Thoughts on Scripture Memorization

I’m currently in the process of working on memorizing the first 5 chapters of the book of Romans.  I’ve probably read the  entirety of Romans 1 twenty or thirty times over the course of my life. I’ve read the whole chapter through in one sitting numerous times and I’ve also read, studied, exegeted and  interacted with different fragments of it hundreds of times. This is good because I can tell you what Romans 1 is all about and how it should be read and understood. This is bad because it makes memorizing it nearly impossible.

Before I settled on the ESV,  I have used and owned the NCV [extreme teen bible!] NASB, and more recently the NKJV. This is on top of all the times I have seen parts of Romans unpacked with an NIV. I used all those translations to interact with the text, and now I’m working on memorizing with the ESV, but those translations keep jumping to my mind.

Lets use Romans 1:1a as an example.  I originally memorized it in the NASB, which says “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle. “ The ESV has it as “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle.” Now, it’s not too difficult to switch from one translation to the next, except I know that the word servant and bondservant are poor and misleading translations. The Greek word is DOULOS, and it only has one definition. Slave. And so when I quote it, I end up saying “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to [or is it unto?!]  the gospel of God…” That’s one of the easier ones.

More challenging is Romans 1:26, NASB,  which reads “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.” The NASB has degrading passions, the NKJV has vile passions, the ESV has dishonorable passions, and the NIV 1984 has shameful lusts. I’ve heard and read them so many times that whenever I try to quote the ESV, it seems like I am incapable of it. I’ll interchange any of those other ones, so that it’s anybodies guess which one I insert, or else I’ll stick with “dishonorable”, but then I’ll stop midway and get distracted because I’m so used to saying it and hearing  it as “vile” that I lose focus because it doesn’t sound right. Then once I do that I lose my rhythm and flow and I have to start all over.

Not only that, but I find myself blurring various articles, determiners and participles, so that sometimes I will quote something and will get hung up on whether it should be “an” or “a”, and other such things. What this has resulted in, therefore, is an amalgamation of stitched and sewn together bible verses. More often than not it seems like I have my own translation. I can quote about half of Romans 1 from memory, but if you are following along in an ESV for any length of time, there’s definitely a few places there where you’ll be shaking your head and asking where on earth I got that particular string of phrases from. I don’t want to be the creator of the NESDV [New English Sanctified Dustin Version] but it seems that at least for certain chapters that I am overly familiar with it may be inevitable.

Which begs a few questions.

1. Do you ever have this problem- getting hung up because the verses you are trying to memorize in a new version sounds wrong due to overfamiliarity with a different translation? What do you do about it?

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Scripture Memorization

  1. doulos does not only mean slave. It means bond-servant or servant, but also slave. It’s not implying a life of being servant as in, i don’t know, a waitress. But it is implying a life of servitude, as in for a debt (bond-servant).

  2. Hmmm,I think I would say that the Greek language has at least half a dozen words that can mean servant, and doulos is not one of them. [bondservant is sliiiighty murkier] Whenever it is used, both in the New Testament and secular Greek literature, it always and only means slave.

    I would probably point you to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, whose authority regarding Greek terms in Scripture is unparalleled. In it, we see the word doulos is used exclusively “either to describe the status of a slave or an attitude corresponding to that of a slave…the meaning is so unequivocal and self contained that it is superfluous to give examples of the individual terms or to trace the history of the group. The emphasis here is always on ‘serving as a slave.’ Hence we have a service that is not a matter of choice for the one who renders it, which he has to perform whether he likes it or not, because he is subject as a slave to an alien will, to the will of his owner.”

    While it is true that the duties of slave and servant may overlap to some degree, there is a key distinction between the two: servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing who they work for and what they do. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property, to the point that in the eyes of the law they were regarded as things rather than persons. To be someone’s slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument.

    This also gives new insight in constantly referring to Jesus as master, as well as the enormous amounts of “slave-based” metaphors and terms they use in the New Testament.

  3. i can really empathize with your dilemma when quoting scripture from memory! I grew up with KJV. But in Seminary we were encouraged to use a modern version for evangelism, so I learned many verses in the NIV. I pastored a Hispanic church, so I learned verses in the Reina-Valera 1960. Then, we were missionaries in two Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa for 15 years, so I memorized verses in Portuguese. The result is that when I try to quote Scripture, I do indeed have my own version — and it’s in three languages to boot! My only consolation is that scholars can’t always tell whether the apostle Paul was quoting from the LXX or the Hebrew! ;-)

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