Scripture Memorization is for Old-Timers

I would say I have internalized a fair amount of Scripture. Maybe more than average for an American my age. Maybe less than average for a pastor.

And some of that internalized scripture is indeed memorized. In other words, I can quote the verse(s) with some confidence in the accuracy of the words and their order. But the vast majority of my Scripture memory is less specific. I can recall the message, I know what’s being said, and I have enough of the words in my head to go find it, but I don’t have it memorized verbatim.

Worst of all, though, is my memory for references. Even my ability to find the book that contains the verse in question is sorely limited. Did Jesus say that in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? Did Paul say that in Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians or Colossians? Or Romans or 1 or 2 Corinthians? Or was that Peter?

Don’t get me wrong: often my recollection will get me close, but it’s bad enough to give me a type of biblical inferiority complex, and to damage my confidence when talking about scripture with a “memorizer”.

But here’s my question for you. Does it really matter anymore?

Certainly, in the past it has been vitally important for rabbis, or ministers of the gospel to have a thorough grasp of Scripture. Torah teachers typically had the Old Testament memorized from cover to cover, and most certainly Jesus did as well. And as difficult an undertaking as that would be, it was important. Hardly anybody had a copy of the Scriptures in their home… they had to take what opportunity they could get, when they had access to the scrolls, to internalize them thoroughly, so they could then access them from their minds anytime they chose.

Even in subsequent (Gentile Christian) cultures, where learning and interpretation were less pervasive, this practice would be crucial for those teaching Scripture and ministering to the people. And this remained true until Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and well beyond it, until the possession of vernacular Bibles became commonplace.

At this point we see the importance of Scripture memorization begin to wane. If everyone who wants one can have a Bible on the shelf, complete with a concordance, then thorough memorization is not necessary for mere reference purposes. Having a firm grasp on the contents and message in the Bible, along with a fair collection of verbatim verses, is probably sufficient.

But now things have changed further still. Not only do I have a few Bibles on the shelf, I have access to virtually every translation, commentary and word study ever written with the click of a mouse. I can view countless maps, diagrams, and photos without even getting up. In additiona, there are so many writings and interpretations of Scripture on the internet that Google has replaced any Bible website as a concordance, since every verse I might want to find has been written about dozens, if not hundreds of times over, for public consumption.

So let me ask you, what place does Scripture memorization have in the age of the internet? Naturally, it helps us to meditate on the words of God in our hearts, and to have an answer ready for those who ask, and to find what we need when we do have the internet in front of us, but how much time should we be spending specifically on memorization?

How much time do you spend? Is it less than you would like? Or is your “spiritual growth” time better spent elsewhere?

P.S. Yes, the title is just a provocative attention grabber, nothing more.


2 thoughts on “Scripture Memorization is for Old-Timers

  1. Just read the post, so I’ll throw a couple cents in here as well. The question you posed, “Is memorization as important now as then?” (my paraphrase), at face value I would answer, No. Not as important, but still important. So it’s a matter of degree. I don’t think memorizing whole books of the Bible is the best use of a “modern” person’s time. The amount of information we have to manage today gives strict memory a diminishing return. Nonetheless, memorizing key passages and verses, and having a good grasp of the major themes, persons, events, etc. in the various books of Scripture are important competencies for the pastor and (I believe) Christian generally.

    Seminary has given me a kick in the rear with regard to this, b/c I’m the same as you: terrible with the specifics of where this or that verse is located, etc. I’m still much weaker than I hope to be in a few years, but I’m able to rest knowing that I’ve done what I could, am working toward improvement, and God will supply my lack.

  2. I think that Scripture memorization is still incredibly important. With this discipline (which is fading into the background, unfortunately) the Holy Spirit is able to bring to mind “swords” to engage in spiritual warfare around us and within us.

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