Scripture Memorization

The Walking Bible

In the minds of millions, Jack Van Impe has become “The Walking Bible,” but it didn’t happen overnight.

Dr. David Allen set the example. His ability to quote the Scriptures in his work as a successful pastor and teacher convinced Jack of the value of memorization. The authority given his ministry by using Bible verses was easy to see. It is not surprising that one of his students decided to build on the same foundation.

Jack was not the first Van Impe impressed by Dr. Allen’s memorization techniques. Oscar Van Impe, Dr. Van Impe’s father, had also sat through his classes and had been given Scripture memory assignments. The older Van Impe had tackled the project by arranging verses according to Bible doctrine and placing them on index cards that he could carry with him. It was a means of making double use of his time and changed many waiting hours that would otherwise have been wasted into profitable opportunities for storing God’s Word in his heart.When Oscar went to Belgium he left his Bible memory cards behind. It was an oversight, but turned out to be a blessed blunder. Jack found them, very near the time of his return from backsliding and adopted his father’s method. He’s still using it today.

As a student, Jack found the verses he programmed into his mind were like good friends. They came to his aid when he needed them. Assignments became easier. Witnessing, a natural experience. And, best of all, this army of Bible verses marched into his ordination examination and rescued him from hours of questioning by the ministers present.

When he struggled with the decision concerning the main thrust of his ministry, it was those Bible verses, now leaping into every sermon, that gave him the confidence he was equipped to preach.

During his evangelistic ministry, the power of God’s Word has been consistently demonstrated. He attributes the characteristic lasting effect of his crusades to the saturation of his sermons with the Bible. Sinners are confronted with God’s Word, rather than tear-jerking stories. The result is conviction and genuine conversions. Christians are moved to revival because they are forced to see themselves as God sees them. And that is what preaching is all about.

Not everyone appreciates memorization. Even among preachers. One Ohio minister once told Jack that his Scripture quoting was leading him into a stilted form of preaching and would hurt his ministry. Today, that homiletical expert is out of the ministry after the church died under his polished preaching, while Dr. Van Impe is still quoting Scripture and reaping the benefits of its power.

Encounters With Critics and Opponents

Having so much of the Bible committed to memory has equipped Dr. Van Impe for encounters with critics and opponents.

Members of cults who have come unsuspectingly to his door have found themselves at a loss to cope with his plain presentation of Bible truths.

Representing the Michigan Sunday School Association in a 3-hour debate with an atheist and a Roman Catholic priest, on Detroit’s radio station WXYZ, Jack quoted over 500 Bible verses in the first two hours of the program. The moderator was so upset at this domination of the debate with unanswerable arguments that he ruled that no more verses could be quoted in the debate. At that announcement, Jack stated that he would have to leave the program, since the purpose of his being there was to present the Bible. With an hour still remaining in the debate, the announcer rescinded his rule and allowed “The Walking Bible” to keep on quoting Scripture.

The moderator of a radio call-in program in Illinois had Dr. Van Impe for a guest. He hated Christianity and claimed to believe only the Old Testament. When the broadcast started, he announced that even though this was a call-in show, he would accept no calls from listeners because he wanted to use the entire hour to tear the evangelist to shreds. He started his tirade by saying, “I can’t accept the three-headed God of Christians.” In other words, he rejected and mocked the Trinity.

“Well, sir,” said Jack, “since you believe only the Old Testament, I’ll show you what that part of the Bible has to say about the Trinity.”

Beginning then at Genesis 1:1 and showing that the very first mention of God is given in the plural Hebrew word Elohim, he moved through the Old Testament revealing the truth about the Trinity.

He pointed out that the plural word for God (Elohim), was used again at the creation of man (see Genesis 1:26), the Lord has a Son (see Proverbs 30:4), that the Lord speaks to the Lord (see Psalm 110:1), and that the Lord spoke of sending the Lord to the earth (see Zechariah 2:10,11).

At that point, the distressed disc jockey decided it was time to open the program to the calls of listeners.

On a network TV station in Missouri, Jack debated a college professor. The program started with the announcer telling viewers that the debate was between a Christian and an intellectual. Some put-down! But it didn’t matter. After being bombarded with the Bible for 12 minutes, the professor surrendered and Jack used the remaining 48 minutes of the program to give his testimony.

Some admirers of Dr. Van Impe’s ability to quote 18,000 Bible verses, including virtually the entire New Testament, look upon this accomplishment as the result of a divine gift. “Not so,” the memory man replies.

Others think he has a photographic mind. “Wrong again,” he insists.

What then is the reason for this unusual feat? “Hard work,” he replies.

Desire, Discipline, and Dedication

There are three reasons why Jack Van Impe has become “The Walking Bible.” They are desire, discipline, and dedication.

Jack saw the benefits of being saturated with the Bible and he wanted them. Enumerating some of the results of such exposure to inspiration, he says,

“The Word gives us victory over sin (see Psalm 119:11). It makes us clean (see John 15:3). It is the source of faith (see Romans 10:17). It brings blessing (see Revelation 1:3).” (You can tell that he is just beginning to warm to his subject.) He has experienced the difference in his own life. The words of the Bible are no longer just promises for plaques on the wall, nor catchy texts for sermons. They are part and fiber of his very being.

He has developed the necessary self-discipline to make his goal attainable. Like Paul, he has mastered his body (see 1 Corinthians 9:27). Depriving himself of relaxation and sometimes sleep, he has always kept up his memorization of the Bible. With his pressing schedule, it would have been easier to forget those two hours of daily memorization. But ease was not his aim. He wanted to be a man of the Word.

