Word Perfect

perfect stamp isolated on white background
Last week I got an email from someone in our online community. Her question is one I’ve received many times so I thought it might be helpful to address it today.

When memorizing, is it required to have every word perfect? Or is close good enough?

It’s actually a two-part question.

One reason why it is tricky to get it 100% accurate is because every time we say it incorrectly, the brain records that. So if you’re learning a new verse, you must say it correctly many times (maybe a dozen times) so that the other option is not even considered by the brain. One way to accomplish that is by saying it out loud while reading it, several times, and then several more times. You will not say it incorrectly if you’re reading it. However, our natural tendency is to say it one or two times, and then GUESS if we can say it without looking. The problem is that once you guess wrong it’s now in your brain as another option.

You can correct the error, but only by saying it perfectly many more times, so that the brain sees this is the natural choice. The brain is an amazing gift. And we can tell it what to recall.

The next question is, how important is it that you get the verse 100% accurate? That is an easier answer, which is, “That’s up to you.” Some people want the verse absolutely word for word. Others don’t mind if they change it up slightly as long as it’s saying the same thing. It’s a personal choice.

I like to get it perfect because it makes review a lot easier and quicker. If you change up the words, sometimes it messes up your connection to the next verse. And keep in mind, some small changes can alter the meaning of the verse.

The enemy of our soul doesn’t want us to give any attention to God’s Word, so if he can discourage us by the technique of memorizing, and make us quit, he succeeds.

Always remember that the goal is to know God and walk closely with him. If you change up the words a little, but you are loving God more by being in his Word throughout the day, then you are achieving your goal. And wow, what a great thing to be able to say “I love God more today because I said his words over and over and I feel so close to him.”

I’d love to hear any other thoughts on this question.

16 comments to Word Perfect

  • Amy Calvetti

    Thank you Janet for sharing your thoughts. This was very helpful. I have a better understanding why I struggle remembering a word in a passage. It’s probably because I used a different one when trying to memorize it in the beginning. This will definitely help me in the future.

    • Amy, We’ve all done that. I’ve even written the verse down incorrectly, no wonder I then get it wrong. Just need a reminder to get it right the first few times so we don’t learn it with the wrong words and produce frustration later.

  • My goal in learning my verses is not to practice until I get it right, but to keep on practicing until I can’t get it wrong. Why? In the Garden of Eden, Satan questions Eve, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shal not eat of every tree in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1) Eve clarifies, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” (Gen. 3:2-3) Though it wouldn’t be wise to touch the fruit, picking it, holding it and smelling it because then they might be tempted to try it, God never said if they touched the fruit they would die. Eve misquoting God’s command tells me Eve kinda knew God’s Word. She knew the gist. When Jesus was tempted by Satan, Jesus confidently spoke the Word to Satan, and defeated each temptation of Satan soley by Scripture alone. This is why I don’t want to practice my verses just till I can get them right. Yes, I want to understand the gist of a verse, but I want to know that I know what a verse says, so when Satan or the world challenge what I believe about God and His Word, I will know for certain what God’s Word says, and will be able to overcome any challenge and any temptation by the power of God’s Word.

  • I want to learn my verses word-perfect, but I don’t obsess about it because as you say, “The goal is to know God and walk closely with him. If you change up the words a little, but you are loving God more by being in his Word throughout the day, then you are achieving your goal.” Thanks, Janet! Sharing this with my Facebook group Hide His Word.

    • Hi Lisa, One of the books that is very tricky is 1 John. It has “Dear Friends” (6 times) and “Dear Children” (9 times). If you get them mixed up, it actually turns out to be a big deal because it then jumps you to another section out of sequence, or back to what you’ve already covered, and it is so frustrating. I always tell new memorizers to avoid 1 John for that reason. It’s such a great book, but requires a lot of concentration.

  • This is a tricky question, and I think the key is not to make an idol out of perfection so that you give up in failure, while at the same time to “make every effort.” After all, it is in the straining and trying to get it right that the truth is imprinted on our hearts and minds.

  • Ruth

    I really try to get passages “word perfect” almost all the time, but I don’t worry too much about small variations if I had learned the verse as a child in the King James version. I think it is more difficult to relearn verses in another version. With lots of review, though, it is possible!

    • Ruth, you have made a good point. Sometimes we have a verse memorized in one version but later we want to memorize the whole passage in a different version. This requires some work. Or, if its not important to you, just keep it in the original version. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Barb

    This was a great discussion. Thanks to all. I plead guilty to reading it 3-5 times and then think I’ve got it, only to find that Scripture Typer “catches” me. I plan to be more diligent about READING the verses 12 times before I start trying to recite it. EXCELLENT input from all.

    • Hi Barb, And thank you for mentioning Scripture Typer for anyone who wants to type in their verses to check for accuracy. Many people use this tool and love it.

  • Shan

    Janet, For me, when practicing, it’s good to AIM for perfection. That forces me to go back to a passage multiple times until I get it right. Slight variations in wording can be confusing but actually help as markers for different sections of a passage. A good example is in Ephesians 1:3-14, where in the ESV you will find “according to the purpose of his will”, “according to the riches of his grace”, “according to his purpose”, “according to the purpose of him” and “according to the counsel of his will.” It’s very helpful to remember that the first “according to” phrase refers to our adoption as sons, the second our redemption and forgiveness, and so on. In addition, when recalling a passage to bless someone else, doing it word perfectly and confidently is powerful. It conveys the certainty, clarity, and strength of Scripture to the weak and confused in the faith. Also, aiming to get every word right allows me to enjoy the beauty of Scripture even in the translated English language. Praise the Lord for His Word!!!

    • Hi Shan, I agree with the beauty of the Scripture. There’s nothing else like it. And what a privilege to be able to know God’s very words!

  • This is a good discussion and something I have wondered about. I try to lean to perfection because I believe it will help me remember the passage better if I say it the same way every time and because it is easy to change/add/delete some of the little, but sometimes important, words. Like Ruth commented, I learned scripture in KJV as a child and still use that version primarily. So that’s what I use for memorization (and meditation) because at nearly 60 it’s too hard to change and I like the beauty of the language. It’s just necessary to do some additional word studies!

    • Hi Lynelle, It’s interesting to me to find so many KJVers. I didn’t grow up in church so I find it like a foreign language sometimes. But I always tell people to memorize in the version that you love and are most comfortable with. Thanks for your comments.