What I Hate About Memorizing Scripture

Every Jesus-follower knows that memorizing scripture is super important to spiritual growth. Paul the apostle said “the word of God is alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). As such, when we memorize the words of this book we are memorizing living words.

Image © Lars Justinen from GoodSalt.com

These living words have many benefits – such as power over temptation (Psalm 119:9, 11), prosperity and success (Joshua 1:8), spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16), spiritual life (Matthew 4:4), inner peace (Psalms 119:165), wisdom and the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5), spiritual light in the midst of darkness (2 Peter 1:19), and the list goes on. Even Jesus memorized scripture and used it in his fight against Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). Clearly, memorizing scripture is essential to the spiritual journey of the Christian.

As true as all this is, let’s be real. Half of us don’t memorize Scripture. Many have not even memorized a new verse in the last year. How come? Why is it that something as important to our spiritual development is left undone? A million answers can be given to this – such as wrong priorities, spiritual indifference or “coldness”, daily distractions, business, etc. And while all of these are true, I would like to propose the reason why I have always hated memorizing Scripture: The reference.

Yep. That’s it. The reference. For some reason I can’t seem to remember that stuff. And when I finally manage to get it in my head, a few weeks later it’s gone again. Growing up, my friends always struggled with this. I struggled with it. We all struggled with it. But we kept being told that the reference was important because without it you would not know where the text was found. True as this may be, it led me (and I’m sure many others) to an unfortunate conclusion: Memorizing Scripture is worthless if you don’t memorize the reference, and since I can’t memorize the reference, I won’t bother memorizing Scripture any more.

I lived with this unfortunate conclusion until one day the Bible slapped me (remember, this book’s alive) with something I had never noticed before. Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted the Bible all the time without any referencing. Now, of course, chapter and verse divisions didn’t exist back then. However, don’t you think God would have inspired them from the beginning if they were so important? He didn’t because they aren’t. Allow me to give some examples:

When Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4) He used the Scriptures as a defense. Three times He quoted the Bible by saying “It is written.” Not once did He say where. While there were no chapter and verse divisions back then, He could have at least mentioned what book the texts came from. He didn’t.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are loaded with Old Testament allusions (not a word for word quote, but very similar). For example, in Matt 5:5 Jesus says “Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.” This is an allusion to David’s psalm where he says “But the meek will inherit the earth; and will delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalm 37:11). Jesus doesn’t reference David. In fact, he hardly ever references the scriptures he quotes.1

Jesus is not the only one. The strongest example of this is Paul himself. Paul, a former Pharisee, would have known the Old Testament more than the average Joe. And yet notice how he quotes the Old Testament from time to time:

But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? (Hebrews 2:6)

For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works” (Hebrews 4:4).

Couldn’t Paul have said “David wrote in the Psalms ‘What is mankind…?'” or, “In Genesis Moses wrote ‘On the seventh day…'”? Instead Paul says, “Somewhere He has testified” and “From somewhere He has spoken.” Like Jesus, Paul does not even make an attempt to reference where these texts come from. All he says is that they are “somewhere” in the OT. In the same vein, the NT quotes the OT tons of times and it hardly ever references what it’s quoting.2

So what am I saying? This, I’m sure, is a question most of you are asking. Am I suggesting that we throw away references and just memorize Bible verses without them? Yes and no. I’ll deal with the no first and then the yes.

No, I’m not saying to omit Bible references in memorizing

In case you haven’t noticed, this blog post is loaded with Bible verse references. Is it ridiculous for me to use verse references in a blog about not using them? But that’s not what this blog is about. The chapter and verse divisions, while not inspired, were nevertheless permitted by God and they make finding relevant texts much easier. In a day and age where the Bible gets misused and misquoted, people appreciate being able to see the text for themselves. Knowing the reference makes it easier for us to do so. However, I quote the Bible to non-Christian friends all the time without using the references and I have never been asked “Where is that?” So ultimately, I see the references as helpful but not always necessary.

Yes, I’m saying to omit Bible references in memorizing

As mentioned above, references are helpful, but here is my point: they are not necessary for spiritual growth. When it comes to memorizing Scripture for spiritual growth, you don’t have to know where the text is found. I know many verses that I meditate on or quote when in need and I have no idea where they are found, and yet, they are just as effective. The power of living words does not rest on where they are found in a book but on whether they are found in your heart. So if you shy away from memorizing Scripture because of those pesky references that you just can’t seem to grasp, then forget the references and memorize Scripture anyhow. The power is in what God said, not the chapter and verse number that we added hundreds of years later.

