My friend Denny writes out Scripture, word for word, into the pages of his journal. He’s been doing it for some time. As he writes, he pays attention to the sentence structure and dwells on the passage’s meaning. The process has helped to shift his focus while engaging the unfamiliar, and at times overly familiar, passages of the Bible. “As you write things, you tend to remember them more,” he told me. For him, this more deliberate approach to interacting with God’s Word is less about writing as much as he can, and more about “taking it all in.”
Biblical scribes and kings
In biblical times, there was a designated role for this practice. Scribes were charged with copying the Law onto scrolls—recording and preserving its words. Imagine the effect on their lives from spending hours making sure to get each word, phrase, and punctuation mark just right.
The Bible says that Ezra, the Old Testament scribe, “had a thorough knowledge of the laws and commands which the LORD had given to Israel” (Ezra 7:11). His vast knowledge was likely developed by copying the Torah scrolls.
In fact, this was a recognized outcome of recording the law, and the practice was applied even beyond the role of the scribe to ensure that Israel’s kings ruled righteously. Anyone who ascended to the throne was required to write out a copy of God’s laws in order to know and obey them. As the Scriptures record:
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
Precision was so important that the Levitical priests were to be present during the process to ensure that this painstaking activity was done accurately. Not only were new kings to write it, they were also to read it regularly and follow it strictly throughout their reign.
Writing to remember
What do ancient scribes and kings have to do with Bible readers today? Recent findings explain why this practice could be significant in how we internalize Scripture.
One study tested two groups of students. Both groups sat in a lecture, one taking notes by hand and the other via laptop. They were all tested immediately following the lecture. While all students retained relatively the same number of facts, the students who wrote by hand recalled more significant information. Another test involved students watching a lecture on psychology. The students who took notes again recalled a higher portion of important facts.
Making the most of our encounters with Scripture
Writing Scripture will yield similar results. Writing allows us time to ponder the text and search for meaning.
For most of us, the goal is to maximize our encounters with Scripture so that we can remember God’s Word and put it in practice. But it’s common to read through Scripture passages quickly and find ourselves unable to recall most of it only a few minutes later. The writing process helps us overcome this shortcoming. When we write, we place a demand on ourselves to focus on what we are writing and this helps us catch details we would otherwise overlook.
Give it a try
Here are a few tips to help you adapt the practice of writing out Scripture to help you remember and better grasp the meaning of a passage:
- Purchase a journal and set aside time, two or three times weekly, to write Scripture.
- Find a quiet place. Remove potential distractions—especially TVs, computers, and mobile devices.
- Select the passage you wish to reflect upon and then write it out in your journal. It is best to write 12 or fewer verses in each session. As you write, pay close attention to each word. Ask yourself questions about the text: “What does this word mean?” Or, “Why did the writer use this word and not another?”
- Reread the passage aloud, tracing with your index finger each word you copied out to help review your efforts.
- Choose two or three verses that stick out to you and then copy them several times. As you copy each verse, say it aloud.
- If you find a verse particularly encouraging or enlightening, share it with someone that same day, in person or even electronically.
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