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Memory Palace for Remembering the Bible: The Simplest Method

Memory Palace for Remembering the Bible feature imageUsing a Memory Palace for remembering the Bible is a deeply fulfilling activity.

And there are a couple of Memory Palace examples I’ll share with you that will help you experience tremendous joy.

But be warned:

I’m also going to share some tough love with you.

There’s a lot of bad advice out there when it comes to learning how to memorize scripture.

People willing to puff you up with all kinds of expectations that are neither realistic, nor practical.

Over the years, I’ve seen these promises frustrate a lot of people who just want to feel closer to their maker.

So although I can show you how to memorize a book of the Bible, and even the entire set of them forwards and backwards…

Including each and every verse number…

My teaching is a bit different.

Ready?

Let’s dig into the truth about how to use a Memory Palace for remembering the Bible!

numbered memory palace example using a 00 99 pao

The Memory Palace Method Explained

If you’re reading this tutorial, you probably already know that the Memory Palace technique is also often called the method of loci.

“Loci” is the plural of “locus” for location in Latin.

Our ancestors from around the globe worked out long ago that if you imagine mental images in locations you already remember, recall becomes easier. Mnemonists call these images associations or mnemonic images.

To take a simple example, have a look at this image I drew when memorizing the books of the Bible:

example to help you remember zephaniah

I’m obviously not an artist, and Shania Twain would not be flattered by this rendition. But I placed this simple image of a zipper with her singing in a Memory Palace to remember the word Zephaniah.

This image was then elaboratively encoded into a Memory Palace on a specific station between the books before and after Zephaniah. For more on why I drew it instead of seeing the image purely in my mind, please see my posts on using flashcards, the Zettelkasten technique and Anki.

The “elaboration” part is the most important part next to spaced repetition to help form long-term memories. We’ll talk more about how to do that in a moment.

For now, that’s the Memory Palace technique for scripture in a nutshell:

  • Create Memory Palaces
  • Pair information with mnemonic images
  • Use a recall patter to usher the information into long term memory

Optimizing Your Memory Palace for Memorizing the Bible

Here’s where a lot of people get frustrated.

People constantly talk about the Memory Palace technique as if it’s about just one Memory Palace.

That’s unlikely to work.

Instead, you will want to have multiple Memory Palaces. You can see just how important multiple Memory Palaces are in Matt Barclay’s demonstration of a Psalm in front of his congregation.

He did great, but as he shared in our discussion, he ran out of space. Another Memory Palace, or at least an extension will be required in order for him to finish off memorizing the Psalm. But what great mileage out of one Memory Palace!

So with this need for multiple Memory Palaces in mind, let’s get into the specific steps I suggest for serious memorizers of scripture.

One: Work Out Your Plan

Memorizing the Bible isn’t going to happen over night. It will go especially slow (but still be rewarding) if you’re not using a Memory Palace at all. This is something Mike McKinley described doing and you can learn a lot from how he planned his goal:

I would suggest starting small, like Matt did with just one Psalm.

Schedule 15-20 minutes per day after working out 2-3 Memory Palaces. Even if you don’t use all of them, you’ll be well-served by having them assigned in advance. That way, you won’t have to stop and create new ones if you run out of space.

Two: Draw Your Memory Palaces

Just as I suggest you draw at least some of your associations from time to time, I find it crucial to draw Memory Palaces. It helps avoid issues later and prevents you from trying to do two things at the same time.

See, if you’re creating Memory Palaces as you go, you’re diverting some mental energy that could be going towards using the Memory Palace for scripture.

A Memory Palace based on a bookstore Anthony visited in Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
A Memory Palace drawn on an index card to maximize its value as a mnemonic device. This one is based on a bookstore in Zamalek, a part of Cairo.

To maximize effectiveness and efficiency, I suggest using alphabetical Memory Palaces.

The Memory Palace above is a Z Memory Palace based on a bookstore in Cairo, for example. It’s perfect for verses from Zephaniah because you reduce something that you would otherwise need to remember:

Where else would Zephaniah verses be except in the Memory Palace you created that starts with Z?

