The Easiest Way to Memorize the Bible: What I Learned from Dr. John Mitchell

Author’s Note: Today I’m excited to share with you a piece that I wrote a number of years ago about how to memorize the Bible. This little article — which you can read on my blog, Kindle Afresh — has probably been read by more people than anything else I’ve written in my life. I hope that it will increase your desire and confidence to keep hiding God’s Word in your heart.

Girl looking over the top of her Bible – Memorize the Bible – BYA blog

One of my professors in college was really old. I can hear everyone asking: “How old was he?” (No, his social security number wasn’t 7…). Let’s put it this way: he was the founder of the college at which I was studying (Multnomah in Portland, Oregon), and the school was celebrating the half century mark of its founding while I was there! In fact, Dr. John Mitchell was over the age of 90 when he taught the two classes I took from him. He continued to teach well into his mid-90s. Not surprisingly, he was getting forgetful about some things by the time I had him as a teacher, but what he definitely was not forgetting were the Bible verses he had memorized. His ability to recall Bible verses was astounding.  I do not know this for a fact, but I would guess that he had all of the New Testament and large sections of the Old Testament committed to memory. All of his students were profoundly impacted by his immersion in the Scriptures.

“How did you memorize the Bible?”

I only had one opportunity to sit and talk with him while I was a student. I had a single question to ask him that day: “How did you come to memorize so much of the Bible?”

He answered, “Well, I never really tried to memorize.” (Oh no, I thought, this isn’t going to be very helpful…) “But before I prepare to preach a series of sermons on a book of the Bible, I first read it out loud 50 times before preaching it.”[1] (OK, this might be helpful!)  “Since I preached a lot in my younger years (…now that is an understatement; read his biography![2]) I had lots of opportunities to read passages over and over again.”

Dr. Mitchell’s Advice

Dr. Mitchell’s comments that day were a helpful turning point for me in my own commitment to memorize the Scriptures. I had already tackled some large chunks of the Bible and committed them to memory, but the process of getting there had been rather painful. Rote memory (“look at the verse, cover it with your hand, look into the air and try to quote it by memory, uncover the verse with your hand to see what you missed, fix whatever mistakes you made, try again) was hard work, and the results were not always satisfying from a long-term, remember-what-you-memorized standpoint.

After that single conversation with Dr. Mitchell, I changed tactics. From then on, before traveling down the “rote road,” I would read the passage I wanted to memorize 50 times out loud with great emphasis. Then—and only then—I would try the rote method. I learned three things by doing it this way:

  1. I discovered that I had already memorized most of the passage I was trying to learn before I ever really started to try to memorize it.
  2. I found out that the process of reading a passage over and over again in-and-of-itself became a wonderful means of God working his grace in my life. I wasn’t just learning words, I was thinking about where the passage was going. God used it to help me understand the passage better, to think about its implications in my life, and to impact my actions and affections.
  3. I discovered that this process helped immensely in holding in my long-term memory the passages I had memorized. It is a far better process for retention.

So, why don’t you try it yourself? Here is a summary of the process.

Step 1: Pick a Passage

Begin by selecting a passage of Scripture that takes approximately 15 minutes to read out loud. Here is a short list of New Testament passages that would fall into this category that also would probably yield you a lot of personal spiritual fruit.

    • Matthew 5-7
    • John 14-17
    • Romans 6-8
    • Philippians (all)
    • Colossians (all)
    • 2 Timothy (all)
    • Hebrew 11-13
    • James (all)
    • 1 Peter (all)
    • 1 John (though this one is tough because of how cyclical it is)

Step 2: Read the Bible to Memorize the Bible

Read your passage through once or twice a day aloud. Keep track of how many times you have read it through.

Step 3: Start Memorizing the Passage

Once you have read it aloud 50 times, then try to rote memorize it. Keep working on it faithfully until you can get through the entire passage by memory.

Step 4: No Looking!

Quote through it at least 25 times without looking to fix it in your memory.[3]

An additional step you can take that would ease the process would be to read your passage onto a digital recorder and listen to it whenever you can as you drive, walk, cook, or wait for something. Your own recorded voice will work a little better than someone else’s voice, since it will match the intonation of your daily oral readings, but you can use a pre-recorded section if you prefer.

