FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Ten Years of the Bible Bee

with Emeal Zwayne, Hannah Leary | May 14, 2018
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Official Bible Bee spokesman Emeal Zwayne joins Hannah Leary, winner of the inaugural National Bible Bee Game Show, to talk about the 10th anniversary of the National Bible Bee, which will be held December 3-6 in San Antonio. Leary, who has memorized 12 books of the Bible, says she learned the Scriptures like everyone else who competes, one verse at a time, and shares how memorizing Scripture has blessed her life.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Official Bible Bee spokesman Emeal Zwayne joins Hannah Leary, winner of the inaugural National Bible Bee Game Show, to talk about the 10th anniversary of the National Bible Bee, which will be held December 3-6 in San Antonio. Leary, who has memorized 12 books of the Bible, says she learned the Scriptures like everyone else who competes, one verse at a time, and shares how memorizing Scripture has blessed her life.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Emeal Zwayne joins Hannah Leary, winner of the inaugural National Bible Bee Game Show, to talk about the 10th anniversary of the National Bible Bee.

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Ten Years of the Bible Bee

With Emeal Zwayne, Hannah Leary
May 14, 2018
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Bob: Think about how you’re spending your time. How much of your time goes to recreational activities?—watching TV, hobbies / fun things—versus the amount of time you’re spending reading, or studying, or meditating on, or memorizing Scripture. Emeal Zwayne says where we spend our time is a reflection on what really matters to us.

Emeal: Value determines behavior; and when we value something, it’s going to affect what we do in connection to it. I think, oftentimes, we’re so caught up in our fast-paced society that we forget the value of the Word of God—that it is living; it is active; it is sharper than any two-edged sword; and that it’s the foundation for our life.

One of the biggest joys for me has Been—in being a part of the National Bible Bee—is to see the fruit that has come out of it in the lives of these young people.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 14th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.



We’ll hear today about how kids all across America are investing their time in memorizing Scripture through the National Bible Bee and about the profound effect that’s having on their lives. Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You remember—we had a conversation with our friends, Jim and Cecelia Lininger, about this idea they had for a national competition. They had been watching a spelling Bee and they said: “Why are we rewarding children for memorizing spelling words? We should be rewarding children for memorizing Bible verses.”


Dennis: And so you and I went, and we participated—and mostly stood in awe of young people—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —in fact, Hannah Leary joins us, who’s one of the winners. What’s the age range, Hannah, that compete in the Bible Bee?

Hannah: The competition is for kids, ages seven to eighteen; and then there are three age divisions within those ages.



Dennis: Bob and I were at the back, watching these young people; and I might say—

E. Z. Zwayne joins us, who is a national spokesperson for the Bible Bee.

Bob: You host the TV show—the National Bible Bee Competition?

Emeal: The National Bible Bee game show, of which we did one season of. Let me just say, Dennis and Bob—just like you two, when I went to my first competition—before I was a part of the Bible Bee—my jaw hit the ground when I saw these young people, up on stage, reciting Scripture, almost endlessly. It was just mind-blowing, and what a wonderful ministry.

Dennis: Well, we’re glad you’ve joined us to be able to talk about it. We’re going to talk to families all across the country about how they can get their children involved in this—it’s really a great opportunity.

Bob: This is the tenth anniversary for the Bible Bee. The competition’s going to happen in December; but families, now, are starting to plan. In fact, the enrollment period is open right now. If families want to join in—have their kids memorizing Scripture, whether they go to the competition or not—the Scripture memorization is a great practice.



Dennis: I want to give our listeners an illustration of kind of the awe that accompanies the Bible Bee. I happen to know, Hannah, that you have memorized 12 books of the Bible in totality.

Hannah: Yes; that’s correct.

Dennis: I just thought it would be fun to have you just quote the first few verses of Hezekiah. [Laughter]


Emeal: No pressure, Hannah! [Laughter]


Hannah: Oh, sorry!

Dennis: She has a cute grin. There is no book—Hezekiah! [Laughter]


Hannah: Yes. No; I’ve Been asked that one too many times.

Dennis: Have you really?

Hannah: Yes; I have. [Laughter]

Dennis: Oh, that’s too bad! Okay; so what’s one of the books that you’ve memorized?—and give us the first few verses of that book.

Hannah: My favorite book that I’ve memorized is probably the Book of Philippians.

