Memorization techniques from Jesus himself

Jesus preaches to the people by the Sea of Galilee in this 19th century work by James Tissot displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. In his preaching, Jesus often makes use of parallelisms, or memorization devices, to help people remember his teachings.

I remember studying for high school exams using memorization. I’d repeat the answers over and over again until they were finally burned into my memory. I must admit, it worked. But it wasn’t very fun. However, repetition doesn’t have to be so monotonous. Take song lyrics, for example. Song lyrics repeat things in such a way that even after years of hearing it, a person could repeat them almost word-for-word.

Our Lord was a first-rate teacher, and he knew that repetition was a great way for his teachings to be remembered and passed on accurately. He did this by using the same technique that song lyrics and poetry uses: parallelism. By formatting his teachings in this way, his words were easy to remember. What types of parallels did Jesus use?

One kind of parallelism makes the second line of a couplet restate what is said in the first line, but with different words, as when Jesus says in Mark 4:22:

“There is nothing hidden that shall not be made manifest, / nor secret that shall not come to light.”

Notice that same thing is repeated using different words (hidden/secret and manifest/light).

Here’s another one:

“Can you drink the cup that I drink / or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 3:24)

Being baptized with Christ’s baptism is another way of drinking from Christ’s cup.

Sometimes Jesus makes the second line of a parallel the opposite (or antithesis) of the first, as when in Matthew 7:17 Jesus says:

“... every good tree bears good fruit, / and a rotten tree bears bad fruit”

As you can see, the second line is not restating the first, but restating it in contrasting terms. Here is another example of an antithetical parallel:

“It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; / but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” (Matthew 15:11).


“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, / but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

A third kind of parallelism is a bit harder to detect, but it sounds more like poetry. In this type of parallel the second line follows along the same stream of thought as the first without saying the same thing or contrasting it. For example, Jesus says in Matthew 23:5-7:

“They widen their phylacteries / and lengthen their tassels.

They love places of honor at banquets, / seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, / and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’”

You’ve probably read this type of constructive or synthetic parallel before and never noticed it.

Jesus sometimes does repeat himself in what is called the step-parallel. This type of parallel repeats a line so as to builds on it, as when Jesus said in Mark 9:37:

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; / and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.”

By repeating “receives me,” Jesus moves this thought from one point to another like a step. Here’s another example.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. / I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Of all the different kinds of parallelisms Jesus uses, the most fascinating one for me occurs when a parallel couplet is followed by a short statement that either explains the parallel or give a deeper meaning. As when Jesus says in John 4:22:

“You people worship what you do not understand; / we worship what we understand, / because salvation is from the Jews.

Notice how the third line (“because salvation is from the Jews”) explains the meaning of the first two lines. Here’s another one:

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, / and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; / for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Therefore, the next time you’re reading the Gospels, take note of not only what Jesus says, but how he says it. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.

Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at