Please don’t skip this recommendation. It’s been part of the memory tradition since at least Aristotle. And it was refined later by Ramon Llull with his ars combinatoria and Memory Wheels.

Three: Consider the Role of Variety

I’ve mentioned spaced repetition. A principle that will boost your success with it is called active recall.

The basic idea is that you need to elaborate your associations, but they also need to be personal. That’s why I have Shania Twain in Zephaniah. That might not be the right image for you, but it’s personal for me and I can elaborate her easily because she’s already in memory.

The next part is variety. This relates to a principle called interleaving. It suggests that rather than focus all your attention on just one book of the Bible at a time, you rotate between 2-3. For example, you could switch from verses in Zephaniah to some of your favorite Proverbs.

Mnemonic example of memorizing scripture from Proverbs 18:13
To memorize Proverbs 18:13, I used my friend’s sister Andi (an = answer) answering an email with a bee buzzing around (before) and the Fawlty Towers crew feeling shameful (folly and shame). It’s fast and easy with evocative mnemonic images like these.

You might worry that your progress will be slower, and in a forward manner, it might be. But in my experience rotating between different scriptures, it provides faster memory. It also provides a bit of what I call “topic relief.”

When I was memorizing a bunch of ancient Sanskrit material, for example, I found coming at the same text day after day in one Memory Palace a bit taxing. But when I added a second and started moving back and forth, before I knew it, I had both done. And their staying power was increasing.

Three: Learn Number Systems

The Bible involves a lot of numbers. To remember specifics, like Proverbs 18:13 in the example above, you’ll want to explore mnemonic systems for numbers like:

You can also explore the Dominic System. I don’t recommend it to everyone, but it might make sense for you. The important thing is to set a means of rapidly memorizing numbers up as soon as possible.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to know the verse numbers. It can be just as fulfilling to recall verses on their own.

Four: Review Like A Boss

Rapid absorption of scripture requires review.

I suggest making sure you use the most robust system possible. That way, you’ll get maximum progress in minimum time. And that leads to maximum satisfaction as you literally rewire your brain.

Yes, you will literally experience physical changes as you use review to overcome what Hermann Ebbinghaus identified as the forgetting curve.

Hermann Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve related to spaced repetition
Learning to use spaced repetition to defeat the Forgetting Curve started in earnest with the research of Hermann Ebbinghaus.

As suggested above, spaced repetition is the key. Ideally, you’ll do it using the Magnetic Memory Method. Other approaches often fail to compare because they’re not aware of how memory recall and retrieval needs to work in combination with strategies like chunking.

Frankly, one of the saddest moments of my life was when Harry Lorayne advised that I not tell people about memory science. I never took that advice. And I have found that sharing the science has helped many people understand why and how they need to review.

My approach is based on the best science we have, the ancient tradition and some lessons learned from competitors like Dominic O’Brien who have shared principles like the Rule of Five.

Five: Less Is More

Although people say they want to memorize the entire Bible verbatim, let me share some tough love with you:

It’s highly unlikely you will ever desire to recite the whole thing. Nor is it very likely that anyone will want to hear your recite it. We’ve got audiobooks performed by professional narrator’s for that, after all.

Plus, Zepf’s law shows that the most common word will be an operator like “the.” Following that, you’ll have tons of “and.” Then, “but,” “if,” “him,” “her,” etc.

Don’t get me wrong:

You absolutely can memorize the entire Bible. I just wouldn’t recommend it compared to taking on strategic learning goals based on the passages most likely to:

  • Help you personally
  • Enable you to help others

Using number systems, you can still develop a fast knowledge of where many things can be found in the Bible. And since much of the wisdom in the Bible repeats, a general knowledge of where patterns connect will help you list multiple examples quickly.

That’s probably much more likely going to be of use to someone than starting at the beginning of a book or passage and reciting it verbatim.

Frankly, I’m skeptical that our ancestors ever memorized entire books relative to options like memorizing key passages, noting patterns or memorizing plot points before telling the stories in their own words. I talk about this issue more with reference to a major Biblical scholar in this video lesson:

I’ve personally been able to teach others myself a great deal more than I ever dreamed possible by combining long form memorization with shorter passages.

