Why is it important to memorise scripture?
With today’s technology, it’s extremely easy to look up a verse on a Bible app or on Google without actually knowing it for ourselves. Yet too often we’re reluctant to commit it to memory.
Either it feels like too much effort, or we simply don’t have the time, particularly when we lead such busy lifestyles.
However, investing the time to memorise scripture still has its place as a spiritual discipline.
When I was studying theology, I took New Testament Greek for three years. Each course unit was usually based around a book of the Bible such as John’s Gospel, Galatians or 1 Peter. When it came to the exams, one of the tasks involved translating a passage from anywhere within one of these books.
While I knew how to translate these verses, I found it easier to learn them by heart in English. That way, I would be able to fall back on them under pressure. Therefore I memorised the whole of John’s Gospel as well as the other books mentioned.
Being able to access whole books of the Bible instantly had a massive impact on me. My perspective on memorising scripture and knowing it inside out changed dramatically.
Now I’m not suggesting you go and memorise an entire book of the Bible. However, I do want to emphasise the importance of learning scripture and not relying too much on technology.
Here are 7 reasons why:
1. God’s word instructs us to memorise scripture
Memorising scripture is something God’s word instructs and encourages us to do as part of our everyday lives.
In Colossians 3:16, the apostle Paul says:
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (NIV)
In some translations, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB) or King James Version (KJV), it uses the phrase “let the word of Christ dwell in you.”
In this passage, the “word of Christ” or “message of Christ” means the teachings of Jesus. This refers not just to his teachings found in the gospels, but also as explained in the various Epistles. We are told to let these teachings dwell in us for two main purposes:
1) To teach others – to educate and instruct
2) To admonish – to correct us or others when we go wrong
We are to do this with all wisdom, which we have gained from allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us. We do this through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The singing of these will be based on God’s word and can also help us to memorise scripture.
Deuteronomy 11:18 tells us that when God gave his commandments to the Israelites, he instructed them to
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”
Orthodox Jews wear little black leather boxes on their arms and foreheads called Tefillin. These contain little scrolls of parchment with verses from the Torah written on them. These are meant to serve as a reminder of all that God did when he delivered the Israelites out of Egypt.
Now as Christians, we don’t need to go around wearing God’s word on us literally. But in another sense, it is good to be cloth or wrap ourselves in his word so that we can meditate upon it continually. We can do this by memorising scripture.
2. Memorising scripture provides us with guidance and wisdom
Psalm 119:105 says:
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (NIV)
Many times in our lives we’re searching for guidance from God. This may occur when we’re facing a decision regarding two or more possible choices. However, it may also be when we’re trying to discern God’s will in a particular situation or wanting to know whether it is right or wrong to proceed with an action.
The Bible provides guidance and wisdom on many subjects and can help us determine God’s will for our lives. The underlying theme of Psalm 119 is about how scripture provides wisdom.
For example, in Psalm 119:97-100, it says:
“Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.”
Now that’s not to say that we are to blindly apply verses to any situation. We need to know and understand the proper context or interpretation. We can do this by checking it against other things or seeking wise counsel from others.
Nevertheless, we need to have these verses in the backs of our minds as our first port of call. We can take stock of them and see if there are any other verses we have neglected in our musings on the subject. That allows us to have a more informed picture with everything on the table.
In London, in order for a taxi driver to qualify for a licence to operate a black cab, they have to pass a demanding test called “The Knowledge of London”. This involves memorising all the routes of London inside out so that if anyone asks them for directions, they can recite immediately exactly where to go. As a result, they don’t have to rely on a map or Sat Nav. Acquiring this skill provides them with an intimate knowledge of the city, allowing them to draw on it whenever they need to be flexible to any situation or change of directions.
In the same way, our knowledge of God’s word is something we should know intimately by heart. This will also allow us to be flexible in any situation and store it in our minds so that we can draw on the word to guide us if we have to make a detour or deal with unforeseen circumstances.
Without God’s word in our hearts to guide us, we can easily stumble around in the darkness, unable to see the way ahead or knowing which path to take.
3. Memorising scripture can keep us from sin and temptation
Psalm 119:9-11 says:
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.” (NIV)
In order to live by God’s word, we need to know it first and then have it memorised. Verse 11 says that “I have hidden your word in my heart”, which gives us a picture of it being tucked away deep inside of us.
This can keep us from sin.
If we are facing a temptation which we’re convinced no-one else could possibly understand, we can take comfort in the words of 1 Corinthians 10:13.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV)
If we know this verse by heart, the Holy Spirit can bring this to mind when we’re under pressure to yield to temptation.
James 4:7 also says:
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
How are we able to resist the devil? By knowing God’s word and knowing the truth. We do it in the same way that Jesus did it.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, the devil quoted scripture three times. However, he took these verses out of context and tried to use these to lead Jesus into sin.
How did Jesus resist the devil?
By knowing scripture and using it against him. Jesus retorted by quoting various passages himself. In doing so, he was able to speak the truth.
After this the devil left him.
