The System I Use for Long Term Scripture Memorization

Chris —  November 5, 2015 — 42 Comments

Easily, my most important educational choice was deciding 25 years ago to systematically memorize Scripture.

The first principle of Scripture memory is to "repeat to remember." Wear a rut in your mind with the words of Scripture. Here is a brief summary of the system I use for memorizing Scripture. I originally learned this approach from Jim Jeffery in the Fall of 1990, though I have adapted it over the years. My system shares similarities with An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture.

Repeat to Remember

My system for Scripture memorization is divided into two parts. First, I repeat to remember.

After identifying a verse to memorize, I say it aloud. Ideally, I interpret the verse with the inflection of my voice and attitude of my heart as I say it. But there is some “chanting” involved. The idea is to wear a rut in my mind with God’s Word. My goal is to to say the words of a verse so many times that they are as second nature as a phone number or address.

I “repeat to remember” using the following regiment for each verse I memorize:

  • Day 1- 25 times
  • Day 2 – 20 times
  • Day 3 – 15 times
  • Day 4 – 10 times
  • Day 5 – 5 times

So by the end of the 5th day I have repeated a given verse 75 times. As can be seen from the image to the right, there is nothing fancy about my system. I write the verse out and tally each repetition. The image shows that in July of 1991 I was memorizing Matthew 20:37-40 followed by the 10 Commandments.

On the first day, I often look at the verse while quoting it. If it is a longer verse, I memorize it one phrase at a time. I also look closely at it on the page and form a mental snapshot of the verse. I don’t mean to imply I have a “photographic memory.” I don’t. But the combination of repeatedly vocalizing the words of the verse, hearing it as I say it, and picturing it in my mind, all serve to engrave the words on my memory.

On days 2-5, I still need to look at the verse again. But it grows easier to remember each day. If I struggle to remember a verse when reviewing it, I may quote it additional times.

Saying it aloud is important. The discipline of vocalizing each word aloud means that I also hear it.

When I am memorizing verses, I also incorporate quoting the texts into the fabric of ministry. For example, I have recently been memorizing Paul’s wonderful prayer in Colossians 1:9-14. So even as I followed the formal regiment for memorizing those verses, I have repeated or paraphrased it many additional times during my own times of prayer and counseling sessions.

ScripturememoryfrontAt other times, I incorporate verses I am memorizing into conversations or counseling sessions. I simply say something like, “Recently, I have been memorizing Colossians 1:9-14. In those verses, Paul prays . . .” Sharing verses in conversation models a commitment to God’s Word and shares the content of particular passages.

Review to Retain

Second, having repeated to remember, I review to retain.

After I have completed the sequence of saying the verse 25-20-15-10-5 times across consecutive days, I write the verse on a 3×5 card and review it daily. Ideally, I review a particular verse:

  • Daily for 45-60 days
  • Weekly for a year
  • Monthly for 2-3 years
  • 2-3 times per year for life

This is the back of a Scripture memory card.When I make a mistake in reviewing a verse, which I often do, I correct the mistake and say it the right way more than once. If I really struggle quoting a particular verse, then I put it through the “repeat to remember” sequence again.

Of course, there are many other memory techniques that can be employed including using music or association techniques. But in my experience, long term Scripture memorization comes down to repetition. Intentionally repeat a verse 4-500 times across several years and you will remember it.

Systematic long term memorization of Scripture requires only minutes on any given day. I took a break while writing this to review 10 verses. It took me one minute and twenty-two seconds to recite them. It was a minute and twenty-two seconds well spent.

See also:

Memorize a Psalm in Order to Be Moved

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42 responses to The System I Use for Long Term Scripture Memorization

  1. Wow, that last point packed a punch. Small steps to big transformation, from the inside out.

    I remember when I lied about doing my memorization at camp…

  2. Hah!! I remember that at that time I just didn’t have a clue as to how to lead people rather than sharing a vision. We’ve all made progress.

  3. Pastor Brauns: Did “Unpacking Forgiveness” change between the first and second printings or are the identical. Thanks.

  4. They are the same.

  5. Yes, we have. And hopefully still will.

  6. Hi – I’m interested to start memorising Scripture again. Just a question, roughly how many new verses do you currently memorise each year using your system, and roughly how much Scripture have you memorised since you began 25 years ago?

  7. Hi Rob. Thanks for your interest. In the early days, would memorize 250 or more per year. Now, it is more like 30-40 at most. I spend a lot of time maintaining what I have memorized.

    I don’t share my total #. I don’t want it to become a source of pride. It’s a very respectable chunk . . . but nothing too impressive. I’m most thankful I’ve maintained the practice over 25 years.

