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.
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 almsgiving have come up before God for a Memorial.” Acts 10:4.
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 Spirit. Cornelius testifies that his prayer was heard and his alms have been “had in remembrance in the sight of God” Acts 10:31.
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 mountain overlooking the battle. After Joshua prevails, the Lord commands Moses:
Exodus 17:14. 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 are kept as a memorial on earth for man. In Acts 10, the memorial was before God in heaven. The perspective is very important for a right understanding. The use of the word remembrance in the same verse speaks of the long term effect the memory of this event will have on the hearts of the people.
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 as 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 we received this word from the Lord:
Malachi 3:16. 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, as in Exodus 17:14.
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.
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 . As He who has called you is holy, so you also be holy in all manner of conversation.
Matthew 12:36 & 37. Jesus is much stricter: 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:
Luke 10:20. notwithstanding this rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because you names are written in Heaven.
Psalm 50:23. Whoever offers praise glorifies me, and to whomever orders their conversation aright I will show the salvation of God.