I recently spent about 16 months memorizing 1 Corinthians and then recited it as a sermon to my church. I want that text in my blood. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way regarding both why and how to memorize an entire book of the Bible. Today I unpack the rationale for memorizing Scripture, and tomorrow I’ll provide a method I’ve found helpful for memorizing God’s Word.
Here are 14 reasons to memorize a whole book of the Bible:
1. It renews your mind with God’s viewpoint.
Memorizing a large chunk of the Bible is a strategic way to obey Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” It helps you be like the person in Psalm 1: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
2. It forces you to meditate on the text phrase by phrase—a recipe for illumination.
John Piper testifies, “Memorizing Scripture makes meditation possible at times when I can’t be reading the Bible, and meditation is the pathway of deeper understanding.”
It’s hard to memorize something when you have no idea what it means. So memorizing forces you to ask questions like these: What does that word mean? What does that phrase mean? How does this dependent clause relate to the main clause? Why does this sentence begin with “For”? What is the main argument of this paragraph? What is the main argument of this section? Answering questions like these is more important than ever in a time when people have conditioned themselves to skim articles as they surf the Internet.
3. It helps you think about the tone of the text.
Have you ever heard someone preach who had only one volume and one tone? It’s like radio static. It doesn’t matter whether the voice is loud and excited or soft and monotone. If everything sounds the same, then it sounds like “blah blah blah.” So memorizing an entire book of the Bible is an opportunity to think about the text’s tone. Should this be loud? Fast? Stern? In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul’s tone is sometimes warm (for encouragement), biting (for sarcasm), sober (for rebuke and warning), and triumphant (for exulting in God and the gospel).
4. It helps you trace the argument for a whole book of the Bible.
It helps you understand a book in its literary context. You become intimately familiar with the book. You know what it emphasizes. You can articulate the main argument and supporting arguments.
5. It helps you see lexical and thematic connections within that book of the Bible.
For example, in 1 Corinthians Paul rebukes the Corinthians for thinking of themselves as wise while totally misunderstanding the nature of true wisdom. Wisdom is a big theme in the first section of the book. But shortly after that when Paul addresses the issue of lawsuits in the church, he asks, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” (1 Cor. 6:5–6). Slam! If you haven’t soaked in the letter sufficiently, you will miss Paul’s sarcastic wit.
6. It helps you see lexical and thematic connections within other books of the Bible.
Once you have locked in the text for the book you’re memorizing, something special will happen when you read other parts of the Bible. Words and phrases and themes from other parts of the Bible will remind you of parallels with the book you’ve memorized.
7. It helps you kill sin.
For example, if I’m tempted with any kind of sexually immoral thought, I can immediately start reciting 1 Corinthians 6:12–20. What a powerful way to kill sin! Piper puts it this way: “Memorizing Scripture makes God’s Word more readily accessible for overcoming temptation to sin, because God’s warnings and promises are the way we conquer the deceitful promises of sin.”
8. It helps you counsel, teach, and preach more accurately.
Memorizing an entire book of the Bible is a check against making inaccurate statements. You’re less likely to say something that contradicts the book you’ve memorized.
9. It helps you counsel, teach, and preach more powerfully.
It often happens spontaneously: the Holy Spirit brings to mind words that you have memorized, and those words are exactly what someone else needs to hear at that moment. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11). Put in the hard work to hide God’s words in your heart, and then expect God’s Spirit to bring to mind just the right words at just the right times. Piper is right: “Memorizing Scripture provides the strongest and sweetest words for ministering to others in need.”
10. It enables you to recite the Bible while looking people in the eye.
This is incredibly powerful. I heard Piper recite Paul’s letter to the Philippians recently, and it was moving. He didn’t look over our heads or at our foreheads. He looked at us in the eye as he recited it. It’s powerful. I also remember the first time I watched David Platt recite Romans 1–8; I was watching a video and didn’t hear it live, and it was incredibly powerful. You might think people would get bored and fall asleep, but my experience is that people are riveted and drawn in. Reciting the Bible while looking at people in the eye is extremely difficult because there are so many ways you could become distracted, but if you focus and do your best to learn the text well and depend on God, it’s possible—and so powerful. (On the public reading of Scripture, see Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken Word [Kregel, 2012].)
11. It helps you refute error.
The better you know God’s Word, the better you can be like an elder: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I like the way Jon Bloom puts it: memorizing big chunks of the Bible “will fine-tune your hooey gauge.”
12. It helps you pray extended portions of Scripture.
This is especially valuable when you can’t be reading Scripture, like when you’re privately praying while driving a car or walking or running or doing house chores. And it is also valuable for public prayers. (See “12 Reasons You Should Pray Scripture.”)
13. It strengthens your mind.
Your brain is like a muscle. Memorizing is to your brain what working out is to your body. It makes it stronger, healthier, sharper, more energetic.
14. It makes God’s Word more precious to you.
After you spend hundreds of hours with a book of the Bible, it becomes even sweeter to you. Memorizing it helps you treasure it.