  8. Thanks for the encouragement and confirmation of my own commitment to memorization – off and on commitment over the years :), but I always come back to it. I am convinced that memorizing and hiding God’s word in my heart is by far the main source of whatever spiritual growth, fruit, or maturity I may have in my life.

    My method is different but the same basic principles – there’s just no getting away from repetition and review. One thing that also really helped me was to take away any focus or concern about goals or amounts or numbers. No stress. The only goal I have is to do this every day, or even most days. If I forget a verse or get part of a verse wrong, which happens all the time, it’s no big deal, it just goes back into my daily review stack until I can get it right again. And that may take days, weeks, or even months. Some verses just don’t stick as well as others. Like you, I also don’t share how much I’ve memorized, and I don’t even know my total number – but just as an encouragement to others, I have memorized many chapters as well as individual verses and shorter passages, and am working on whole books. It is possible. It is doable. It just takes regular, consistent time. I definitely do not have a photographic memory. What I’ve been able to memorize is only because I’ve done it pretty consistently for many, many years. Like exercising a muscle or training for a long run, you really do get better at it the more you do it and the more consistent you are in practicing it.

  9. Great input!!!

    Absolutely agree. No big deal if you forget.

    Numbers shouldn’t be the focus.

    I think the really important thing is maintaining what has been learned. Regular consistent time is so helpful.

    Thank you for adding this input to the post. I pray people will review the comments.

  10. I’m sharing this with my Facebook group, “Hide His Word.” We memorize one chapter at a time together. The hardest part for me comes when we’re finished, and I need to keep up the review to remember. Thanks for the encouragement to keep going.

  11. That’s great to hear Lisa! Hi to your group. I may have to stop by if visitors are allowed.

  12. Reading it repeatedly does help with memorization. Also listening to them on audio (which is easy to do while driving or whatever) or typing/writing them. Some variety makes it fun.
    How I tell people to memorize initially is simply read the verse several times, looking at it less and less, until you can basically say it without looking at it. Then you’ll need to keep reviewing but it is easier when you don’t have to look at the verse as much.
    And lastly it really helps to know what the verse is talking about. That’s the point anyway 🙂

  13. I agree Sarah.

    I haven’t tried listening to it on audio. Your system is how I begin. I say it looking at it less and less until I get it out – – then I just keep repeating it.

    And yes — I think we need to know what it is saying.

    I try and use hand motions a bit too.

  14. Reading your post has encouraged me to get back to Scripture memorization after a long hiatus. I plan to begin is Ephesians 2:1-10. Verses 1 and 2 form a single sentence and that leads to what may be a dumb question. How do you handle Scripture references? I assume you memorize the reference for each individual verse. That makes sense when memorizing but seems awkward when trying to meditate upon or recite a portion of Scripture. What are your thoughts on this?

  15. I start out doing the references and try and retain them. But often when meditating I do not quote them . . . nor think about them.

    I do only one verse per card to break it up. But obviously references are not inspired

    To be honest, there are some passages that I have problems keeping track.

  16. I think I have a much better way to do the second part, “review to retain,” using software flashcards and a technique called “spaced repetition.” I’ve written it up briefly here:

    http://gotherefor.com/offer.php?intid=28883

    The basic idea is that you get (free!) software to optimize the spacing between repetitions — it can remember for each card how long you can remember it for, and gradually (exponentially) extend those gaps.

  17. Dave,

    Very interesting. For me, verses aren’t such a bad way to break things up – – though I generally learn passages at the same time. But verse numbers aren’t inspired.

    I’ll be the software approach works well. I started 25 years ago when there weren’t nearly so many options available for the computer. No smartphones!

    I have my verses “backed up” on computer so that if anything happened to my flash cards I could recreate the verses.

    Still – – I am personally trying to cut back on screen time. I spend so much time on my computer. I think I’ll probably stay with cards. I wouldn’t be surprised if people increasingly use memory apps.

    Thanks for taking the time to write.

    Chris.

  18. Thanks for responding!

    There are a few bits: you could use your verse-by-verse with my software flashcards, or my line-by-line (where the prompt is the earlier part of the passage) with your paper flashcard system, so lots of ways to do it. There’s also a website called http://www.memverse.com/ which makes it super easy to do verse-by-verse spaced-repetition.

    If you’ve got something working well, especially with a 25 year investment, I’m not recommending switching! But for people just starting out, I think it has significant benefits.

    Thanks again for encouraging the church to internalize the word that made it. That’s very valuable.

  19. Chris – many thanks. I’m one of those believer-for-over-three-decades with verse fragments all over my brain, who has struggled to get memorisation working, and this was helpful.

    A couple of questions:

    – Your approach seems very oriented toward verses or sections. What changes have you made to memorise whole chapters or books?