So in conclusion, Bible references are a commodity, not a necessity. If they bog you down, then don’t get discouraged. Forget the references and start memorizing Scripture anyhow. Perhaps, as you mature, the references will become easier to memorize (or maybe not). But the point is to hide God;s word in your heart anyhow.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” – King David

[This blog has been reposted from pastormarct.blogspot.com.]

  1. This is not to say He never does. For example in Matthew 24:15 Jesus says “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet…” This is a clear reference to the OT book of Daniel. The point is not that Jesus never referenced the texts but that He hardly ever did.
  2. Again, this is not to say the New Testament never uses the available references. For example, In Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2 Peter references David (Acts 2:34-35) when he quotes him.


What I Hate About Memorizing Scripture — 30 Comments

  1. Sure, memorizing the scriptures have many benefits. I just lost my peace cos of a news I received. The Holy Spirit brought to my memory My peace I give to you.....i searched my Bible App and found it in John 14: 27. If I hadn't memorized it before, I wouldn't have remembered it. Sometimes, when I find myself in some situations and need encouragement, The Holy Spirit flashes the scripture in my memory, if I don't know the place it can be found in the Bible, I search for it, read it up in my Bible and be encouraged. The Word of God is Life! Praise God!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Marcos. It reflects a lot of my own use of scripture. I grew up in the era of doctrinal texts and quarterly doctrinal text exams. And having a father who could quote just about the whole Bible, made it mandatory that I follow suit. Even when I went to College, Bible subjects typically had a question that required rote-learning of a large chunk of scripture.

    Now-a-days these texts and passages come to mind but the references are lost somewhere in the mists of time. Fortunately on-line Bibles, complete with search engines have come to rescue and I can find my texts more quickly than most people can look them up in a paper Bible even when they know the reference. Interestingly I always use the KJV for my searches, because that is what I learned, then I can switch to any of about 37 (Last count - they keep adding more) translations, to read it in a more modern, but less memorable, English.

    The other change I have noticed in my Bible study style now is that I am much more inclined to find a text of interest, then read the whole chapter and sometimes the book, to get the context.

    Young people today tend to learn less by rote, and I can understand that. They are much more adept at using search engines to find what they need. We need to teach them though, that the search engine is only the beginning of the journey.

    "O taste and see that the Lord is good!" Go on; find the reference, or explore the meaning!

    • My experience is similar. And I would encourage all who want to make a practice of memorizing Scripture, thus hiding His Word in their hearts (Psalm 119:11), to choose a Bible version and stick with it. That makes it much easier to find it again. And I'm thinking that the KJV is still the easiest version to memorize because of its poetic rhythm that no other version can equal. But if you are really fond of another version, by all means memorize it. (We are currently very fond of the NLT Bible. It is surprisingly accurate, even though it is written in today's English. Last year we read through the Chronological NLT Life Applications Study Bible and found it very inspiring. We didn't actually read the 'study' or life applications, but it is nice to have them for reference, and the chronological arrangement is really helpful.

      • Inge, I couldn't agree more. I love the KJV with it's "poetic rhythm"..."Thou art the God of my salvation, on Thee do I wait all the day." "Remember, Oh Lord, Thy tender mercies and thy loving kindnesses: for they have been ever of old." Makes my heart melt. Ps 25:5,6

      • We too have found NLT to be surprisingly accurate and often making texts clearer than we've known before. And I say that as one who has looked at the original Greek as well as many English translations.

        I will admit a strong bias against KJV, and here's why. We are living in an increasingly secular world where Satan has many ways of distracting and discouraging people from finding God. One of our primary purposes as Christians is to help them find God, and scripture (both personally as well as in church or in printed material) is part of that process. So I want to make sure that I never place a stumbling block in someone's way by reading, printing or quoting scripture in a vocabulary they don't understand, or can't relate to. God says He is the God of the living, not the dead. I believe that means He wants to communicate with his children in their own language and culture, not the language and culture of a previous generation.