Dennis: That’s a good one.

Hannah: I’m not going to quote the first chapter; but I’m going to quote Chapter 3, because that’s my favorite chapter—not the whole chapter—but I’ll quote a few verses for you. My favorite verses come after Paul has given this list of all these things that he can boast in. You know, he was a Pharisee—a teacher of the law / all these different things—but he says:



What things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained or am already perfect, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself apprehended, but one thing I do: forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forward to the things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.



Bob: Now, our listeners need to know there were no cue cards / no Bible open on the table—that was all from your heart.

Hannah: Yes.

Bob: Two questions, as you think about memorizing Scripture—first, listeners are thinking: “Are you just a savant of some kind? [Laughter] I mean, is this just something that normal humans can’t do but you have some switch in your brain that makes it easy for you to do this?”

And then the second question—well, I’ll hold onto the second question. Answer that one first.

Hannah: Okay; yes. A lot of people do think that: “Oh, I could never do that. I could never memorize Scripture or, at least, that much Scripture. I can maybe memorize a few verses or something, but never to the extent that you do. You must be a child prodigy.”

I’m not. I did memorize, you know, Psalm 1 and Psalm 23 in elementary school, and that was a part of my family. I’m so thankful for that and the centrality of God’s Word in our family, but it’s something that I would never have thought I could have done. It wasn’t something that I was like: “Oh, I’m such a good memorizer. Let’s memorize some Scripture!”



It’s something that you just start, one verse at a time. You memorize that one verse; and you realize: “Oh, I can do this! Let’s try another one,” and you add another one.

That’s the beauty of the National Bible Bee—it’s a competition. Competition motivates you to do things. For me, there was excellent motivation to see how much I could do. That first year, I did not memorize all the verses that were required of us—I didn’t get to all of them—but I was so surprised at how much I could do. It showed me that I was able to do something that I never thought possible.

So, I know for me, even when I come back to memorizing—you know, I’ve taken a break, maybe for a few months, and come back to try to memorize—it’s hard. It’s not like it comes easy for me now. It’s something I have to slowly build up to again and work that muscle of my brain. As you work it, it becomes easier.

Bob: So, here’s the second question—because this passage that you memorized, almost a decade ago, has now been resident with you for a decade—



—you memorized it as a young girl for competition purposes. How has Philippians 3 served you over the last decade, because it’s been in your heart and not just in your Bible?

Hannah: Yes, yes; I picked that passage specifically because it has become such a part of who I am. Like I said—in the part just before, Paul’s listing all these things that he has done in his own strength that he could boast in.

You know, I look at my life / my Christian life—growing up in a Christian home, and growing up memorizing and studying for the National Bible Bee, and a champion on the National Bible Bee and being praised for that, and all those different things that I could boast in—knowing Scripture / you know, like the Pharisees—they knew Scripture—but they didn’t know Christ. That’s the thing that we need to remember in our study of Scripture—is that it points us to Christ and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So for me, that passage has become what I cling to; because it’s not about what I’ve done / it’s not about what I can do.



It’s all about what Christ has done for me; and that’s what gives my life worth, and that’s what gives me purpose, and hope, and confidence as I move forward.

Dennis: E. Z., you’re a national spokesman for the National Bible Bee. I understand you have 24 books of the Bible memorized. [Laughter]


Emeal: Sixty-seven! Sixty-seven, Dennis. [Laughter]

Bob: So you have Hezekiah down; right?

Emeal: Right! Absolutely. [Laughter] Yes; you know, Scripture memory’s been a passion of mine for a long time—ever since I got saved. I am working on my 12th book of the New Testament right now.

I’ll tell you, though, one of the things about the National Bible Bee for me has been how humbling it’s been; because in those books I’ve memorized—when you add all the verses together—they come up to somewhere around 800 or so verses. It’s taken me years to do that. These young people are memorizing—the senior level, at least—they are memorizing close to 800/900 verses over the course of about three months. So when I start thinking: “Wow! Look at what I…”—it’s like years versus months—and they’re up there, under pressure



Dennis: Yes; that’s what I was going to say. They’re in front of an audience of a thousand people.

Emeal: Exactly; and you know, it’s being recorded—their parents / friends are there, and they’re up there—but like Hannah said—the competition is just a part of it. The real heart of it is that these kids know the Word of God and make Him known, which is a part of our vision.

