I just wrote a post in which I gave advice to a younger Christian, and I urged him to memorize Scripture. A reader questions the value of Bible memorization compared with other Bible activities.
He says: I would say focus on reading comprehension and understanding what you are reading and ask questions whenever possible – instead of memorizing Scripture (unless you are illiterate). I found that simply understanding is hard enough, and to place memorization on top of that when any of us here in the US can pull up our Bibles on our smartphones is not a good use of time. It is not evil in and of itself of course, just not a good use of time (if one is literate, that is). Otherwise if illiterate by all means get audio and memorize!
Dear Reader: Thanks for the stimulating comment, it made me think through whether my opinion was really self-evident.
As a professor I keep in mind the insights of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. The learning facilitator is supposed to push the learner higher and higher in the pyramid: that is, not just Applying but further toward Analyzing. This is why I have my students memorize certain facts (REMEMBERING dates of important biblical events) but push them further up the pyramid (an essay where the student is critically ANALYZING a certain view of historiography).
Nevertheless, Bloom’s point was not that the lower levels of cognition are inferior; in fact, they are the base upon which the higher thinking is built.
In the case of the Bible, we want to push people beyond merely memorizing verses; they must also learn to employ it to life situations, to discern what is Biblical thinking and what is not, etc. Nevertheless, that drive does not eliminate the value of simple memorization and repetition of the text. In fact, since we are a “people of the Book,” memorization of the text should be of high value for the Christian, likewise the names of the books in order and other basic data. To give a parallel, a chemistry major could look up the periodic table of elements every time he or she needs some information, but I would tell them, “Oh, why not just memorize the thing!” The same goes for the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
As a professor who teaches in a second language – Spanish – I can tell you how much Bible memorization in Spanish would have helped me. Often I have to say something like, “Now, remember what Paul said in Romans 15 – someone help me, it goes something like this,” and I’ll give a rough translation from English into Spanish, until someone says they know it. As a Bible teacher, it should be shameful for me not to be able to simply quote important verses, but the fact that I haven’t done much Bible memory in Spanish is my justification.
I know that there are people who are stuck in the bottom rung of REMEMBERING, who can parrot Scripture but who make little connection between text and life. Myself, I’ve met very few of these cases. My impression in general is that there is a sturdy positive correlation between knowledge and memorization of Scripture and the application of it. Or to put it negatively, I never saw a man who was spiritually harmed because he knew too much Bible.
A side thought: There is also a school of thought today that says that people in antiquity “got” the text of Scripture better than we do. The typical Christian of Corinth was illiterate; he or she heard the Bible read aloud in church and memorized portions. Paul was literate and apparently had memorized the whole Old Testament, both in Hebrew and in the Greek Septuagint – when he quoted the Bible in his epistles he didn’t have to look it up. A church’s “Scripture reading” on Sunday, according to the early church fathers, might consist of someone standing up to quote a passage from memory. While this was a handicap – I can’t imagine life without my Logos Bible Software – it takes advantage of the fact that the Bible was originally dictated and meant to be read aloud. Hence Rev 22:17 – “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book.” There’s great value today in reading the Bible aloud or listening to one of the wonderful professional recordings.
“Is Bible memorization a good use of our time?” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica