What does it mean to shift your focus AWAY from word for word memorization of the Bible? Join Josh as he chats with author and speaker Keith Ferrin talks about his “internalization” of Scripture and how that can affect the way we study God’s Word.
Or you can listen to the Memorize What Matters podcast on your favorite player:Listen to “"Know the Word, not just the Words" (with author Keith Ferrin)” on Spreaker.
Keith’s Bible study resources:
- Relational Bible Study: https://www.relationalbiblestudy.com
- Internalize Scripture Course: https://www.keithferrin.com/internalize
Interview Transcript with Keith Ferrin
The, I mean, the word that I use is internalize, and really, we can get deep, deep into this, but my focus of internalization and even Bible study in general is that it is primarily relational, not just informational. The purpose of us going to the Bible is not to learn about God, but to spend time with him and be with him. And so we can talk more about even why my Bible study methodology is called relational Bible study, but specifically, I want, when I’m having conversations with somebody, I want the conversation to be different than what I have experienced, at least than the typical memorization conversation. I find that when people ask me, well, how do you memorize books of the Bible and how do you memorize a whole chapter and how do you do this? And I find that if I don’t guide it toward internalization, the conversation quickly breaks down to how do I get the words in the right order and get it to stick?
And to me, quite honestly, that it’s not a bad conversation to me. It just is a conversation that gets stale pretty quickly. Whereas I would rather have a conversation about how do we hide God’s word in our head and in our hearts so deeply and so fully that the Holy Spirit can use that word that is hidden in our hearts and our heads to transform us to be more like Jesus. To me, that is a bigger conversation and a more interesting one than how do I get the words in the right order? Because I think the goal should probably be to know the word, not just to know the words, and oftentimes not when I’m talking to somebody like you who I’ve read about you, I know your passion. I know that you use the word memory and memorization, but I know that you and I are talking in the same direction, right? But so frequently when I’m just at an event speaking or something and somebody asks me about memorization, mainly asking me how do I get the words in the order so that I can win this Bible quiz conversation, whatever it is, whatever. And I want to have the relational conversation.
So yeah, I mean, I like that. I haven’t heard it said like that before. We’re not just memorizing the words. We want to memorize the word. So for you, when practically speaking, as you’re going and internalizing as opposed to memorizing love, using that words, I’m perfectly fine with it. Yeah. But how does that shift in your word choice, affect the actual approach to how you memorize scripture then, or how you internalize, excuse me, right?
No, no, no, no. And I mean, really for me, the goal when I set out is not to get it word perfect. The goal is to know it and understand it. And so for me, I spend typically, let’s just take a short book. Let’s just take a book like Philippians. My approach is before I would ever even start trying to get the words in the right order, I would spend a couple months studying the book. And the first month is you’re, you’re going to kind of get the Reader’s Digest version of my whole relational Bible study course right now. Okay. It’s really the analogy that I use is the analogy of watching the movie before we study the scenes. And so for me, it starts out, if I was going to study Philippians, and I’ve never studied Philippians before, then I would start out the first month, I would read Philippians out loud from a physical Bible every day for 30 days.
And that would be what I would do. I would, from a study standpoint, after I’d read it five to 10 times, then I would do some things like looking at, I talk about three different background studies, the author, the audience, and the atmosphere, who wrote the book, who was it written to and what was going on at the time? For each of them, and I would look at some of the background studies and some of, but by the time you’ve read a book 10, 15, 20, 30 times, you understand the basic themes, the flow, where to find things you word have huge portions of it down word for word without ever trying just because of repetition. I’m sure you’ve heard it said a million times, repetition is the mother of all learning. And so then when I spent another month doing kind of the traditional Bible study method of looking at a paragraph a day or something like that, then you’re looking at the scene of a movie you’ve already watched 30 times.