Bob: I remember meeting Hannah for the first time when we were in Nashville. You would have been—what, were you—

Hannah: Fourteen.

Bob: Fourteen years old—she was a competitor. I was a judge for the Bible Bee that year. You were up on stage; and I was telling you what passages you needed to recite, and listening to you recite them, and telling you whether you got it right or wrong.

And Dennis, you’re right—it is amazing to see these kids doing this—but again, I went away, thinking, “They don’t recognize the benefit that has accrued to them that is going to serve them over time,” because Hannah, what Psalm 1 says is that, when your roots are sunk down deep into the soil of God’s Word / when God’s Word is in your heart, you will be like—



—well, what you will be like then, Hannah?

Hannah: “…a tree planted by rivers of water" [Laughter] “that brings forth its fruit in its season.”

Bob: That’s exactly right!

Dennis: —and it doesn’t wither.

Hannah: And it doesn’t; yes—“and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Bob: I love it!

Emeal: Yes.

Dennis: So, what would you say to parents, who are listening right now, and maybe some kids; because we have a good listening audience of kids, who act like they’re not listening—[Laughter]—they don’t want their parents to know they really are listening to Dennis and Bob on this broadcast, and our guests. But what would you say to parents, who are fascinated by this and think, “Maybe we ought to step out and try this”?

Emeal: As I was sharing with you gentlemen earlier, value determines behavior. When we value something, it’s going to affect what we do in connection to it. I think, oftentimes, we’re so caught up in our fast-paced society that we forget the value of the Word of God—that it is living; it is active; it is sharper than any two-edged sword; and that it’s the foundation for our life.



One of the biggest joys for me has been—in being a part of the National Bible Bee—is to see the fruit that has come out of it in the lives of these young people. We get testimonies from young people, who didn’t even know the Lord, and they came to Christ as a result of the National Bible Bee. They grew up in a Christian home—some of them even homeschooled / they know the faith backwards and forwards—but they weren’t confronted that intensely with the Word of God. It did its work, and it opened their eyes.

My encouragement to parents—and to the children, who are listening—is: “Look, there is no greater way that your time can be invested, especially when you’re young. That’s why these young kids have been able to memorize so many verses, because there is an advantage to youth. There’s nothing more valuable that you can do while you’re young than to hide the Word of God in your heart.”

Bob: We should throw in here that, at the end of this competition, some of these folks will go to the finals. There are more than $100,000 in cash prizes. There’s benefit and value to everyone, but the winners get a little extra value.



You still have some of your prize money stashed away somewhere?

Hannah: Yes; it’s a lot—but like you said—the value is in the Word of God. The prize money is just kind of a showcase of the value that really is there. You know, we want to reward kids in a very small way compared to the real reward of the Word of God.

Dennis: E.Z., talk with parents right now about where they would go and what they would do if they wanted to just put their little toe in the water—maybe not win the top prize—but just get their kids memorizing Scripture.

Emeal: Well, you know, that’s the neat thing about the competition—is that it happens, first, on a local level; so that young kids can—not only memorize Scripture—and it’s important to point that out—it’s not just Scripture memory; it’s also Bible knowledge. There’s a theme that is connected to the year—whatever year we’re in for the Bible Bee—and then they memorize Scripture in connection with that. They also study certain passages of Scripture in relation to that—



—so that’s what’s called our Summer Study; and that’ll be taking place, this year, from June 4th until August 10th.

Bob: And people are registering for this now.

Emeal: You can register now—so is where you want to go. You’ll get all the information you need there so you can participate in that.

Now, at the end of that, there’s an opportunity to then test to go to Nationals. That’s where the 360 young people from the three different age categories that we talked about end up coming and then competing; and then it’s narrowed down, and then one wins in each category. Like you heard, there’s $100,000 in prize money. is where you’ll want to go for that, and you can go at your level.

We even have a level for beginners, which is six and under. It’s not a part of the main competition, but they can still do the summer study with our discovery journal and so forth.

The thing that blows my mind is to see what’s happening in these circles. You know, we see the negativity that’s going on in our culture today—with all of the degradation and sin and so forth—



—but to see hope that these young people / this new generation is rising up and internalizing the Word of God, which is able to keep them from the ways of wickedness and destruction—it just gives you such hope.

