Trent Butler’s Exploring the Unexplained: A Practical Guide to the Peculiar People, Places, and Things in the Bible is a part of Thomas Nelson’s A to Z series of books which is basically a dictionary style look-up for the Bible.
Exploring the Unexplained says it “answers all your questions about unusual, hard-to-explain, and difficult-to-understand stories in the Bible.”
I first got excited about the book when I read that I would “learn more about people like Enoch, Moses, and the Nephilim”, which are all subjects that interest and confuse me — especially the bit about the Nephilim (One of the Bible’s great mysteries).
The book is written like a dictionary where subjects are broken down alphabetically by name. Next to each word is the book, chapter, and verse where the word is found. Underneath there is a brief explanation of the word followed by an “issue” that you are asked to consider after you’ve read the explanation.
The book is easy to use. The first thing I did was flip to the part on the Nephilim and I found it without issue. Also, for new Christians the book, chapter, and verse next to each name is helpful for finding information on the same subject through multiple books.
Most of the explanations are short and unhelpful. The longer explanations are for subjects like the Nephilim, but instead of explaining the confusion and discussing different ideas about the Nephilim, he dives right in and says they are “children of humans and angels…”. Really? You know that for sure?
In addition, the “issues” at the end of each explanation are unhelpful and usually have very little to do with the issues in the text and more to do with random issues loosely connected to a few words in the explanation. Since I’ve already talked about the Nephilim, I’ll use their issues as an example:
Tradition is filled with frightening horror stories of gigantic warriors. Be careful to note the reaction of your children to stories you tell or read, letting the children see the good side of the story rather than the fearful one. Why would the Bible want to scare us?
While that is an issue about “monsters” it isn’t an issue from the text and, honestly, isn’t an issue relating the Nephilim. Most of the issues I read were similar, having little to do with the text and mostly trying to create a family discussion. Also, this may just be me, but the answer the author seems to be looking for in “Why would the Bible want to scare us?” is “the Bible wouldn’t want to scare us”, which isn’t true. God scares us all the time. Jesus does too.
While I like the idea of this book, it fell short for me. Butler’s explanations don’t really explain much, and he’s too confident on the ambiguous subjects he explains fully. In addition, the issues aren’t helpful in explaining the text or dealing with real issues that text brings up.
I give this book a 2 out of 5. While seeing all the passages about a subject is helpful, and it’s possible to use this to find parts of the Bible you’ve never dived into before, the explanations and issues would hinder and confuse a new believer and leave a seasoned believer frustrated.