To memorize or not to memorize?

For anyone who has been on the receiving end of someone quoting scripture at you to make a point, I apologize. For those who have been abused and maligned by the word of God, I am sorry. It certainly was never God’s intent that scripture and scripture memory be used to harm or abuse others. Yet somewhere along the way, for some, it has gone horribly wrong.

So what’s wrong with memorizing scripture? Several years ago I had a college student challenge me and say that memorizing scripture was passe. That no young people needed to know the verses off the top of their head and certainly not where to find them. He pointed to the vast availability of internet or electronic Bibles and believed it was boring and irrelevant. Ironically, this was a students who just a few months later was on a mission trip with me and became quite ill. He quoted passages over and over and asked others with him to do the same as he was scared and so far from home.

In this same season of life I had a HS student at the church I was serving who could quote more scripture than I could ever dream of knowing. The difficulty is that she wielded it like a weapon. She was one of the least loving, least gracious students I have ever had. She was also one of the most judgmental, hateful people I have ever known. Here she was having ingested all of those passages and yet none seemed to have penetrated her heart at all.

Finally, this past weekend I was in a meeting with several pastors. They too were concerned about those working with their youth. One comment came up regarding training and the requirement to memorize scripture. A pastor questioned why this was needed. In all fairness, perhaps he was concerned it was being memorized out of context or to be used a a blunt instrument in proof texting. (I would agree with both of those.) Unfortunately, the conversation turned to needing to protect against the experience of interacting with “those evangelicals”. There was no talk of hiding God’s word in your heart or of scripture being a light unto my path. There was no talk of memorizing scripture as being positive at all. It was purely a talk about wanting to protect their students. To protect them not from worldly philosophy or offering the ability to know the text for themselves or be in conversation with any other faith tradition but to protect their young from other youth who hailed from the evangelical tradition.

I am currently serving in a youth ministry where the decision to memorize scripture was made long before I arrived. I had a chat a few weeks ago with one of the girls and asked her why she tried every week to memorize the verse. In part her answer was because it was something to do on the car ride, their were prizes but then she said…and because when my world is falling apart the verses I have memorized are what I turn to. This is developmentally appropriate. The hope is that it will become a guide for her even when life is not falling apart but this is where it begins. For many of us, the passages we memorized as adolescents have become our foundation in adult life.

While I appreciate that there is more to faith and the Christian walk than memorizing scripture, given the sheer volume of times there are internal cross references in scripture itself I am going to take my cue there. Call me old fashioned or out of date but I still think it is good. AND like many good things can be used in very wrong ways. That said, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath.


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About Amy Jacober

Amy Jacober (PhD, Fuller Seminary) is a youth ministry veteran with ministry and teaching experience. She focuses on practical theology, urban ministry, theology & disability, and marginalized communities. She is a volunteer youth worker in her church and community, lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects and serves on the Young Life Capernaum national board. In her free time she can be found playing with her three young children, husband, and oversized dog.