The ESV Study Bible and The Book of Eli

Let me warn you at the outset, THE BOOK OF ELI is an R rated film.  It is raw.  It is violent.  It has its share of profanity and darkness. But the film does not affirm the darkness.  It is the darkness of a world without light, of a barbaric world like Europe after the fall of Rome, like the dark pagan world that early Christian missionaries first entered, like the violent world of the Celts that Patrick entered, like the raw Old Testament world where Israel was called to be a light.  So you might say, it gets an R rating for the same reasons the Old Testament would get an R rating if it were a movie.  That should be cause enough, good cause in fact, for some people to not see this film.  It is not for the squeamish.  People are gratuitously shot, women are brutalized and gang raped (though nothing explicit is shown), and judgment, when it comes upon evil men, is swift and severe.  In spite of all this, it is a significant film.

One of the books I got for Christmas is the ESV STUDY BIBLE (English Standard Version). I love the Bible.  I try to read it through often.  Last year I finished reading the entire SPIRIT OF THE REFORMATION STUDY BIBLE, notes and all.  I will be doing that with the ESV STUDY BIBLE   The entire ESV STUDY BIBLE is also digitized, so one can have online access to all of its notes, articles, charts and maps.

The preface of the ESV STUDY BIBLE begins this way:

“This Book is the most valuable thing that the world affords.  Here is Wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively Oracles of God.”  With these words the Moderator of the Church of Scotland hands a Bible to the new monarch in Britain’s coronation service.  These words echo the King James Bible translators, who wrote in 1611: “God’s sacred Word…is that inestimable treasure that excelleth all the riches of the earth.”  This assessment of the Bible is the motivating force behind the publication of the English Standard Version” 

THE BOOK OF ELI is about of a post apocalyptic world and the search for the last remaining copy of the Bible.  America has been destroyed in a nuclear war.  All the Bibles have been destroyed.

Governments and currencies are gone.  There is no law.  People barter and kill for consumer goods that were once common but are now scarce.  Order has fallen apart.  Few read.  Men are predators.  Gangs rule.  After 30 years of no Bible, and no truth, everything has sunk to a barbaric, low level.  The only thing to mark “civilized” towns is that they do not eat humans.

Into this world comes Eli carrying a book.  He reads it every day. He memorizes it.  His mission is to carry the book out West, though he does not know why.

THE BOOK OF ELI highlights the power and endurance of the Bible, even though people try to destroy it.  As on character says, “it’s not just any book, it’s the only book.”  It is an inestimable treasure.  The Bible brings humanity into the world.  Its absence unleashes inhumanity and leaves civilization very dark.

Eli, is a simple man—a former K Mart worker, now called to be a prophet of judgment and hope.  His nemesis, Carnegie, wants the book as well but for different reasons.  Carnegie wants the book for its power so he can use it to manipulate others.   Eli wants the book because of whom it points to.

For thirty years, Eli travels Westward, walking by faith in obedience to a voice.  Along the way people like the young girl Solara are drawn to him because of the book.  She hears him recite Psalm 23 and now she wants the book too.

I can’t give all the movie away, but when Carnegie finally takes from Eil the only Bible in the world, Eli realizes  that he got so caught up keeping the book safe, that he forgot to live by its message.  But by the time he loses the book, he has it all memorized and wants to live it out.

When he finally arrives at the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is in rubble.  But there is one outpost of civilization on the island of Alcatraz.  It is like a monastery in the Dark Ages.  They have many books there, but not a Bible.  That is, not until Eli arrives and recites the entire Bible in King James english while they transcribe it all.  Then they print this Bible  for wide distribution on the only printing press.

The Bible has not only survived, but now it is there for them as they start the world over again.  The point is, society needs the Bible.  It is a book to build a culture on.  As Eli starts reciting it, and a monk-like man starts transcribing it, beginning with Genesis 1, a post apocalyptic world, filled with void and darkness, is at a new Genesis point.