  3. I was intrigued when I saw this post as we have recently started a Facebook page just for memorizing scriptures. If you are on FB, please look up our page "Bible Flash" as we seek to learn each week's memory verse and then some.
    Thanks! Curtis

    • Well, if we had to choose, I'm sure you're right. 🙂

      But it seems to me that those who live His Word must first hide it in their hearts, as the Psalmist wrote. (Psalm 119:11)
      And Jesus Himself said that His Words are Spirit and life (John 6:63). So it seems to me that His Word must be in us in order for us to be able to live His Word. But it is as Marcos says, we don't absolutely have to know the reference - especially when it's so easy to look up on the computer or an electronic bible, as I just did. 😉

  4. great and honest point regarding scuipture memorisation. But we must always be careful not to throw the baby out with the water. Scripture memorisation has been around for millennia since the access to written texts was extremely limited until the invention of the printing press. The benefits to the soul and brain brought by memorisation exercises are undeniable. Now if the problem is memorising the chapter and verse, leave them out. But to some people they have great number memory so why not the other way around, as long as they know the context.
    Another point we must remember as that scripture literacy was high among the Jews in Israel, and Christians in Protestant America and Britain in the 19th century. People would be able to quote entire passages and the audience would know what they're talking about. Not so in our days. Scripture memorisation still is a valid tool and part of a healthy spiritual diet.

  5. I agree that the word of God is alive and living. We don\'t need to quote reference especially when witnessing to non-believers. We need to come out simple to them, yet profound, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes too much referencing doesn\'t draw you to others, but it makes them repel you and what you are teaching.

  6. Thank you brother Marcos for this. I used to think there was something very wrong with me, or I was not just cut out to be a Christian. I used to wonder why and how I was failing to memorize the references like others did. Of course I would know the verse itself and could not just remember the references. I now feel safe in Christ that where I don't remember the references, I will borrow from my father's style of saying 'it is written'. I love that what matters most is having the word living inside our hearts.

  7. I am a seven day advantis I love reading the bible but I know when I read the chapter or verse I know it in the bible cause I done read it. I cant quote the the bible but I know it God word.glenn miller

  8. I’ve not thought of this in this vein before. I know that I have given up memorizing a scripture because, for the life of me, I stumble on the reference. So this is so freeing for me. And I know that the HolySpirit will help me with the references as times goes along.

  9. Excellent article Marcos, and more important than memorizing references is applying what you have read and memorized. Knowing the reference or the Scripture doesn't do any good if you don't act on it.

    "When I tell my daughter "Go Clean Your Room" she doesn't come back 2 hours later & say "I memorized what you said." -Francis Chan on doing what God said to do.

  10. Memorizing and references is very important even to the new testament
    bible writers and Christ :
    Peter in Acts 1:20 made a reference to the book of Psalms when he
    says "for it is written in the book of Psalms, let his habitation be
    desolate ..." Paul also made reference to Isaiah in Acts 28:25,26
    when he says :
    "saying, go unto this people and say hearing ye shall hear and shall
    not understand"
    Jesus Christ also made a reference to Daniel in Mattew 24:15 "when ye
    therefore shall see the abomination spoken of by Daniel. .. "
    therefore, references is very very important especially to the
    evangelist in order to make prove of their profession and not to
    memorise only

    • There are 150 chapters and over 2,400 verses in the Psalms. So it seems that if we want to know our Bibles as well as Peter and Paul did, we should know approximately in which books of the Bible certain texts are found. 🙂 There were no verse references back then, and it seems to me that just because printers added verse references for the sake of convenience doesn't mean it is necessary for our spiritual well-being to memorize the verse references. If we memorize the actual words of the texts from a particular version of the Bible, it is possible to turn to the verse in our electronic bibles more quickly than we could turn to it in a paper Bible, even if we had memorized the exact place it is found. 🙂

      The bottom line is that we need to hide God's Word in our hears so it will give us courage and strength and be a bulwark against temptation. Memorizing the exact location of the texts, while a good mental exercise is optional for spiritual health.

  11. I hold on tightly to my well marked Bible where I can easily find a passage I have memorized and want to share. But if I have to find it in someone else's Bible it takes me much longer. But then the Holy Spirit steps in and helps me find it. The important thing is that I have memorized it and know for sure that it's in the Bible.

  12. Referencing is very important to any Christian who profess Christianity. When Christ was quoting the Old Testament, there's no place that says he didn't know where they were from. A matter of fact is that he gave references
    KJV Matthew 24
    15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
    KJV Luke 24
    27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

    You can be sure he was explaining according to how each prophet prophesied about him beginning at Moses. Misinterpretation comes with picking verses without reference. You have to understand the context of a verse before applying it
    KJV Isaiah 28
    10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

    No wonder most people misuse verses bcoz of memorizing without reference not knowing who wrote, why he wrote them, and to who were they written.
    Take for example u memorize
    ''Upon this rock I will build my church... "
    " Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities."
    Just to mention but a few.