I’ll close with this thought: If you started today, read aloud through Philippians once a day for 50 days, spent the following 15 days doing the rote-memory thing, reviewed for another 25 days, you could have all of Philippians memorized in three or four months by only spending a relatively painless 15 minutes a day doing it. Wouldn’t that be amazing?![4]

 


Notes:

[1] For a number of years I was unsure whether Dr. Mitchell had told me that he had read through the passages he was going to preach 50 times or whether he had read them through 70 times. Recently I was able to confirm that the correct number must have been 50 through an e-mail correspondence with Dr. Garry Friesen who was a younger colleague and friend of Dr. Mitchell. He wrote: “Dr. Mitchell told me that G. Campbell Morgan told him that he read a book 50 times before preparing a series of sermons on it. I would go with 50.” E-mail correspondence with Garry Friesen, May 17, 2011.

[2] Dick Bohrer, Lion of God: A Biography of John G. Mitchell (Multnomah Bible College, 1994). This biography is a little hard to find, but it is a good read about a faithful man of God.

[3] Note that some people will require fewer repetitions and others more. You can learn more about your own capacity as you memorize more passages.

[4] You can also find this article in the back of my book Bible Revival: Recommitting Ourselves to One Book on pages 109-111. You will find a lot of encouragement and help in engaging God’s Word in that book.

Imitation and Repetition – In Play and At Home

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. – Ephesians 5:1-2

girl dancing in ballerina tutu – imitation and repetition at home

We were recently in our nephew and his wife’s home for a seven-day visit. It was such a delight to play with their five children each day, ages 7, 5, 4, 2, and 1. Each night, my husband and I reflected on what we noticed about each child. Imitation and repetition was a recurring theme.

The children had seen a dance/talent show before we arrived and so for several days, they danced for us. They read a book about a magic show and so they incorporated the dance routines into the magic show. (Even Uncle Geoff got in there with his juggling act and dad joined in with his card tricks.) They performed for their mother’s birthday and their sister’s birthday. It was fun and hysterical all at once to watch how they imitated and repeated what they had observed from the show and from their Bugs Bunny book.

Imitation and Repetition At Play

A second example of imitation and repetition occurred after we went out to eat for several dinners. Suddenly the game at the local park was all about an imaginary restaurant, the King’s Castle Restaurant. Complete with a dining area, kitchen, chefs, and owner, the oldest child led the play, employed his sister as a waitress and his brother as a chef, and invited other children, as well as his aunt and uncle, to order food at the restaurant. All routines imitated the routines of what they had experienced the previous nights — being seated, taking orders, preparing food, delivering food, and paying for the meal. It was sheer delight — lobster, crab, turkey sandwiches, pizza, coffee, root beer, and McDonald’s were all available at the King’s Castle Restaurant. Amazing. The children repeatedly imitated what they had seen in adult behavior as they role played at the “King’s Castle Restaurant.”

A third example is that our great nieces and nephews’ parents are readers. Guess what else we saw their children do? They gathered around the 7-year-old several times a day to hear him read stories. I saw this at 6 am, after breakfast, after lunch, in the afternoon, and before bedtime. They spontaneously gathered as siblings for story time throughout the day!

Children Learn What’s “Caught” — Not Just Taught

As we homeschool, much of what is learned is “caught,” not taught. In other words, we plan and teach our curriculum, but daily living is what the children repeatedly imitate. If we have angry outbursts, they have angry outbursts. If we snap back at people, they snap back at people. If we get harsh in correcting, they get harsh with their siblings. Conversely, if we show patience, they imitate patience. If we show flexibility in disappointment, they imitate flexibility in disappointment. Well … it’s not always a 1:1 correspondence (smile) … but you get the idea. We all notice that our children’s behavior often reflects our own behavior in a myriad of ways.

What Do They See in You?

So my question is… what behavior do you want to see in your children? Daily reading of Scripture? Memorizing Scripture? Praying? Writing in a journal? Reading? Serving your neighbors? A gentle indoor voice? Tidiness? If this is what you want to see in your children, model it first and you’ll be surprised what you see your children repeatedly imitate.

Reflection:

  1. Lord, what do I desire for my children that would bring honor to you? How might I model this in our household?
  2. Abba, who is my child imitating and what are they imitating?
  3. Lord, what influences should I increase or decrease in my children’s lives, so that their imitations might glorify you?

