Memorizing the Word in 2016

The church leadership at Highland Park Church recently agreed to launch a congregation-wide Scripture memory plan. What follows is part of pastor Ed Vasicek’s commuication to the congregation, describing the plan and its purpose. Perhaps it may stimulate ideas for church-wide Scripture memory efforts in other churches as well. – Editor.

Camp Emmanuel is different from most “church camps” in that is more of a Bible camp than a church camp. The kids compete for team points through Scripture memory, and Bible is central. AWANA is different from many church clubs in that it, too, is centered on Bible memory.

But what about the rest of us? Is Bible memory only for kids who can memorize more readily? Are the rest of us spiritually over the hill when it comes to Bible memory? We may not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but our church is not a dog park! We humans do learn and memorize more slowly as we age, but we can still learn—we just need to make sure the pole is not set too high.

The elders are happy to announce that Terry Watson will lead our church in a new emphasis for 2016: Memorizing the Word. The elders (of which Terry is one) are enthusiastic about this emphasis for 2016.

Psalm 119:11, 97-99 suggests that memorizing Scripture has a big part to play in our attempt to live with discernment, wisdom, and godliness:

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you… Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.

I know what you are thinking: drudgery, boredom, stressful mental expenditure. Don’t be afraid: we are not going to try to memorize the entire Bible, whole books, or even chapters. Our plan is quite modest, and we believe you will find it invigorating, not draining. 

Like sampling the biggest and best peaches from a healthy peace tree, we are going to indulge in a few brief, choice, sweet passages—working on one passage per month. And we are going to work on this right in church, for about 2 and a half minutes per week.

Many of us intend to memorize verses and work harder at being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, at the same time, some of us barely find time to attend and participate in church life! On the other hand, some of us could make time to memorize God’s Word, but we are either not motivated enough to do so or not disciplined enough to make it happen. Other activities and happenings take priority.

Because of our propensity toward unfulfilled good intentions, taking two and a half minutes a week in church is a good investment of time. Once you get a few verses down, you might feel so much better about your walk with God that this starts a positive spiritual momentum in your life. It happens that way—and not rarely.

How to Memorize Scripture

What is the best way to memorize a passage? I am not sure what the best way is, but let me share a way that has worked well for me.

Start with the reference. After learning the reference, recite just the first phrase of the passage, beginning with the reference. Recite it repeatedly. Once you have gotten down the first phrase and have successfully quoted it accurately, add the next phrase. Always start at the beginning: reference, phrase one, and phrase two.  If you mess up on a word, note that, go back to the beginning, and start again. Then keep adding more phrases, always reciting from the beginning.  Do not move on until you have a series of phrases down word perfect.  

Some of you might want to delve further into Scripture memory— well beyond what we are going to do in church. Perhaps you want an advanced challenge—memorizing a chapter or entire book of the Bible?

Scripture memory is the legacy of believers from at least the time of Moses. Ancient Jews memorized the entire Torah.  The New Testament believers were memorizers, too. Even as late as the 4th century, Jerome (speaking of memorizing Scripture) wrote, “When by diligent meditation we store away the book of the Lord in our memorial treasury, our belly is filled spiritually and our guts are satisfied” (Thomas Meyer, Oral Transmission in Judaism and Christianity, 41).

Some modern believers have memorized the entire Bible, such as the evangelist Jack Van Impe. I have known a number of believers who have memorized entire books—Romans, for example. Many more believers have memorized Bible chapters, like Psalm 23 or Romans 8. Those goals might seem too lofty for many of us, but, if you are interested in doing so, I recommend the e-book, “How to Memorize Scripture” by Jacob Friedman. It suggests a number of “tricks” to make Bible long-passage memory easier. This is a useful tool, available only as a Kindle download (costs only .99) through Amazon.

Although the elders are currently choosing the passages we will focus upon on Sunday mornings in 2016, one sample passage might be John 14:6-7,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Taking that passage in sections, we will memorize it over a month’s period. Terry Watson will generally lead us in the process, as mentioned above.  It will be exciting to see how God uses this in our lives and in the life of our church.

Ed Vasicek Bio

Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.

