It is always a powerful experience to hear young people proclaim the Word of God. And it is even more amazing to watch them do it all from memory!
This is what happens at the annual National Bible Bee. During this competition, young people from all across the country participate in an intense competition of Bible knowledge and scripture memorization.
I had the pleasure of attending this event this past week. Even though I have watched the competition many times and even participated for years, I was still amazed by the diligence of these young people as they committed to memorizing and reciting the Bible.
The National Bible Bee Competition all started because of the faith-filled life of an extraordinary young woman.
Shelby Kennedy was a bubbly, vibrant person with a passionate desire to serve others. She spent time in Mexico and Haiti serving the poor and sharing the gospel with the people living in poverty there.
Tragically, her life was cut short on May 31, 2005, at the age of 23 after losing a long, strenuous fight with cancer. In spite of this loss, her joy and faith lived on, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Shelby Kennedy Foundation and the beginning of the National Bible Bee in 2009.
The purpose of this competition is to encourage young people to treasure God’s word through memorization and diligent study. During this year’s national competition in Lexington, Kentucky, hundreds of young people gathered to participate in a competition that put their scripture memorization and Bible knowledge to the test.
Participating in the National Bible Bee is no small feat. The competition began months ago, with the kickstart of the summer study in early June.
This year’s theme was “Redeemed,” and over the course of eight weeks contestants spent their time studying the book of Ruth and diving deeper into this redemptive story. This included studying geographical and historical context, reviewing cross references as well as memorizing around 100 passages from Ruth and other related books of the Bible.
The contestant ages range from 7 to 18 years old and are divided into three groups: primary (7-10 years old), junior (11-14) and senior (15-18).
At the end of the summer, participants have the opportunity to take a test. The top 120 scorers in each age division are then invited to compete nationally, which requires them to also study additional key passages in Isaiah and memorize hundreds more verses.
At the national competition, they are tested yet again and only the top 15 people in each age division qualify to move on to the semifinal round. This stage is an intense competition that includes reciting long passages of scripture as well as answering in-depth context questions.
Adding to the pressure, passages must be recited perfectly with no errors or the participant either loses points or is eliminated entirely. The top five contestants that emerge from this round compete in the final round for a chance to win cash prizes ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
Despite what others might think, the prizes are not the only reward from participating in the Bible Bee.
Febah Mathew, a finalist on the Bible Bee Game Show, said, “Out of the hundreds of National Bible Bee participants that I’ve met, every one of them has agreed that the National Bible Bee has really helped them deepen their relationship with Christ and know him more.”
Another contestant named Anna Moss shared: “I’ve never won a trophy. I’ve only competed on stage once (and that was over very quickly). But I’ve gained a prize much more valuable — knowledge of and love for God’s Word. Scripture is now my greatest delight.”
I can testify to that. I participated in its very first year when I was six years old. I qualified for the nationals for the first time when I was eight, and later went on to qualify twice more in the senior division before aging out in 2020.
While I never made it past the preliminary rounds, I learned how to truly hide God’s Word in my heart through all of the hours of studying that I would do in preparation for the competition.
I consider that alone to be such a valuable reward. There are still some scriptures that I memorized years ago that I can still recall because they are now firmly rooted in my heart.
Another rewarding aspect of Bible Bee is the community that you find when you attend. Families mingle, share meals and even pray together. People who meet at the beginning of the competition start to almost feel like family towards the end.
Even the contestants who are competing against each other are loving and encouraging. They even cheer on their opponents when they do well. I don’t know any other competition where you will find such love and genuine care between competitors. It is truly a spectacle to watch.
The National Bible Bee is no ordinary competition, and the young people who participate are extraordinary. Where else will you find a community of young people who dedicate hours to studying the Bible and hiding every word in their hearts?
What an encouragement to see a younger generation taking hold of God’s word for themselves and proclaiming it boldly for others to hear.
A rising junior at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Murrell is an accounting major with a developing interest in the media industry and the diverse areas surrounding it. She was an Ernest C. Hynds Jr. intern during the fall 2022 semester.