Coming from a Christian, that statement seems oxymoronic, if not completely heretical, doesn’t it? I mean, if the Bible is God’s holy, inspired Word, how can memorizing it possibly have a downside? Well, as I inferred in my last post, I think it can. One need only reflect upon the many people with advanced knowledge of Scripture who, for whatever reason, do not embrace its promises, to affirm that knowing what the Bible says is no guarantee of faith or orthodoxy.
First, several disclaimers: By suggesting that memorizing the Bible may have a downside, I am not (at least, intentionally) minimizing Scripture. God’s Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12-13), just like it says. It provides spiritual sustenance, wisdom, direction, and revelation. Furthermore, memorizing Scripture and learning to handle it appropriately is essential to Christian health and growth. We are taught to meditate on it day and night, and to hide it in our hearts. These are all gimmes.
So how can knowing something so powerful and life-giving have a downside? Glad you asked. The downside of Bible memorization is not in the content of Scripture, but in our approach to it.
C.S. Lewis described the Bible as a roadmap. Roadmaps are not meant to be memorized, but to be followed. The same is true of Scripture. The Bible is not our destination, it is our means to get there. Problem is, for many believers, knowing what the Bible says has become their primary destination.
While Bible memorization can potentially be a powerful tool, it can inadvertently misplace a more important discipline: the application of Scripture. Knowing the Bible is not a substitute for practicing it. Jesus said as much in the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7). He described two men, one who built his house on the sand, the other on a rock. Only the man who built his house on the rock survived the storm. Most people view “the rock” in this parable as illustrating Christ. In context, however, that’s a misinterpretation.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matt. 7:24 NASB (emphasis mine)
The difference between these two builders was not in the materials they used, but how they used them. A life that is built on the practice of Scripture is infinitely better (and more stable) than a life devoted simply to the knowledge of Scripture. In other words, it is far better to practice two Bible verses than to have memorized 200.
The Pharisees and Sadducees of Christ’s day are a case in point. They were meticulously studied in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, Jesus said they were woefully ignorant of both the Scripture and the power of God (Matt. 22:29). They worshiped the Law and missed the Lawgiver. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (Jn. 5:39 NASB). They missed God for His Word. And therein lies the downside to Bible memorization.
As parents, I believe we should exercise caution in how we teach the Scripture. The Bible is not like the alphabet or multiplication table, a sequence of numbers or letters that I must grasp before I can graduate. Behind the verses and stories are spiritual truths that can grip and transform our children’s lives. The truth transcends the letter. When training our kids to study and memorize the Bible, we must approach it in that spirit.
Of course, we cannot follow the Bible until we know what it says. However, if we’re not careful, we can mistake a knowledge of Scripture for a godly life. The devil is a good example of this fallacy.
Bible memorization is a tool, not so much for knowing Scripture, as much as for applying it. Therefore, if memorizing God’s Word does have a downside it is in the fact that people see memorization as the destination, rather than part of the journey.