Seven Arrowsby Donny Mathis, Matt Rogers
Length: Approximately 9 hours. To read (276 pages).
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Seven Arrows is a book that is aimed to help Christians read their Bibles better. The Bible is God’s revealed word to his people and we should long to understand it, because in understanding Scripture we come to know God more, and become transformed by it. In Seven Arrows Rogers & Mathis guide readers through seven questions to ask when reading Scripture to come to a proper understanding of the passage they are reading. The goal of Seven Arrows is “to provide a practical tool to aid the average Christian, who has not had formal theological training, in discovering the word of God, feasting on its riches, and applying it to his or her life.”
Who should read this?
Any Christian would profit greatly from this book. Seven Arrows provides a solid hermeneutic in a package that is not daunting. Rogers & Mathis have not written a textbook for Bible college or seminary, but rather for all church members. That is not to say that those who teach could not profit greatly from this book (I think that they would) but the target audience really spans the entire church, not just a select few.
After an introductory chapter covering the importance of the Bible to the life of a believer, Seven Arrows is neatly divided into 7 chapters, one for each question. In these chapters, Rogers & Mathis present and explain 7 questions to ask when reading any passage of Scripture. They explain why these questions should be asked as well as providing examples along the way to guide the reader.
Rogers & Mathis provide a compelling reason for why this book was written in their introductory chapter. They state, “Overstating the importance of the word of God in the life of the Christian is impossible. A direct correlation exists between a person’s intake of the Scripture and his conformity to Christ….There are no shortcuts, nor alternative methods for transformation; therefore, God’s people must learn to feast on his word.” Since God desires his people to be transformed to look more like Christ then we must spend time in his Word learning who he is and what he has done for us.
As the authors point out, there is no magic zap for transformation in the Christian life. Rather, change and growth come through the ordinary means of grace that God provides to his people, one of those means being the study of Scripture.
After laying a foundation in the introductory chapter Rogers & Mathis spend time introducing and developing each arrow. I briefly want to walk through these seven arrows to help readers understand what they can expect from the book.
Arrow 1: What Does this Passage Say?
This arrow is focused on determining the main point that the author is seeking to communicate in a passage of Scripture. The goal that Rogers & Mathis have is for readers to “slow down our pace of reading and to pay attention to the ways the biblical authors have constructed passages to convey the main point they were making.” This is accomplished by examining the genre, literary style, and techniques (i.e. repetition, figures of speech, lists, tone) of the portion of Scripture being read/studied.
Arrow 2: What Did this Passage Mean to its Original Audience?
Here the authors guide the reader to look back into the original context in which the passage was written to gain an understanding of what the author is saying. While sometimes the biblical authors will provide helpful contextual clues for us, this arrow will often benefit from additional “tools.” The first tool that the authors mention is cross-references.
Most Bibles come with a center-column or footnote section where cross-references for passages will be listed. The authors rightly point the reader to these as they are incredibly beneficial in gaining a better understanding of the author’s words and context. This arrow also guides the reader to use maps, Bible dictionaries, surveys of the Old and New Testament, and commentaries. All of these tools will prove to be beneficial to the reader and the authors do a fine job of introducing these tools in this chapter (an additional note on this follows in this review).
Arrow 3: What Does this Passage Tell Us about God?
In introducing this arrow the authors hit on what may be the greatest hindrance to understanding the Bible in our current culture: we are a self-oriented people and read the Bible first and foremost to find out what it says about me.
As Rogers & Mathis state, “God is the main focus of the Scriptures. You are not the point of the Bible. God is. Before we understand what the Bible says about man (Arrow 4), we must observe what it tells us about God (Arrow 3).” To miss God in any passage of Scripture is to read it incorrectly. Or “your task is first to read every story to determine what the passage says and what it meant to its original audience. If your answers to those questions do not include something about the triune God, you probably need to aim again.”
This is a helpful statement that shows how these arrows are meant to build on and work with each other to guide the reader into a proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture.
Arrow 4: What Does this Passage Tell Us about Man?
This arrow focuses on 4 ways that the Bible discusses man. They are Image Bearers, Rebels, Redeemed, and Ambassadors. Instead of trying to fit ourselves into each story this arrow points the reader to what a text says about people in general and how that applies to us individually as well.
