[Note: This is part 4 in a 5 article series on using memorization to increase knowledge of the Bible and develop a sanctified imagination. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 5 here.]
Christ can only be truly and properly known through the revelation presented in the entirety of God’s Word. The British theologian Alister McGrath notes that Scripture is regarded as a channel through which God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered. Faith accepts Scripture as a testimony to Christ, and submits to Christ as the one of whom Scripture speaks.
Too often, though, our faith is based on testimony about the testimony. We may be able to affirm that Scripture is, from Genesis to Revelation, where God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is encountered without truly having encountered that revelation directly. Even if we have read the Bible in its entirety we may only have a general sense of how any particular book, much less all of Scripture, reveals Christ.
An aid to developing this understanding is to delve into Biblical theology, the discipline of understanding how the person and work of Christ are the center of all of God’s works in redemption and the end to which all of the Scriptures point. But it helps to have a mental framework in which to hang the insights we can glean from that field.
One practical and immediate way to prepare for study of Biblical theology and to develop a deeper appreciation of Scripture, to thread it into the warp and woof of our imagination, is to embed as much of the Biblical narrative into our minds as possible. By having a detailed overview of the entire Biblical narrative available for recall, we can better see what Graeme Goldsworthy calls the binding theme of the whole Bible, the kingdom of God, which he defines as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
Narrative comprises the single most common form of writing in the Bible. These are the books that contain the main story line of the kingdom of God. Biblical narrative stories compose approximately forty percent of the Old Testament and a large part of the New Testament. The narrative based books would include: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jonah, Haggai, some of the Prophetic writings, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and Acts.
Memorizing the Narrative of Genesis
In this article you’ll learn how to apply the techniques from the previous articles to create a detailed mental overview of these books. You’ll soon be on your way to knowing hundreds of people and events in the narrative books and where they fit into the story of the Bible. By the time you finish this exercise you should be able to correctly recall the following thirty events from the fifty chapters of Genesis
- God creates night and day
- God separates the water into atmospheric water and oceanic water
- God separates dry land from the oceanic waters and brings forth vegetation
- God reveals the sun, moon, and stars
- God creates birds and oceanic creatures
- God creates land animals
- God creates Adam and Eve
- God rests
- Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and leave the garden
- Cain kills Abel
- Noah builds an ark
- God makes a covenant with Noah
- Tower of Babel
- God calls Abram to go to Canaan and Egypt
- Abram has a son, Ishmael
- God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah
- Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt
- Sarah gives birth to Isaac.
- God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but provides a ram as substitute.
- Abraham's wife Sarah dies
- Isaac marries Rebekah
- Rebekah has Esau and Jacob
- Esau sells birthright for bowl of stew
- Jacob wrestles with the Angel of God
- Joseph angers his brothers and is sold into slavery
- Potiphar’s wife has Joseph thrown in jail
- Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker and then Pharaoh
- Joseph is made prime minister of Egypt
- Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain
- Jacob dies and then Joseph dies
Having read the book of Genesis (hopefully several times) you are not unfamiliar with the story. Yet the task of memorizing these events still seems daunting, doesn’t it? Why start by memorizing the sequence of events of the fourth longest book of the Bible? Wouldn’t it be easier to start with a single verse from Scripture?
Surprisingly, no, it wouldn’t. Most people will find that they are able to memorize these thirty events easier and faster than they would a thirty-word verse. You’ll soon see for yourself. In an hour, after you’ve read the following section and made a concerted effort to create the mental images, go back and read over the list and you’ll see that you can remember almost all of them. With only a little more practice you’ll soon be able to remember them with near perfect recall.
Let’s get started on what will be the first step in memorizing the story of the Bible, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1 to the city of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.
Memorizing the Narrative of Genesis
The book of Genesis begins with creation (Gen. 1:1) and ends with the patriarch Joseph in a tomb in Egypt (Gen. 50:26). To help us remember the sequence of events that occurs in between, we’ll create image pegs that can be placed in the nooks and locations of your memory palace (see article #3). Since the same memory palace can be used again and again for remembering different material (we’ll use the same locations for each of the narrative books of the Bible) it helps to have a “trigger” that reminds you of a particular sequence. A useful technique for the narrative is the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This will serve as the cue to recall the list of thirty items for this part of the Biblical narrative.
A Caution on Making Images to Represent God’s Actions
One of the challenges of making our unique and creative mental impressions is that significant parts of the Biblical narrative involve direct action by God. The Bible warns us, however, against making images of our Creator (Exodus 20:4-6). As R.C. Sproul explains, “God is spiritual and invisible; nothing, therefore, in the earth or in the heavens above corresponds with His nature. Nothing can adequately or comprehensively represent Him.” We must therefore be careful to distinguish between images that represent actions by God and images of God.
For instance, in creating images to represent the actions of God in Genesis I’ll recommend the use of a pair of hands that are doing the “creating.” These images—which I’ll repeatedly refer to as the Representative Hands—should be considered a representative abstraction used for the purpose of creating a memorable mental image and should not be taken to represent “the hands of God.” The distinction is subtle but necessary to avoid confusion about the intention of the imagery we are using for our model.
