This is a question one of my Catechism students asked. We were playing a Bible based board game where if you don't know the answer you look it up in the Bible. That's pretty great, if you know how to find verses in the Bible.

But, given a standard super thick, thin paged Bible with no tabs and characteristically ignoring the index page like one would expect an eighth grader might, what mnemonic and memorization devices do people use to find the relative position of certain books in the Bible?

(I'd prefer Catholic answers using Catholic Bibles, but any wisdom is appreciated)

  • Make many Post-It notes?
    – Double U
    Nov 20, 2013 at 4:26
  • @Anonymous good idea, but I'm considering completely empty church owned bibles handed out during class
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 20, 2013 at 4:31
  • You are talking about specific verses (like where did Jesus say "Love your neighbour") and not order of books, right? My answer is just Experience - though that's not much help for you, I guess. Nov 20, 2013 at 8:48
  • Indeed, a combination of post-it notes and experience. Give the students a bible they can keep. Inspire to insert post-it notes everywhere, and encourage them to read it. My church has in the 20 years I live about 2 bibles.
    – 2pietjuh2
    Nov 20, 2013 at 12:13
  • @wiki no, not expecting that yet, I mean giving them very specific instructions and having them not spend half an hour trying to find John 3:16
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 20, 2013 at 12:23

2 Answers 2


I learned this technique on Protestant Bibles but you could easily adapt it for any Bible. It works best if you have everyone use their own Bible so that they can see how the technique applies to the Bible they use most.

  1. Psalms is usually at the center of most Bibles. If you're looking for Psalms you try to open to the middle of the book.
  2. The New Testament tends to start around the last quarter of the Bible.
  3. So let's say you're looking for John 3:16.
    • It's in the New Testament so it's in the last quarter of the Bible.
    • It's a Gospel so it's at the front of that last quarter.
    • Flip to about the last quarter of the book. If you land on John great.
    • If you landed somewhere else is it before or after John?

This also goes hand in hand with memorizing the order of the books which the best I can do is a song that I think I might still have somewhere on VHS but you can just hit up YouTube and find something your kids will like.

Even more helpful is understanding the sections of the Bible.

  1. Law
  2. History
  3. Poetry & Wisdom
  4. Major Prophets
  5. Minor Prophets
  6. Gospels
  7. Pauline Epistles
  8. General Epistles
  9. Prophecy

So from the example above, if the open the Bible to somewhere other than John it goes:

  1. What book are you on?
  2. Is it before or after John?

    • Is it Old Testament or New? If it's old you move back. New could be either way.
    • What section is it in? If it's a Gospel, which one? (in this case any one means move back slowly)
    • If it's not at least one of the minor prophets then you're probably way too far ahead.
    • Likewise if you landed in Revelation then you're too far back. (This actually happens because of maps and other stuff they cram into Bibles these days.)

It plays out like a game of 20 questions. Every time you move you repeat the steps. I don't remember it taking long for us to pick this up but, the more time they spend using an actual Bible with no search aids, the faster they'll get it.

  • yeah, maybe we'll try doing 20 questions, that would be a great exercise
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 20, 2013 at 15:01
  • @ Peter Turner this may be of help, but it does not cover any of the deuterocanonical books. You will find an outline of the Bible at the following website, along with many other study aids. biblehub.com/outline And if you desire you can copy and paste it to a word program and distribute it to your class to use as a reference, and since it is in the same order as the Bible it will help them with location.
    – BYE
    Nov 20, 2013 at 16:05

The first thing the students will need to know is how to dissect a scripture reference like "John 3:16" into a book, chapter, and verse.

Next, the students will need to become familiar with the order of the books, or at least the general area of the Bible each book is in.

You mention that they will likely ignore the table of contents – I think it will be easier to teach them to use the table of contents starting out, than to teach them a fancy mnemonic technique for finding books.

As they use the table of contents over and over, they will start to remember which books are in the Old Testament, which are in the New Testament, and which ones are at the beginning, middle, or end of the list. Eventually, they will start flipping to an approximate location in the Bible without looking at the table of contents.

In addition to using the table of contents, memorization songs can be very helpful to get the specific order down and to remember smaller books that you may not visit as often. I used these songs growing up: The Books in the Old Testament; The Books in the New Testament. Unfortunately, the deuterocanonical books are not included, but there are a lot of variations online and I'll bet you could find something that does include them.

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