Listen as Dr. Larry Dinkins explains why thinking about the oral traditions of Scripture is so important, and how sometimes “content accuracy” is a better goal than “word for word” accuracy.
Or you can listen to the Memorize What Matters podcast on your favorite player:
Listen to “”Orality” vs Word-for-Word Bible Memory (Part 1)” on Spreaker.
Here are a couple of the resources mentioned in the interview:
- The 100 Stories PDF File
- Bible Memory Community (join for free!)
Dr. Larry Dinkins Interview Transcript:
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Right, I think you do start with kind of definition of “Oral Preferred Learners.” What I didn’t really realize because I’ve been educated past my intelligence, and I do have a doctorate. So in the area of literacy, I have been off the charts my whole life. But my target group is a Thai, and I had a chance to do qualitative research for seven years, teaching a chronological approach and finding out that the Thai are much more oral than I realized. Oral is basically face to face, mouth to mouth communication. And there’s probably 70 to 80% of the world is in that category, that either can’t or won’t or don’t prefer to process things with print.
And in our digital world, people are secondarily oral, and they are scanners and browsers, and so they’re not readers. And what I found with the Thai is, once there’s some statistics came out, that Thai don’t read eight books or even eight chapters, but eight lines of print a year.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Now I think, that is overblown. (Josh laughs) But a Thai pastor came up to me and said, “I think that’s… Eight lines is a bit much. It’s probably six.”. It just underlines the fact that Thai people do not really process with reading. And I’ve been here 42 years, so I really realize how they process. And it’s much more through narrative, through stories, through drama. they just don’t kinda gravitate toward literacy like we do. 10% of the world that has been reached, basically, are more highly literate. My calling is to that 80% or so, probably 90%.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: That really process the Scriptures, not so much in print, but much more in an oral form.
Josh: One of the things that I’ve, you know, thought as I’ve been over here, because I’m not seminary trained, and I’m okay with that. It’s not an embarrassment, it’s not point of pride for me, it’s just the reality. But one of the things I’ve realized is, I am from Dallas. I could have gone to Dallas Theological Seminary, and so it was an option for me. But I think that for the majority of the world, you know, being able to get that kind of training isn’t always available.
And so, one of the things that I’ve kind of, I don’t know, preached, or just kind of enjoyed thinking about as this idea that being able to really dive into biblical memorization, in some form. And there are so many different ways that that happens, that is, almost like this, it’s an education in itself, right? Because you’re having to really get into the easy parts of the Bible and the hard parts of the Bible because you’re looking at it.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Right.
Josh: Instead of just picking little versus here and there. So, you know, when we’re thinking of, all right, how do we make that possible for the whole world or anybody that’s… And you are talking, and I get it and it makes sense. Not everybody is the same,at the same level of literacy as the Western world. So then, what… How does your approach then differ from the way that I would approach Bible memorization?
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I think what I have done, particularly before I got this exposure to orality is, I was memorizing books. And also I had a number of individual verses which were always spot on and rote. And they particularly were from the Epistles. And what I find is, as far as memory training, and it often ends up in the Epistles.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I would say, my pastor spends 70% of his time preaching from the Epistles. So whatever the genre is, then you wanna honor that. In other words, rote memory of specific versus from the Epistles makes a lot of sense. I’m teaching Romans this next term.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I want them to know one key verse and know it well from each of those 16 chapters, right? So that is something I always will emphasize is there are parts of the Scripture that you really wanna treat much more detailed way. And yet, Paul said, “We need to have the whole council of God.” If we end up in our Bible study ending up 70% in just one 10% of the Bible. The Epistles are only 10% of the Bible. And most of the training I have heard, ends up being in the Epistles. But there are a thousand stories or 70% of the Bible, which is narrative.
And I believe God saw, as He looked through all the eons of time, most people are gonna very much resonate and gonna be hardwired for story. I did not appreciate this because of my background, which was highly literate. And yet, I was called to the Thai and tribal people. And so, I’ve done 90 something workshops on the ground in the Thai churches, tribal churches, seeing them really get excited about God’s Word because they’re processing much more in a narrative story form. And stories can be absorbed and I think a very different way than written… Maybe, cell phone-driven type review systems.
Josh: So then if I am memorizing, let’s say, the book of… Well, I’ve just finished the book of Second Timothy and I’m… Even as I’m rehearsing and reciting to myself, I’m going word for word. What does it look like for you then when you’re doing orality or the stories that are in the Old Testament? ‘Cause I’ve seen you, you’ve got like a list. I don’t know if that’s the list right there.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Right.
