The Ultimate Bible Study Guide

Studying the Bible can be a daunting and overwhelming task! There are many resources, devotionals, commentaries, blog articles, YouTube videos…where do you start? You and your personal Bible should be the starting point for your devotional time.

Your time should not just be reading the Bible, but also prayer, and meditation. These two spiritual disciplines have been practiced for centuries by believers in Christ but are often overlooked today. Along with these disciplines, you should be thinking through the text itself, what it meant for the original readers, and how it applies to you! You should not consult commentaries right away, you need to wrestle through the text yourself.

You may be thinking, “can I really meditate and apply every text that I study?” The answer is YES! By following these guidelines and questions may be challenging and time-consuming at first, but the questions below should help guide you through this process. To create the “ultimate guide” I adapted resources from, Dr. Bob Sommerville’s DIG Study Sheet, and Dr. Stuart Scott’s notes on meditation to create these steps. I am thankful for their faithful ministries that I can build off of.

If the process outlined below is followed well, your Bible study time will probably be much longer. But do not be discouraged that you don’t have the time or experience to do all the steps at once! Continue setting aside time for you to be able to dig into God’s word, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Keep going and strive for these things as an ideal! At the end of the article, there is an outline for stretching the process over a whole week.

1. Pray for Reliance

While it is important to pray after you have your Bible time, it is very important to pray at the beginning as well. Confess any sin that you are aware of in your life and pray for understanding. Unconfessed sin can lead to a distorted view of God’s word. Praying for understanding humbly acknowledges your need for the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s word to you. Because of the Holy Spirit, any believer (regardless of age and education) can understand the Bible enough to be who God wants them to be; but that individual must be dependant upon God for help. It is prideful to go into Bible reading thinking that you can properly understand and interpret the passage without God’s help.

Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word. – Psalm 119:17 (ESV)

If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you. – Proverbs 1:23 (ESV)

2. Observation: What does the text say?

Observation is critical to help you interpret and apply the text properly by examining the text, understanding what it is saying, and noting important details. All scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and so understanding key words and phrases is crucial–they are God’s words too! God and the author of the individual book have written certain words, phrases, and logical argumentation for specific reasons. In order to properly understand what the author is trying to convey, understanding as much information surrounding and in the text is important.

As you work through the text, note any questions that you have.

  • Read the entire passage for comprehension
  • Read a second time, marking
    • Key words
    • Times, locations, and people
    • Repeated words, ideas, and phrases
    • Transition words (but, therefore, because, likewise, if/then …)
    • Lists, contrasts, and comparisons
    • Commands
  • Read a third time, marking major themes such as:
    • Gospel Truths (statements about God’s holiness, man’s sin, redemption through Christ, and future hope in the restoration of creation)
    • New Self / Identity (What does the text say about who we are in Christ? How is this contrasted with our “old self”? What should we look like as a new creation?)
    • God’s Character (What does God do or say in this passage? What does this show about God? What does the text say about a specific characteristic of God? How does this affect his actions with his people?)
    • Redemptive Promises (What does the text say about God’s promises to Israel, his people, and the followers of Jesus? What can we be confident of and hope in?)  

3. Interpretation: What does the text mean?

Interpretation is concerned with the meaning and significance of the text. In order to properly interpret the passage, you must understand the author, recipients, and theme of the book along with the direct context of the passage you are reading. It is easy to impose our 21st understanding of the text, but we first must think about what the original readers would have understood the passage to mean. This will make sure that we can properly know what the text means. Often interpretation may not be as personal as we would like, but there is always a personal application.

  • What is the context of the passage? Who is it written to and what are they going through?
  • How does the passage fit into the context and theme of the book?
  • How does the passage fit within the greater story of the Bible?
  • What would the original hearers have thought about this passage?
  • Use the dictionary to look up key words, note appropriate meanings and related words
  • Look up related cross-references
  • Consult reliable commentaries and different scripture translations

4. Meditation: What should be dwelt on from the text?

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands. – Psalm 143:5 (ESV)

Meditation is a lost discipline in the modern-day church, though historically it has been practiced for centuries and is especially emphasized by the puritans. You might be confused about what meditation is. So many times it is influenced by eastern religions and philosophy. But biblical meditation is different. It is the deliberate disciplining of the mind to think deeply about a truth in order to better understand and apply it. It is seen throughout the Bible as the “link” between hearing God’s word and being transformed by it–by pondering God’s words, people are able to implement it in their lives. Meditation is As Dr. Stuart Scott states, “meditation is the bridge between knowing and doing.” Meditation should be an important aspect of the Christian life that you should begin to implement into your devotional time.

