“What Bible memory methods are you using to memorize the whole New Testament?”
This is a question I’m getting a lot and I’ve decided that the best way to answer it is to provide a quick overview of the various Bible memory methods that are available and how I’ve customized my own method to suit my goals.
Follow along with all the Bible Memory Goal YouTube videos!
There are so many different methods and techniques for memorization (not to mention the different translations of the Bible you could memorize!). And not just for the Bible. That goes for pretty much everything.
For example, you could:
- Set it to music: There’s a reason we remember song lyrics so well!
- Create silly word pictures: The sillier and crazier, the better.
- Develop a Memory Palace: Store your memories in a “palace” for retreival.
- Repetition: Say it over and over again until you can’t NOT remember it 🙂 (this is how some folks like Tom Meyer, aka “Bible Memory Man” does it)
But instead of letting all these options overwhelm you, try to look at this as a good thing.
No matter what kind of learner you are, no matter how smart you think you are, no matter how you want to retain the things you’re memorizing, there is more than likely a method that will work for you.
My goal here, other than describing to you my method for memorizing the Bible, is to explore the various methods to uncover their strengths and weaknesses.
Important Note: This Ain’t Easy!
Before we dive into specific memory methods for Bible memorization, I want to stress one important thing: There is no easy way to memorize anything.
There are efficient ways. There are effective ways. But there is no easy way.
There is no “easy” way to memorize anything.
You have to put in the effort, whether it’s rote memorization or any other technique. And there are pros and cons to various methods.
My method isn’t the end-all-be-all and I admit that it does require a lot of work and creativity. However, I’m taking advantage of some modern memory techniques that have been proven to increase memory retention over time and I’ve reaped the benefits of that already.
Let’s start with the most popular method: rote memorization.
Method #1: Using Rote Memorization
Most of us default to rote memorization as a primary Bible memory method, which is another way of saying “repeat it over and over until you’re sick of it”.
The reason we do this is probably because we weren’t taught anything different. This is what we did in elementary school and high school, so that’s what we do as adults.
The truth is, even repetition isn’t the most efficient way to memorize something, it does work.
Back about 20 years ago, I used this repetition method to memorize the book of James in the Bible. I was successful! I was able to recite all five chapters of James with such ease that I could be multi-tasking while saying it.
The Pitfalls of the Repetition Method
In the years since , I’ve come to realize two big problems with the rote memory method.
First, believe it or not, the first two chapters of James are firmly ingrained in my brain, but from chapter three onward, things start to get a little fuzzy.
You see, during the memorization process, I repeated chapters one and two constantly but by the time I finished chapter five, the last book of James, I didn’t have to repeat that chapter nearly as much because I was done with the book. And as you can imagine, that’s the one chapter I’ve had the hardest time remembering.
The second issue was even more problematic for me.
Rote memorization is very linear. Verse one connects to verse two, which prompts me to remember verse three. They’re all chained together, which in many ways is a good thing.
However, the problem arises when you forget one link in the chain. All it takes is for me to forget a single verse or even a single word sometimes, and all of the sudden I can’t finish reciting anything else. Linear memory is fragile, so that even the slightest break can throw you off completely.
So does that mean that rote memorization is a bad thing? Absolutely not.
It all depends on your goals.
Modern Bible Memory Methods to Consider
Which brings me to the specific Bible memory methods I’m using.
My goal as I’m memorizing the entire New Testament is to be able to associate chapter and verse numbers with each passage so that I can “look up” any verse in my mind or hear a verse and be able to know exactly where it is in the Bible. I still want to be able to recite an entire chapter or book in order, but I want to attach that extra information there.
To do that requires combining a few different memory techniques, which I’m going to explain here in three different phases:
- Anchoring (aka The Memory Palace)
- Numbering (aka The Major System)
- Story Encoding
Here’s a deeper explanation of each method.
Anchoring | Creating a Memory Palace
The first step, anchoring, is better known as the memory palace method for Bible memorization, or the journey method. I’m finding a physical place that I know so well that I could literally walk through the space in my mind.
Let’s take my office where I’m writing this as an example. I know exactly where my desk is, where my shelves are, where the door is, where the window is, etc. Whatever that place I choose, I’m going to assign or “anchor” the chapter or book that I want to memorize to that specific location.
You could create a memory palace out of a number of different places. Ideas include:
- Your home (childhood home, current home, etc.);
- Your school (elementary, high school or even university);
- Your church building;
- Your office;
It doesn’t really matter what you choose. It simply has to be a place that is etched in your memory. I’ll give you an example of what I’ve chosen in a moment.
Number Memory | Attaching Numbers to Places
The next step for me, after I choose my physical anchor location, is to create a linear path through that location and associate a number with specific objects.
Because when it comes to memorizing the Bible, I need a way to remember chapter numbers and verses. This may not be something that’s important to you, but I’ve decided that it’s something important for me.
For this to work well, I’ve learned that I can’t zig zag or allow for any random movement as I number objects in my memory palace. I have to move around the space in a linear, logical order.