I’ve also used number systems to note where various verses can be found, including page numbers.

Less truly has been more time and time again in my own journey and I expect you’ll find setting precise goals based on limits to be just as rewarding.

This returns us to step one, which is planning. The more thought and preparation you put in during this stage, the higher chance you have of substantial and meaningful outcomes along your scripture memorization journey.

Additional Ways to Use Your Memory Palace for Remembering the Bible

Now that we’ve covered the basics and a strong suggestion to break the goal down, let’s look at a few additional ways to get scripture deeper into memory.

These suggestions will take you into territory I’m confident you’ll find rewarding.

Learn Some Verses In The Original Languages

Remember how we talked about variety as an additional aid to memory?

What better way to capitalize on this principle than adding some language learning at the same time?

The Memory Palace technique is great for language learning, and you don’t have to strive for bilingualism in Hebrew or any of the other languages to get great results. Even just a few lines will reward you.

Apologetics

Some of the greatest memory masters not only memorized scripture, but also logical considerations related to Biblical ideas. I mentioned Ramon Llull above, and he used Memory Wheels for that.

There’s also Thomas Aquinas and his descriptions of memorization in Summa Theologica.

One of my favorites is Hugh of St. Victor. He was a theologian who used Memory Palaces based on Noah’s Ark for both scripture and key details used in teaching the Bible’s meaning. I did a case study of his techniques to help me memorize some of the Book of John in Latin.

Historical Study

Once you have memory techniques working for you, you can look at the Bible historically.

For learning the verses specifically for memory purposes, I would suggest taking a particular book, or even specific passages. Do some research to find how they have been used by a variety of theologians and scholars.

Part of historical study involves cultural comparison. Memorizing even just a few lines from the Quran will be great for helping you develop in this area. It will also help you develop your memory skills through the principle of variety.

Personal Contemplation

Meditation is powerful for developing concentration and many other memory benefits. It literally increases the size of your hippocampus, an important center of memory in your brain.

As you review the Bible verses you’ve memorized verbatim, take the opportunity to also think about their meaning.

You don’t have to become a mystic in order to benefit from this practice.

How to Memorize A Book of the Bible (Realistically)

As we’ve seen, I recommend having multiple Memory Palaces. It’s unlikely anyone could ever do an entire book in one Memory Palace.

Although it is possible to memorize an entire book, I’ve also suggested that you consider alternative models.

I recognize that might sound like it’s not satisfying the goal of memorizing an entire book, or indeed the entire Bible.

By all means, I know you can do the entire Bible if you wish. I just offer you a different way of thinking about the goal due to the very real problem of repetition.

Will you really have the time to do enough spaced repetition to memorize the entire Bible, even if you optimize the process to the nth degree?

And will you have the time to recite it for yourself, let alone anyone else?

Actors rarely memorize all the lines for all the parts when performing in a movie or a play. It’s not necessary.

Finally, the Bible involves many repetitions and echoes itself many times over. Developing pattern recognition for how the Bible works is itself a tremendous good.

Spend your time wisely and I’m confident you’ll wind up with more scripture in your memory than you ever managed possible.

And with the Memory Palace technique used in a robust manner, your foundations will be built on the rock, avoiding the mistake of building anything on sand.

If you’d like more help, sign up now for my free course on developing Memory Palaces correctly:

Free Memory Improvement Course

I’m happy to help you and I’ve memorized plenty of scripture myself in a variety of languages. That way, I can help you from actual experience, both for myself and with many students.

So what do you say?

Are you ready to get out there and start remembering the Bible?

Make it happen!

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ABOUT ANTHONY METIVIER


Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, names, music, poetry and more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Dr. Metivier holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from York University and has been featured in Forbes, Viva Magazine, Fluent in 3 Months, Daily Stoic, Learning How to Learn and he has delivered one of the most popular TEDx Talks on memory improvement.

His most popular books include, The Victorious Mind and… Read More

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