First Corinthians takes about 60 minutes to read aloud. It took me about 14 months to memorize the whole letter, and I’ve been spending the last several months reciting the entire letter each morning to lock it in. I’ve spent an average of probably 45 to 75 minutes each morning memorizing the letter. It took less time at first, but it ballooned as I tried to learn and retain more of the letter.
So how do we go about memorizing an extended section or an entire book of the Bible? Here are 11 basic steps I’ve followed and commend to others:
1. Make memorizing part of your daily routine.
You can’t memorize an entire book of the Bible without persistently working on it, day after day. Persevere. Perhaps take Sundays off; I don’t, but I usually review on Sundays rather than try to add more sentences.
2. Strip out all verse numbers.
I love how Andy Davis memorizes extended Scripture, but I disagree with him on this point. He thinks it is “essential” to memorize verse numbers. I think that it’s far better to strip out chapter and verse numbers.
3. Phrase the passage in Hebrew or Greek (if you can), and mirror it as much as possible in English.
Phrasing is a flexible and easy-to-use Bible study tool that allows you to visually trace a passage’s argument: simply indent to subordinate. After I phrase a passage, I try to burn that image into my head as I memorize the passage.
4. Mark up the text.
Italicize words that you want to emphasize when you say them, and color-code lexical and thematic connections.
5. Walk while you memorize.
If I’m inside, I do this on a treadmill, or I pace. But I prefer to do it outside if the weather conditions are right. (I live in Minnesota, so for a good chunk of the year you’ll die if you’re outside for longer than 10 minutes.) I don’t try to memorize while sitting on a chair or lying on a bed. But there are two exceptions: I often recite what I’ve memorized when (a) I’m driving a car alone or (b) I’m falling asleep at night.
6. Select a passage to memorize for that day.
One or two sentences seems about right. Sometimes I do more than that in one day but then spend subsequent days reviewing it without adding any other sentences.
7. Recite the new passage word-perfect 10 times.
Learn it well enough that you can write it out or type it out word-for-word without any mistakes. Then record yourself reciting it audibly ten times. Listen to your recordings as you go so that you correct yourself. Don’t count a mistake as one of your ten times. When using my laptop while walking on a treadmill, I use my laptop’s media player to record myself and a calculator to keep track of how many times I’ve correctly recited the passage. When using my phone while pacing inside or walking outside, I record myself on my phone, and I use a tally-counter app to track how many times I’ve correctly recited the passage. You can take screenshots of the phrased text you’re memorizing so that you can view it on your phone, or you can print it off. I prefer to use screenshots on my phone when I’m first learning short passages, and I prefer paper when I’m working on solidifying long passages.
8. Review regularly.
Record yourself reciting a large passage, and then listen to your recording to catch mistakes. I listen to my recordings on 1.5 or double speed.
9. Record yourself reading the whole book of the Bible in chunks, and listen to those recordings repeatedly.
It’s always a good time to listen to these recordings. Do it (a) before you start trying to memorize those sections, (b) while you are memorizing those sections, and (c) after you have memorized those sections.
10. Study the book you are memorizing.
The better you understand what you’re memorizing, the more deeply the words can take root in your heart. Read through some of the best commentaries on that book. And if you can teach that book (e.g., in a small group or a Sunday school class), it will help you even more since you learn so much by teaching.
11. Seek opportunities to recite what you’ve memorized to other people.
It may be your friends or your small group or a class or a church service. (I recently had the opportunity to recite 1 Corinthians in a church service.) That’s extra motivation to memorize the text really well, and it will edify others.