And so that analogy kind of tends to stick with people that, yeah, I wouldn’t want to pause a, if you and I sat down to watch a movie, we wouldn’t want to pause that movie after the first scene and go, let’s discuss that. We’d go, well, let’s watch the movie first, and then we can talk about one scene or one character, or one plot twist, but we want to watch the movie. And so from a methodology standpoint, it’s that I discovered, and again, I’ll tell as short or longer the version of the story as you want, but basically the summer of 1993 was when I had been challenged by somebody. And again, I can tell you the long story if you want, but I read Philippians every day for a summer. I had never been taught anything about Bible study other than you’re supposed to read a chapter day or use the devotional book if you’re studying a topic or a person or something like that.
And so I had read Philippians, but it had always been a four day deal. And so for one summer I just said, well, it only takes about 15, 16, 17 minutes to read Philippians, so I’m just going to read it every day for summer. And I got to the end of the summer, and I liked it more than I ever had. I understood it more than I ever had. I had applied more of it than I ever had, and I knew almost the whole book word for word without ever trying. And then that led to the Gospel of John in 94 and me starting to present those two books in 96. So
Yeah, one of my favorite, and it’s not a memorizing Bible for me, but one of the favorite things I picked up when I was back in the US one year was the reader’s Bible, which is essentially a Bible without any chapter numbers or verse numbers. And it just seeing a book like Philippians without verse and chapter numbers, you just realize, wait a second, this was the way it was. It was one letter. It wasn’t four parts of a letter, it was just one letter. Now, I think if you’re starting off with Philippians, that’s one thing, you know, got four chapters, but John, that’s a leap going from Philippians to John. How was not, were you reading that one full way through per day?
No, no. Okay. I would say that when I was reading John and what I encourage people to do when they’re reading a longer book, whether it’s John or one of the gospels or Acts or Genesis or something like that, yeah. Because I just say from a brain science standpoint, you want to read for an amount of time, not an amount of content. Because if when you’re reading for an amount of time, your brain is in a very natural learning state. Just like if you sit down to read a novel, you don’t say, I’m going to read two pages. You just say, oh, look, I got 30 minutes. I’m going to pick up my novel. And you read and you look at whatever chapter seems to wrap up about that you need to go off to your appointment or whatever, put the kids to bed or whatever it is.
And so for me, I would say that most days I read about 30 minutes. I think that there were probably, because it took, from the time that I started, it was a New Year’s resolution in 94, I had, I had experienced Philippians in 93 in the summer that fall. Just the amount of saturation of my thinking and thought life and all of that. With Philippians, I was just like, I need to know the life of Jesus. This needs to be a part of me the way that Philippians is. And so 94 internalizing the gospel, John is the New Year’s resolution. So I just said, and the first day that I walked around my house without the Bible in my hands and spoke, the whole gospel of John was the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. So it was about a 10 and a half month process, a little over 10 and a half months.
And I would say probably in those 10, 11 months, I would guess there were probably five to 10 days that I set aside two hours and read the whole gospel. But most days I didn’t. Okay. Most days I would read 30 minutes some days, some times I would take two days and I would read an hour and read an hour. Other times I would take four days and read half an hour because the gospel of John, if you just sat down and you read it straight through out loud at a normal rate of speed the way you were reading it to your kid or something like that, it would be about an hour and 50 minutes or something like that. So a little under two hours. So if you read 25 to 30 minutes a day, you’ll read the Gospel of John every four days.
But my mindset from when I was a kid was, well, you read a chapter a day, well, that means that if I never, ever miss a day, if I’m perfect in my Bible reading, then it’s going to take me three weeks, 21 chapters. And so for me, in that same three week period, I was kind of at a minimum reading it, I don’t know, whatever that is, five times. So that triggers memory, triggers understanding when you understand it, you remember it better, all of those different things. And then it was probably, I would say I did that for, I don’t know, three to four months. And then after that, I knew it well enough that I then went back and looked at basically a story at a time, okay, there are probably 40 to 45 stories in the gospel of John, or Yeah, you could sec what I mean. And so I would take one of those and because I had read it at that point, 20, 30, 40 times, and our brains learn narrative quicker than they would learn monologue. So it’s a way easier to learn three chapters of John than one chapter of Philippians.
Well, yeah, that was going to be my question to you was do you find yourself having memorized both of those kind of books, do you find yourself using, pulling from stories in a book like John more than the philosophy of something that Paul says in Philippians? Or is it equal for both?