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There are 6 Comments

josh p's picture

I have really neglected memorization for most of my Christian life and only recently (past year or two) have started to try to memorize consistently. One thing that I would add that has helped me is to listen to he passage while driving around or doing household tasks. In my case I am trying to memorize a book so I just listen to it on a bible program. In the case of individual verses I have recorded myself saying it on an audio app on my phone and I have listened to it repeatedly. This one can be hard to take if you hate to listen to yourself. There must be some other way though. 

Thanks for the challenge! 

TylerR's picture


I've actually never tried to memorize any verse of the Bible - ever. I do have many of them memorized, but never because I tried. It's not that I decided not to memorize any - it just hasn't ever been a priority for me. I've often wondered if I'm doing something wrong! Am I the only one heretical enough to never devote any time to memorization here? 

I actually de-emphasize memorization in AWANA (should I dare to type this in public!?) in favor of comprehension. I've had far too many children spit out perfectly memorized verses at me, when they can't tell me what on earth it even means. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

dcbii's picture



As I understand it, those are the first two stages in classical learning, the first being learning/memorizing facts, and the 2nd, learning to think through things.  I actually agree with you that memorization is not that useful (long-term) when not paired with understanding.  However, memorization at early ages is indeed a useful building block to later thinking those verses through.  If they are memorized, they will at one point or another "play back" in the child's mind.

In fact, when I started homeschooling my children in 5th and 7th grades, I actually told them that it was more important to be able to know enough of the verse to be able to find it again (either by search or reference) and understand what it was saying than it was to have the exact wording memorized.  They had already spent years in Christian school memorizing verses and passages.  Once I started teaching, they were then at the ages to really concentrate on what those verses meant, and how they fit into the context of the passage, book and scriptures.

Dave Barnhart

Ed Vasicek's picture

I think the discussion between route memory and understanding is a good one.  In our AWANA, as small as our club is, we try to emphasize the meaning of the verses.  As a matter of fact, we heard at least one comment that a woman was moving their kids to another AWANA so their daughter could speed up and pass more verses.  I am not sure that was the real reason, but thought it was an interesting comment.

Understanding them -- at least minimally-- when memorizing is important. The Bible, however, emphasizes meditation upon them once we have them memorized (or perhaps in the process of memorization itself).  I typically think about the meaning without actually memorizing the verse, which is my weakness.  It is great to do a both/and rather than an either/or.

Another complicating factor is version change.  For years I used the NASB and dearly loved it.  Some of our elders wanted to switch to the NIV, and I used that for years (without as much love).  Now we are into the ESV.  So I tend to hybridize the versions, which is a nuissance!


"The Midrash Detective"

dcbii's picture


Ed Vasicek wrote:

Another complicating factor is version change.  For years I used the NASB and dearly loved it.  Some of our elders wanted to switch to the NIV, and I used that for years (without as much love).  Now we are into the ESV.  So I tend to hybridize the versions, which is a nuissance!

Ed, I know what you mean.  I'm old enough so that all the scripture I have memorized is from the KJV.  When our church reads the scripture passages out loud at the beginning of the Sunday service (and it's from the ESV), if it's in a passage that has been memorized or is at all familiar to me, I have to really look at the words on the page, or I get the wording wrong every time!  To this day, I still don't really enjoy as much when Christmas or Easter passages are read in a newer version, because they are not what I'm used to!  The difference in translations (and in our home while my kids were still here, we sometimes used German translations as well) is another reason I wanted my kids to be really familiar with what the verse said without getting too caught up in the exact wording, knowing it would be different in the different versions they would have access to.

Dave Barnhart

pvawter's picture

I completely understand the desire to emphasize comprehension rather than simple memorization, but there is something to be said for the essential nature of memorization as a starting point in the process. When I was a HS math teacher, one of the most frustrating aspects of my job was receiving students in 9th & 10th grades who had not ever mastered their math facts. They simply did not have them memorized. When I wanted to teach them to comprehend more fundamental mathematical concepts, I was often frustrated by their lack of mastery of the elementary things. It was my contention, and still is, that if they had simply mastered the arithmetic tables by means of rote memorization, then I could have easily taught them the more challenging principles of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus.

In applying this to the idea of Scripture memory, especially for younger kids, I think that it is enough to get them to learn the verses, because the memorization will facilitate meditation on the content of what they have learned at a later time. As their maturity level increases over time, they will be better able to understand what they have memorized, unless they have not actually memorized anything because it was considered less important than higher level comprehension.



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