Lately I am getting more and more excited about Scripture memorization. Well, not only excited, but I am actually doing it. I will leave it in the middle for now what I am memorizing because I do not want to boast, but I was having a discussion last Sunday with a friend of mine on this topic, which resulted in this post.
Have you ever considered how much Scripture the Pharisees ever memorized? You can say a lot about their character and conduct, but they must serve as an example with regards to their zealous and almost fanatical dedication and discipline to Scripture memorization. Granted, the heart must be there as well, but still. Let me start by giving you an overview of their educational system, and then baffle you with some statistics I figured out.
The Jews in Jesus’ day had three levels of education, which was most likely instituted by Ezra after the exile in order to teach the people the Scriptures again. The first level was called ‘Bet Sefer’. At the ages of six through twelve, the Jewish boys and girls would begin their education in the synagogue school, learning how to read and write. The textbook was the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the goal was to memorize the sacred text. The Babylonian Talmud Baba Bathra 21a:6 says, “Before the age of six do not accept pupils; from that age you can accept them, and stuff them with Torah like an ox.” Incredible, isn’t it! Can you imagine having memorized the Torah by the age of twelve?! This level is concluded with a Bar Mitzvah for the boy, to welcome him into the community as a full member. This was also the age from which they were allowed to read the Torah out loud in the synagogue during services.
The next level was the ‘Bet Midrash’. This was only for the best of the best. I would assume for those who indeed memorized the Torah. This level was from age thirteen to fifteen, where they continued studying and memorizing the entire Tanach (in other words, the complete Old Testament). Very few were selected for this pursuit.
The final level was the ‘Bet Talmud’, which was the longest in duration as it went from the age of 15 to 30. To participate, he must be invited by a Rabbi and, if selected, he would begin a process of grooming that would lead to the potential of becoming a Rabbi at age 30. Those who were chosen were referred to as Talmidim. They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi – desiring to emulate him in all of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.
I could say a lot more about this and how this reflects on Jesus and His disciples, but the goal of this post was not to dive into the Jewish educational system, but to consider Scripture memorization. As I mentioned at the first level they learn and memorize the Torah by the age of 12. Just to give you an idea: that’s 187 chapters, or 5852 verses or 156,058 words. Just to give you the equivalent from a New Testament perspective, that is in terms of chapters, memorizing from Matthew until 1 Thessalonians including; in terms of verses it’s roughly memorizing from Matthew until 2 Corinthians including; and in terms of words (which is probably the most accurate measuring method) it’s roughly memorizing from Matthew until more than half of Hebrews. Can you imagine!! And that at the age of 12!!!
Let’s do the math: 6 years = 72 months = 312 weeks = 2184 days. Thus, memorizing the Torah (which is 5852 verses) is roughly 3 verses per day (2.68 to be exact). I don’t even want to know what that would mean memorizing the remainder of the Old Testament in only 3 years.
Now, I am not saying that we should all memorize the Torah, but there are definitely advantages to memorizing complete books of the Bible. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Also, with memorizing verses there is a lesser likelihood of taking verses out of context or missing the flow of argumentation. For example, for any verse starting with “therefore…” you would need to know what preceded this verse in order for it to make sense.
Let’s make it practical. Let’s say you aim for memorizing one verse per day and you would only focus on the New Testament, then this would mean that within 2 weeks you could memorize 2 John or 3 John, but you may find these maybe not the most attractive books to start with. But doing Philemon or Jude in 4 weeks sounds like a good option, because these are great letters. Or think about memorizing Ephesians in only 6 months. Another great option is of course memorizing some psalms. There are 150, varying in length between 2 verses (Psalm 117) and 176 verses (Psalm 119), but the average length is about 16 verses, which means that on average a psalm can be memorized in two weeks.
My advice is this: don’t be overwhelmed by memorizing Scripture. Take it slow, pick something that appeals to both the mind and the heart, and just do it! All you need is a decision, a plan to memorize and refresh, and accountability. Take baby steps, and before you know it you have memorized a psalm, a chapter, or a complete letter or book. Once you start training your mind to hold the information you will get better at it and will be able to memorize more verses a day.
Now, why is this so important? “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). Don’t we all want to sin less?! I know I do! Less sinning means giving more glory to God, which means more and more the object of our worship will be God, and that is what He desires and delights in.