I don’t know that I have a simple answer for that, that I would say just life experientially wise, I would almost think it’s more the other way, just because
The Philippian side be
Yeah, because of the insights into life. Yeah. I mean, find myself thinking about Philippians or Ephesians or second Timothy or something more than I think about an entire story of, so maybe that’s just kind of the Holy Spirit bringing a concept from and making those connections. You see things like, I was just talking to my online Bible study community this morning about how we’re studying Hebrews right now, and in Hebrews two different times, he uses the phrase, make every effort. Well, so does Peter when he, he says that in second Peter and then you, yeah. So that conceptually you seek these connections between some of these thoughts, maybe a little bit more. So I don’t know. I don’t that there’s a succinct answer to that one, but it definitely, one builds on the other and builds on the other and builds on the other. For sure. The more I internalize, the more that I want to. For sure.
Yeah. I love your focus on obviously using scripture internalization as a means of just a deeper study, a deeper understanding of what you believe of the God that you serve and love and all of that. I’m actually somewhat shocked at times that this isn’t something that I hear more of from people that teach the word. Why do you think it is that, I don’t know that this type of scripture, like internalization and memorization isn’t something that is more common within the church nowadays, whether that’s the western church I, I guess I see it maybe a little bit more in the global church because of maybe less access to the Bible. But yeah, I’ve been wondering that myself, and I didn’t know if you had any insights on that.
Well, think that my first reaction to that, what I think the main root issue is the way in which most of us teach Bible study because it’s not in line with the way God’s wired our brains to work. People will read the Bible and study the Bible and maybe even spend eight weeks studying Ephesians or second Timothy or something, and a month after that not remember it. So because they don’t remember something they spent so much time studying, they, they’ve assumed they’ve kind of been built into their own view of themselves that they can’t memorize because if I can’t even remember what I studied, there’s no way that I could memorize. And so that’s why a lot of my approach is first from the mindset of you’re reading the Bible to hang out with Jesus, to be with him, to be his presence, and some of those things we’ve heard our whole lives.
I grew up in the church, so I heard my whole life, God has something to teach you every day. And I realized about 15 years ago that it’s not true that God is our heavenly Father, and there are lots of days when got to teach us something or correct us or challenge us or comfort us or just like we do with our kids. But there are also some days when he just wants to hang out with us. I think that there are some days when we should read the Bible and not learn anything. I think that going to the Bible with the purpose of finding an application point puts us in a very informational mindset, which is not conducive to learning. It’s not conducive to memory. And you might see an insight, you might, but we’ve kind of positioned ourselves so that if we’re looking for that application point and we don’t find it, we’re somehow bad at Bible study.
And I think sometimes God’s is just saying, I just want to hang out with you today. I want you to read this story and just enjoy the read. Yes, it’s the good book and there’s a lot to learn, but it’s also a really, it’s not just the good book. It’s a good book. It’s really good. It’s really fun. And I think that when we start to shift our mindset to be relational, and then we also study the Bible from that general to the specific approach when our mindset and our process changes, then a lot of our understanding and our memory and all of that. Because every single thing that you’ve ever learned naturally and enjoyably, you’ve learned from the general to the specific, I don’t care whether it’s sports or music or technology or science or I don’t care what it is. You’ve learned big picture tonight.
If you’re going to, you’re recording a podcast here. If you were going to talk to somebody who’s never even thought about podcasting, you wouldn’t start with how to attach this microphone to soundboard and edit that we, it’s important. It’s just not the place to start. You’d be like, well, here’s the general overview of what podcasting is, and I don’t care what it is. We learn naturally and enjoyably from the general to the specific. And most of us when we approach the Bible are 180 degrees opposite of that, not just a little bit off. We approach the Bible, let’s look at a verse. We’re going to study this book, and we’re going to look at three verses today. And so we, we’ve heard, I have fought the good fight. I finished the race. I’ve kept the faith and have no idea even from second Timothy, let alone what second Timothy’s about.
