There is some confusion of meaning between the words memorial and remembrance as they are used in the Old and New Testaments. This confusion is magnified by an inconsistency of translation for the Hebrew words that are used in the Old Testament to convey these two ideas. Fortunately these words have a modern usage that is consistent with the Bible to illustrate the distinction. A memorial is a physical object or document to bring forth the memory of a significant event or person. A value is placed on not forgetting the effect on society derived from that event or person’s life. A remembrance on the other hand refers to actions taken in association with that past event. This may take the form of an annual service as a public event and where a slight confusion can be introduced. The event is frequently referred to as a memorial service because it is logically held at a memorial that has been erected, but it is important to be clear that the action or service is actually a remembrance. This distinction becomes critical for a correct understanding of the two words as they are referenced in the Bible and the spiritual principles they convey.
Let’s start with an easy example from the New Testament to further illustrate before attempting a deeper study in the Old Testament, while also clearing up some discrepancies in translation. In Acts chapter ten, we read an important event in the life of a gentile and Roman named Cornelius. He received in a vision the message of an angel who informs him that “your prayers and your alms giving have come up before God for a Memorial.”(v.4). In accordance with the angel’s instructions he calls for Peter to hear his words. Peter has already been informed by the Holy Spirit to respond to his request and go to him. After preaching the message, everyone present at his home receives the Holy Ghost. Cornelius testifies that his prayer was heard and his alms have been “had in remembrance in the sight of God” (v. 31). In other words, God has acted on his behalf and his entire household. A Memorial before God has resulted in a Remembrance in His sight.
In Exodus chapter 17, we read of the event where the children of Israel are attacked by a hostile people called the Amalekites. Joshua leads his warriors out to confront them, while Moses intercedes from a mount overlooking the battle. After Joshua prevails, the Lord commands Moses in verse 14; write this for a memorial in a book and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.
We can clearly see that words recorded in a book, or later on stone tablets are kept as a memorial. The use of the word remembrance in the same verse implies that Amalek has no expectation to ever call upon the Lord and be acknowledged. The Hebrew word used in the first instance is zikrown (H2146), derived from the root zakar (H2142) -to remember and is translated in the KJV 17 times as memorial. On six other occasions however, it is translated remembrance, showing an inconsistency in translation and a source of confusion. In the second instance of Exodus 17:14, the Hebrew word used is zeker (H2143) and is also derived from the same root word zakar. This word is translated 11 times as remembrance, but on five occasions is translated memorial, showing the same inconsistency and confusion.
Having introduced the Hebrew for memorial and remembrance, we can now look at an instance where this inconsistency of translation distorts the implications of the passage. In the prophet Malachi 3:16(KJV), we received this word from the Lord: then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another and the Lord hearkened and heard and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name.
In this verse the Hebrew word zikrown is used and should have been translated memorial for consistency. The choice also reflects the idea of words recorded in a book as a memorial. In Acts Ten we read that Cornelius had established a memorial before God for his righteous prayers and alms-giving. We can now add to that the godly conversation of believers to what Jesus referred to as treasure kept in heaven. This is why Christian fellowship is so valuable and righteous conversation stands in clear distinction from common socializing. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20; for our conversation is in Heaven, from where we also look for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:15 states: but as He who has called you is holy, so be you also holy in all manner of conversation. Jesus is much stricter in Matthew 12:36&37; but I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned. Jesus also stresses the importance of the books written in Heaven in Luke 10:20: notwithstanding in this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because you names are written in Heaven.
Psalm 50:23 states: whosoever offers praise glorifies me, and to whomever orders their conversation aright I will show the salvation of God.
Psalm 50:14&15 shows the dynamics of memorial and remembrance when declaring: offer unto God thanksgiving and pay your vows unto the Most High, then call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you and you shall glorify Me.