Josh: Others that have just that you can just now… You may not be able to say it word for word, right? But you’ve got the story down completely. What does that look like?
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I think what’s interesting with the Thai, if you just open up a Bible and read and then close it and just say, “Repeat it,” they’ll probably get 50% if it’s a story and it’s not too long.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Then let’s just read it again and close your Bible. It go up to 70% If you add gestures and actions, if you add spatial things, and you know there’s a number. Suddenly you’ve got someone probably at 95% or more in 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Here’s a very quick story and I’ll just throw it out.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Done in 10 minutes and then everybody has it accurately. Now it’s in their own words. And we change pronouns into proper names because you’re working with pros. And if you’re telling a story, and memorized it and you have he, they, she, it, you realize you need to make a little adjustment there because you’re not gonna know who’s Peter and John and James, which one is it? So there are a few ways that you would train somebody in absorbing a short story, usually less than 15 verses. Because even oral people can’t go 30, 40, without some help.
But I find out, I find that if there’s an action story that has more of a visual storyboard, kinda like a movie going through graphically in your mind, you can do it quite quickly. And that’s my concern, because I’ve seen people trying to work on very detailed parts of the Epistles and absorb that. And it would take a long, long time. Whereas, my experience is, in 10 minutes, I’ve got a Thai people with 95% accuracy on a story like the storm story.
Now, if you can multiply those and as you mentioned, in my life, my kinda lifelong training, and you often talk about how you wanna do memory for the long-term. Well, I’ve got a hundred stories. They’re all less than 15 verses, and they also are very action. And what it means is, they are more optimum parts of the Scripture to start people out in a positive way. I think you can scare people with Bible memory by saying, “Oh, I could never do that.” And I’ve mentioned that to you before.
I want my training to be such for the Thai people on the ground to say, “I could do that” and have a great encouragement to start out slowly with Bible memory. But then have a great excitement to get much more into the Scripture in a broad way and to do inductive Bible study, you know, and get deep into the Epistles. I want people to be as highly literate as they can. But Josh, the reality is, Thailand has 0.7% Christian.
Almost 200 years.
And I believe the way we’ve communicated, maybe in a very highly Western literate way contributes to that. And I’m almost 70 years old, been here over 40 years. Before I leave here, I wanna approach that can really be cookies on the bottom shelf, able to access it, and to get people excited about absorbing more and more Scripture. So that not that they absorb it, but they meditate on it.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Which, I see as the keyword in the Scriptures as far as this whole issue. You wanna meditate on God’s Word, absorb it, ruminate on it,so that you can obey it. And so that you can tell it. What I love about stories is they are readily replicated and retold. Epistles are fantastic, but it’s kinda hard to sit down. Can you listen to Romans 9? I know it.
And I’m gonna repeat it Rote memory, Romans 9. My idea is size up the felt need of a person and from these hundred stories. From my database, is say, what story relates best to that person where he’s at at that point?.
Josh: Yeah, I think that’s a good point right there. Like, there are a very few times in my life as much as I’m trying to make it more of a part where something that I’ve memorized in Second Timothy or First Thessalonians is like, I can pull it out and use it. But story is something that can be very easily applied to a lot of different situations.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Yes.
Josh: Have you heard the story of Jonah? Have you heard the story, the ax that floated, like… And being able to tell those stories in the middle of whatever the conversation is happening.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I have a swimming story, I tell lifeguards. And Josh, I’ve talked to about six, seven lifeguards. And they say, “What story?” It’s from the Bible, Now Jonah doesn’t swim very far.
(Dr. Larry laughs)
But I know chapter one, I don’t know all of the chapter, all the chapters. But I have had a wonderful opportunity. In my swimsuit, talking to a lifeguard, and going through that, then asking a few questions. And I’m not tying the bow in evangelism, but I’m peaking their interests and I always tell them, “This is in God’s Word, it’s accessible on your cell phone. You can look up just what I told you.” And I am telling it as accurately as I can but I can do that, in my swimsuit, without review, because it’s in my own words. So there’s that balance, content accuracy, but in your own words, changing pronouns to proper names and making sure you can see it more as a graphic…
I think I did seven chapters at one point, in Romans. I don’t have pictures, so much. But what I just did as far as the storm story, I can do that, probably when I have Alzheimer’s. (Josh laughs) Because it’s such a graphic action type portion of Scripture.