When we memorise scripture, we have God’s word hidden in our hearts. We are able to use this in the face of temptation and resist the devil.
4. Memorising scripture helps us know the truth and can keep us from error
In Matthew 22:29, Jesus said to the Sadducees when they were trying to trap him:
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
People who work at a bank have to handle money every day. They have to be able to tell a counterfeit note apart from the real thing. They do this not by spending time looking at different types of fake money, but by being so familiar with the genuine article that they know every minute detail. That way, when they are presented with something that is false, they will immediately be able to spot a discrepancy because it differs from the real thing.
In the same way, spending time in the scriptures and knowing it off by heart allows us to know the truth and when we are being presented with something that is counterfeit.
When the devil was trying to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, he used scripture out of context. If Jesus hadn’t been familiar with these passages, he could easily have thought that the verses sounded about right and made sense. Knowing the truth helped him to focus and keep his mind fixed on the things that mattered.
It’s good to memorise scripture and know a verse word for word. It’s also prudent to know the proper context in which it should be used. That way you’ll know when someone is giving a teaching that is contrary to the Bible and it will keep you from error.
Psalm 37:31 says
“The law of their God is in their hearts;
their feet do not slip.”
If we have scripture on our hearts, it will help us not to slip.
5. Memorising scripture is our weapon against spiritual attacks
In Ephesians 6:13-17, Paul talks about putting on the full armour of God during our struggle against the spiritual forces of evil. He says:
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness the comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (NIV)
Then in verse 17, he mentions specifically:
“Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (NIV)
Of all the pieces of the armour of God listed, the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon mentioned. The others are all defensive.
Maybe you’ve tried to wield the sword of the Spirit in times of spiritual attack, but nothing came to mind. That’s not a good situation. It leaves you vulnerable and open to attack if you don’t have any weapons at your disposal.
Having scripture in your heart gives you a weapon.
That’s exactly what Jesus did when he was tempted. Knowing scripture, he was able to wield that weapon against his enemy.
We can do the same. If we’re being fed the lie that we God can’t possibly love us because we’ve blown it or failed him, we can answer the devil:
Romans 8:38-39 says:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)
Or Romans 8:1
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
By knowing scripture and having it memorised, we can bring these truths to mind and use them in the face of spiritual attack.
6. Memorising scripture helps us explain the hope we have in us to others
1 Peter 3:15 says
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Sometimes people may have questions about your faith that they can spring upon you at a moment you’re least expecting. Or you may encounter a situation where you need to defend your position.
While you can simply explain the concepts involved, it is better to be able to point people to specific Bible verses as evidence to back up your claims and to support your position. That will provide a certain amount of authority.
However, you may not always have a Bible on you, or even if you do, you may not be able to remember where exactly the passage is. Even with a Bible app, where you can do a search, you can only search for something that actually comes to mind.
If you are oblivious to the fact that the Bible says something on the subject you are discussing, it would never occur to you to search for it.
And if you haven’t learnt it in the first place, how will you be able to recall what isn’t there?
You may miss the opportunity to share your knowledge and your faith if you can’t remember the passage or you’re rummaging around in your Bible desperately trying to find it. And then you’re focused not on the conversation anymore but locating the passage.
When you have scripture already memorised, you will be able to call it to mind immediately. Or rather, the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind so that you can speak this out to others. The moment someone says or asks you something, you can have a ready response.
7. Memorising scripture increases our faith
Romans 10:17 says:
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (NIV)
When we commit a verse to memory, part of the memorisation process can involve speaking it out and repeating it over and over again. This has the effect of building up our faith in a two-fold way.
First of all, we are gaining a greater knowledge of scripture through repeated exposure and familiarity. This goes without saying.
Second, when we speak the passages of scripture aloud, as opposed to simply reading them in silence, we hear the words travel directly from our own mouths and back into our ears. By giving voice to these words, we are making them into performative utterances or speech acts.
Speech acts are certain types of words where something specific happens at the very moment we speak. God’s words are a prime example of this. His words are his acts. When he speaks, things happen.
For instance, when he created the universe and said “let there be light”, this wasn’t simply God making a declaration. He was actually speaking light into being, which occurred simultaneously with his words.
Because God made us in his image, we have a limited version of God’s power to do things with our words. This means that when we vocalise certain words of scripture, we are not merely communicating information out loud. Instead, we are actually doing something with them which changes a situation.
When we speak out words of scripture in faith, we are agreeing with them and reinforcing them in our own lives and thoughts. That has the effect of bringing them into being and making them a reality.
Now it’s your turn.
These are 7 reasons why it’s important to engage in this particular discipline. Having it in your mind and in your heart allows you to draw on the word as and when necessary as a tool, as a map, as a weapon.
There are many more, but these were some that I particularly wanted to highlight.
Now you might be in total agreement that learning scripture by heart is invaluable. But then you ask: How do you actually go about remembering God’s word? Well here are 6 creative methods of memorising Bible verses that will help you.
You can download a printable mind map cheat sheet of these 6 creative methods by entering your details in the form below.
What other reasons can you think of to memorise scripture?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.