These four areas actually mirror four areas in relation to God that the authors discussed in the previous chapter. This is helpful because it reminds us that our identity flows from God and who he is, rather than just reading ourselves into a text and seeking to follow a character’s moral example. The latter will cause all sorts of confusion. The former will help readers to understand how the Bible speaks about man in relation to God, which should bring with it proper interpretation and application.
Arrow 5: What Does this Passage Demand of Me?
Proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture must bring with it proper application. That is the focus of this chapter. The authors nail this in the opening of the chapter when they say:
“We must not approach the Bible like a stale, academic resource designed to bolster our knowledge about God for the sake of information alone. Rather, we should humbly allow the truths of Scripture to propel active obedience in a life of worship.”
Arrow 6: How Does this Passage Change the Way I Relate to People?
If you are a Christian you should be a member of a local church. You should also want to relate to the world in such a way that brings honor to Christ. Scripture instructs us in both of these relationships and this chapter guides the reader into examining the text for how we should interact with others. As Rogers & Mathis say, “the word of God should not be read or obeyed in isolation. Throughout salvation history, God has called a community to himself – not simply isolated individuals.”
This arrow focuses on how we can understand and apply the Bible to three relationships: our families, our churches, and our relationships with everyone else outside of the church.
Arrow 7: What Does this Passage Prompt Me to Pray?
This chapter is focused on how we should respond back to God about what we have been reading or studying in our Bible. The authors use this chapter to guide the reader into what it looks like to pray through Scripture. I often find that praying Scripture back to God encourages me and helps me to grow in my knowledge and trust in God. In an age where individualism is king, it is so easy for us to forget about our second by second dependence on God. This arrow helps us to reorient our focus from ourselves onto our God.
Years ago I came across an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website1https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/7-arrows-for-bible-reading/ that provided a brief introduction to the seven arrows. I used those questions, and article, in a teen class that I was teaching to help them in their Bible study. My wife has also introduced these questions to a ladies group that she was leading. I think they proved to be helpful in both settings, but I also felt that it would be helpful if these seven arrows were expanded on and explained more (in written form). When I found out that Seven Arrows became a book I was thrilled to receive a copy.
Personally, I love reading theological and academic works, so reading a seminary level book on hermeneutics is actually fun for me, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Seven Arrows provides me with a helpful book on reading and understanding Scripture that I can recommend to any Christian and I know that it won’t come across as a daunting textbook and yet can greatly help them in their study of Scripture.
Seven Arrows brings solid biblical hermeneutics to the entire church. It provides readers with a helpful guide to asking questions of any text so that they can come to know God more and worship him better. This is truly a commendable work because of this. I own quite a few books on hermeneutics, and while I have profited greatly from most of them, they aren’t books that I would give out to practically any Christian.
Seven Arrows is that book. It would be great for pastors to give out to all who teach in their church and to use in the discipleship of new/younger believers or for that matter any believer who has never formed the habit of regular Bible study.
I appreciated the authors caution on commentary use and not letting it “become a substitute for reading God’s Word.” However, I would have liked to see them recommend a handful of commentaries that would be helpful for a broad range of people (as they did with other resources). I immediately thought of The Bible Speaks Today and The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary as two sets that would be helpful, and not intimidating to most readers.
Also, the last section of the book (Putting It All Together) provides a few examples of how the seven arrows work in a text. I would have liked to see this section expanded a bit, perhaps into an appendix. Aside from these two very minor points, I felt that Seven Arrows accomplished the task it set out to “serve the church in reading the Bible well.”
As Christians, we ought to have a hunger for God’s Word. Studying it to know him better should be something that we delight in. We should recognize the gift that Scripture is to us. As Rogers & Mathis state, “God did not have to speak. He did not have to reveal himself. And He did not have to reveal himself in a way that his created beings could understand. Think for a moment about the stunning magnitude of this claim: the glorious God of the universe chose to reveal himself to his people by his word. Our frail, and fallen minds would be entirely incapable of knowing God had he not revealed himself to us.”
Seven Arrows is an excellent book written for the whole church to guide us into a better understanding and application of God’s Word. It is an excellent tool for the church and would be a benefit to anyone who reads it.