David of Israel applies in this case. He said, “Oh how love I thy law! It is my MEDITATION ALL THE DAY” (Psalm 119:97). David’s mind was perpetually on the things of God. Not to the exclusion of his responsibilities as administrator of the kingdom, but including those principles in his rulership as well.
God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We are admonished by the Apostle Paul to think on (meditate on) the truth. (Phil. 4:8.) The more you do this, the more the verses and chapters of our Maker’s Instruction Book will become real “mind stickers”!
Drill Yourself in the Scriptures
To “drill” is to indulge in mental exercise aimed at perfecting facility and skill by regular practice.
Drilling yourself in the verses of the Bible is one of the finest ways of committing them to memory. Many have found the use of “flash cards” helpful in this respect. These can be made very simply by purchasing a supply of 3×5 index cards and writing or typing the scripture out in full on one side, and then the chapter and verse location on the other side. Use these cards for key scriptures you wish to recall.
Go through the cards regularly by reading the quote and then trying to recall its location by chapter and verse. Then turn the card over and check on yourself. You could reverse this process by reading the chapter and verse first and then trying to recall its wording. Since every translation varies, don’t necessarily try to memorize word for word, but just the key thought, subject, or point of the verse. This method will provide you with a helpful review of the scriptures and is a valuable means of aiding your memory.
Drill yourself also on the subjects of basic chapters such as those mentioned earlier in this article. You’ll find that repetition is indeed the best form of emphasis!
Ask God For Help
Jesus Christ promised His disciples: “But the Comforter (Greek paracletos — “one called alongside to help”) which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
God’s Spirit is intended to help and assist you in both understanding and recalling to mind the words of Jesus Christ. Utilize that help! ASK God to help you apply the principles in this article daily. Practice them and work on them faithfully. Develop right study habits and stand in awe of the words of the living God. As you continue to submit to God and respect His Word, He will help you in your efforts to study and retain scriptures.
But don’t become discouraged if you don’t become a “walking concordance.” Remember the ability to understand Scripture is vastly more valuable than the ability to merely quote it!
Source: The Good News, January-April 1971