How to memorize lots of Scripture

psalm 8 initials
A screen shot of one of my Anki cards

Memorizing Scripture is one of the best Bible studies I ever do. When you memorize Scripture, you have to think about it in a different way than when you read. To help your memory, you have to pay attention to the exact language being used and might find yourself thinking about why a certain word is (or isn’t) used and repeated. And you’ll also need to pay a lot of attention to sentence and paragraph structures — noticing the progression the passage takes and how it transitions from one piece to the next. It forces you to study the Bible inductively.

Pastors: memorizing my sermon text has been the most important part of my sermon preparation. I’ve had to live with the text and notice all its details long before I preach it. And it’s also nice to have the passage freely available in my mind as I go about the week — thinking about it in the car, the shower, waiting in line, etc.

How I used to memorize Scripture

Here’s how I used to memorize Scripture. I’d pick a verse – a small, nice quotable piece – and I’d write it down and rehearse it over and over again until I had it down. If I spent a lot of time working on it, I could memorize six or seven verses in a week. If I wasn’t careful to come back to them, I’d forget them pretty quickly.

How I memorize Scripture now

Then someone shared something that changed my whole approach to Scripture memory. They had me take a larger chunk – a full passage rather than single verse – and turn it into initials. (I’ll show you what I mean below.) I worked on a few verses at a time until I could say the full passage using only the initials as my guide. Then from there, I began to discard the initials and work on full memory.

For some reason, that intermediate step of working from initials made a huge difference. I think it also helped to begin looking at Scripture memory in terms of whole passages rather than single verses. The memorization served a deeper purpose, too, as it opened up the depth of these passages to me in whole new ways. It also helped me to see I could work through pretty large chunks, amounts I didn’t think were possible to memorize.

Step by Step

So here’s what I would suggest you do.

1. Choose a passage.

For a week, I usually set 9 verses as my lower limit and 19 as my upper limit. Less than 9 seems a bit too slow and easy. More than 19 starts to get daunting. Let’s choose Psalm 8 for an example. It’s a beautiful psalm, and one of the most oft-quoted. And it’s just 9 verses. I use the new NIV version, so that’s what you’ll see below.

2. Initial the passage.

See Psalm 8 in NIV here. You might want to have it alongside as you read this.

I take the first letter of each word, and create a card with only those first letters. Here’s how Psalm 8:1-4 looks for me:

Psalm 8 – You made them rulers   [I always title my passages]

Ftdom. Atg. ApoD.   [Yes, I also do the prefaces to the psalms]

1 – L, oL,
hmiyniate!

Yhsyg
ith.
2 – Ttpocai
yheasaye,
tstfata.
3 – WIcyh,
twoyf,
tmats,
wyhsip,
4 – wimtyamot,
hbtycft?

Notice that I preserve all the formatting and punctuation of the passage. That’s important and helps break it up.

3. Break it up into three parts.

If I’m working on something over the course of a week, I spend the first three days on initials, the next three days memorizing the three parts individually, and the final day pulling it all together.

Psalm 8 is nine verses long. I’d break this up into three verses per day, but that leaves a bit of an awkward break at verses 3 and 4. So here, I’d probably break it like this:

Part 1 – verses 1-4
Part 2 – verses 5-8
Part 3 – verse 9 (a nice, light ending)

4. Begin memorizing

On day 1, I learn part 1, using the initials as my aid. I work on the verses for the day until I can do the whole thing by only looking at the initials. Same for days 2 and 3 (reviewing, of course, the previous days).

On day 4, I learn part 1 from memory. I use my initials as an aid until I can quote the section without my initials. Same for days 5 and 6 (reviewing, of course, the previous days). On day 7, I work on quoting the whole passage from memory.

5. Keeping it

The hardest part of memory is the first part – memorizing it in the first place. If you memorize something, then don’t review it to maintain, you’ve done all the hard work for temporary benefit, when a little bit of review could have made it permanent.

If you want a structured way for learning and then reviewing these, I highly recommend Anki software. Download it onto your computer, and then you’ll probably want to watch a quick tutorial video or two to understand how to use it. Anki is the best memory tool I’ve ever seen. I’m using it for Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, a catechism, and Bible memory, and it has been excellent for all. At its core, the principle is to identify things you’re struggling to memorize and show them to you more often, and to show you things increasingly less often as you go — essentially reminding you of it just before you might have forgotten it.

So for a week, I create 7 Anki cards. It doesn’t take much time with some copy and paste work. The first 3 cards show the initials on the front and the full passage on the back. The last 4 cards for the week show only the passage title on the front and the full passage on back. Play with Anki for a while. You’ll get it. And I think you’ll love it.

