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Bible Knowledge and Memorization

This post was originally written February 5, 2010…

Bible reading

Today I’d like to take a minute to answer some email questions I have received about Bible memorization.

When your children memorize verses, do they memorize the reference as well?  Do you require them to?  And can they?  I mean later, do they remember the reference or just the actual verse?

My children really don’t remember the references. If I ask for Genesis 1:1, they probably don’t know it, but if I say “In the beginning…” they can finish it.

This is an age-old debate. When I was a child, enrolled in our local AWANA, I would memorize my verses as fast as I possibly could to earn points for myself and my team. My mother would shake her head and say, “She’ll never remember all those verses, especially where they’re found in the Bible!”

She was probably right! Quick memorization, such as is often done for Sunday school contests or vacation Bible school, seems to be just that — quick! However, I believe it’s still important. These verses are implanted into our brains, sowing seeds of God’s truth. I can still remember a lot of these verses. No, I can’t usually remember where they are in the Bible. I often wonder if I were ever imprisoned in solitary confinement or stuck in a vegetative state in a hospital bed, if God would be gracious enough to bring these verses back to my mind for comfort and hope. I wouldn’t really need to know the reference.

But knowing the reference IS very important in everyday life. First of all, if I don’t know the reference, I probably have no idea of the context of the verse. Without knowing the context, I’m at the mercy of anyone who comes along and wants to tell me what it means. I pretty much have to take his word for it. After all, I wouldn’t know myself what the verse means, at least in the way the original author intended it.

Secondly, if I wanted to answer a question about the Bible, I wouldn’t be able to take someone to that exact place in the Bible and show him if I didn’t know where it was. It’s one thing to have a conversation with someone and quote a verse, and quite another powerful thing to have him read it for himself from the Bible. God’s Word adds a credibility that I just don’t have by myself (nor should I).

I can see several solutions to this Bible-memory problem. For our family, we’re working on all four of these ideas simultaneously.

  1. Review often. If you want to move information from short-term memory to long-term memory, experts agree that you need to review it often. When your children recite a memory verse, require them to say the reference both before and after saying the verse. For instance, “Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1.” Memory verses should be said often, several times per day if possible. New verses should be worked on daily, verses from last week could be reviewed every other day, and verses from a few weeks ago could be reviewed two or three times per week. You’re going to need a system for this, right? 🙂 Whether you use index cards, computer software, or verses written out on notebook paper, come up with a review system that works for you so you’ll be consistent.
  2. Learn larger hunks. While I learned many individual memory verses as a child, the ones that really stick the best are the ones I learned in larger hunks. I had to memorize Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Luke 2, 1 Corinthians 13, and many, many more. Often we memorized a chapter a month. Memorization was easy because we simply chanted it out loud each morning. I might not be able to tell you exactly what verse a specific Scripture is, but if it’s from one of those chapters I memorized, I can certainly tell you the chapter reference.
  3. Outline Scripture. Again, context is so important. If I know where the Bible talks about a certain theme, I can easily go to that book and chapter to find a specific verse. It’s no different than using my cookbook. If I want to make muffins, I know to look in the chapter on breads. If I want to make potatoes, I look under vegetables (and I even know that the vegetables will be in alphabetical order.) For my children, I first require them to read and reread and read again from God’s Word, starting in Genesis and going all the way through to Revelation, over and over and over. (When else will my children have so much time? Let’s use it wisely!) We schedule this reading into their school assignments as soon as their reading ability is able to do it. Secondly, for our older children, we purchase a study Bible for them and have them label the “topic” of each chapter as they read it. Having them write their own topic headings ensures that they understand what the passage is about. Visual learners do especially well with this method. (I had to do this in high school, and I can still remember them!) Require them to not only label each chapter, but also test them. Require good grades in this important “school subject”! Nothing can replace knowing their Bibles inside and out. If your children have “handles” for all their memory verses, because they know context, they will be able to find verses later in their Bibles.
  4. Use it. Finally, as your children grow older, discuss the Bible often. Purchase a good book on theology and apologetics, discussing deep topics often with your children. Pretend, for instance, that you don’t believe in creation. Teach your children how to defend creationism with Scripture. How about the inerrancy of Scripture? Show them how to make an argument. As your children actually use Scripture, they will gain confidence in finding verses in their Bibles. Finally, encourage your children to be present as you discuss the Bible with neighbors, friends, and family members. They will learn a LOT from observing your interaction with others, and you’ll have some amazing discussions later, as well.

Grandma teaches Bible

I have many goals for them related to Bible memory, along the lines of hiding it in their heart so that they may not sin against Him.  But I’ve been thinking, I also want them to be able to do it like you do in your emails.  So how do you do that?  You have [written posts] with 5 or 10 verse references in them.  I NEVER know what the verse is and go look it up on Bible Gateway.  But how do you know which verse to use in a conversation, with its reference?