Dear Lord, you are my model. You stated, “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:16 NKJV). I can repeatedly imitate you when I am watching you (via reading your word, listening to your Spirit). Enliven my ability to imitate you in daily living by keeping my eyes on you. Lord, forgive me when I take my eyes off you and self-govern. Bring me back, Lord, to a closer, more intimate walk with you. In Jesus name I ask for this, Amen.

June Hetzel, Ph.D., Dean of Education, Biola University

What is Classical Education?

Editor’s Note: Classical Education is at the core of Torrey Academy’s pedagogy and a rising trend for homeschool families and charter schools across the United States. But what is it? In this blog, Torrey Academy director, Catherine Hood, examines the history and philosophy of Classical Education at each stage of learning.

Stack of old leather-bound books – What is Classical Education blog

“How will I use this information?”

This has become an all-too common question asked by students today. I certainly asked it often, much to the frustration of my high school teachers. This expectation that education must be “useful” is a relatively new development in Western civilization. Particularly now, in this age of rising college tuition and cost of living, parents and students alike are single-minded in their educational priorities. Students must get the best grades and test scores, so they can go to the best colleges, so they can get the best jobs, so they can make enough money to live a comfortable life. While these pursuits aren’t necessarily wrong, is this really the fullness of the way God created us to live? Read more

The Sheer Joy of Imaginative Play

And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship. –Exodus 35:31-33

boy plays with LEGO blocks – imaginative play blog

From the beginning, God has endowed humans with creative gifts, and there is nothing like the sheer joy of imaginative play as a child develops. A LEGO block becomes an orchestra director’s baton. A dry erase marker becomes the pointer for the show host. The jungle gym becomes a restaurant. The blanket-covered kitchen table becomes a Mars home base.

Imaginative play is characteristic of the sheer joy of childhood. Yet, we sometimes leave this behind… as children grow older, we fill their lives with intense schedules, and often forget that they, too, need space for play, imagination, and creativity. Read more

Read the Top Torrey Academy Student Paper for Spring 2018

Editor’s Note: On the blog this week, we are featuring the top essay in the Torrey Academy course, Faith of Our Fathers, written by Abby Borne. In this essay, Abby explores the presence of knightly vows in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, exposing them as verbal promises and declarations of truth deeply tied to a Knight’s honor and integrity. She clearly researches and argues for the danger that comes in making vows, as the refusal to stay true to one’s word may result in civil and social death, and highlights the connection to Christ’s words of warning around vow-making for Christians. We’re proud of our accomplished Torrey Academy scholars, like Abby, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to share the fine work they produce with you. Enroll your student in a Torrey Academy course today.

Portrait of Chaucer as a Canterbury pilgrim

 

Vow of Death: The Importance of the Knightly Vow in The Canterbury Tales
by Abby Borne

“A promise is a comfort for a fool.” — Traditional Proverb

The modern attitude on vows is relatively relaxed. Some cynics are justifiably skeptical about the worth of promises due to the lack of importance placed on them. Promises are often only kept when the breaking of an oath poses a threat. Elementary school best friends make “pinky promises” between each other, couples make wedding vows, and written contracts keep people bound to their word, with legal and financial consequences for those who do not keep it. Medieval oaths, however, were taken more seriously. Vows are seen throughout The Canterbury Tales, whether between a husband and wife, a lover and the magician who will help him, or two knights and cousins who swear brotherhood to each other. The free giving of vows is portrayed as honorable, but often these promises are broken or put in danger. In no case is the breaking of a vow so dishonorable and tragic as in the breaking of a knight’s oath, as knightly chivalry includes a focus on the keeping of vows. The breaking of such a vow would even result in a loss of a knight’s identity. Although knightly vows are often seen as a way to obtain honor and show integrity, they can lead to dishonor because if the giver of the vow breaks their vow, this leads to a loss of identity and a form of civil and social death. Through an investigation of medieval and chivalric society and a closer look at two specific examples of knightly oaths, this paper seeks to explore honor, integrity, and the reason Christ exhorted his church to be careful in its vow-making—a lesson which is applicable even today.
Read more

24 College Visit Questions Homeschoolers Need to Know

Editor’s Note: Are you making a college visit tour this summer? Tim Milosch is a professor, course designer, consultant and homeschool alumni. He also runs the website CollegeBoundHomeschooler.com, where he offers expert advice for making the transition from homeschool to college. Visit his website where you can get a free college prep worksheet.

