Why I Don’t Require Scripture Memorization

Almost every Bible program for kids includes memory verses. I prefer not to use them! I think memorization is a bad way to teach a complex subject when understanding is imperative to practical application.

Memorizing God’s Word is a noble thing to reach for, no doubt. And eventually, it WILL happen after enough study (even if not word for word). But for young kids who soak up everything we teach them, be it spoken or unspoken, rote memorization of Bible passages doesn’t seem like the best way to go. Here’s why.

This article originally appeared on my old blog, Townsley Times. If you came here looking for this particular article but thought you were going to a different site, never fear, you’re actually in the right place. 🙂

First off, we personally use several translations of the Bible. We usually start with KJV but look at other versions to get a better understanding if we are not clear on something (which is often, as my kids are little, and I’m not a KJV-onlyist even though I think it’s the best we’ve got for English speakers). We also use a concordance to go back to the original language and put things in proper context.

Memorizing multiple translations plus the Hebrew and Greek would just get confusing for everyone, and only committing one translation to memory would leave out some of the most important parts!

Second, and more importantly, memorizing something when you don’t understand it makes it so you won’t really think too hard about understanding it at a later date. Think back to when you were a kid. Maybe you would sing songs and have every word memorized yet have no clue what you were singing! Or the chants to the patty-cake hand clapping games. No idea what the heck we were saying, and I never thought to look it up later.

I find this aspect a little difficult to explain, so here’s an example. Who remembers the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? I learned every word of that in early elementary school! Think I had any idea what any of it means? I still don’t even know the story behind some of what he was referencing! And at the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Another example would be the various prayers or creeds we recite in a church building. The Lord’s Prayer…I have known it for so long but knowing the words and connecting with the meaning are vastly different things.

Having a child memorize Scripture by focusing on repetition is only rote memorization without any meaning. You might explain it sometimes before or after working on memorizing it, but with the focus on memory verses, it’s no better than schools teaching to the test. The kids might flat out forget all of it.

Constitutional Literacy by Michael Farris

The Bible does say to hide God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11). However, if we don’t understand it in the first place, storing it there makes little sense.

Why I Don't Require Scripture Memorization - Understanding is imperative to true learning of the Bible, and you don't get that from rote memorization. #Biblestudy #Scripture #allthehomeschoolthings

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for not teaching the Bible to young kids. I’m not suggesting to not go over verses multiple times, or to not have them do copywork or any of the other things you might do to teach the Bible and hide God’s Word in the hearts of your kids.

What I’m saying is, to help them to be familiar with the Bible, they need to a) understand the meaning, and b) know how to apply it. You might argue that those come later, but refer back to my second point. When the focus is on memorization and not application and real life, kids might memorize the words long enough to regurgitate them when you ask, but have not a clue what they’re saying. And that’s not what I want for my kids, and it’s a major part of why we homeschool. We want our kids to have true knowledge and understanding that they can apply to life.

So how else can one teach the Bible to kids? Lots of ways.

  • By reading aloud and discussing what the passages mean in small chunks
  • By putting events on a timeline
  • By not just reading the popular stories or talking about popular people
  • Living out the Great Commission
  • Doing a craft, skit, piece of art, project, etc. — something hands-on to reinforce what they’re hearing or reading
  • Using a concordance to look up words, and looking up information about the historical period
  • Reading several translations
  • Talking about it around the dinner table or with friends
  • Doing a formal Bible study
  • Using a Christian homeschool curriculum that incorporates the Bible into everyday learning activities

The more they hear it, the more they become familiar with it and learn the meaning of the passage. Rote memorization doesn’t do that. They will be familiar, but not have the meaning down. Truth be told, when you hear something too much, it all becomes jumbled together and start making no sense.

Why I Don't Require Scripture Memorization - Understanding is imperative to true learning of the Bible, and you don't get that from rote memorization. #Biblestudy #Scripture #allthehomeschoolthings

For the Psalm verse I referenced above…I knew the Bible said that about hiding God’s Word in our hearts but had to look up the book/chapter/verse to cite it. The point is that I know it’s there and I know what it means (and I know how to look it up, which is also important). And I seek to apply that verse with my family by having conversations about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and not just drilling memory verses.

What do you think? Do you find Scripture memorization useful for your kids? Why or why not?

6 replies to Why I Don’t Require Scripture Memorization

  1. I actually haven’t focused on Scripture memorization at this point. I keep thinking it’s important and yet, never quite get there. I totally understand your point though.

    • Hey Annette! It was something I always felt was important but never started it with them. I started really thinking about it and realized it’s not as important (at least as rote memorization) as everyone says. I’ve seen videos of super young kids, like 2yo children, reciting verses that are somewhat long. I know they can’t understand what it means! They barely know basic household stuff. Lol Just seems like an exercise in futility at best.

  2. Honestly, I couldn’t disagree more. Young children are sponges who can memorize even large portions of scripture much easier than adults (or even older children). I think you miss out on a great opportunity to use those growing brains to squeeze in as much of God’s Word as you can while it will stick. The example of lyrics learned at a young age is faulty in this case, as the point of memorizing scripture is to learn its meaning through further study, which you say you are doing. It’s not like you are doing intense lyric study into “we didn’t start the fire”. If they’re never looking at that scripture again, it’s not because they have it memorized.

    • They are indeed sponges, but remembering it just to say they’ve memorized it and checked off that box of “memory verse for the week” isn’t true learning.

      Which is better?
      a) a child knows what a verse means but doesn’t have it memorized, or
      b) a child who can regurgitate a verse but has no clue what it means

      It’s part of the reason I homeschool to begin with – I disagree completely with teaching only to pass a test or other meaningless barometer of learning.

      Our kids should know the Bible’s lessons, not the exact words. That is more important to me. Besides which, who is to say the words themselves are even correct? I don’t know Hebrew and Greek, personally. But I do know the gist of the lessons of the Bible.

  3. I think you are right on! It’s just like “daily bible reading”. These things aren’t even required from the Bible, yet they make it into our modern culture because our easy access to scriptures (which wasn’t always the case for most people throughout history).

    To me it would seem much more noble, that a person has memorized scriptures because the Word of God carries so much weight in their lives. Why in the world would you have to force yourself to remember something in a technical manner, that you really care about? That seems worldly to me.

  4. Thank you for your post! I wanted to share a book with you that I love using to read, understand, and teach from. It’s is the closest bible that has been translated and repairs with the original translations, and the easiest to read and understand. I have a physical copy but you can get one on Kindle it’s called, “the book of Yahweh”.
    I am thankful for it’s original translations. It even has all the original names put back in.

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