And when you flip that on its head and you say, just read Second Timothy every day for 30 days. Yeah, you’ll never hear that verse the same again. I mean, it will be transformed. So I think that because a lot of pastors, when they hear me speak and they hear me teach my process, and they see me present a book of the Bible, a lot of them say, I wish that every seminary, would you come speak here, because we were taught deep level hermeneutics, which then turns into that’s the way we preach, and that’s the way we teach people to study the Bible. And the average everyday person who doesn’t care about the original Greek meaning of what, whatever, they just think that they have no shot. So that was a long-winded answer to that’s I think that our approach to Bible study’s has translated into a whole generation, maybe the last two generations of Christians who don’t think they can let alone whether it’s even valuable. And once they start realizing, oh, yeah, wow, I just learned a whole chapter. Maybe I could learn a whole book and it wasn’t there and nearly as hard as I thought I would be. Yeah. Anyway,
And for me doing that, what I consider understanding that verse within the context of the chapter and within the context of the book itself, there’ve been more than a couple times when I’ve come across a verse that I’ve heard since I was in kindergarten that I’ve thought to myself, that doesn’t mean everyone kind of implied that meant that’s not at all what Paul’s even talking about here. And I specifically think of Philippians four 13, oh, I can do all things. And that verse right there within the context of just chapter four, it’s like, okay, it’s given me new. I don’t know, just understanding of what Paul’s trying to say to the Philippians during that time. And I’ve enjoyed that aspect of it for
Sure. A hundred percent. Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah. I call Philippians four 13 the most popular, this is my favorite verse that people don’t actually understand.
And it’s actually one of the reasons why I encourage people when they’re starting out and they say they want to internalize a book. Most people just because they love Jesus, they want to go to one of the gospels. And I’m like, you are trying to eat the whole pie when it’s time to have a slice right now. And yes, and I recommend that people start with either Philippians, Ephesians, or second Timothy. And the reason is is because all three of those books can be read in under 20 minutes. So they’re manageable in reading it every day. And all of them have verses from every chapter that you’ve heard out of context. And so I tell people those three books specifically, and maybe even more specifically Philippians and second Timothy, are two books that when you’re studying them like this and you’re internalizing them, like you’re putting flesh on a skeleton, you already know and it’s fun, you go, oh, so that’s the context. That’s Oh, that’s how that connects to that. Oh, he mentions that in both of those chapters or whatever. And so there, because people have heard verses from the four chapters of Philippians, the four chapters of Second Timothy empathy, there are verses from any of those eight chapters that I could say, and most people that have been in the church for more than five years have heard them.
Well, why, if you don’t mind, because I appreciate really getting that context and the foundation of the why and your really approach to this, and I think that’s super important. And if you don’t mind, can we shift gears and would you give us just a brief overview of your method, your methodology of how you approach and internalize the actual words? Yeah. So then now diving into stringing words together, is there a certain way that you like to do it, something that’s worked well for you?
Yeah, so I would say it, you’re going to hear some of what I’ve already said because my first starting point is when I’m first advising people on how to start, I say read it out loud in a physical Bible from a physical Bible over and over again as big a chunks as you can until you get to the place where you can say it in your own words, you haven’t gotten the words right yet. You just can say it in your own. Once you get to the place where you can say it in your own words without leaving out major ideas and major sentences and stuff like that, then that’s kind of the trigger that your brain is ready to go to the detail level. And so whether it be you’re trying to just internalize a parable or you’re trying to do a chapter, or you’re trying to do a whole book, just read that section over and over again until you can say it in your own.
And the whole out loud thing that just triggers so many different memory tools are the research shows that at worst, it doubles your retention. At best, I’ve heard it six Xs, that’s somewhere between two x and six x your memory just by reading out loud. And then if you add reading a physical bottle, because in today’s day and age, we’ve got phones, we’ve got tablets, we’ve got you version, we’ve got all these different tools, and I use ’em. I’m not belittling them. The amount of research that we can do robust research and the ways that we can share the Bible because of technology. I mean, look what we’re doing here, but I’m thankful for them. But when it comes to a passage, I’m internalizing, you’re just kind shooting yourself in the foot if you’re using a digital, because I call it the power of location that our brains love association and location and we remember where things are.
