My personal involvement with the church and the faith started with Sunday School. Every Sunday, we entered the church–little kids downstairs, big kids upstairs. Since we changed denominations before I reached the age of ascending the stairs, I only know what the little kids did for Sunday School there. We sang, we heard announcements, and we went to our class which in this case were tables and chairs separated from the other tables and chairs by hanging curtains.
Part of the class was always the “memory verse”. Every week, there was a Bible verse to learn and repeat back to the teacher. If you were really good at memorizing, you could get a prize at the end of the year. Memorizing Scripture has always been a strong part of conservative Christian teaching. The theory is that is provided the memorizer with readily accessible Scripture for any need in their life.
I know people who have memorized vast quantities of Scripture and have read of people who have memorized the whole Bible. I have also run into people whose conversation is filled with Scripture quotes–talking to them is somewhat like a marathon Bible session.
I personally have a few verses of the Bible that I can quote from memory, not just in English but a couple in Kiswahili and even one in New Testament Greek. But I confess that I am actually not overly interested in memorizing Scripture, at least not in the traditional way. The Scripture verses I have memorized didn’t come from the Sunday School days–I ended up remembering them because over the years they have been important to me and my ministry and I used them enough that they just stuck around.
The verses I learned in Kiswahili came about because I loved the way a different language expressed the verse–it provided insights that helped me understand and explain the verse better. The verse in Biblical Greek–that was one of the first verses I translated from Greek by myself and it stayed with me because the process was such hard work and such a significant accomplishment for me at the time.
Part of the issue for me is probably that I don’t do memorization well. I have a tendency to be more interested in the meaning and use of the verse. That means I often end up remembering the meaning but not in exactly the words used in the verse–my memory does a paraphrase of the verse that I remember more often that the actual verse.
Another part of the issue stems from the people I have met who spend much of their time quoting the Scripture verses they have memorized. While some people manage to hit on exactly the right quote for a specific occasion, others tend to throw lots of verses into the conversation that have little or no connection to what is going on. I have also found that often, people who repeat memorized Scriptures aren’t really interested in discussion the applicability of the verse, if it really means what they are using it to mean and so on.
I have discovered that memorization doesn’t necessarily mean that a person understands what they have memorized. Whenever I have been involved in language learning, the early stages involve me memorizing collections of sounds that I am assured mean something–but I really don’t know what they mean. People could have told me to memorize what they promise is a basic greeting but which turns out to be a huge joke on me. It is only as I learn the meaning of that collection of sounds that I begin to feel comfortable with them language
In the end, meaning is more important than memorizing. And so for me, memorization comes out of meaning. When I just memorize, I really don’t know what I am repeating. But when I know what it means, I can use it effectively as it was meant to be used.
This post is not an attempt to justify my lack of memorized Scripture verses. Rather, it is a suggestion that for some of us, the effort put into memorizing is probably better put into understanding because once we understand, we can use it better. We might not repeat it exactly, but we will repeat it in the right context and for the for the right reason. If we need the exact wording, well, isn’t that why we have smart phones and tablets and computers with several versions of the Bible and full search features?
May the peace of God be with you.