Again, there are so many ways to remember numbers, and you’re going to need to choose which method works for you. For me, I’ve modified what’s known as The Major System, where you associate numbers with letters to create word objects that represent that number.
But there are plenty of other methods including:
- Rhyming Method: Sun stands for one, glue stands for two, etc.
- Number Shape Method: One is a tree, two is a swan, etc.
- The Major System: Numbers are assigned to letters of the alphabet and create word pictures.
- Association Method: Associate a number to whatever comes to your mind. For example, the number 23 could be Michael Jordan. The number 12 could be eggs (a dozen eggs), etc.
If you want a more detailed explanation of these different number methods or want to steal some of my number associations to use for yourself, you can download my cheat sheet here:
Whatever you choose, the point is that you’re creatively finding a way to associate a number-picture with a specific location in your memory palace.
Once you’ve done this, you should be able to, in your mind’s eye, walk through your memory palace and know exactly where you’ve placed each number representing each verse in the chapter you want to memorize. This is the foundation of how I am able to pick out chapters and verses that I’ve memorized.
EXAMPLE! How I’ve Placed Galatians 3:4
If you’re confused, maybe this example will help.
If you ask me what Galatians 3:4 says, here’s what happens in my brain:
I know that for me, the house we rent here in Thailand is where I’ve anchored the book of Galatians. Each room represents a different one of the six chapters and for me, our dining room is chapter three. The table in our dining room, which has four legs and helps me remember the number four, is exactly where I’ve placed this verse.
Galatians, my home. Chapter 3, my dining room. Verse 4, our dining room table.
Ok, I know what you may be thinking at this point – it’s way too much work and much easier to just repeat it over and over until you memorize it. But I can promise you, based on experience, that the ability to attach chapter and verse numbers to your memory is a HUGE advantage!
And on top of that, doing this anchor-number combination means that even if I forget one verse as I’m reciting it to myself, I can skip ahead to the next one. Unlike rote memorization, that relies on a linear progression, the memory palace allows me to step back and visually see the entire chapter or even book, from the first verse to the last.
Of course, I haven’t shared the last of my Bible memory methods yet, which is critical to this whole process for me, and it’s the one I’ve called “encoding”.
Encoding | Creating a Story for the Memory
Encoding is a step where I suspect that most of us will approach it differently. And don’t be discouraged, I’ve come to learn over time that while this step may seem daunting at first, it gets much easier as you go along.
The best way for me to describe my encoding method is with that old Disney theme park ride “It’s a Small World”. Did you ever ride that ride? I think a similar ride has been created for The Pirates of the Caribbean and I remember something else at Six Flags with the Warner Brothers cartoons that was similar growing up.
The point is that you’re in a vehicle, either a boat or a car, that brings you through different rooms. Each of these rooms has a story being told all around you in that room that you watch in progression. The characters themselves don’t really move much, but there’s this craziness and a connection between the different characters and objects in that room that allow you to understand what is happening. There’s a story, and that story is the foundation of what I’m calling encoding.
Now that I have a specific location in my office (“anchoring”) and a number associated with that location (“numbering”), I’m now going to use any tool at my disposal to create a story (“encoding”) that happens on that location to help me remember that verse.
EXAMPLE! Encoding Philemon 4
Let’s say that I have a four-legged stool in my office where I’ve placed Philemon verse 4.
One example of how I might encode this verse is by placing a pack of Always Ultra pads on this stool. It’s weird, those definitely shouldn’t be in my office, and that’s part of what makes this fun, because the way our brains are wired, the stranger the story, the better we remember it.
So in my story, the always pads are being run over by a military tank that is then flattened by a massive elephant that is kneeling down to pray.
Each object represents a word or phrase that interacts with the next word or phrase and helps me remember the verse in order. For this verse, those words are “always”, “thank”, “remember” – because an elephant always remembers things – and “prayers”.
After just a short bit of repetition, this helps me remember that “I always thank my God when I remember you in my prayers”.
To be clear, rote memorization still plays a role as a process in my Bible memory methods.
I’m still repeating the verse again and again as I establish and test how I’ve encoded the verse. But most of the time, I don’t have to have my Bible in front of me to repeat it over and over. I can use the story as a means of repeating it in my mind at any point in time.
But now I have visual cues in case I forget something and it’s been placed in a specific location associated with a specific number in my memory palace so I can find exactly which book, chapter and/or verse it’s in.
What’s Next for Your Bible Memory Journey?
So that’s a quick overview of the various Bible memory methods. The specifics for each of these three phases: anchoring, numbering and story encoding, will be unpacked more as I go along. So if you’re interested, please follow along, subscribe on YouTube or just dig into my archives here.
What I don’t want you to do is to be discouraged.
Don’t feel like you have to adopt this method immediately or even at all. I just wanted to explain how I’ve been able to memorize and retain multiple books of the Bible in short periods of time. You can watch interviews with other Bible memory experts who explain their methods that you can borrow from.
We’re going to take this step by step, and right now, the best step you can take is to just get into the habit of spending 5-10 minutes every morning or evening, not much time at all, doing some sort of memorization, using whatever method you want.
Dive in with the confidence that this is not only possible, it’s worth the effort!