A Gem, a Swiss Cheese, and the Whole Enchilada
Most methods for scripture memorization take a linear approach: start at Chapter 1:1 and add a verse or two every day or two until you reach the end. I'm sure many of you have tried to memorize a chapter, or maybe an entire book, and have used some variant on this method. I know I have tried and become discouraged using this method and I'm sure many of you have too. I would suggest that this method was appropriate for memorizing from a printed (or handwritten) page but I think there is a better way. If you've every tried to memorized Romans and lost steam somewhere towards the end of Chapter 1 with a firm understanding of the wrath of God being revealed against the wickedness of mankind but wondering why Paul longed to visit Rome, then this method could be for you.
One of the biggest disadvantages of starting at the beginning and working your way through a book, is that at the end you often remember the start a lot better than the end. Assuming you make it to the end. In the worst case, you only remember the start. (Remember those high school courses? Do you remember the first chapter better than the last chapter today?) A far better method is to start with the most important sections of a passage and then add in the details later.
An Example: Memorizing Paul's Epistle to the Galatians
The Swiss Cheese approach that I recommend would work as follows:
- The Gem: start with a key verse or two for the entire passage. For instance, for Galatians it could be Galatians 2:16. Look at Memverse's list of popular verses if you need ideas.
- Swiss Cheese: over time, gradually add key verses that summarize themes or major ideas in Galatians. For example, in the letter to the Galatians Paul mentions crucifixion three times: Gal 2:20 (crucifying the self), Gal 5:24 (crucifying the sinful nature), and Gal 6:14 (crucifying the world). There are lots of key verses in Galatians that you could use. By adding these first, you will begin to better recognize the structure of epistle and the main ideas will be drawn out. More importantly, you will be entrenching the major themes in your memory first. Even if you stop memorizing at this point, you will have the foundational verses to build upon later.
- The Whole Enchilada: The best way to then complete the book or chapter, is to fill in the gaps. Add the verses around your anchor verses and gradually fill in the holes in the swiss cheese.
Memverse is ideally suited to this approach to memorizing. It has the advantage of memorizing key ideas first and is a great way to integrate studying and memorizing into one activity. I actually leave as many holes in my swiss cheese as possible. That way, everything stays in manageable bits until you add the connecting verses. If you're memorizing an entire book, you can start with the key chapters and complete each one individually. Or, you can add verses from all over the book and then gradually fill in the gaps across the entire book.
There is one caution, though: be careful to not leave out verses that you find difficult to accept or less inspiring. Those verses that will convict you at the times in your life when you need them the most, are very often the verses that everyone else neglected to memorize as well.
If you do tend to be a very linear thinker and are confident in your ability to persevere to the end, Andrew Davis (at John Piper's church in Minnesota) has published an article on "An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture" which some people have found works well.