    Ask yourself self how someone will interpret this without understanding the context....
    Never memorize scripture without reference... It just can't work.

    • I believe that the "reference" Marcos is referring to is chapter and verse in the modern Bible. There were no chapters and verses in Bible times. That's why Christ and the Apostles only referred to Moses, Daniel and Isaiah.

      I appreciate your reference to context. That is, indeed, important, and I believe we should not just memorize individual texts, though that is important, but we should know the context in which these words were spoken/written. If we study the Bible as the living Word of God to us, remembering contexts is much easier than remembering chapter and verse. The latter may be helpful, but is far less important now that we have electronic bibles than it used to be. And, if we do use paper Bibles and mark them up, we can find specific verses if we know the context.

      So I affirm what Marcos wrote: Memorizing chapter and verse is optional, but y all means study God's Word and hide it in your heart through memorization.

  13. I started memorizing again when someone introduced me to a Bible Memory app called Scripture Typer. (I have an iPhone, but it may be available for Android also). One of its strongest points is that it has you review the verse weekly. The reference is there to see until the last moment so not as hard and after reviewing it weekly for many weeks I find myself remembering the reference in other settings. Another way of memorizing that makes the reference remembering easier is that I try to memorize whole chapters (a few verses at a time of course).

  14. Remembering references is actually not that difficult using a few simple methods, and it pays great dividends in being able to not only quote, but instantly turn to the verses you know. At FAST we offer a FREE Crash Course on Bible memorization that shows you just how to do it. We also share the secret to long term retention--which is another big problem people struggle with. If anyone is interested, just go to fast.st/crashcourse to signup.

    Thanks for the great article promoting the importance of memorization!

  15. That was an interesting perspective and the resulting conversation has also been interesting. I would agree with the original concept, and even take it one step further. I know God made us each a little different. I have never put a lot of emphasis on memorization--I don't enjoy it. But I spend a lot of time in the word, and can closely paraphrase a lot of stuff. Likewise, I can't always provide an exact reference--but I generally know the context (who said to whom under what circumstances) and coupled with a good mental "road map" of the 66 books, can usually find the passage in question if I need to. (And as mentioned there are a lot of tools to help these days).

    I am a bit disheartened that some felt a need to become defensive at the importance of doing it "their way". God works with each of us differently. I have a friend who is a strong believer in reading the Bible cover to cover over and over. While I have done it two or three times in my life, I benefit more from reading a relevant chapter or book (such as 1st and 2nd Peter right now) than just rotely reading through. God made us different.

    Another aspect of this is how large a passage is in question. Memorizing a single verse may prove useful in certain circumstances, but often omits the all-important context. Personally, I'd rather be able to paraphrase a chapter
    than to quote a single verse word for word.

  16. It takes the same effort to memorize the reference as it does to memorize the text. Don't get lazy. And don't promote laziness in those you are influencing. All it takes is prayer and effort. And I have to add this: The problem with "memorizing" Bible texts is in not "learning" them. Knowing where they are found helps learn the context. Not only will you have hidden a single text (or group of them) in your heart but you will have hidden the context, meaning, purpose, the relevance of the texts and you will find much more application for the texts. Additionally, when witnessing to someone who is studying their Bible and you don't have your "marked" one handy, you can simply borrow theirs and show them exactly what you are sharing. It will demonstrate that you "know" God's word and will encourage that person to trust your knowledge and interpretation of the word. Finally, the more you expose yourself to the word, the easier it is to learn the reference. People who have studied the Bible consistently and diligently for all or most of their lives have memorized and learned scripture along with the reference simply from all that exposure without the repetition we associate with memorization.

    • While memorizing comes easy to some, it is hard for others. Even highly intelligent people sometimes find memorizing difficult. In my computing classes I used to run open textbook examinations. We teachers learned somewhere along the line that there was no point in learning a lot of syntactical detail of by heart on the off-chance that it might be required in an examination. It was much more realistic to expect students to be so familiar with the reference section of the textbook that they could find that detail quickly when needed. After all an examination is not really a test on how much they remember, but whether they now how to use the information appropriately. That requires familiarity and practice, not memorization.

      Likewise, there is no test in the final judgement on how much of the Bible you have committed to memory, but whether you have discovered and put your trust in the author. That does not mean we should not learn memory texts, but we should not become discouraged and feel we are second class Christians if rote learning is difficult. I have friends who find that even reading is a difficult chore. It has not stopped them from finding Jesus and becoming wonderfully caring Christians.


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