“Why won’t that Church let you eat ham? I spent all day making this dinner!”
Your mother impatiently awaits your response. The spotlight is on you. Although you have been trying to avoid the situation, the time has come to address the issue head-on. There is no running away.
You scramble to craft a logical, scriptural and tactful answer. Your mind races: “What can I say that won’t offend her? How can I explain this concisely? What chapter in Leviticus talks about clean and unclean meats? Or was it Deuteronomy? What if she doesn’t agree with me?”
While you may have never been put on the spot in this exact way, we have all been in situations that required us to “be ready always to give an answer” (I Pet. 3:15). These times may make us wish we could flawlessly recall Bible verses at a moment’s notice.
The Word of God is described as being “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). As with any weapon or instrument, it takes dedication, effort and practice to become proficient at using this spiritual tool. To readily answer our relatives, co-workers, friends and acquaintances, we must learn to be quick with the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
When confronted with a question about your beliefs, allow Colossians 4:6 to be your guide: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” The ability to readily call verses and scriptural principles to mind allows us to handle these difficult situations properly—in a way that is palatable to the listener.
The need to answer a matter because you are asked is only one of the many reasons you need to keep your spiritual vocabulary sharp. Whether going through an arduous trial, seeking to make amends with one of the brethren, or responding to a family member’s invitation to a holiday gathering, the ability to call pertinent scriptures or principles to mind is critical.
Knowing how (and why) to memorize Bible verses or biblical principles will allow you to wield the sword of the Spirit quickly in times of need.
Two Methods of Bible Study
The ability to recall scriptures to mind on a moment’s notice hinges on you diligently studying the Bible’s content. There really are no shortcuts. In order to “be ready always to give an answer,” you must keep your nose in the Book. Doing so builds the crucial foundation needed so you can more easily commit key verses to memory.
There are two major ways we can study the Bible. These can be compared to the analogy of a skydiver jumping out of a plane. From 12,000 feet, the view incorporates the totality of the landscape—cities, lakes, rivers, pastures and more. As he descends, more detail slowly replaces the bird’s-eye view—with buildings, cars and trees coming into focus. Eventually, the skydiver deploys the parachute and prepares to land, and by then a sharper view of individual rocks, shrubs, flowers and people emerges. Once on the ground, he can walk around, pick up objects, and get on his hands and knees for careful examination.
Bible study is the same! There are different ways to view God’s Word—from broad and expansive to narrow and detailed. Each is important. Using both methods in balance will allow you to better remember scriptures and biblical principles.
Reading from the 12,000-foot view reveals the overall flow: where the subject changes, who is speaking, and who is the audience. Through this method, the reader grasps the full context and can better understand where individual verses fit in the larger framework.
The Sermon on the Mount is a perfect example. Three chapters in the book of Matthew contain a sermon given by Christ that culminates with the following verse: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine” (Matt. 7:28). If we had been reading the entirety of chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew, we would understand the “sayings” of Jesus include everything mentioned in these three chapters!
Here are a few examples of biblical principles and lessons that come from this passage:
- Apply the “beatitudes,” or beautiful attitudes (5:3-11).
- Be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (5:13-14).
- Strive to become perfect (complete), even as God is perfect (5:48).
- Pray according to the framework of Christ’s model prayer (6:7-13).
- Seek first the Kingdom of God (6:33).
- Cast the beam out of your own eye before pointing out the splinter in someone else’s eye (7:5).
- Build your house on a rock, not on sand (7:24-27).
Once the broader context is understood, it becomes easier to remember these principles as part of Christ’s “sayings” from the Sermon on the Mount.
If we only read at the 12,000-foot view, however, we would overlook the nuances within the account. Viewing the finer details in the Bible is an equally important approach to study. Applying this method allows us to better remember Bible passages, as it adds richness and depth to words.
Mark Your Bible
Marking your Bible is another effective way to help you remember scriptures and the principles within a passage. It may seem like a daunting task at first—but do not stress! Devising a system is easier than you may think.
Everyone’s Bible marking system is different—there is no cookie-cutter method. Your approach to Bible marking should reflect how you think. After all, it is your Bible and your system—it should serve and help you to (1) easily navigate the scriptures, (2) expand the meaning and understanding of Bible verses and words, and (3) enable you to quickly find specific verses.
Some may avoid putting notes in their Bibles because they feel this would be defacing God’s Word. Realize, though, that it is only the message contained within the words that should be revered. The paper, ink and leather that make up the physical Bible are not holy. What is holy about the Bible is the truth it contains—the words of spiritual instruction.
What follows are a few guiding principles you can use to help create your unique style of Bible marking.
Before You Mark…
It is important to define what you want to achieve through your system. If you want to focus on certain overarching topics, you can start by making a short list of categories you want to feature. These can include doctrine, personal correction, God’s promises, and Old Testament verses quoted in the New Testament.
You may also want to mark story flow to more easily find specific stories or topics in a book. For example, you could note the first time Noah is mentioned in Genesis or where Christ spoke in parables in Matthew.
Each of your main categories can be noted with a different color and/or symbol (underlines, circles, boxes, brackets, etc.). For instance, you could use a blue underline for one mark, a green symbol for another, and a red box around a word or verse for yet another.
Above all, keep your system simple! Force yourself to limit the number of colors and symbols you use.