Josh: There was something you’d said before we started recording here that I think would be good to bring out here, which is, essentially, when the Old Testament or even other parts of the New Testament are quoted within the Bible, it doesn’t actually happen word for word. Is that correct?
Dr. Larry Dinkins: Right, and I think it’s important to go back to the time of the Bible. Probably, some people say 3% were literate. Jewish people were highly literate. But in general, the people that Paul ministered to on his missionary journeys, you could have 90 something percent non-literate, right? Yeah.
So, yeah, I’m thinking that the main thing is that you want… Yeah, go back to your question again, ’cause I got off on Paul.
Josh: Well, yeah, no, no, no. I was asking about how the Bible quotes itself. For being….
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I just Googled the use of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and I actually pulled a quote out that reminded me that they were much more emphasis on meaning. Because they would quote either from the LXX or from the Masoretic Text, but they had heard it.
Josh: What’s the LXX, for everyone?
Dr. Larry Dinkins: LXX is a Septuagint which is done 200 years, maybe, before Jesus. – And they were not.. They didn’t have a cell phone and they weren’t able to be very precise in their quotations. So they would get the meaning correct. They sometimes wouldn’t know where it was from. And you look in the book of Hebrew, somewhere it is said. So you get the idea that since they didn’t have scrolls, the book of Isaiah is 30 feet long. The eunuch could own it,but most people didn’t.
So you’re working in an oral environment where people are quoting from what they heard in the synagogue or from their parents, but it’s not on rote. It is not precisely a hundred percent rote. And that was my concern because some like, some of the apps, you better be precise ’cause you’re one word off, it’s gonna show you where you’re off with story. And I wanna be precise. If anybody quotes John 3:16 and butchers it, they are in deep trouble.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: And the Roman road, and some classic verses. I have 130 something, 132 verses, two verses from every book in the Bible. I am very precise on those. But when it comes to a story, I wanna make sure it’s content accurate. But I’m not gonna be hung up with rote because I know I can keep it in my heart pocket for a long time by just making sure it’s a graphic story.
Josh: So I think as we close this up, one of the things that I wanna really bring out here is this idea. And this is coming from conversations that we’ve had long before just this right here. That I… You know, Dr. Dinkins here is not saying at all that word for word Bible memory is a bad thing. But, and this is something that I’ve been trying to say a little bit as well, though probably not as well as Dr. Dinkins has, that there are so many different ways that this can be done, right? In terms of memorizing the Bible.
And memory, like a lot of times, there’s a lot of people that set up this obstacle for themselves or they feel like this obstacle is in their way of, “If I can’t remember this word for word, then I have failed in my Bible memory approach.” And so what we’re gonna be getting into in the next part of this interview is really more of a practical idea But I want you to look at this and kind of just open your mind to the idea that there are other ways of doing Scripture memory that don’t necessarily require you to have 100% word for word content accuracy that can still have a dramatic impact on the way that you interact with people on a day to day basis.
And especially, as we’re talking with other cultures or other parts of the world that maybe are a little more oral-based as opposed to literacy and written-based. So, Dr. Dinkins, as we close is there anything else you wanted to add on this?
Dr. Larry Dinkins: I think what you just said, word for word content accuracy is one thing, that is the stress that often is in the area of memory, right? What I’m trying to emphasize is put it in your own words, but be content accurate. There are many people that actually craft stories. The group that I’m involved with is simply a story, it does not craft, and that’s why I stayed with them. Because I run into this issue. People are very concerned that… Like, the book of Revelation don’t add or subtract from the Bible, right?
Exactly. And so,
I wanna keep the details there, but I wanna make sure that it’s in my own words so that I’m not hung up on rote because I didn’t know a thousand verses before I got this into the story. Now I know a thousand of them. And if someone opened their Bible and listened to me tell these stories, they would say, “Oh, you hit it.” You might be 95%, but you are content accurate.
Dr. Larry Dinkins: So, Josh, I think that’s important with the group that all of us are very much Biblicist. We like the Bible. We wanna make sure that we are faithful to the Scripture. And there’s a way to be faithful to the Scripture in a storytelling mode. And that’s kind of my emphasis, yeah.
Josh: Great, all right.
Other Bible Memory Interviews:
If you want to listen to other Bible Memory interviews, check these out next:
- Interview with Aaron House, the Executive Director of Piercing Word Ministries.
- How Does “Bible Memory Man” Memorize Scripture? (explaining his 3-part Method) by Prof. Tom Meyer
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