Two men talking in college admissions- College Visit Questions blog

I don’t think the idea of going to college became a real possibility for my parents and I until we visited the campus of Biola University.  

Up to that point, the idea of transferring to a four year school was an abstraction and a massive expense.  Then we met an incredibly friendly team of admissions and financial aid counselors who walked us through the process of making it happen.  We toured the campus and ate in the cafeteria. By the end of the trip, my parents weren’t saying “Wait and see,” but “When you go in the fall….” Read more

Raising Tiny Disciples at Home

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. –

Matthew 28:19-20

Two young girls read the Bible together - Raising Tiny Disciples blog

While on a Sunday morning walk, I noticed a vehicle with cartoon figures of a mother, father, and children on the back window along with vinyl words which read, “Raising Tiny Disciples.” Those words struck a chord, as they are so descriptive of Christians’ homeschooled family life. As I sat at the kitchen table of my niece and nephew and their five homeschooled children, with Scripture and a cup of tea, I saw much evidence of a home centered on raising tiny disciples: their Bibles, a hymnal, Sonlight curriculum, children’s artwork of God’s creation, a large children’s library, and Bible storybooks. Read more

Five Tips for Dealing with Unsupportive Family and Friends

Editor’s Note: While homeschooling success stories abound, choosing to homeschool is often still seen as an unconventional path. Have you ever received pushback from unsupportive family and friends on your choice to homeschool? Veola Vazquez, a prolific author and professor of psychology at California Baptist University, lends her insights on how a homeschooling family can best endure when loved ones disagree.

Two brothers walk toward the beach – Unsupportive Family and Friends blog

Have you heard comments such as these?

“Your kids will never compete academically with public school kids.”

“Your kids will end up with social problems.”

“You can’t keep your kids in a bubble.” Read more

Unfounded Fear, but Fear Nonetheless — A Reflection on Homeschool Life

Editor’s Note: Yvana Uranga-Hernandez, Ph.D. is a homeschool mom and associate professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Biola University. Yvana Uranga-Hernandez is also the director of the Biola University Speech-Language Clinic, which serves children and adults with any number of communication disorders. She writes from experience and expertise, reflecting on encountering an all-too-common emotion in ourselves and our children: Fear. Consider sharing this devotion with a homeschooler you know.

Teen looking down – unfounded fears BYA blog

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

My son was pacing and worried and had so much on his mind that, at first, I was not sure what to do with all of his emotions.

“What if I fail my test?” he said, “I think I will this time.” Read more

Five Spiritual Survival Tools for Homeschool Family Vacation – What to do When the Car Breaks Down

Editor’s Note: Has car trouble ever dampened a homeschool family vacation? Too often, it’s not just the breakdown of the family van, but the breakdown of the family spirit, and communication, that defeats us. In this post, Kenneth Berding, professor of New Testament at Talbot Theological Seminary and homeschool dad, writes about the car troubles that he and his family have experienced on summer vacations. We’re grateful he’s shared his reflection with us. Read it here, or visit his blog, Kindle Afresh.

Kid in SUV pointing down a mountainside – Spiritual Tools for Homeschool Family Vacation Blog

Just Another Homeschool Family Vacation

“It wouldn’t be a Berding vacation without car trouble!”

So remarked one of my adult daughters two days ago just after her tire shredded on the California freeway on our way to a family vacation at Lake Arrowhead. Unbelievably, this is family vacation seven (yes, #7!) in which we’ve found ourselves in an auto shop. A blown tire in New Mexico…a wiped out transmission near Klamath Falls, Oregon…then again in Central California…then again on a different vacation at Lake Tahoe (whereby I promptly sold the car to a mechanic)…a complete electrical failure on the California-Nevada border (towed all the way to Las Vegas)…another blown tire on the road to San Luis Obispo for a wedding…and finally, my daughter’s shredded tire two days ago. Maybe my cars are just demon-possessed (joking, of course). But along the way, I’ve learned a few things about how God might want us to respond in such situations. Here are five that come immediately to mind: Read more

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