Bible study boils down to the following B.A.S.I.C. points:
Bible—It may seem obvious, but it’s still crucial to have a Bible open when you study. It’s helpful to have at least two different Bible versions opened to the same passage. Speakers and readers of the English language have a priceless gift of multiple translations of the Scriptures. These can often help you gain new insight from the way that specific terms are handled in different texts.
For example, you can read Ephesians 3:17a in one version as, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (New International Version), and then turn to the New Living Translation and read, “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.” Comparing the versions allows you to sense the depth of Paul’s prayer.
Attitude—Receptivity and attention are crucial for those who want to benefit from their study of the Bible. This means that you open the Bible expecting God’s Word to speak to you, and that you are willing to put into practice what you learn. Those who read the Bible with a ho-hum attitude, expecting to learn nothing, are rarely disappointed. But God rewards curiosity, hunger, questions, and an openness to him.
One of the best ways to manage your attitude involves praying before you study the Bible. Ask God to open your eyes, mind, and heart as you read and think about his Word. Ask God to point out any barriers that might keep you from learning and then wait for a moment in silence to allow him to answer your prayer. Open your Bible with anticipation.
System—Over the centuries, followers of Jesus have developed many approaches to reading and studying the Bible. The discipline of studying is more systematic than the very beneficial practice of simply reading the Bible for devotional reasons. Bible study is methodical, deliberate, and time-consuming. Devotional Bible reading is much like eating nutritious fast food, whereas Bible study parallels a full course meal. Both kinds of spiritual nourishment have their place.
One system may involve using a notebook or journal for taking notes. Another system may involve using a prepared study guide or workbook. Bible study should involve multiple readings of the passage, and maybe underlining important texts. Have in mind a list of the things you want to observe as you read: verbs (where commands hide), people (where life-lessons hide), character traits (where examples hide), and odd items that might provoke a good question. Familiar passages require even more attention, not less. (For example: 1 Corinthians 13:13 lists “faith, hope and love” and informs us that “the greatest of these is love.” Why is love the greatest of these?) Then look for answers in the whole context of the verse or pasage.
Choose a system or approach to Bible study to follow and use it for a while. Develop the skill to approach various passages in the same way, training yourself to be observant and thoughtful.
There are many tools available (see the article “Study Tools” on this website) to help you answer common questions and avoid errors caused by lack of knowledge of what the rest of the Bible teaches. There are many pre-outlined study guides (such as the Life Application Bible Studies from Tyndale Publishers) that you can use to facilitate your study. Other tools such as Bible dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries will help to give needed background information and broaden your understanding.
Involvement—The Bible is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word will speak into your life. Get involved with it. Be ready to obey. If you find yourself primarily thinking about how passages apply to other people’s lives, you are probably not paying careful enough attention.
Confidence—The Bible is God’s Word, so you can be confident that it is true and right. It will be your guide and companion for life. Don’t expect to understand all of it at first. You can grow into it. Don’t worry, because those parts that you do understand will be plenty to keep you busy doing Bible study for a long time.