On Remembering Scripture

Time to stop leaning so hard on search.

I recently got fed up with my inability to remember the location of specific passages of Scripture. I have a good memory, but it has been failing me here, and the reason why became very obvious once I started thinking about it: easily-accessible digital search. For years, now, I have had digital Bibles ready to hand (Accordance, Logos, the ESV website, you name it). These are wonderful tools in many ways, and all of them have very functional search engines that make it easy to go from remembering a phrase to reading the passage in moments. I’m grateful!

But. It also means that I simply have not needed to exercise my own memory for that task, at all. The unsurprising result is that my memory for specific passages has atrophied sharply. What else would I expect? I’ve outsourced my own mental abilities to the computer.1

I’m now actively working on changing this, because I want to be able to remember passages specifically — not just a vague sense of this is somewhere in one of Paul’s letters.”

Some of the technophiles out there might wonder: why? We have tech around all the time, right? Well, for one thing: no, we don’t necessarily have tech around all the time. For another, I need it if I’m going to be licensed to preach.2 But the most important of them is: I simply want to know Scripture better. Relying on digital search, all the other practicalities aside, means that I am not taking the time to deeply internalize God’s word to us. There is a real, and a very important, difference between knowing that the Bible roughly says something somewhere, and knowing exactly what it says and where… not least because the latter also often helps us remember why. (Context matters!) Learning it well enough to remember it has a formative effect, too: especially because truly knowing Scripture changes us.

So, going forward, I am making a point to actually learn, and remember, the location of passages in Scripture. I have started taking them down as notes when I need to look them up, and I intend to review those going forward for the sake of my memory.3 Hopefully the net will be that I will be a better student-of-Scripture and therefore a better knower-of-God. Certainly my memory will improve a bit in this area, if I’m consistent!

  1. There is an interesting point to trace out in more detail here, around the difference between computing-as-replacement of human abilities and computing-as-extension of human abilities. Got essays or books on the topic? Please send them my way! ↩︎

  2. The PCAs tests for licensure and ordination include a fairly rigorous Bible knowledge exam. This is part of what got me thinking about this. ↩︎

  3. The first two, last night: 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20 and Matthew 22:29 – 30. ↩︎