Dr. Van Impe says he spent about 80,000 hours in memorizing 18,000 verses. And that time was all invested for the glory of God. There were no contests to win. No awards to receive. No one challenged him to a memory marathon. His service for Christ here was just as real to him as preaching or leading a soul to Christ. The Scripture memory time was a sacred rendezvous. There were few memory gimmicks used to achieve his goal. The important dimension to this accomplishment was, and is, dedication.

Eager to have others memorize the Bible, Dr. Van Impe has been willing to share the method that has made him “The Walking Bible.”

First, he prepares index cards with Bible verses on one side and the references on the other. He generally prepared 50 cards at a time. Others might not want to make that many. The important thing is to get a start with some set number of verses.

He suggests choosing verses by subject or doctrine, not by chapter. At one time, he tried memorizing by chapter, but found himself less able to use the verses quickly. He would lose valuable time working through a number of verses to get to the one he needed. Memorizing by subject or doctrine is more liable to bring verses to mind when a given subject is raised.

Use a good concordance (possibly Young’s or Strong’s), and make a list of choice verses on the particular word or subject you wish to study. For example, you might take the word “save” or “saved” in studying the doctrine of salvation. Placing the verses on your cards chronologically will help to keep your thoughts organized. You may want to use the following verses: Isaiah 45:22; Jeremiah 8:20; Matthew 1:21; Luke l9:10, John 3:17; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:1; 1 Corinthians 1.21; Ephesians 2:8,9; I Timothy 1:l5, 2:4; and Hebrews 7-25.

Memory cards could look like this:

Side 1
Subject: Salvation
Isaiah 45:22
Side 2
Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

Side 1
Subject: Salvation
Jeremiah 8:20
Side 2
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

Side 1
Subject: Salvation
Matthew 1:21
Side 2
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Side 1
Subject: Salvation
Luke 19:10
Side 2
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Side 1
Subject: Salvation
John 3:17
Side 2
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

There is another approach to the choice of verses for memorization that Dr. Van Impe calls “Subject Coherence.” Here is a sample of that type of study:

  1. Sin: Psalm 14:3, 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:5; Micah 7:2; Luke 18:19; Romans 3:9-18, 3:23; Galatians 3:22.
  2. The results of sin: Ezekiel 18:4,20; Romans 5:12, 6:23; James 1:15; Revelation 21:8,27, 22:15.
  3. The remedy for sin: Isaiah 53:5,6, Matthew 20:28; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4, 3:13, Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18.

A good concordance also provides a means of cross-reference study on two subjects. By memorizing verses on both, a knowledge is gained about how the two relate. A set of verses cross-referencing baptism and salvation might be arranged with comments as helps in the following manner:

  1. Why did Christ come?
    TO SAVE:
    Matthew 9:13; Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15.
  2. How did He save?
    John 4:2,
    Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5.
  3. What is the gospel?
    1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
    Galatians 1:8,9.
  4. How can one be saved?
    John 3:14,16,36, 6:47, 8:24, 11:25, 14:1, 20:30,31; Acts 10:43, 13:38; Romans 1:16, 4:3, 4:5, 10:9,10; l Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Peter 2:7.
  5. Who then should be baptized?
    Acts 2:41, 8:37, 10:47, 16:31-33.
A packet of memory cards on the doctrine of Christ might contain this outline:
    CHRIST: Isaiah 7:14; Jeremiah 31:22; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:27; Hebrews 10:5.
    Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Matthew 1:23, Acts 7:59,60, 16:31,34; Romans 9:5, I Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20.
    Exodus 12:13; Leviticus 17:11; Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13, 14,20; Hebrews 10:18,19; 1 Peter 1:18,19; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5, 5:9.
    Matthew 28:6; Mark 16:6; John 2:19; Acts 2:23,24, 3:15, 5:30; Romans 1:4, 4:25, 10:9,10; 1 Corinthians 15:3,4; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 3:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 13:20, Revelation 1:18.

One desiring to be equipped to prove the reliability of the Bible would memorize verses having to do with inspiration. A few might be: Exodus 24: 4; 2 Samuel 23:2; Psalm 119:.1l,105,130; Jeremiah 1:9, 30:2; Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20,21.Dr. Van Impe recommends quoting each verse in the first packet aloud, seven times daily for one week. The second week this can be cut to twice each day. The third week once daily will be sufficient.

Meanwhile, a second packet, of perhaps 20 cards, has been added on the second week and the verses are being reviewed seven times daily while going over the first packet twice.

By the fourth week, the original packet will only need to be reviewed one time weekly. That should be continued for three months. After that, a monthly refresher will be sufficient. (All the while each new system is following this pattern.) Finally when a packet of cards is completely mastered, a review once in three months will be enough. Dr. Van Impe now reviews the New Testament every four months.

If all this seems like a lot of work, it should. However, the use of the card packets will allow much of the work to be done in hours that otherwise would have been whiled away in less profitable pastimes. Any time of waiting can be time in the Word.

As has been mentioned, Dr. Van Impe has used few memory aids. Occasionally, he has taken the first letters of a list of names (such as the names of the twelve tribes of Israel) and arranged them into one word. That word, then, no matter how strange sounding, enabled him to remember the entire list. He advises creativity whenever it can be helpful. No amount of memory aids, however, can replace self-discipline. Without that, any memory plan will fail.