Scripture Memorization Journal

This entry journals my memorization of Hebrews – as far as possible on a day-to-day basis.

For the first time I am memorizing a passage with verse numbers. When repeating verses mentally or out loud, I include chapter and verse number for each verse. In learning them, I've found it easiest to remember especially the verse numbers of certain verses that have a number easy to recall (e.g., 7, 10, 12, 14, 20), and/or begin a new section of the text. Knowing those and knowing where verse divisions are, I can usually reconstruct the remaining verse numbers with enough accuracy to achieve my purpose in memorizing them, which is (1) to ensure that in reciting passages to myself from memory, I don´t skip over sections, (2) and to readily recall in which chapter and part of chapter a given text is in.

  • Chapters 1-7 I memorized 4-8 weeks ago, partly while travelling by train and partly while hiking in the mountains.
  • Oct 26: 45 minutes while signing letters (1000 to sign altogether, only part of that time did I use for memorization); learning chapter 8, and starting to get familiar with chapter 9, 1-4.
  • Oct 27: 30 minutes while biking; reviewed chapter 7 multiple times (chapter 7 being still quite new, and not very well fixed in my memory)
  • 30 minutes while cleaning bathroom; reviewed chapter 8, chapter 9:1-2.
  • Oct 28: 30 minutes while biking and climbing uphill; review chapters 1-8.

In the following days a number of reviews of chapters 1-8 mostly while underway, and have been refreshing other books of St. Paul as well. In a few cases I realized I needed to check one or another verse when I had an opportunity.

November 11, Monday: 45 Minutes in train and subway. Learned Heb 9:5-20 well enough to recite the whole passage twice stumbling at only two places and making only a couple very minor mistakes (substituting expressions that convey basically the same sense as the actual passage for the exact wording of the passage).

Note: I find it more efficient to learn a longer passage imperfectly on the first day than to learn a shorter passage perfectly on the first day. After a night's sleep it becomes clearer which verses or parts of verses are troublesome and need the most attention and repetition, so that I can apportion time specifically to those, rather than taking more time on every verse.

November 12, Tuesday: 20 minutes review of 9:5-20 in train and waiting on train platform (in this case I needed to look at the text often enough that I couldn't have done the review while engaged in anything that needed attention). Finished this review by reciting the whole passage three times. Status: most of the text is fairly firm, but certain conjugations and linking adverbs are not; for example, Heb 9:15, "Therefore he is the mediator", I could easily slip to remembering "Thus he is the mediator." In principle I try to learn the English text (RSV) as it stands, but don't care very much about the substitution of such synonyms when learning a translation rather than the original Greek text.

Another 10 minutes in another train and walking to the place where I have a course making a beginning of learning the last few verses of chapter 9.

November 13, Wednesday: in a 20 minutes short walk after lunch a review of 9:1-9:28 (at 9:15 and 9:23-end I had to look at the text). The second half of this period I spent working though the text backwards verse by verse, or in some cases in blocks of two verses, in order to strengthen the connection of each part with the preceding passage (without doing this, one ends up knowing a text well in relation to the following context, but not quite so well in relation to the context that precedes it.) 20 minutes walking to train station and while changing trains, reviewing chapters 8-9.

November 14, Thursday: 5-10 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 while showering and getting dressed; 12 minutes reciting chapters 6-9 while biking to Trumau. When reciting in the afternoon, I couldn't remember the second half of verse 26, though I knew there was a second part I couldn't remember.

November 15: 7 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 between church and home.

November 17: 7 minutes reciting chapters 7-9 between church and home.

November 18: 30 minutes learning chapter 10:1-11 (while on a bike path, so without being able to give full attention to memorization). Recited once again in the early evening.

November 19: 1 minute reviewing chapter 10:1-11, 8 minutes reciting it while showering and getting dressed.

20 minutes reciting chapter 5-10:11 while biking from Trumau to the train station

November 21: 3 minutes reciting chapter 10:1-11 while showering.

November 22: 5 minutes reciting chapters 9-10:11 while biking from Church.

November 23: 5 minutes reviewing chapter 10:1-11 and correcting some mistakes that arose in the course of reciting it the previous days without checking the text.

November 25: 20 minutes learning chapter 10:11-21

November 26-30: a couple times reciting chapter 10:1-14 (all I could remember without looking at the text)

December 1: 10 minutes relearning Heb 10:15-20 (There is a certain difficulty in remembering correctly Heb 8:10 "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts" and Heb 10:16 "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds" — this will always remain a difficulty, unless I can figure out a logical reason in the epistle for the change in order, or use a mnemonic trick to remember in which case "minds" comes first, and in which case "hearts" comes first.) Postscript: it works to remember that the second occurrence is the "strange" one, i.e., since the first meaning of heart is something physical, it is more normal to speak about writing on hearts than on minds.