And so if you see it on the page, your brain remembers where it was on the page, which triggers another level of memory. So whereas when you’re scrolling through something on an iPad or a phone or whatever, you’re just, you’re not saving any time other than the fact that you might not have your Bible with you. So having a digital one is okay for a reviewing, but when you’re learning it and you’re trying to cement it in, if you can read big pieces and you can read it over and over again out loud from a physical Bible, that’s typically what I do until I’ve read the passage about, like I said, my general rule is 30 times in 30 days. Once I’ve done that then, and I’ve watched the movie 30 times, then there will be big pieces that I know word for word without ever trying that the memorization portion of internalization will have just happened for big chunks of it.
Then I can go back and say, okay, I want to look at these couple paragraphs. Because the beauty of starting with that big picture first and getting to the place where you can kind of say it in your own words is when you break it down, most people look at, Hey, I’m going to learn this verse or two, and then I’m going to add on a couple verses and I’m going to review these four and all that kind of stuff. But what I’ve found is if you start with the big picture, you very rarely, unless it’s a really complicated thing, it’s the list of characteristics and Philippians for something like that, then there will be some verses that you need to really focus on. But I find that I very rarely have to break it all the way down to a verse or two. I almost always can break it down to I’m going to spend today looking at two paragraphs and I’m able to look at a whole paragraph because it’s already familiar. I already understand it. I already know what it’s saying. And I remember the first person I ever saw do a book of the Bible. This was spring of 93. Are you familiar with Bruce Kuhn? Do you know Bruce?
I’ve heard of him. Yeah.
Okay. So Bruce Kuhn is a guy that when I was a youth pastor, a friend of mine who was a youth pastor at another church, he and I were having lunch and he goes, dude, I don’t know what to make of this. There’s this guy coming to our church Sunday night who has memorized the whole gospel of Luke, and he gets up and he quotes it and he kind of acts it out, I guess, I don’t know. And we’re both kind of like for two hours, and neither of us had ever heard of it back way. So we’re talking, yeah, 30 years ago, more, no, 30 years ago, I guess. So none of neither of us had ever heard of something like that. And so we went and I ended up being blown away and amazed at how cool the life of Jesus was just from a, it’s sound it all, I’m always hesitant to use this word, but from an entertainment value, from an engaging just man, this I laughed and cried and all those things.
It was just a great story, just happened to be about somebody who claimed to be God, which is kind of cool. But I ended up taking Bruce to lunch the next day, and our lunch turned into nine hours. No, no joke. We put the whole day together, and I remember he said something when I first asked him how he said, memorize the story first and then use the words on the page to tell the story. And that just led to my whole shift of, I’m just going to read it over and over again until I understand it. Once I understand it, then I know my brain has ready to do the work of memorization. So to me, I’m not against memorization. I just think memorization is an element of internalization, not the starting point. And it’s not just the end goal. Just because we can quote it doesn’t mean it’s soaking our soul. Right? Yeah. So
Yeah, that’s fantastic. I really appreciate you kind of breaking that down. And I know that, Keith, you’ve got a couple of different courses on your website, one about internalization that I’ve seen, and I believe one about your Bible study method. Can you just share with us quickly what those are?
For sure, for sure. So relational Bible study is my signature course. I mean, it’s the thing that I’m kind of known for is this relational Bible study methodology teaches people that whole process of how to study the Bible from the general to the specific with a relational mindset. That’s all that. And just a couple years ago, I just released my course called The Simplest to internalize any verse chapter or whole book of the Bible. And that really lays out people who have taken relational Bible study, see in the first couple sessions of the internalization course, see the structure of the course in there. Because yeah, I actually resisted recording that course for about 15 years because I didn’t want to record it and have it just be something that was about memorization techniques. I wanted it to be something that I wanted it to be that I had taught it enough that I could teach it and still keep this idea of the purposes and just to be able to quote it.
More Bible Memory Resources
Are you interested to memorize more of God’s Word? Check out the various resources we have available on Bible Memory Goal: