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Church hosts a recitation of Revelation Speaker memorized 12 of Bible's books

You might say Thomas Meyer knows his Bible well. Very well.

While preachers frequently quote scripture passages in their sermons and teachings, Meyer travels the country narrating whole books of the Old and New Testaments from memory.

On Sunday, he'll be in Hamburg, reciting the entire Book of Revelation -- the 22-chapter concluding book of the New Testament that features apocalyptic references to beasts and plagues and a colorful cast of characters, including trumpet-playing angels, multitudes of people in white robes and a huge dragon with seven heads.

"It's my favorite book to tell. It's the only book that promises a blessing to those who speak it and hear it. It's the capstone of the Bible if you will," said Meyer, who is visiting Western New York for the first time to display his highly unusual skill.

Meyer was invited by First Baptist Church of Hamburg and will recite the Book of Revelation at 6 p.m. in the church at 120 Main St. He's also scheduled to recite the first 11 chapters of Genesis -- including all of those archaic, hard-to-pronounce names -- during the church's 11 a.m. worship service on Sunday.

Meyer, who calls his theatrical performances "oral proclamation," has memorized a dozen of the Bible's 66 books.

He started more than a decade ago, when a pastor in his hometown of Lombard, Ill., challenged him to memorize a passage from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew.

The first full book he memorized was the Book of Jonah.

"I did it because it's short," he said. "And it's such a great story."

He's since learned the books of Obadiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai and Malachi, to name a few others. Meyer uses both King James and New King James translations.

In a world of instant tweets and cut-and-paste editing, Meyer, 35, said he hopes to help rekindle the ancient tradition of oral transmission of Scripture.

He's recited Scripture from memory in more than 500 churches nationwide, traveling from site to site in an RV with his wife, Sarah, who also does recitations. Meyer even teaches a course on Bible memorization at Shasta Bible College in Redding, Calif.

"It's just a lost art. But it's such a beautiful thing to hear. They're the greatest stories in the world," he said.

Speaking Scripture from memory as opposed to simply reading it, he added, is akin to "the difference between hearing a professional musician play Mozart versus reading Mozart off the page."

Kevin Leary, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hamburg, learned of Meyer through the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, a nationwide network of congregations that considers the Bible as the supreme, infallible authority on human conduct.

"We encourage the memorization of God's word," said Leary. "The value we see is having the Bible internalized, so it's better able to control our thinking in a moment-to-moment, day-to-day decision-making process. When you memorize it, you have to have it internalized."

One teen girl in the congregation has been able to recite the entire Book of Ruth from memory, said Leary.

But few people in the world can take the memorization to the level of Meyer, which is why the church invited him, he said.

For Meyer, the memorization process is a spiritual exercise -- as well as just plain hard work.

He memorizes by writing out verses in a poetic or stanza form and then saying the verses out loud, over and over again.

"You have to use your mouth," he said. "Reading it aloud is the key."

He would love to memorize the entire Bible, but he doesn't think it's possible at his age anymore.

"I started too late," said Meyer.

Meyer's performance of the Book of Revelation lasts about an hour -- and it's been his most requested presentation, which Meyer attributes to the "uncertainty of the world we live in," he said.

The book often seems mysterious and ominous, but Meyer maintains that hearing it proclaimed makes it easier to grasp.

What's the book's ultimate message?

"So much of it is so difficult to understand because of the symbolic nature of it, but I guess it's the urgency to love God and to love my neighbor as myself," Meyer said.

Meyer doesn't discuss theology or eschatology as part of his recitations, because he isn't trained in those areas.

"That's the pastor's job," he said.