My co-leader for the women’s group I lead through our church recently challenged all of us to memorize some scripture passages. I just sent out an email to all the ladies in the group with a few thoughts. After hitting send, I realized that this is something I’d love to share here, as well. A major reason I created this blog is to share tips and ideas with other moms. A few days ago, I posted a tip on how to get at the last little bit of the lotion in the bottle. A tip like that is just plain silly compared to the advice I’d love to give about reading your Bible. Getting into God’s Word is truly the mother of all tips.
Memorizing scripture is one way people like to meditate on a scripture passage. When we memorize a passage, the goal is that it will be written on our hearts. If you can also write the words in your mind verbatim…fabulous! But the words should be written on your heart first and foremost…and there, they need not be verbatim…but they should make good sense. As you study the passage you have chosen, you should be meditating on its meaning. So let’s talk about meaning:
For some scripture passages, you can get a pretty good idea of what it means just by reading it. But you can also do a swell job reading into it a meaning that is entirely wrong. When studying a passage you should always, ALWAYS, read it in context. At the very least look at the few verses just ahead and just after the ones you are focusing on. If your Bible divides the chapters into section with separate headings, take a look at the topic of the wider section the passage belongs in (Do know, though, that these divisions were later additions inserted by biblical scholars/translators and they were not in the original text. You may disagree with their divisions, and that is OK.)
It will also be very helpful if you know at least a bit about the author, the recipients, and the circumstances of the book your passage is in. Maybe you know this stuff from past studies…great! If not, see if your Bible gives you any sort of information like that at the beginning of the book. If not, you might try to find a book that can fill in those gaps for you. The book we used for our class on Epistles and Revelation at Denver Seminary is excellent: “From Pentacost to Patmos” By Craig Blomberg.
The internet can also be a good source (although it can also be a bad source…so you may want to make sure that a few different reliable sites give you the same info).
The passages that our ladies group is working on are 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and Ephesians 2:19-22. Here is a bit of the background information that is helpful to know when approaching these two passages: Both 1 Corintians and Epheisans were written by Paul, to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus respectively. Corinth was a really big and wealthy city which Paul visited several times on his missionary journeys. This letter is written in response to some particular issues that the church was struggling with: the one which is addressed in our passage is that different members of the church were “siding” with different apostles/teachers and arguing a lot about various doctrines. They were largely influenced by “Hellenistic” thought (Greek intellectualism) which made Christianity sound ridiculous: that is why there is so much talk about what is foolish and what is wise. Paul also spent quite a bit of time in Ephesus. However, it seems that this letter was written not so much in response to particular matters, but in a more general way so that it could be copied, circulated, and read in several of the surrounding churches. As such, it contains more general exhorations for all believers. One of the issues that almost every church faced in the first century was what parts of Judaism should be carried into Christianity, so there was a lot of division and hostility between Jews and Gentiles–Paul constantly called for unity among all believers.
Knowing this stuff is important because the meaning of the Bible really isn’t flexible, it means what it means. Our best chance at understanding the correct meaning is to figure out what the author meant when he originally wrote it. That said, the Bible is also the Living Word. God may speak directly into your life from a passage. This is beautiful, legitimate, and the Bible at its best. But please be careful not to take this message from God to you as THE meaning of the passage. Are you smelling what I am stepping in? I wish I could think of a specific example, but for some reason I am coming up blank right now. Basically, I am saying that if you read a passage and feel a little nudge in your heart that you should give someone a hug or that the argument you just had with your husband was silly then you should listen to it. But don’t go and tell your friend that that is what the passage means, or even what it means “to you.” Tell her that God spoke to you through this passage, and this is what He said… Get it? Maybe that seems really obvious, but unfortunately this is how all sorts of heresies get started (like the the Prayer of Jabez and maybe even the whole Prosperity/Health and Wealth Gospel).
