Christian Apologetics Society

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God."
- Matthew 22:29

Isaiah 55:11
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it
Gen 1:3
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light
Matthew 26:26
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body."
Malachi 1:11
My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations," says the LORD Almighty.
John 20:23
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
James 5:16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
James 2:14
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
Luke 20:38
For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.
Rev 21:27
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
1 Cor 3:15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Psalm 51:5
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.
John 3:5
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Titus 3:5
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
1 Timothy 3:15
but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Acts 22:16
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Scripture Memorization in Early Church History

A CAS visitor earlier this year was researching "Scripture Memorization in Early Church History." Modern Christians take for granted the current Christian tradition of memorizing verses of the Bible. Often, this memorization takes the form of citing the book name, chapter, and verse; followed by the verse or verses, and then repeating the Book name, chapter, and verse. For example:

John 6:53 -- "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." -- John 6:53

The modern method of scripture memorization would have been largely unknown to early Church Christians. Why? Chiefly due to some scriptures not yet existing, a shortage of easily accessible scriptures, illiteracy, and the inconvenient fact the the modern system of dividing the Bible into chapters and versus wasn't developed until about the Reformation.

In the immediate period after Christ's ascension, there was no New Testament to memorize. The books were yet to be written. So, rather than memorizing Romans, early Christians, who still attended synagogues, memorized the Old Testament. Memorization was achieved en masse by the Old Testament being read aloud to the congregation. Often, the reader of the scroll was not actually reading the scroll, but reciting the passages by memory themselves.

The "books" of the New Testament were actually scrolls of very expensive parchment or papyrus. The scripture was written in scriptio continua style. That is, to save space and economize, the scripture was written without chapter and paragraph breaks. In fact, there were not even spaces between words and verses as in this paragraph itself. Can you imagine trying to read John 6:53 aloud, while looking at:


While New Testament scrolls existed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were few, if any, personal copies. Christians of the day did not arrive at "church" carrying their own copy of scripture. The modern Christian tradition of believers bringing their own personal Bible to church was not an early church practice. Instead the congregation assembled a library of scripture, some in the modern canon and many not found in the current canon. At their gathering, most, if not all, the scriptures were read aloud to the assembly. If an early Christian congregation had acquired a copy of Paul's epistle to the Romans, it likely would have been read in its entirety every Sunday, week after week. That's how New Testament scripture was initially memorized. The Christian tradition of reading scripture aloud in in repeating cycles is still observed in all 22 Catholic Churches and in all Eastern Orthodox Churches.

During the misnamed Dark Ages, Irish monastics would gather daily and recite all 150 Psalms from beginning to end. By praying all 150 psalms daily, new monastics would have heard all 150 psalms repeatedly and been able to memorize all 150 prayers of David as well. Lay people often desired to join in the monastic prayers, but could not devote the time required to pray and memorize all 150 psalms. Eventually, a simplified devotional was developed using a few shorter, more easily memorized verses from the New Testament which were repeated to form a chain of 150 psalm-like prayers. Many Christians know this simplified devotional of 150 prayers as the Rosary.

(By the way, in the early centuries of the Church, presbyters were required to have memorized all 150 psalms. How many modern presbyters have memorized all 150 psalms? How many modern elders or deacons have memorized all 150 psalms? Compared to some early Christian practices, many of us modern age Christians measure as a bunch of slackers.)

It was several centuries after the Great Schism, that "the present chapter divisions in our Bibles were invented in 1205 by Stephen Langton, a professor in Paris (he later became the Archbishop of Canterbury), who put these into a Vulgate edition of the Bible." The current versification of the Bible was developed by Robert Stephanus in 1551, just after the start of the Reformation. The post-Reformation Geneva Bible was the first Bible to be published using the modern system of chapter and verse divisions.

So, it is after the Reformation that the modern Christian tradition of memorizing scripture in the form of citing the book name, chapter, and verse; followed by the verse or verses developed. Over recent centuries, many systems of organizing scripture verses to aid Christians in memorization have developed. We still have our original box of the Topical Memory System developed by the Navigators on our shelf of Bibles.

With the advent of computers and the development of e-Sword software with its scripture memorization tools, scripture memorization enters a new age. Interestingly, that after 2000 years, while the division of scripture into chapters and verses has been standardized, punctuation has not. Perhaps some future Christian will significantly aid in the standardization of punctuation in the Bible.

God bless...

Related Posts:
Scripture Memorization for Catholics: Prayers

Source: Chapters and Verses -- Late Comers

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Blogger Wes Messamore said...

Great blog! As I'm in the process of converting to Orthodoxy from evangelical Protestantism, I have absolutely loved going to Church and hearing more Scripture read than I ever have before.

For all the "Sola Scriptura" I heard before, there was much less Scripture being read than at my Orthodox parish. I also find that by listening intently rather than frantically turning to find the page in my own Bible, I absorb more. Thanks for your post.

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