How To Memorise Bible Verses And Not Forget Them
I have heard so often about the usefulness of memorising scripture that I have tried to do it for many years now. When I was doing A levels and at University, I remember memorising a lot of different Bible verses on little cards (the back of my dad’s old business cards!) that I would carry around in my pocket as I rode my bike or walked around. I even memorised most, if not all, of Philippians and 2 Timothy, and several psalms and hymns too. But I also remember distinctly that one day I was tidying my room and came across a whole bunch of these cards, and I had forgotten just about everything that I had memorised. This would happen over and over again.
One day I thought, ‘I need to find a way to memorise scripture where I won’t forget it. In fact I need to pray that God would help me find a way!’ So I stuck it on my daily prayer list, and every day for quite a while I would pray for help finding a method of memorisation that would stick. Then one day I came across a website which explained how to memorise scripture, and at the end it said, ‘If you do this, you will never forget it.’ Just reading the method made me realise they were right, so I started putting it into practice about 8 years ago and it has been really helpful.
What you will need
A6 Index card box or some kind of filing system
A6 Lined Index cards
8 dividers to start with, eventually 28 more
The cards can easily be adapted to different sizes, like business card size or larger if you prefer.
Which Bible version?
I prefer to use a more literal translation, like NKJV, ESV, NASB rather than a paraphrased translation. That is because a great use of memorised scripture is as an aid to meditation, and when you are really thinking about and studying the words I think it is better to be closer to the original. Having said that, a lot of my memorised verses are in NIV since that is the Bible our church was using at the time!
I also like to use a modern version rather than older language like KJV since another thing that you will probably use your verses for are to quote to people when that subject comes up. If it is in a language that they can’t understand then it can be harder to help them!
How to learn
Write the topic of the verse, or something that will remind you what it is about, at the top of the card. At the bottom of the card, on the same side, write the Bible reference. On the other side write the verse out. You can also write the reference on the same side as the verse, I do it on the other side because it serves as a hint in case the topic doesn’t remind you what the verse is.
To learn it you can then take the card and read through the reference and verse quite a few times, saying the reference before the verse each time. Once you have done that, then you should try to recite it without looking, but look if you need to. Once you can recite it perfectly, do it a few more times so you can get it stuck in your brain, and then try and do it at other times during the day to test your memory.
Some more tips to help you learn:
Reading then reciting – you can try reading it through 10 times slowly and carefully burning the words into your brain, then reciting it 10 times as Dr. Andrew Davis recommends in his booklet on scripture memory
Take it with you – you can take the card with you in your pocket during the day and every so often try to recite it and then check if you’ve done it right, and repeat
Meditate – think about the verse during the day: what the different words mean, what you learn about God and what you can apply to your life
Emphasise – read through or recite the verse putting the emphasis on one word, then again with the emphasis on another word, and so on. That can really help you remember and meditate on it. Like this: ‘For God SO loved the world’, ‘For God so LOVED the world’, ‘For God so loved the WORLD’
How to remember
Have you ever wondered why they bothered spending so much time teaching you a foreign language at school when you can barely remember any of it now? The one key to remembering anything long term is to review it, which is why most of us can’t remember those languages, because we don’t use them. The best way of remembering scripture is to set up a review system. To set it up you need 8 of the dividers. Mark one as ‘Daily’, one as ‘Monday’ one as ‘Tuesday’ and so on for all the days of the week. If you want you could leave one day free for a day off. Then slot your card you just learned behind the ‘Daily’ divider.
Setting a time
What you need to do then is to have a time set aside every day for scripture memory – if it is just single verses rather than books you only need a few minutes. I do it as part of my quiet time and keep my scripture memory treasure chest in my devotional basket. You don’t have to put as much effort into learning it as I have outlined above if you do it in this way either, as you can just keep on reading it and testing yourself every day as thoroughly or relaxed as you want. Because you’re doing it every day you will learn it soon enough.
Once you get to the verse and you can look at the topic and recite the reference and verse quickly and easily with no hesitation and no doubt as to whether you did it right, you can then move that card into your ‘Monday’ slot. The next verses you know well can go in the ‘Tuesday’ one and so on. Then each day you do the cards in the day of the week, as well as the daily ones.
How many you want to put in your daily slot is up to you. I keep a maximum of 5 in there so I don’t get overwhelmed, and when one graduates to a weekly slot I put a new one in. I don’t rush myself, just keep at it every day and wait till I know it, then move it up.
Eventually when you have been doing your weekly ones a long time, and you have a lot of weekly cards you can move the ones you know really well to a monthly slot – which is what the other dividers are for. They can be marked with the days of the months – 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. up to 28th as otherwise some months the 30th and 31st would get missed out.
Memorising Longer Passages
You may want to memorise a psalm, or a longer passage like the love passage in 1 Cor 13. This can be done in a similar way to memorising verses, just built up until you know the whole thing. What I do find helpful in memorising passages, is to memorise the first verse, then the second, then recite the two together. Then I learn the third, then recite the first three together and so on.
Once I have finished a certain amount of verses there are a few tricks I use to help cement them together in my brain.
- One is to recite them backwards, going from the last verse all the way to the first.
- Another is to recite the last, then the second to the last with the last, then the third to last, second to last, last etc. So if you had learned Hebrews 12:1-3 you could practice it by reciting verse 3, then verse 2 and 3, then verse 1, 2 and 3. The reason I do this is because the last one you learn is usually the one you know least well, so it gets more repetition this way, as well as helping you put the flow together.
- The other thing I do sometimes if I am struggling with remembering them, is to say the reference and then just the first few words of the verse, then the reference of the next verse with the first few words. Often if you have memorised a verse, the first few words will bring it all back, but it can be difficult to pair the reference with the first words in your brain so this helps!
Anyway you can do it however you want, these are just some ways that I have found helpful. If you know any others please do share them! Since writing this I have been given a link to a dedicated website with a load of articles on memorising and also a program you can download to help you if you like that kind of thing!
The best thing about this is that it only takes a few minutes a day and you will never forget these verses if you keep it up! I have to admit I dropped it for a few years when I was going through the season of nursing babies, pregnancy and toddlers waking up in the night, but it has also been very easy to go back to, as I have just started it again with putting cards in ‘Daily’ and graduating them up. I already know them pretty well as I learned them before, so it hasn’t taken very long to get it going again.
If you still need some motivation, here is John Piper on why we should memorise scripture: