The Place of Bible Memorization

by John MacArthur

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Our society is consumed with novelty, meaning that everything must be "new and improved," or "the latest and greatest," in order to succeed.  New technologies, new techniques, new advances and new approaches-they all mark our thirst for more effective and more user-friendly products and services. Old methods and ideas are discarded, faintly remembered as stepping-stones on the pathway to progression-remnants of an outdated and outmoded standard of living.

In many fields this pioneering attitude is helpful, making great improvements in areas such as electronics, communications, transportation, and medicine. Yet, in other fields, the ever-demanding quest for something new has done more harm than good. I believe the church is one of those fields.

With many pastors paying undue attention to marketing techniques and psychological studies, the contemporary church has become confused as to its mission and purpose. As a result, church-goers feast on a steady diet of theological junk-food-wondering why they lack both spiritual growth and strength to change.  Soon they grow tired of the latest fad, looking again for some new and improved process to replace what obviously didn't work.

The Foundation: the Sufficiency of Scripture

Thankfully, God has given us something better than any "new and improved" method-namely, the "tried and true" testimony of His Word.  As a living book, the Bible never needs to be improved because it is already perfect. It is sufficient for every need and relevant to each situation. It produces spiritual growth. It equips believers to resist temptation. And it establishes absolute truth, even in the midst of a postmodern culture.

My job, as a pastor, is not to devise anything new. Instead, I am responsible to faithfully proclaim the 2,000-year-old message given by the Lord Himself. After all, people's lives are permanently transformed only by the power of God's Spirit through the preaching of His Word. And that's why I preach the Scriptures verse-by-verse each week. That's also why I encourage my people to faithfully read God's Word and learn it for themselves.

The Fruit: a Spirit-Led Life

A primary part of this emphasis on personal Bible study includes Scripture memorization. Although often neglected, Scripture memory is a crucial part of the victorious Christian life. It should never be equated with child's play-confined to Vacation Bible Schools or Awana meetings. Rather, the value of hiding God's Word in the heart must be made clear to every Christian, whether young or old.

After all, internalizing Scripture is vital to Christian living. Doing so promotes lasting spiritual growth (Ps. 37:30-31; 119:9-11; Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12); provides the best defense against temptation (Eph. 6:17; cf. Matt. 4:1-11); and lays the foundation for a Spirit-given worldview (1 Cor. 2:1-13).

By memorizing Scripture, your people can take the universal, eternal principles of Scripture and apply them in any circumstance or situation-even if they don't have their Bibles with them. What a difference they will see in their friendships, their evangelism, their marriages, their work ethic, and every other area of life as the Holy Spirit continually brings verses to mind. When our people memorize God's Word and internalize its truths, they become well-equipped to view life from a heavenly perspective.

The Format: a Scripture Memory System

Clearly, memorizing Scripture is a vital part of Christian living. Yet, many believers don't know where to start or how to begin. That's why I've developed the MacArthur Scripture Memory System.

The purpose is not to replace God's Word with some man-centered program but rather to encourage Christians to get back to what is "tried and true." By presenting key passages in a systematic fashion, and explaining each verse within its context, the goal of this system is simply to arm God's people with the truth of His Word. Of course, whether or not you use this system is up to you-I merely offer it as another tool for training your people in the truth. Certainly, there are other helpful Bible-memorization plans. The bottom-line is not what plan your people are using, but whether they are memorizing God's Word at all.

Whatever resources you use, remember that you are ultimately responsible to Christ Himself, as His under-shepherd, for the condition of your flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Thankfully, He has given us everything we need for the task (2 Pet. 1:3): namely, His Spirit and His Word. May we therefore be faithful to equip our people with the Scriptures, both by preaching the text accurately and by facilitating their personal internalization of the truth.

(Editors' note: We queried Dr. MacArthur about which of the many Bible versions currently in use he would recommend for memorization. His response: "Any Bible version that accurately conveys the words and meaning of the original language is an excellent translation to memorize. In fact, memorizing and reading from a variety of versions can be very helpful-bringing out different nuances from the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Whatever translation you choose, you can be confident that it is the Word of God insofar as it accurately reflects the original.")

John MacArthur is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif. The MacArthur Scripture Memory System (Nelson Reference & Electronic - Thomas Nelson), composed of a book, three audio CDs, and a CD-ROM, helps Christians learn and recall 52 of the Bible's most important passages.

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