    – I’ve taken to using a readers version of the Bible which has chapter but no verse numbers. It makes reading Scripture a much better experience in my view. Any thoughts in this regard, as it pertains to memorisation?

    Thanks again.

    Lord bless,

    Mark.

  20. I tend to string sections together over time. So I memorized Colossians 1:15-20. Recently, I added Colossians 1:9-14.

    I haven’t memorized the longer books, but rather key sections that help me put the argument together in my mind: thinking of Romans and Hebrews in this context.

    I think it is a very good idea to memorize books – – it just isn’t the path I have taken.

    I do tend to favor memorizing references. And quite honestly, it is a hard aspect of memorizing — but I like to be able to quickly access the verses, esp when preaching.

    Don’t miss Andy Naselli’s article on memorizing a book: xhttp://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/14-reasons-to-memorize-an-entire-book-of-the-bible

  21. Mark,

    Thanks so much for stopping by and interacting.

    You won’t go wrong reading, soaking in, memorizing – – however you go about it.

    CDB.

  22. I just wanted you to know that I’m so thrilled with this system! I’ve finally begun to learn and memorize scripture after many failures over the years. When I first saw this (maybe on Tim Challies?), I thought…”Oh well, I’ll give it a try even though nothing has really ever worked!” I was amazed when I actually started memorizing and remembering…love the way the system continues on for a very long time…Thanks so much for sharing this!

  23. Susan,

    That is so, so encouraging! It’s great to hear. Over the years I have shared with a number of people. And it does “stick” with some. I think if you stick with it until Easter you will really see it begin to make a big difference.

    And I am sure you already see it making a difference!

    Thanks so much for letting me know.

    Chris.

  24. Thanks for the great article! It’s so encouraging. As I’ve started to memorize scripture more intentionally, I do review often, but I’ve realized how important it is to spend more time saying the verses aloud. So I’ll start on that, too.

    Just a question: How do you choose what to memorize? For me, that would constitute an impotartant part of the system. I think many people get stuck deciding what to learn and don’t know where to start.

    I’m currently going through the Navigator’s Topical Memory System list of verses, and adding in favourites from my daily readings. Any suggestions for lists, topics, categories, etc?

  25. Jocelyn,

    Great to hear from you.

    Here is one post where I talk about verses to memorize: http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/07/choosing-verses-to-memorize-or-to-be-encouraged-by-today/

  26. I would choose verses from several categories:

    (1) Verses that have meant a lot in your own spiritual life.
    (2) Verses that will comfort you: Revelation 21:3-5, John 14:1-6, Psalm 23, Romans 8 etc.
    (3) Key doctrinal summaries like Titus 2:11-14; Romans 5:18-19; Romans 3:21-26 (the greatest paragraph ever!)

    You can’t go wrong memorizing God’s Word.

  27. Can you tell me how many scriptures you memorize per day or week?

  28. Hi Babsie. Thanks for stopping by. I have gone periods where I added one verse per day. But most of the time, just 1-2 new verses per week.

    The key is not so much to go quick as it is to keep reviewing the old ones across years.

  29. Hey Chris, thanks so much for sharing this system! I’ve been using it for a while now and have found it so effective and simple! Some things that have helped me… I use a bullet journal (bulletjournal.com) that I carry around everywhere in my purse and that’s where I record the first five days. I love it because in amongst my schedule and journal entries I can look back and see the verses I was memorizing at the time. Also… I then switch to a little flip book of index cards… Which is basically just index cards that are spiral-bound. Super easy to keep in my purse without having a number of loose cards to keep track of… I buy the 50 card pack and do two verses per page. Then I can just flip through and look for the current date…. Which is helpful once you get to the weekly stage. Thanks again!

  30. Also wanted to say that your point about seeing it on the page is so crucial… I find that I will have the verse memorized but I’ll still look at it carefully to see where the words appear within a line or on the page and that helps me remember it in the long run.

  31. Chris… I developed a scripture memory system a few years ago and it, conceptually, is very similar to yours. It works great. Like yours, it’s based on repetition over a very long period of time. Mine involves a 10 week memorization period. At the end of 10 weeks, the verse or passage drops off the memorization list as the new one for the week comes on. Then the verses go onto a permanent review list.

  32. Sounds very similar!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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  8. - The Life in Christ - December 16, 2015

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  9. 7 Benefits of Systematic Long-Term Scripture Memorization - The Life in Christ - December 16, 2015

    […] Andy Naselli recently wrote two pieces that encourage and equip believers to memorize whole books of the Bible. At the same time that I noticed his articles, I celebrated 25 years of systematic long-term Scripture memorization (SLTSM). Together, those events encouraged me to reflect on how this practice has benefited me. (Details regarding the system I use are available here.) […]

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