History of The Bible Song
In 1972 I independently discovered (re-invented) a unique method of composing that facilitates word-for-word memorization of scripture of the Christian Bible.
The method I’ve composed is employed in the song The Lord’s Prayer (1935) by Albert Hay Malotte. It is also used (at times) in musicals, plays and operas. My favorite example is the first opera made for television (1951 the year of my birth) by Gian Carlo Menotti – Amahl and the Night Visitors. This “new” method had apparently been “hidden in plain sight” throughout Church history. With some exceptions (monks chanting the psalms, Coptic, Orthodox, and Catholic liturgy, longer passages by master composers like Bach, Handel and others) Christianity, to date, has largely missed the opportunity to utilize music to memorize and meditate on the full text of Scripture – ALL of which is God-breathed and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16).
The Word for Word Scripture memorization system involves all learning modalities (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) and impacts numerous brain regions insuring long term retention. Areas of the brain that control language, emotion, breathing/heart rate, hearing, vision, rhythm, movement, long term memory and behavior are all impacted by music and specifically by the type of music used in The Bible Song. Those brain areas include (respectively) the temporal and frontal lobes, amygdala, brain stem, auditory/visual cortices, cerebellum, anterior thalamic nuclei, fornix, septum, and limbic cortex.
Both science and history confirm that the best way to memorize long passages of text is by singing the words. However, for you, the proof is in the pudding. Just put the program into practice and don’t let the enemy of our souls steal this opportunity from you and those you love and influence.
Certainly, many Christian believers have set scripture to music before. It is a concept as ancient as Miriam and Moses whose songs actually became scripture. It was continued by psalmist David and many others. The synagogue chants and songs of the Jewish people were influential to the songs and liturgies of the nascent Christian Church. Ancient Coptic Christian chants have been seamlessly communicated without variation for 20 centuries by the “blind cantors”.
Most of the music of the Jews, and in fact the world, was monophonic for millennia achieving ethereal beauty in the Gregorian chant. Polyphonic music of the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance employed two or more concurrent melody lines. The Reformation – and in particular Martin Luther – brought harmony front and center in Christendom. A celebration of sound ensued with the amazing compositions of beloved Christian composers like Handel and Bach. Music, which had for so long reverently utilized minor modes – exploded into the colorful textures of harmonies in major keys. The pendulum had swung.
Ironically, it may have been this celebration of God’s glory in harmony, counterpoint, polyphony, and instrumentation that postponed until now the revelation that full textual memorization of the New Testament is possible. Did the scripturally inspired music – due to its overwhelming beauty and glory – begin to overshadow, and eventually even eclipse, the words of scripture? If that is so, it is highly ironic that the wide use of the new music was greatly inspired by Luther – the proponent of sola scriptura.
Now, Christians can all memorize the whole Bible and sing it to God and to one another (with or without instruments) in praise as a joyful expression of our faith and love.
It was 1973 when I first realized that if I intended to memorize thousands of verses, each scripture verse would need its own unique melody. The notes create specific linear memory connections with each syllable and word. This requires creativity – a new song for each Bible verse requires 31,103 melodies.
The Bible Song prioritizes scripture memorization over entertainment. Effectiveness takes priority over aesthetics. This style of music, though pleasant, is unfamiliar to most Christians. The goal is memorization – meditation – and obedience.
To maximize effectiveness, The Bible Song includes permutations of meter, rhythm, mode, cadence, key, genre, chromatics, progression, and syncopation. Again, singing scripture is historically and scientifically proven to be the most successful way to memorize text.
Scripture Memorization in other religions compared to Christianity
When we compare our scripture memorization efforts to the efforts applied in other religions it is very challenging (euphemism for downright embarrassing). We have a love letter from the almighty God. Why then do other religions treat their scriptures more respectfully?
The Hindus (from which Buddhism and Jainism derive) have used music to carefully preserve and pass down over 100,000 verses of their Vedas (their scriptures or ‘agamas’) word-for-word for centuries, even millennia. Comparatively, the entire Bible has about 31,103 verses.
Jewish believers have intonated the Pentateuch and other scriptures for centuries in songs and chants. Dedicated Jews continue to study and memorize the Old Testament today. Hinduism and Judaism are the most ancient of all religions. Unlike Christianity, they were established before the advent of written language. There was no other way to preserve their teachings verbatim than through oral transmission.
Contrariwise, a “late-comer” religion initiated six centuries after Christianity (circa 622 A.D.) also uses an oral word-for-word memorization technique. In the last 1,400 years Islam has grown exponentially – eclipsing all religions except Christianity. Islam is now the second largest world religion. At this very moment, many Muslims all over the world are memorizing the entire Koran word-for-word. The Koran is about the same length as the New Testament. Some Muslim children attend schools where they memorize the entire Koran in just 2 years.
Incredibly – most of those around the world memorizing the Koran must learn it in a second language! The Koran is only to be memorized and recited in its original Arabic. Yet, only 15% of Muslims speak Arabic as a native tongue. Think about it. It would be like you memorizing the New Testament in German or Chinese.
We must wake up Church! “Blow the trumpet – sound an alarm in my holy mountain.” Joel 2:1
Islam has quickly and recently (historically speaking) become the 2nd largest religion of the world – its followers memorize their scriptures word-for-word. Hinduism has survived from the most ancient times and has preserved its writings syllable-by-syllable using intricate music. Hinduism is the 3rd largest religion in the world. Judaism, though small in numbers, has survived what no other religion has ever survived. They have twice been removed from their land – the second time scattered all over the world for almost 2,000 years. Nevertheless, they are back in their land and their scriptures are intact because of music and because of meticulous efforts of scribes. All of those religions have survived or thrived because of carefully attending to the preservation of their writings – through memorization using music.
What about Christianity?
We Christians are entrusted with the actual Word of God. A review of the history of Christianity sometimes causes us to shake our heads and wonder how we could have been more wrongheaded. All we like sheep have gone astray. It seems like we are often playing “catch up.”
Fortunately, God is never taken off guard. Let’s cooperate with the Holy Spirit and fill our hearts with God’s love letter – the Bible. And let’s do it using his other love language – music. It is time. It is high time. And with The Bible Song it is not only possible – it is easy!
How We Will Change the World
How will we work together to change the world? It is obvious that the next generation is critical to the future of Christianity. Our young people must be prepared with a deep personal knowledge of God through relationship with Christ and plenary knowledge of the Word of God.
Logically, the 8 million Christian children being schooled at home and in Christian Schools will be some of the first to enjoy the benefits of the revolutionary Word for Word approach to scripture memorization.