I think THE BEST way to meditate on a passage is to read it in several translations. (I am not saying memorize it in several, but do compare the version you choose to memorize it in with several others). Biblegateway.com is a good source for this. Here is the reason I advise doing this: the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and most of the Old Testament in Hebrew. When it is translated from these languages, each translation committee is operating under a different set of assumptions and are making interpretive decisions. All are doing the best they can to communicate what they think the Bible meant in in its original language and express it in the English language. This is not an easy task. Different languages follow different rules of grammar, are consistent with different cultures, contain different idoims, etc., etc., etc. Let me give a quick example: when I lived in Thailand, one of the phrases we used quite often was “Mai cow jai.” If I were to translate this phrase into English, I would probably do best to translate it “I don’t understand” for that is the idea that is expressed. However, the most literal translation is actually, “That did not go into my heart,” which is far more beautiful don’t you think? Still, on its own, it doesn’t express quite the right idea in English. A Bible translator must make countless decisions about whether he or she is going to translate the ideas they believe were expressed, the actually words that were written, or a combination thereof.
Let me give you a brief overview of the popular English translations we have to choose from: The NASB is perhaps the closest word-to-word translation. The NIV is more of a phrase-by-phrase translation: this means it won’t be so literal, but may be a bit easier to read/understand. The TNIV is an updated version of the NIV and the biggest difference as far as I can tell is the use of gender-inclusive language (which I think is a good thing, but is highly debatable). The ESV and NRSV fall in between the NASB and NIV in translation style, more literal than the NIV but easier to read than the NASB. Some churches believe that the KJV is the “only” Bible that should be used. The KJV was the first Bible to be translated into English from the original Greek and Hebrew Manuscripts (there were other English translations before it, but they were from the Latin Vulgate and since they had to pass through two translations they were less accurate). It was really influential in the 1600s in England, and a huge step in the right direction as far as understanding the value of original manuscripts and having a committee of scholars work together to translate it. However, older Greek and Hebrew manuscripts have been discovered since then and English has changed so much that it really isn’t so stellar as a correct/helpful translation anymore. Still, churches hold tight to it because of the tradition that is associated with it. The Message is not really a translation, but a paraphrase. I think it is very well done, and can be very helpful in getting the gist of a passage–although it shouldn’t take the place of another Bible for your day-to-day use: It is a tool to understand your Bible–not a book to replace it. The NLT and NCV are also more like paraphrases than translations. If you want my opinion, I think the ESV and the TNIV are the best options to choose when memorizing scripture. Now back to my original point…. I think THE BEST way to meditate on a passage is to read it in several translations. Take note of the differences you see. If different versions use different words, this is probably because both English words fall within the semantic range of meaning of the Greek word. Both (or all 3 or 4) words are probably right, so let them all inform your understanding of the passage.
To summarize, here are my suggestions for meditating on a passage you have chosen to memorize:
1. Read a bit before and a bit after the selected verses.
2. Find some basic information about the author and circumstances of writing the passage.
3. Read it in several different translations. (In doing so, you are not looking for your favorite/prettiest translation, but trying to understand the Greek passage the best you can in English.)
I truly believe the time you spend doing the above will be more helpful in writing a passage on your heart than spending that amount of time repeating it over and over to yourself. And it might save you from a harmful misinterpretation of God’s Truth.
And here are a few more suggestions I have found helpful in the memorization process:
– Write your verse on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker. It’s hard to actually read WHILE applying mascara, but having the simple reminder each time you see it can be very helpful.
– Take a walk with your memory card. For some reason, I think my feet pounding the pavement helps pound words into my head. Maybe it will work for you, too.
– Read out loud, even (or especially?) if you are by yourself.
– Doodle. About a year ago I was introduced to what my mentor called “Praying in Color,” and I love it. Grab crayons, markers, or colored pencils, write each word in a different color, in different sizes, and going in different directions. Add personal thoughts, different possible translations, prayers, whatever you want. However, you choose do it, turn your words into a work of art!
May God bless you richly through His Word!