The Benefits of Writing Out Scripture
We are increasingly moving away from writing things by hand. But is there a spiritual benefit to writing out Bible scriptures by hand? We believe so.
In a world dominated by digital communication, it seems few people handwrite things anymore. We now mainly communicate through keyboards, touch screens or voice-to-text. (I’m by no means being critical, because I’m typing this on a computer.)
If you walk into a classroom or office, you’ll probably see most people taking notes on a laptop or a tablet. And when was the last time you received a handwritten letter in the mail?
An interesting law for Israelite kings
In preparation for a time when Israel would have a monarchy, God gave laws intended to govern Israel’s future kings. If applied, these laws would have set the kings up for success, both politically and spiritually.
Notice what God instructed all newly enthroned kings to do:
“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19, emphasis added throughout).
Every king was to copy out the law (the Torah), likely the first five books of the Bible, by hand. This was no quick task. According to some counts, the Hebrew Torah includes roughly 80,000 words and over 300,000 single letters.
Not only would this educate a future king in God’s law, but it would provide the king with his own personal copy that he could study the rest of his life.
While it’s possible, of course, that some kings might have done this, sadly, there’s no record or hint that any of them made a copy of the law. Even King Josiah, one of Judah’s good kings, ruled 18 years before he even heard the book of the law read (see 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34). Assuming that most did not, perhaps that helps explain why most of Judah’s and Israel’s kings failed to provide sound leadership based on God’s law.
The benefits of writing out scriptures
This law shows that God saw a value in having people write out His words by hand. And there were two individuals in the Bible who—though they weren’t kings—actually did write out the entire law or portions of it:
God saw a value in having people write out His words by hand.Moses (Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9).
- Joshua (Joshua 8:30-32).
It should be no surprise that the two men who actually did this were two of the most faithful and righteous men in history. These two men didn’t just physically write out the words, but internalized the words into the depth of their being.
In Deuteronomy 11:18, we read where God really wants His law and words: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
God wants His words to be at the core of our being—internalized into our lives so that they aren’t just intellectual knowledge. He wants them internalized so deep that we can teach them (verse 19).
Modern research confirms the benefits
Interestingly, many modern studies have been done on the benefits of writing things out by hand. Almost all of them find that information has a higher chance of being internalized and retained when we write it out by hand.
Writing material out by hand can help us learn and internalize it more effectively. For instance, studies have been done comparing students who take notes by hand and those who take notes on a laptop. Those studies have consistently shown that those who take handwritten notes retain the material better and do better on assessments.
Writing things out by hand forces the brain to engage with the material at an even deeper level than typing it.
Of course, both handwriting and typing help retention, compared to not writing at all. The point is that modern researchers have discovered a fact that has been in the Bible all along: Writing material out by hand can help us learn and internalize it more effectively.
More than just transcribing words
Of course, the act of writing is just a tool in a more important process.
We gain the most when we choose to be mentally engaged and deeply think about God’s Word. God didn’t want the kings to just mindlessly copy words—He wanted them to think, consider, meditate on and ponder the meaning and intent of those words. Doing this would lengthen the process, but be of much greater benefit.
The Bible emphasizes the importance of meditating on God’s law and words:
- “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
- “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
- “My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word” (Psalm 119:148).
When the Bible talks about meditation, it refers to focused thought on a particular spiritual subject. To learn more about biblical meditation, read “What Is Meditation?” and “What Is Biblical Meditation?”
A practical tool for writing out scriptures
Though there would be great value in handwriting the first five books of the Bible, we recognize the enormity of that task. Outside of Moses and Joshua, there’s no biblical record that any other of God’s servants in the Bible did this.
But there are other practical ways to apply the principle. We’d like to share a resource that you may find helpful.
The Scripture Writing Challenge
The Scripture Writing Challenge is a free email-based program intended to provide our readers a practical method for writing out Bible scriptures daily. Every month, we send participants an email with a link to a list of scriptures on a particular biblical theme.
Participants then write out each scripture by hand. Many use a notebook or a journal specifically dedicated to this project.
We launched the Scripture Writing Challenge in 2017, which means it’s now going into its seventh year! Some of the topics we covered last year included “Change Your Life” (January), “The Need to Repent” (April), “Overcoming Worry” (July) and “The Festivals of God” (October).
The goal of the program isn’t just to encourage participants to transcribe words, but to deeply ponder each scripture and what it teaches us about God’s mind on the overall topic. Each day’s passage should take less than 10 minutes to write out, though we encourage our participants to spend more time thinking about it or even doing further study on the assigned scriptures.
We asked Kelli Hogg, the program’s coordinator, why she started the program seven years ago. Here’s what she said:
“I started this program because I understand that people learn, process and remember information differently. Some people are auditory learners and can just hear something and remember. Others can read and remember. Personally, I learn by writing something down. It cements the idea into my brain if I write it down.
“It occurred to me that there may be others who would benefit from writing out a scripture every single day—not just reading it, but actually writing it down. It’s a great way to fit in time with God’s Word, and the hope is you’ll actually remember what you read and wrote. Also, at the end of the year, you have a compilation of God’s Word in your own handwriting.”
We asked some of our participants to share their thoughts on how the program has benefited them. Here are a few excerpts of what they shared:
“I love it! The chosen scriptures are relevant to the topic. Writing them and then reading them over and over again throughout the day helps to inscribe them in my mind.”
“The Scripture Writing Challenge has become a positive routine for me for six years. It is a powerful way to start the day. The way it’s laid out lets me dig deep into a new biblical theme each month. It’s a small investment of your time that yields a large reward!”
“Doing the Scripture Writing Challenge has become second nature to me. It keeps me accountable. Most times I do it straight out of bed, even while on vacation, so that I ‘start the day right.’ I make it a mini-study. Seeing the verses in different translations is a plus as some bring more clarity than others.”
Interested in signing up?
On that page, you can check out all the assigned scriptures going back to 2017 and subscribe to join the challenge for 2023. As with all of our material, this program is absolutely free.
If you’d like to challenge yourself to write out a scripture every day for the next year, sign up today to get started!