Determine what type of pen, colored pencil, or standard pencil you want to use for notes. Some archival ink pens are designed to not bleed through the thin paper of your Bible. Use caution when marking in permanent ink—whatever you mark will be there for good! While pencil might smudge over time, it is erasable. Some find it helpful to make a note first in pencil. If what is written remains relevant a year later, they will then put it in ink.
Also, determine where you will make notes about verses. If you have a wide margin Bible, such as Cambridge or Oxford, you can put one category of notes at the top and bottom of the page and other category of notes on the margins at the side. To save space, you can put a reference to see a section in the back of your Bible, where you have more room for notes.
Notes of Caution
Some like to permanently highlight verses because they are interesting or powerful at a given moment. As time passes, the number of highlighted verses increases until practically the entire Bible is highlighted! To avoid this, ask yourself, “Why am I marking this verse?” Often, you may later forget why you marked it and there is little you can do about it.
Chain or cross referencing is an excellent way to link similar verses throughout the Bible. However, your margin can quickly fill up with these notes, making it difficult to remember why you referenced these verses in the first place. One way to avoid this is to use the notes section in the back of your Bible for such references. This can be done by assigning a topic to a blank page (e.g., faith, hope, patience, suffering, tests/trials) and listing related verses below.
Ready, Set, MARK!
Once you have established a system, do not be afraid to put the pen or pencil to paper. Realize that it will not be perfect, and that you will make mistakes. But developing a system and using it will start you down the trail of effectively marking your Bible.
An example illustrates this point. Hebrews 2:1 states, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” By looking at three Greek words, this verse goes from being impactful to life-changing. The word earnest can be translated “more superabundantly,” heed can mean “caution,” and slip can be “to run out as leaking vessels.”
Inserting these words into the verse, it more fully reads, “Therefore we ought to give the more superabundant caution to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them run out as a leaking vessel.” This deeper meaning creates an even clearer picture and is much more memorable and potent than the original translation!
Finding a balance between reading the big-picture context and diving deep into verses and meanings of words will not only make Bible study come alive, but will also help solidify the principles and verses in your mind.
Basic memorization tools can be used to help you recall individual verses and the location of passages in the Bible. The following are a few proven techniques:
Write a verse on a notecard. Writing words on paper will help you more effectively remember them than simply reading or typing them. This method employs tactile or kinesthetic learning, which uses more of the body’s senses. In addition, you can use the notecards to periodically review the verses you want to memorize, or use them as flashcards.
Have family members or brethren help. Inform others of your plans to memorize certain Bible passages. They can help remind, motivate and test you. For instance, have them ask you periodically to cite the scripture you are working to memorize. Have fun with it and make it a game. Of course, you can help them remember certain verses as well.
Make associations. Some create “mental pathways” or visuals to more quickly recall information. Using this method to memorize certain verses is helpful for those with more creative minds. The more unusual the association, the easier it is to remember. For example, if you want to recall that the parable of the pearl of great price is in the middle of the book of Matthew, you can think of a doormat with a pearl in the middle of it. Doormat can help you remember Matthew.
If you want to remember that the Ten Commandments are in Exodus 20, rehearse that they are extremely important. The prefix “ex” will lead you to Exodus, and since you can equate “extreme” with “doubly” important, you can remember to double 10 to 20, which will bring you to Exodus 20.
Use technology. There are many mobile apps, websites and programs that can provide ways to help you fulfill your goals. One example is memverse.com.
Speak the verse out loud. Reading out loud combines auditory and visual learning styles, making it twice as effective for memorization than just reading silently.
In addition, singing verses that are used in pieces of music is a very effective way to remember the verse. There are many songs that quote scriptures verbatim, such as “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is from Matthew 6:9-13, and “Blessed Hope,” which quotes I Thessalonians 4:13-17. Be aware, though, that many compositions take liberties with Scripture.
Search websites for other general memorization tips. There are plenty of simple methods that you can choose depending on what works best for you.
Once you have memorized a scripture, rehearse it. The goal of remembering scriptures is so that you can recall them in any scenario such as the one in the introduction of this article.
More often than not, however, you are memorizing verses for yourself. Use scriptures in prayer. Recite them aloud while you meditate. You can even use them in conversation—just be sure to do so in a manner that is not preachy or glib.
Think about a skill you have acquired in your life. Maybe you are fluent in another language, tech-savvy or learned to play an instrument well. You developed proficiency because you spent a lot of time thinking about another language, how computers function, or how to make beautiful music. Of course, you also had to spend an equivalent amount of time practicing.
Simply reading a manual on any subject is not enough to bring you to the point of being skilled. Becoming adept in any activity requires consistent mental—and physical—effort.
The same goes for Bible study. While study is critical, we must supplement it with deep, thoughtful meditation.
David, a man after God’s own heart, delighted in His perfect Law and meditated upon it “day and night” (Psa. 1:2). Verse 3 shows the fruit of applying this counsel: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not whither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.”
Reading between the lines, because David studied God’s Word and enjoyed frequently musing on it, he was able to call passages to mind in time of need—leading to a prosperous life!
At first, memorizing scriptures or biblical principles may sound challenging. But consider: Actively studying and meditating on God’s Word is something we should be doing every day for our benefit! The tools we need to handle difficult situations with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances are available to us every day—hiding in plain sight throughout God’s Word.
If we spend time daily utilizing and applying these tools of Christian growth, we can more readily explain our beliefs and wield the sword of God’s Word by calling appropriate verses and principles to mind at a moment’s notice.