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Exploring the Unexplained by Trent Butler

Exploring the Unexplained: A Practical Guide to the Peculiar People, Places, and Things in the Bible. Trent Butler. Thomas Nelson: 2012. 288 pp. $14.99. Paperback.

Trent Butler is the author of numerous Bible commentaries. He has written commentaries on Joshua (rev. ed. 2012) and Judges (2008) for the Word Biblical Commentary series. He also wrote commentaries on Isaiah, the first six Minor Prophets, and Luke for the Holman Old and New Testament Commentaries series. As such, my expectation for this book, before perusing it, was high. And if I review this book on its own terms, it exceeded expectations.

This book is not just “a practical guide”; properly speaking, it is a dictionary, a dictionary of “the peculiar people, places, and things in the Bible.” Consequently, Butler “skips over the people, places, and things you already know about, and focuses on the things you that you might not understand and sometimes avoid” (9). This Butler does exceedingly well. Particularly in his entry on the Nephilim of Genesis 6, Butler was exceedingly helpful to me:

Children of humans and angels, they appeared on earth when the sons of God, which refers here to fallen angels, gave in to their desire for the daughters of men. … In the New Testament, Nephilim become fallen, sinful angels put in prison by God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). (196-197)

While it is the opinion of this reviewer that “are described as” would be a better phrasing than “become” in the preceding definition, I found this entry and many others to be insightful and illuminating.

By contrast, less helpful to me is the section at the end of each entry entitled “Issue.” As Butler explains, this section’s purpose is fulfilled when his dictionary is used in the following way:

Assign a page of the dictionary to each individual, pair of people, or team. Give them time to read the page and select the term whose “issue” they are most interested in discussing. Let each individual or group lead the participants in a discussion of the issue raised and how that issue applies to their specific location and culture today. (9)

Admittedly, I have not used the book in this manner, but as I read over the issues, some seemed either highly irrelevant to the preceding entry or a mundane topic of discussion. For example, the issue coupled with Yahweh-Tsidkenu (meaning, “Yahweh is our righteousness”) is this: “Do you have a favorite name for our God? In what ways do you use that name?” (156).

This minor reservation aside, this is a book I know I will use in the months and years to come. I am sure it will be a great trove of sources for future Bible Jeopardy questions I pose to the youth during game nights, and I know that this book, in pointing me out “the peculiar people, places, and things” of the Bible, will deepen my knowledge and wonder at God’s Word whenever I return to it.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a free review copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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