You shall not murder.
You shall not steal.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall honour your father and mother.
You shall memorize the Bible??
When we think of commandments, we often think of the ten commandments given in the Old Testament. And for good reason! The ten commandments were given to Israel by God as a moral law for the whole country to live by, recorded in Scripture in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.
But there were other laws and commandments given by God too.
The “Other Commandments” in the Bible
These other commands and laws included processes for keeping oneself ceremonially clean, for bringing offerings to God and even various laws about the way the Israelites should treat one another.
Some of the commandments God gave had a focus on God’s law. In Deuteronomy 6, we see God instruct the people to diligently teach his statutes and rules to their children, to talk of them of them regularly and to keep the words on their hearts.
These words I am commanding you today are to be upon your hearts. And you shall teach them diligently to your children…”Deuteronomy 6:6-7a
While Deuteronomy specifies the requirements of the law, we see in Psalm 119, the longest of the psalms, the application of this law and what it looks like in the devoted heart of a believer. We will look particularly at verses 9-16.
A Heart of Obedience to God
It is in this Psalm 119 that we move beyond the mere command of the individual to regularly teach and talk about the law. Here we find the actions of the person who obeys this command, but more importantly, we find the heart and belief behind those actions.
In this passage, the psalmist speaks God’s laws out with his lips (verse 13), desires not to forget God’s word (verse 16), meditates on God’s precepts (verse 15), and fixes his eyes on God’s ways (verse 15).
All of these actions are what we might find in the practice of one who memorizes Scripture today.
Consider what is required to memorize Scripture:
- Constantly reciting the verse;
- Seeking to understand it’s meaning and application;
- Meditating on it during repetition;
- Seeking to apply Scripture to one’s life;
But if we were to stop here, only looking at the actions involved in scripture memory, we are not gaining the full benefit of this passage. For a command given in the law cannot by itself give us life (Galatians 3:21), but it can point us to Jesus (John 5:39-40) by showing us our sin and our need for a savior (Romans 7).
For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.Galatians 3:21
Instead, let’s take a closer look at the heart desire and belief of the psalmist writing these words.
Why Memorize Scripture?
Firstly, it is clear that the psalmist is seeking God and wants to remain close to Him and to know his ways.
With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me stray from Your commandments.Psalm 119:10
In addition to these heart desires, we see the belief of the psalmist; that storing the word of God in one’s heart helps protect one from sinning against God (verse 11), and additionally that the word of God can be used to guard a man’s heart in order to keep his ways pure (verse 9).
It is these beliefs which we must focus on, for the Bible is teaching us that there is indeed much benefit in storing God’s word in our hearts.
And the actions that we take in doing this have a lot of overlap with the actions we take when we are memorizing Scripture.
So far, we have seen that the Israelites were commanded to recite, teach and store God’s word on their heart, and we have also seen the heart desire and belief which would lead a person to memories Scripture or keep it on their heart.
What Does the New Testament of the Bible Say?
But are there differences for the New Testament believers? Do we see any evidence of the benefits of Scripture memory in the New Testament?
We see with Jesus himself, as He is in the wilderness, He quotes scripture to resist temptation and resist the devil (Matthew 4). Additionally, we see the apostle Peter quoting the Old Testament as he was speaking to the crowds on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The apostles later quote the Old Testament again when praying for boldness in Acts 4.
In addition to this, there are many references to Old Testament passages in the pages of the New Testament books and even mention of Paul and other New Testament believers reasoning with the Jews and explaining from the law the Jesus was the Christ (Acts 19).
It appears then, that the benefits of Scripture memory are not only to be seen in the life of the Old Testament believer but also in the life of the New Testament believer.
The Role of the Holy Spirit in Scripture Memory
There is one key distinction, however, between a believer and a non-believer in this matter of memorization.
The role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
The Bible states that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that Jesus had taught. In addition to this, the Holy Spirit would guide the believers into all truth (John 16).
But we see in the lives of the Pharisees, an example where they had memorized Scripture but were not able to see that the Scripture pointed to Jesus, making their Scripture memory ultimately non-valuable for their person (John 5).
James talks about this when he encourages us to be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1).
So how do we summarize all of these ideas?
The Bible commanded the Old Testament believer to regularly engage with and teach the law of God. The New Testament, while freeing us from the Law by faith in Christ, teaches that the word of God is powerful (Romans 1), living and active (Hebrews 4), with much to be gained from it (2 Timothy 3). This again mirrors the belief of the Psalmist in Psalm 119, who had a desire to know God and believed that scriptural meditation and storing God’s word in his heart would enable him to live a life close to the Lord.
The difference between the two is that the New Testament believer has received the Holy Spirit and the word of God becomes to us a weapon (Ephesians 6). In addition to this, the Holy Spirit guides the New Testament believer into all truth and brings to mind the words of Jesus in order to teach, correct and guide the believer (John 16).
Does the Bible Command us to Memorize Scripture?
So, what can we say? Does the Bible command Scripture memorization?
For the Old Testament believers, yes, at least for parts of the Law.
For New Testament believers, we are commanded to:
- Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3);
- Take up the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6);
- Let Christ’s words abide in us (John 15).
We can see the immense benefits of Scripture memory (which stores God’s word in our minds, and hopefully in our hearts through Biblical meditation), and we are encouraged therefore to engage in Scripture memory in faith, relying on God’s help and guidance throughout the process.
Joey lives in Australia and completed a Bachelor of Science prior to completing a Master of Teaching and working as a secondary school teacher for four and a half years. His specialty areas of teaching include the fields of Science, Physics and Mathematics. Joey loves memorizing scripture, with his current goal being to memorize the New Testament. In aide of this goal, and given his experience in teaching, Joey also has a keen interest in understanding the learning and memorization processes which enable scripture memory.