When his task is completed, Eli dies, and Solara wants to bring the message back to her people. But the film ends with Eli’s final words, taken from St. Paul to Timothy—“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Of course, all movies have short comings.  This one is no different.  After the Bible is printed, one copy is placed on a shelf in Alcatraz with other spiritual books—a hymnbook, the Psalms, the history of the Jews, the Torah and the Koran.   This blunts the message a bit.  But it does not negate the movie’s focus on the Bible’s amazing endurance, power and cultural influence.

The preface to the ESV STUDY BIBLE ends with this reminder:  “We know that no Bible translation is perfect or final; but we also know that God uses imperfect and inadequate things to his honor and praise.”   That’s true of a human translation of the Bible.  But it can also be true of a movie—even something as raw as THE BOOK OF ELI.

Oh yeah……and one other thing I got from this movie.   Don’t by a KINDLE.  Because when the electricity goes out, or the grid goes down, it will be as useless as Eli’s MP3 player.   Stick with a paper book, like the ESV STUDY BIBLE.

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  • David Strunk says:

    Great great thoughts here. Much more exhaustive than I could have been. Thanks for highlighting the importance of the world’s most important book, and history’s most important book for that matter. I have nothing consequential to add.


  • Linda says:

    Thank you for this excellent piece, Pastor Don. I always look forward to your blog and new entries. Recently, I read an article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY about Charles Swindoll. Chuck said that his mentor, Ray Stedman used to say, “Keep your finger on the text whether you are teaching it or applying it. Keep them with their eyes on the Word and tell them about Jesus.” That is why I joined Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church because that is what I found there from all of the leaders in the church.

    I too have the ESV STUDY BIBLE, and it is one of my favorite Bibles. Now I can’t wait to get the SPIRIT OF THE REFORMATION STUDY BIBLE also. Thanks for that recommendation.

    Your movie review of THE BOOK OF ELI is much appreciated. Thanks for writing and God Bless you.


  • James Paulsen says:

    Hey Don, really loving your insight here, I just graduated moody and stumbled across your blog. love it. Ironically I just stumbled upon the ESV study bible online as well, more than have tempted to get the bible, I actually took greek from Dr. Bill Mounce who was on the translations board for the ESV. Thanks for your blog!


  • Tracy Singleton says:

    A fellow missionary shared the news of your calling as the President of RTS in Orlando. Congratulations. I was excited to hear about it. It has been many years since we last spoke at TEDS, just before your departure for Colorado, I think. I served as Sr Pastor west of Chicago in an E. Free Church for 13+ years and then Karen and I responded to a call to train pastors in the compounds [slums] of Lusaka, Zambia. We’ve been for 2+ years and are heading home for four months this summer. We’ll be in St Pete for about 10 days in June visiting our oldest son and his family. If we travel to Orlando I’d love to stop by and say “hello” and visit the campus. May the Lord richly bless you in your new endeavor.
    I’m an avid watcher of films–one of our few sources for entertainment here–and you’ve wet my appetite to purchase The Book of Eli.

    Hope in God,

    • dwsweeting says:

      Great to hear from you. Bless you for your work in Zambia. Our church has been deeply involved in the Congo, Uganda and Ghana in Africa. I’d love to visit.
      We are not sure when I am moving, it depends on the sale of the house here in Denver. But I start in Orlando in June. Let me know if you are thinking of coming, to make sure I am in town on a particular day.

  • Martha says:

    Pastor Don,

    Although is an excellent analisis of the movie, there is one point I do not agree with and is the fact that you mentioned that they do not eat human. On the scene where Eli and Solara get to a house
    lived by two old people, Eli tells Solara it was time to go when he notices that they have a lot of people buried in the back yard, he tells her it’s because they have eaten them.

    Other than that I love it, and will use it for my college assingment.

  • Anastasia says:

    Carnegie’s obsession with using the Bible to control and mold the masses is a reflection of the many religious institutions who have successfully done so since the first Council of Nicaea. But Eli understands the message and can purely share it with the hopeless people around him. Bringing, like Jesus, a message of the Divine within and without us all.

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