And you know, we talked about the prize money. The exciting thing is—these young people that are getting it are receiving wisdom from the Word of God so they know what to do with it rather than just waste it. [Laughter]  There’s a big plus there as well.

Bob: Well, I have to tell you—when we were talking to our friends at the Bible Bee about this, not long ago—and they said: “We meet a lot of families who heard about the Bible Bee for the first time, listening to FamilyLife Today—that’s where it came on their radar screen—and they said, ‘Maybe we should try this.’” They went to the website; they checked it out; they decided to put their toe in the water, as you described; and then it caught fire in their home, and they wound up with champions like Hannah.

In fact, this is kind of fun—we want you to hear—this is from ten years ago—right after nine-year-old Rebecca Horning had won theBible Bee the first year in Washington, DC. Dennis and I sat down with Rebecca, and we talked to her about her winning.



We shared the results with listeners on FamilyLife Today as soon as it happened.

Dennis: It was about ten o’ clock at night, as I recall.

Bob: That’s right; it was late at night, but she was still—had plenty of energy.

[Previous Interview]


Bob: We have a pretty amazing young woman who has joined us here.

Do you want to introduce her?

Dennis: I’d love to. Rebecca Horning joins us. She just won first place in the primary division of the National Bible Bee. How old are you, Rebecca?

Rebecca: I’m nine years old.

Dennis: Nine years old. And how much money did you just win?

Rebecca: Twenty-five thousand dollars.

Dennis: Rebecca, do you have a favorite verse that you did not get to recite during the competition?

Rebecca: Yes.

Dennis: What’s the favorite verse?

Rebecca: Isaiah 40:28-31: “Hast thou not seen? Hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary. There is no searching of His understanding.



“He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. Even the youth shall faint and be weary and the young men shall utterly fall, but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31.

Dennis: That’s cool!



Dennis: And I’m watching Hannah nodding her head.

Bob: Me too—you were reciting that right along with—

Dennis: You know that verse too; don’t you?

Hannah: Yes; maybe not as word perfect as she did, but—[Laughter]

Emeal: You know, out of the mouth of babes—I mean, what a delight that is to hear these young people doing that. It’s just tremendous.

You know, just a word of encouragement for anyone listening that thinks, “I don’t know if I could do this.” Before I came a Christian, I remember going to church with one of my friends. The pastor said, “Turn in your Bibles to,”—something like—“Matthew,

Chapter 16, verse 27,” or something like that. I remember thinking, “What in the world is a Matthew?—and what’s that numeric code he just rattled off?” I remember distinctly thinking to myself, “I will never learn how to use a Bible.”



Here I am today, having memorized, now, 11 books of the Bible, being the national spokesman for the National Bible Bee. So, if you don’t think you can do it, rest assured that, through the power of the Holy Spirit and by God’s grace and help, you can. It’s possible.

Bob: Well, I have to tell you two quick stories. The first is—when my wife and I were dating, we were at a Bible study together. The speaker mentioned the fact that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, that it’s a guarantee of redemption. He didn’t cite

Ephesians 1 when he said it. I’m sitting next to my girlfriend; and she turns to

Ephesians 1, and it’s highlighted in her Bible. I thought: “How did she know where that was? That’s kind of spooky!” [Laughter]

I mean, I really: “Memorizing the Bible?” In fact, she came to me later on, and said, “What do you think about us memorizing some verses from the Bible together?” I said, “Yes; that would be great!” Now, I said that would be great; because I really liked her—

Dennis: Oh, that’s where I was going with it!

Bob: I said, “Well, what verses did you have in mind?”



She said, “I was thinking maybe like a chapter.” [Laughter] I’m thinking, “A chapter?!”—this is what I’m thinking—“A chapter?!—a whole chapter!—memorize a whole chapter?” But I said: “Oh, wow! What chapter did you have in mind?” [Laughter] She said, “I was thinking Philippians 2.” And I said, “That’s a great chapter.” I was thinking, “Is that Old Testament or New Testament?”—right?—[Laughter]—I didn’t know.

But Mary Ann, early on in our relationship, said, “Let’s make this a priority.” I can still recite Philippians 2—from college / not the whole chapter—but I got far enough to learn, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility regard one another as more important than yourself.” That’s served me well, in marriage, over the years.

Dennis: And it’s one of your favorite passages.

Bob: It is.