“Meditation is a serious applying of the mind to some sacred subject until our affections are warmed and our resolution is strengthened against evil”

George Swinnock

Questions to think and ponder on:

  • What are observations and themes that were noted about the text earlier?
  • What does this passage tell you about who God is?
  • What does this passage tell you about your sin and need for a savior?
  • How can these truths change your life today?
  • Does this text reveal something you should…
    • Believe about God?
    • Praise, thank, or trust God for?
    • Pray about for myself or others?
    • Make a decision about?
    • Do for the sake of Christ, others, or myself?

5. Application: How do I respond to the text?

Application answers the question: “What would God have you do as a result of your encounter with this part of His Word?” But answering this question is easily done at the first reading of the text. But application should only be done after proper observation and interpretation have been made. The text was written with a specific purpose in mind and you should understand that before you go on to applying it to your life. Application may not be directly the same as the interpretation of the passage but should be an outflow of understanding the truths in light of your own life.

  • How do these truths transform what you love, worship and value most? (Remember that all actions begin as thoughts and desires of the heart)
  • How do these truths enhance your understanding of God? How can this change your prayers, worship, and trust in him?
  • What things in your life need to be put on to be more like Jesus? How does your thinking need to be changed?
  • What specific ways do you need to practice to loving God and/or loving others to apply this truth in your life? Write down concrete specifics—what you are going to do, what people will be involved, and when you will start

6. Pray

Prayer is a crucial response to reading God’s word. After receiving God’s instructions to his people, we should in turn talk to him and accept what he has said. Prayer is not influencing God but is aligning your heart with His. Prayer is a vital part of any believer’s walk. Use the passage as a model to pray the scripture back to God by use words and truths from the passage to shape your prayer. Praying phrase by phrase through the passage may be an edifying exercise. Donald S. Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible, is helpful for more insight. Following the ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) acronym in prayer is a helpful guide for any prayer time to make sure that the focus stays on worshipping God and not just asking a laundry list of items.

  • Adoration (is there something to be thankful for that God has done, a truth about God to rejoice in, etc.)
  • Confession (what sin has been brought to light? What ways have you not worshipped God rightly? How have you acted like you are God?)
  • Thanksgiving (in the passage, what has God done? What has God done in your life?)
  • Supplication (ask God for help for you to obey what this passage has outlined, pray for spiritual and personal needs, pray for other’s needs and salvation as well)

Discuss with other believers

Discussing your findings with other believers in your local church is also an important way to make sure that your conclusions are biblically accurate and get questions answered. Even the most experienced Bible scholars should think of questions when going through this process. Not only is this discussion beneficial for you, but it also can encourage other believers! Sharing what you are growing in or what you are learning will help others grow as well.

Weekly Outline

  • Sunday
  • Pray for understanding, read the text for comprehension, pray in response
  • Monday: Pray for understanding, read the text twice marking observations, pray in response
  • Tuesday: Pray for understanding, read the text marking major themes, read the context of the passage, pray in response
  • Wednesday: Pray for understanding, read the text, find the author, recipient, and theme of the book, pray in response
  • Thursday: Pray for understanding, read the text, look at cross-references and commentaries, think through the rest of the interpretation questions, pray in response
  • Friday: Pray for understanding, read the text, go through meditation questions, pray through the passage
  • Saturday: Pray for understanding, read the text, think through application questions, pray in response to the application

Abridged Outline

This outline is great for new believers, believers new to Bible study, older children, and those who are going through a specified reading plan and do not have as much time for in-depth study.

  1. PRAY for Reliance


  • Who was this written to?
  • What is happening in the passage?
  • When and where did this take place?
  • Why did the author write this?


  • What would have the original hearers have thought?
  • How does this fit in with the flow of the book?
  • Are there other parts of scripture that could help you understand this passage?

With these truths in mind


  • Does this text reveal something you should…
    • Believe about God?
    • Praise, thank or trust God for?
    • Pray about for myself or others?
    • Make a decision about?
    • Do for the sake of Christ, others, or myself?


  • Adore God for who he is and what he has done
  • Confess past and present sin
  • Thank God what he has done for you and others
  • Supplicate and ask for your needs and other’s needs

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