From December to March: four times reciting Heb 1:1-10:18.

March 3: 15 minutes learning Heb 10:15-27.

March 9: 40 minutes learning Heb 10:15-39.

March 10: 40 minutes learning Heb 11:1-16.

March 13: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16.

March 17: 1 hour 30 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16 and learning heb 11:17-end (while biking on bike trails).

March 24: 1 hour reviewing Heb 11 (15 minutes in train, 45 minutes biking and hiking).

March 31: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

April 3: 5 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

(This post will be updated on an ongoing basis).


How to Memorize Scripture

In 2003, over a period of 9 months I learned the Gospel of John and the Epistles of St. Paul from Romans through 1 Thessalonians by heart. During the first four years after entering the seminary in Austria, I did very little review of these passages, and so some of them became a bit hazy. The amount of review to regain familiarity with the texts, is, however relatively small compared to learning them originally.

In the past weeks I have begun memorizing the Epistle to the Hebrews, and am keeping a journal of the time spent learning and of progress, so as to give an estimate of how much time it takes to learn a certain portion of Scripture by heart, and a more detailed account of techniques.

Here is a brief summary of some techniques I have found helpful for memorizing Scripture. I´ll write in more detail about some of these in individual posts.

Methods and techniques to memorize Scripture passages

  • Logical and poetic patterns: look for the flow of thought, logical divisions, for rhetorical techniques, for poetic patterns (parallel structures, chiasms [pyramid structure], etc.) This techniques has a long tradition. Fortunatianus writes in the 4th century: "What helps our memory the most? Division and composition: for order especially aids memory." Artis rhetoricae libri III.
  • Active recall: actively recalling something to memory fixes it more firmly in the mind than merely rereading or rehearing a passage.
    • When first learning, divide a passage or even larger verses into parts small enough that one can very quickly recite from memory without looking at the text. "The memory always rejoices in both brevity of length and paucity of number, and therefore it is necessary, when the sequence of your reading tends toward length, that it first be divided into a few units, so that what the mind could not comprehend in a single expanse it can comprehend at least in a number, and again, when later the more moderate number of items is subdivided into many, it may be aided in each case by the principle of paucity or brevity." (Hugh of St. Victor, De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, written in 1130 A.D., translated in The Medieval Craft of Memory, 37-38)
    • Once you can recite a verse or a passage with confidence, do so three to five times.
    • When first memorizing a passage and when making the first refresher on a subsequent day, aim to be able to recall the text 85-95% of the time by the end of a study session.
    • Utilize time that is otherwise unused: memorize at a slow enough pace that you can keep up with reviewing passages in the time periods while walking to the store, while jogging or biking, while waiting in line, etc.
  • Sleep: sleep consolidates the memory;
    • don't attempt to permanently learn any passage in a single day; it is more efficient to study 15 minutes on one day and 15 minutes the following day than 30 minutes all on one day
    • After learning a passage on one day, in most cases after a night's sleep some parts will be more firmly fixed in the mind, and it will actually be easier to recall them, while other parts will be harder to recall. Rememorize the whole passage – you'll know which parts are difficult and need particular attention, and these parts will usually now also become more firmly fixed.
  • Spaced review: after having learned a passage firmly enough that you can recite it without needing to look at the text, continue to recite it every few days for the next few weeks — frequently enough that you can recite most or all of it accurately without needing to look at the text to remind yourself of it, and so that if you forget a verse or two while reciting it to yourself, you know while reciting what parts you have forgot, and can look them up, either immediately or sometime afterwards.
  • Utilize visual memory
    • Using the same edition of layout of a text, learning a passage in a fixed layout in the page, rather than using different editions, will allow the visual memory of where words are on the page to aid the oral memory of the heard and spoken words. Hugh of St. Victor advises using the same copy of a text when memorizing something, because one memorizes not “only the number and order of verses or ideas, but at the same time the color, shape, position, and placement of the letters, where we have seen this or that written, in what part, in what location (at the top, the middle, or the bottom) we saw it positioned, in what color we observed the trace of the letter” (De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, ibid. p. 38) (I don't use this technique so much, as the convenience of having the Scripture text always with me, as for example on my cell phone, for me outweighs the value of the consistent layout of the text. – JFB)
    • A textual passage can be associated with a journey through a familiar place. (I have't used this technique myself.  – JFB)
  • Utilize music: singing a passage with a consistent melody aids the memory. (The passage may, however, remain difficult to remember without recalling the melody to one's imagination, which in turn can mean a slower rate of recall)
  • Analyze difficulties: When there is a particular difficult getting a passage right, look for the reason: is there a parallel passage elsewhere with which you are familiar, which brings confusion between the two passages? If so, make a specific mental note of the parallel passages and the differences between them.