Let’s get started . . .
Location 1 – Nook 1: God creates night and day
In the first nook of our first location, we want to represent the action of Gen. 1:3: “And God separated the light from the darkness.” Picture our Representative Hand –a pair of massive hands at least three feet long – pulling a huge, very bright light bulb out of a very large and extremely dark hole in the floor. It may help to imagine the words “day” and “night” written on the images.
Location 1 – Nook 2: God separates the water into atmospheric water and oceanic water
In the second nook, we want the same Representative Hands to be placed on the top (palm facing down) and the bottom (palm facing up) of an extraordinarily large drop of water that is floating in midair. When the hands pull the drop apart, the top half turns into series of fluffy clouds that bounce on the ceiling while the bottom half splashes onto the floor creating a waist deep expanse of ocean. Try to hear the sound of the ocean water splashing about and the clouds dripping rain into the water below.
Location 1 – Nook 3: God separates dry land from the oceanic waters and brings forth vegetation
In the third nook, the Representative Hands will reach into the ocean water (which has seeped over from nook 2) and wipe it away until a large section of dirt and land appears in the middle. Have one hand reach down into the dirt and quickly pull up a large fruit tree (Gen. 1:12), an action that causes some of the fruit to fall and bounce on the ground. As a hand pulls the tree to the ceiling, picture grass growing along the rest of the dirt and the ocean water lap around the edges of the dry ground.
Location 2 – Nook 1: God reveals the sun, moon, and stars.
Now let’s move on to your second location. For the first nook in this location, picture the Representative Hands reaching up to attach a comical-looking sun and moon being attached to hooks or beams (sunbeams and moonbeams?) on a black expanse of the ceiling. Picture the sun giggling as the moon tries to shield its eyes from the glare. Once the hand has the sun and moon firmly attached, it uses one of its fingers to poke holes in the dark ceiling, revealing the stars.
Location 2 – Nook 2: God creates birds and oceanic creatures.
In our next nook we are once again waist deep in ocean water with clouds above us. One of the Representative Hands reaches up into the clouds and pulls out a peacock (or other colorful bird that you find easy to remember) while the other reaches into the water and pulls out a great white shark. Picture the shark trying to take a bite of the peacock as the bird squawks and furiously flaps its plumage in an attempt to avoid being eaten.
Location 2 – Nook 3: God creates land animals
Next we move to the last spot in the location. Imagine the Representative Hand reaches into a relatively small burlap sack and pulls out three or four large land animals, like cows and elephants. The hand struggles to pull the various animals out of the sack and each land on the floor with a plop and annoyed grunt.
Location 3 – Nook 1: God creates Adam and Eve
We move on to our third location for the creation of our first parents. You likely have mental images of Adam and Eve already, so picture the hand reaching into a pile of dirt on the floor and pulling out a man. While one hands dusts him off, the other reaches into Adam’s ribcage and pulls out a woman.
Location 3 – Nook 2: God rests
On the seventh day, God rested. So to represent this action we’ll have the Representative Hands (which, keep in mind, are not God’s hands but mere abstract representations of his actions!) lie clasped on a pillow. The hands are emitting a deep and bellicose snoring sound.
Location 3 – Nook 3: Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and leave the garden
We don’t know what fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil looked like, so feel free to picture whatever image pops into your head when you hear the word “fruit.” For this example, we’ll use an apple. Picture Adam and Eve in a garden that is about waist high (it can be sitting on a table or other object in your location). As they share an apple they fall off the side of the garden and onto the floor (representing mankind’s fall from grace).
Location 4 – Nook 1: Cain kills Abel
Even when we are familiar with the story of the first fratricide, it can be easy to forget which brother was the murderer and which was the victim. To help us remember, we’ll use terms that sound similar as a helpful mnemonic device. So for this visual picture a man holding a massive candy CANE in both hands (Cain) who is using it to bludgeon another man who is lying on the ground and not ABLE to get up (Abel).
Location 4 – Nook 2: Noah builds an ark
Since the story of Noah is one of the most common in all of Western culture, you probably already have a strong visual you can place in this nook. If nothing else comes to mind, imagine an old man loading animals into an ark as the rain begins to fall.
Location 4 – Nook 3: God makes a covenant with Noah
The two cues we will use and tie together for this part of the story are the burnt offerings and the sign of the covenant (i.e., the rainbow). Create a picture of Noah setting fire to the feathers of a live peacock (perhaps the one from Location 2 – Nook 2) and as he does, a rainbow shoots from the plumage and creates an arch of color. (Bird-burning can be disturbing image, so it might help to make the visual less violent—and more memorable—by making is somewhat cartoonish.)
That should be enough to get you started. Make sure all of these points are firmly ensconsed in your memory palace. In our next article we’ll add the rest of the events from the book of Genesis.
Other Article in This Series
Part #1 – How Memorization Feeds Your Imagination
Part #2 – How to Memorize (Almost) Anything
Part #3 – 4 Tips to Memorize (Almost) Anything
Part #4 – How to Memorize the Biblical Narrative (I)
Part #5 – How to Memorize the Biblical Narrative (II)