How about it? Give it a try for a week. Why don’t you start with Psalm 8? I think you’ll be surprised. And I think you’ll get a lot from it. I’d love to hear how you do. Or hear if you have more questions.

See my Facebook Page linked on the side? Click “Like,” and you’ll be able to join some of the discussion there.

14 thoughts on “How to memorize lots of Scripture

  1. Hi Teddy! When you say you memorize the initials are you memorizing each individual letter, or are you memorizing it as if it is a word? For example, in verse 1 where you wrote “hmiyniate” are you memorizing h-m-i-y-n-i-a-t-e or are you thinking of it as a made up word? Sorry if I just misunderstood that part, but wanted to clarify. I have the worst time memorizing anything, so I’d love to try this method! I miss listening to your sermons at church, but enjoy reading your blog!

    1. Hi Ashley,

      Oops! I may not have communicated well what I do. I never memorize the initials. I use the initials as a memory aid. (I’ll edit the post to try to make that more clear.)

      So for example, I would have a card in front of me that says “hmiyniate!” and I would say “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Once I can do the verse with only the initials as aid, I move on to straight memory — with no initials in front of me.

      Make sense?

  2. Ahh! That makes so much more sense!! I’m sure most people probably figured that out, but I apparently needed more help lol! Thanks for the clarification!

  3. Hi Teddy, my last comment doesn’t look like it went through. I appreciate your blog post and this idea. I think this post first introduced me to the concept some years ago. I have made a website tool to make the process of generating the letters easier. For those that are interested, it can be found here: https://bates.link/scripture-letters/

    It will automatically download the scripture passages and display it with the letters above each verse.

    Blessings to you!

    Michael

  4. Hi!
    I realize this is a very old post. Doesn’t hurt to try to ask a question, though. I use Anki for learning, and would like a little clarity on your method. Do you create anki cards for the passage AFTER you have it memorized, or somewhere during the process? It sounds like you use anki to help keep it in your long term memory, is that correct?

    1. Hi Benjamin,

      Thanks for this question! I create Anki cards for the passage as I’m trying to memorize it. So I’ll create a card with all of the initials, and if I’m able to use the initials and correctly get the full passage before having to look at it (the answer in Anki), then I’ll mark it as a card that I got correct. If I have to use the answer section to help me through, I mark it as missed. Once I’ve gotten to the point that I can do the passage with initials, I create one that just lists the citation as the question, with the full passage as the answer.

      Does that make sense?

      Teddy

  5. Could you share an Anki deck you have made for a passage to make this a little more clear? Very interesting ideas. Thank you.

  6. Hi Teddy,

    Thank you SO much for this. I pray to be a honed tool for the Kingdom of God, and the ability to memorizing scripture is one of God’s greatest provisions (roughly speaking).

    Would you be willing to share your NIV Anki Deck (.apkg)?
    Or I would be willing to compensate you for your work as well!
    Either way, it would be a great gift indeed.

    Thank you for the consideration,
    William

    Here is a how to guide:
    (https://www.reddit.com/r/Anki/comments/3zyrbl/sharing_decks/#:~:text=To%20share%20decks%20with%20the,clicking%20%22Share%22%20as%20above.)

    1. Hi William,

      Thanks for this message. I appreciate you offering this, but my deck isn’t a coherent collection that I think would work well for others. It contains initialed cards along with ones that would have to be done later that only contain the verse reference on the front. Regardless, I actually found that the process of creating the initialed cards was a helpful first step toward memory. I think your experience would be less beneficial if you didn’t go through the process of creating the initialed cards. Given that this is a relatively slow process, I think the extra time involved creating your cards will be a worthy investment. Good luck and blessings to you as you memorize!

      Blessings,
      Teddy

  7. Hello Teddy, I have come across your post and I am going to try this method.

    I have a different reason for my reply, however: am a new user of Anki and would like to use it for language learning as well.
    If you don’t mind my asking in this post (which is scripture related), what is your method for language learning?
    Do you have a word or phrase in the target language on the front of your card, or possibly a visual, with the English version on the back?

    Kind Regards,
    Chrisna

    1. Hi Chrisna,

      Glad you found this post and are using Anki. I love it!

      For language learning, I have used a mixture of images and words, depending on the word. I like tying my knowledge of foreign language vocabulary to images where possible, but there are also some times that it’s helpful for me to have a word to associate it with so I have a bit more clarity or nuance about the word I’m looking at.

Join the Discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s