The Book of Eli is not actually a real biblical text. It was a fictional story created for the 2010 American post-apocalyptic action film titled “The Book of Eli.” However, there has been some speculation and debate over why certain books were included or excluded from the biblical canon throughout history. This article will examine some of the key factors that influenced the formation of the biblical canon and why some texts, like the fictional Book of Eli, may have been left out.
- The biblical canon was not definitively established until the 5th century at the Council of Rome and Council of Carthage. Before this, various books were used and circulated by different Christian communities.
- Several criteria were used to determine canonization, including apostolic origin, widespread use and acceptance, and theological coherence with other scriptures.
- Other texts, like the Book of Eli, may have been excluded because they were written too late, lacked apostolic authorship, contained unorthodox theology, or were not widely used.
- While Protestants and Catholics differ on the exact canon, the Council of Trent in the 16th century solidified the Catholic bible and the Book of Eli has never been part of any biblical canon.
- Apocryphal texts, like the Book of Eli, offer interesting historical insights but were not considered divinely inspired or authoritative scripture by early church leaders.
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The Complex Process of Canon Formation
The formation of the Christian biblical canon was a long and complex process that took place over many centuries. While Scripture itself does not provide an official or definitive list of canonical texts, early church leaders referred to certain writings as “inspired” and circulated these texts during worship. By the late fourth century there was substantial agreement on the core books of the Old and New Testaments, but fringe books like the Book of Eli were often disputed.
The early church used several criteria to determine whether a text should be considered authoritative scripture. First, the text must have been written by an apostle or someone closely associated with an apostle. Second, the book needed to be widely used and accepted by the early church and to contain theological ideas consistent with orthodox Christianity and other accepted scriptures. Books written too late to have apostolic authorship, such as the Book of Eli, were automatically excluded.
While the content of the Bible was essentially settled by the 5th century, it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1546 that the Roman Catholic Church definitively settled the matter of biblical canonicity. This council affirmed the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha) which are still used in Catholic Bibles but excluded from Protestant versions. Either way, the fictional Book of Eli has never been part of any biblical tradition.
Why Was the Book of Eli Excluded?
As a purely fictional work, it is clear why something like the Book of Eli could not be seriously considered for biblical canon. But scholars debate why other books of antiquity were not included in the Bible. Let’s consider a few key reasons a text may have been excluded:
1. Too late origin – The Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic future, far too late to have been written when the canon was being formed. Other texts such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas are examples of books that were written too late in antiquity to be considered.
2. Lack of apostolic connection – For a text to be canonical, it needed a connection back to the apostles. The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are the only canonical gospels because early tradition associated them with apostles. The Book of Eli lacks any such authoritative connection.
3. Questionable or unorthodox theology – Canonical books needed theological consistency with the rest of scripture. So if a text contained strange teachings or contradicted core doctrines it would be seen as questionable. The Apocryphal writings often contain theology and legends not found in canonical works.
4. Not widely used or accepted – Canonical texts needed broad acceptance across the early church. Anything less than universal acclaim marked a work as non-canonical. While some disputed books like 2 Peter were eventually accepted based on tradition, brand new writings stood no chance.
Considering these criteria, it’s no mystery why something fictional like the Book of Eli was not included in the Bible. Anything written after apostolic times that lacked broad acceptance across the church would clearly have been excluded from the biblical canon.
Insights from the Apocrypha and Other Ancient Christian Writings
While texts like the Book of Eli are late fictional creations, there are many other ancient Christian documents that provide interesting historical insights even though they are non-canonical. These include the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books, the Apostolic Fathers, and the New Testament Apocrypha.
The Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books consist of Jewish writings from the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) which were affirmed by Catholics but excluded from the Hebrew canon. Books like Tobit, Judith, 1&2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, etc. were seen as edifying but not divinely inspired. Still, they offer helpful context.
The Apostolic Fathers constitute early Christian documents written by some of the first generation of church leaders after the apostles. While not scripture, their writings give us a glimpse into early church life and theology. Figures like Clement of Rome and Ignatius provide hard evidence into the late first century world.
Finally, the New Testament Apocrypha refers to the host of extra-biblical gospels, acts, epistles and apocalypses that arose in the second through fourth centuries. Examples include the Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Nicodemus, Acts of Pilate, and the Apocalypse of Peter. Though interesting, none met the criteria for canonization.
While fascinating historically, these apocryphal documents clearly differ from canonical books in quality, orthodoxy, and connection to the apostles. Nevertheless, they provide helpful context and theological background for studying the development of the church. But they have no place in establishing Christian doctrine.
Concluding Reflections on the Canon
In the end, scholars agree on an essentially fixed canon of 27 New Testament books by the end of the 4th century, affirmed by church councils soon after. While minor disputes around books like Revelation, 2 Peter, and Jude continued for a time, there was never any consideration of including fictional accounts like the Book of Eli.
The Holy Spirit worked through early Christian leaders to establish the canon based on authorship, orthodoxy, inspiration and reception. We can have confidence that the Bible we hold today represents the authoritative apostolic deposit of faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). While apocryphal books have historical value, the canon alone is our guide for Christian faith and practice.
So in summary, the fictional Book of Eli was clearly never in consideration for biblical canon due to its late and fanciful origins. While the canonization process took time, we can trust that God superintended the process to build his Scripture through his church. The Bible stands as the Word of God written – our infallible source of revelation and authority. And it alone is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the believer may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).