Dennis: I’ve heard you quote that a lot, here, on FamilyLife Today. That passage has truly served you well. You’ve not only hidden it in your heart, but you’ve applied it on numerous occasions.

Hannah: And one thing—you know, what E.Z. was saying about, “Oh my goodness, I could never do this,”—



—and families thinking about this and wanting their kids to be involved—and the great thing about the National Bible Bee is the Summer Study is really doable. It meets you right where you are. It’s not like you have to know how to memorize Scripture or know how to study Scripture to be a part of it.

The study / the discovery journal that they get—it takes you, step by step, through a passage of Scripture. It’s 20 minutes a day, and there are two memory passages a week. Even if you don’t get through the whole thing, just start—you know, see what you can get done. Every single verse / every little lesson gleaned and learned is going to benefit you; and it’s not going to return void, and you won’t regret it.

Bob: If you have kids five years old, four years old, three years old—can you do this with kids that little?

Hannah: Yes; the beginner study is designed for, usually, ages five and six. For my family, I’m the oldest of ten. My youngest brother is going to be one in July; so we have a whole age range, but we do it as a family. Even the little ones get involved.



They might not be studying 20 minutes a day, but they’re sitting along with their big sister and learning along. As a family, we’re reading the passage together. It’s a really great way to unite the family around the same portion of Scripture. Each age division has their age-appropriate study, but then you’re able to come together and learn together as well.

Emeal: Yes; and talk about a summer to remember—you know, so often, summers are wasted just kind of lazing around; but to be able to have memorized the Word of God that you’ll treasure with you—as the Word says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. Your Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

Dennis: And E.Z., it seems to me, as families look at this opportunity, they would all benefit—not just the children—the parents as well.

Emeal: Absolutely; that’s right.

Dennis: I just want to encourage—well, I want to quote a passage of Scripture: “Don’t be merely hearers only, but be doers of the Word.”

Emeal: That’s right; absolutely.

Dennis: In this case, why don’t you be a doer of memorizing the Word and become a part of the National Bible Bee and take your family into an immersion of the Scriptures?



You’re not going to sorry that you did.

Bob: Yes; this would be a great summertime activity for families to do. We have information about how families can participate. You can go to to find out more about the National Bible Bee. Registration is still open during the month of May; so you can sign up now—get the eight-week study that you can go through together, as a family.

At the end of the summer, there will be a qualifying test that you can take. The kids who excel can be part of National competition that will ultimately end in the National Bible Bee in December of 2018. Kids are going to win some cash prizes as a result of that. Again, find out more about how you and your family can be part of the National Bible Bee when you go to We have a link there to the Bible Bee website; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and we’ll answer any questions we can for you.



We’re at about the halfway point in the month of May. A lot of exciting stuff happening, here, at FamilyLife. We’ve just released the Art of Parenting™ video series; had tens of thousands of people out to see our movie in theaters—Like Arrows. We still have a number of Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening, here, in May and into June. It’s a busy season for us, here, at FamilyLife®.

In addition, we are asking FamilyLife Today listeners to think and pray about joining with us as monthly Legacy Partners in May. Legacy Partners are that group of people who will donate monthly to help support this ministry. You help defray the cost of producing and syndicating this program. You’re a part of the financial backbone of this ministry.

May is a particularly good time for you to become a Legacy Partner for two reasons: First, we’ve had some friends, who have come along and said they will match every donation you make over the next 12 months, dollar for dollar, when you become a Legacy Partner during the month of May.



So in June, when you make your donation, it will be matched; in July, August, on through next spring—your donations will get double benefit as a result of you becoming a Legacy Partner in May.

As a thank-you gift, we’ll send you a certificate so that you or your kids or somebody you know can attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. The certificate will cover the registration cost for anyone you’d like to give it to. That’s our “Thank you,” for joining with us and helping to support the work of this ministry as a Legacy Partner. You can find out more when you go to; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and say, “I’m interested in becoming a Legacy Partner and getting the Weekend to Remember certificate when I do.” Again, the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can sign up, online, at



If you’re interested in making a onetime donation, that donation will be matched during the month of May as well, up to a total of $500,000. We’d love to hear from you. Whatever you can do to help support the ministry—it is greatly appreciated.

And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how husbands and wives can strengthen their marriage by becoming better friends, better partners, and better lovers. Kevin Thompson joins us tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.

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