After some discussions with a pastor friend of mine, I joined the group he created and became a member of a scripture memorization group. Believe it or not, the first thing the group discussed in its first meeting was the issue of which translation to use. The pastor advised ESV, but after some back-and-forth discussion, we decided that everyone would use the translations he or she liked best. However, the group agreed that the members needed to memorize the verses word-for-word. Although I don’t think anyone in the group uses the Message (the paraphrased Bible), the decision technically excludes the books that paraphrase the Bible rather than translate the holy book. So far, so good.
But then came the question of which verses to memorize. My pastor friend chose some verses for the group, and they were Psalm 18:28, Psalm 18:30, Isaiah 41:10, and 2 Cor. 4:7–9. We didn’t really discuss why these particular verses, but presumably it was because they tell us something about God’s character that can be deeply personal to us in our everyday challenges (in other words, they are less abstract).
This got me thinking about what verses we actually need to memorize. One way to go about it is obviously to start with the verses that we like. But even then for thinker-believers, it doesn’t resolve the issue of arbitrariness when our decision is based on mere likes and dislikes since it’s possible to like a peripheral verse rather than a central verse in the scripture. Another way to decide is to separate the more important verses and memorize them, which is a tricky habit to form. To separate the more important verses assumes that some other verses are not important enough to be memorized.
Although I disagree with dividing the scripture into more important and less important parts, I do believe not all the verses or books have equal weight in the Bible itself. But then that leads us to the problem of “canon within the canon” that some of you may be familiar with. The “canon within the canon” approach focuses on certain groups of texts within the scripture and treats them as defining texts through which other texts in the scripture are interpreted. Applied with caution, “canon within the canon” is not a bad idea, but in practice it often leads to a point where some not-so-lucky texts are generally ignored in preaching. But in reality, it would be difficult to deny that certain texts within the Scripture have been given more attention over others precisely because of their implications in Judaism and Christianity.
This privileged group includes (but is not limited to) the Ten Commandments, the sermon on the Mount, Christ’s prayer (Our Father), Paul’s creed in 1 Cor. 15:3–8, the story of Good Samaritan, etc. They all seem to have more weight in the church’s history than, say, Deuteronomy 3:1.
Here I will share the texts from the Scripture that I would like to memorize because I think they are fairly weighty texts. Note that the list does not include the weighty texts I’ve already memorized (e.g., the Lord’s prayer), nor is it exhaustive. Also, I haven’t memorized any of these yet, but as time goes I may add them to my repertoire.
1.Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17)
2.Shema (Deut. 6:4–9)
4.The suffering servant (Isaiah 53)
5.Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12)
6.The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–31)
7.The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37)
8.Pauline Creed (1 Cor. 15:3–8)
9.Paul’s description of love (1 Cor. 13:4–8)
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