Skip the Verse, Memorize the Book: Andrew Davis on Extended Bible Memorization

After the death of Moses, when Joshua is installed as leader of the Israelites, God commands him, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Jos. 1:8).

Meditating on Scripture means to keep the mind fixed upon Scripture. But how can we keep our mind fixed on God’s Word today when we keep it trapped in our Bibles or on our smartphone apps?

memorization-davisAndrew Davis, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, wants to help encouraging Christians to meditate on Scripture by teaching how to memorize more of the Bible. In his new ebook, An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture, Davis provides daily procedures for memorizing entire chapters and books of the Bible at one time. Davis, a Council member for The Gospel Coalition, has used these techniques to commit 35 books of the Bible to memory over the course of his ministry.

I recently corresponded with Davis about his book, his methods, and why Christians should memorize Scripture.

In an age when most Christians have access to a Bible all the time (e.g., through an app on their smartphones), why is extended memorization of Scripture still necessary?

The beauty of memorization comes in the deeper understanding that results from continual meditation (“day and night” as Psalm 1 puts it) on the Word of God, and from the purifying effects of having a mind that concentrates fully on the Word rather than on worldly things. Memorization is a great way to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1), because it gives the Word much more concentrated access to your heart. It doesn’t rest lightly but hits you more fully with great impact.

Beyond this, having the Word of God flowing through your mind continually transforms the way you speak: “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12). It provides a ready answer to various life situations: temptation, prayer, witnessing, counseling, sermon preparation (for pastors like me), and so on. Having the Bible on an app is helpful, but it doesn’t guarantee anything. The Bible has transforming power only when it moves through our minds and rests with convicting power on our hearts.

What are some of the biggest benefits to memorizing entire chapters or books of the Bible?

The Word of God comes to us, for the most part, in paragraphs—developed trains of thought that tell a story (narrative, Gospels), unfold a law (Pentateuch), make a doctrinal argument (epistles), make a case against God’s people and their sins or reveal the future of God’s people (prophets), or describe in complex imagery an apocalyptic vision of the future (Revelation). Individual verses do not capture the train of thought and therefore are more likely to be taken out of context.

The fuller the section of Scripture we can memorize, the better. Also, Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Memorizing individual verses usually gravitates to the more “famous” verses and likely misses some precious truths hidden in less familiar verses. Memorizing whole books gives people a sense of the perfection of every word of God. It is a continual learning experience, a journey of discovery in which details come alive with incredible power. I am in awe of the majesty of every word of Scripture, and that has come in great part from 30 years of memorizing less famous verses and seeing the wisdom of God in every letter.

How did you develop this method of memorization?

Over the first few years of seeking to memorize whole books of the Bible, I learned immediately the essence of it: repetition over time. I then developed some simple techniques for repeating the new verses while holding onto old ones. The process that I have written down in the booklet An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture was pretty much intact after about two years of working on it. Details like repeating the whole book for 100 days, and how to memorize larger portions of scripture, and the value of memorizing chapter and verse numbers developed in those first two years.

The last key insight I added was the humble recognition of a practical limit to how much a normal person (like me) can retain at any one time and the need to keep learning new books of the Bible. So I added the advice that after the 100 days, a memorizer should “kiss the book goodbye” in favor of learning a new portion of Scripture.

I do not assert that this is the only, or even the best, way to memorize Scripture, but it has been effective for me.

Which books of the Bible would you recommend a believer start with when memorizing Scripture?

I like to urge people to start with something relatively short that really grabs their heart’s affections. If they have no preference, I point them toward Ephesians, because it is manageable and so incredibly rich for such a short length. Other starting places are Philippians, 2 Peter, Romans 8, the Sermon on the Mount, Hebrews 11, and so on. But I personally like to finish a whole book, so that points toward the epistles.

In your book An Infinite Journey: Growing Toward Christlikeness you say there are two disciplines that a mature Christian will not let a day go by without accomplishing. What are those two activities, and how do they relate to extended memorization of Scripture?

In that book I say that Christians should not let a single day go by without Bible intake (reading or listening) and prayer. These are like two legs on which we walk to make progress in the journey of Christian growth in Christlikeness.

The Word is the food of our faith; without it our faith will shrivel up like a plant with no water. Prayer is essential because every blessing we need in life we should seek from the hand of God. Prayer is a constant expression of total dependence on God.

Scripture memorization helps both disciplines. I would not substitute memorization for other Bible intake. I think one should combine knowledge in breadth (by reading through the Bible in a year) with knowledge in depth (memorizing a book of the Bible) for an optimal diet of Bible intake.

Scripture memorization is a rich form of meditation that feeds the soul throughout the day with God’s nourishing Word. Memorization also deeply enriches our prayer lives by giving us biblical patterns of speech and promises and commands that we can hold back up to God in prayer. One Puritan pastor said that in prayer we should, “Show God his Script; God is tender of his word.” Memorization helps us pray more effectively.

An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture is available as an ebook for just $0.99.