Ahh, the beauty of blogging! I look so perfect! <wink> What you can’t see is all the technology I have on my computer, ready at the click of a mouse to help me find things.

I suppose a verse has to be rumbling around in my brain somewhere for me to then use technology to find it, so yes, we have to first be familiar both with Scripture as a whole (by reading through it from start to finish, often) and with Scripture by topic (by studying out topics that are interesting to me, usually taking notes in my journal).

When I want to answer a specific question or write about a certain topic online, I open up E-Sword, Bible Gateway, and sometimes Blue Letter Bible. I have used mainly two Bible translations during my lifetime, so I open both of those Bibles on my screen, to make it easier as I search. A search takes just a second, and I immediately have the specific reference I need at my fingertips.

Before computer days, my father taught all of us children to use Strong’s Concordance. I still think it’s a good idea to teach concordance skills to our children. I can often search more effectively online because their search engines are based on paper concordances, and I have experience using all the parts of a concordance.

Now, “knowing which verse to use in a conversation, with its reference”? That is a lot tougher, because I’m not sitting in front of my computer! The best advice I can think of is to actually mark and take notes in my Bible. I am a visual learner, I must admit, but I can often remember that a certain topic is found in the book of Matthew, on the left side of the page, highlighted with a blue pen. Silly, huh? This only works if I use ONE Bible and use it often. I can’t seem to find anything in my husband’s Bible! 🙂

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Do you have your children memorize in the KJV?  Only?  Why or why not?

We were just discussing this at our house this week! I really don’t have a good answer. I can see the benefit of both sides of this issue. Honestly, we do a little of both KJV and NIV. Our children each own a copy of each translation. We memorize in both. We read in both. I’m sure it makes retention harder, to be honest. On the other hand, we figure that our children will need to use BOTH translations in everyday life. I used the KJV exclusively for the first 18 years of my life, and I’ve used primarily the NIV for the second half of my life. My brain seems to be able to handle it okay.

The KJV seems to have a rhyme and rhythm to it that helps in memorization. In addition, it is a very literal translation, which is helpful when defending theological viewpoints.

However, the NIV has come in very handy to me personally in understanding the Bible, as well as in explaining it to others. It lacks the rhythm of the KJV, yet my brain has memorized huge portions of Scripture in the NIV without any trouble.

So which to use? I think this is a personal decision. I doubt you’ll mess up your children too badly whichever you decide. 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed today’s Q&A on Bible memory! God’s Word is the most important thing we can teach to our children. I hope you make it the highest priority in your day.

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this thorough answer to a question many families face. It is truly laid out for us to understand it and be able to follow it step by step. This is the first post that truly answered the question, as far as I’ve read from others. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This has been such a blessing to me and soon my family.

  2. Anne Elliott says:

    Thanks, Vicki… you made my day! 🙂

  3. Lovely, all our questions answered in one article and I love the pic under no.4. Thank you. I’m really enjoying your posts and look forward to Friday to see what is next. I seem to think you referred me to the Simply Charlotte Mason Bible memory system, thought I’d mention it here. http://simplycharlottemason.com/timesavers/memorysys/ Also, I seem to think Ruth Beechick echoed what you say about the KJV’s metre being easy for memorization, but I cannot recall her exact words, nor find her article. I’m not quite a pure KJV follower but do like my children to learn various versions. I actually look up the verses we’re learning and see which one I like best 😉 Thanks again, Anne

  4. yes, we use the Charlotte Mason Bible Memory system also…I like it. We have memorized chapters of Scripture this way, as well as other multi-verse passages.
    I would recommend E.W. Bullinger’s Companion Bible. I have used many Bibles in my life, but this has to be one of my favorites. He doesn’t have very much in the way of his opinion in his notes that are along with the Scripture on the page, but he does in many cases give transliterated Hebrew for important words in the “OT” and what it means, as well as other references where that word located; he also has the Greek in the “NT”. At the back of the Bible are a volume of his study notes, which he references throughout the Bible where they are applicable. LOVE THIS BIBLE!
    Like your idea of outlining Scripture. I am considering contacting some Torah teachers to see what reference books they recommend.

  5. Anne Elliott says:

    Thank you for the Bible recommendation. I’m in the market for a new Bible. My teeny little one is just wearing out, but I also don’t want to rush this decision. What version do you use, Cindy?

    The Simply Charlotte Mason method is very similar to what my husband does for his personal Bible memory. An evangelist recommended it to him. It really works! It works for math facts, history timelines, poetry, and other subjects, too! Easy to keep up with…

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