What Paul Meant

What Paul Meant

by Garry Wills


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“If you think you knew Paul, get ready to have all sorts of cherished preconceptions exhilaratingly stripped away. If you've ever been vaguely curious, there is no finer introduction.” (Los Angeles Times)

Look out for a new book from Garry Wills, What The Qur'an Meant, coming fall 2017.
In his New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant and What the Gospels Meant, Garry Wills offers fresh and incisive readings of Jesus' teachings and the four gospels. Here Wills turns to Paul the Apostle, whose writings have provoked controversy throughout Christian history. Upending many common assumptions, Wills argues eloquently that Paul’s teachings are not opposed to Jesus' message. Rather, the best way to know Jesus is to discover Paul. In this stimulating and masterly analysis, Wills illuminates how Paul, writing on the road and in the heat of the moment, and often in the midst of controversy, galvanized a movement and offers us the best reflection of those early times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143112631
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/25/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 392,275
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Garry Wills is a historian and the author of the New York Times bestsellers What Jesus MeantPapal SinWhy I Am a Catholic, and Why Priests?, among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications, Wills is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Date of Birth:

May 22, 1934

Place of Birth:

Atlanta, GA


St. Louis University, B.A., 1957; Xavier University, M.A., 1958; Yale University, Ph.D., 1961

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for What Paul Meant:
“With characteristic clarity and insight, Garry Wills has given us a vital study of the earliest voice in the New Testament.”
Jon Meacham, author of American Gospel
“The best description of how the Jesus movement emerged.”
—Andrew M. Greeley, author of The Catholic Revolution

“A tour de force revision of what we thought we knew about the apostle who helped give the Christian faith its distinctive shape.”
“With this bracing book . . . [Wills] further cements his reputation as one of the most intellectually interesting and doctrinally heterodox Christians writing today.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Wills writes more gracefully and economically than scholarly authors in this gem of a book.”
The Boston Globe
“A fascinating read, worth examining by anyone with an open mind and an interest in Christianity and its most prolific early voice.”
“Lucid . . . Wills is not a biblical scholar, but he is a voracious reader and an eloquent writer who makes judicious use of the best recent scholarship.”
The Washington Post

“Everybody should be as lucky as St. Paul. Not only did he have a transformative spiritual experience and become a founder of one of the world’s greatest religions, but two thousand years later he has Garry Wills to explain, interpret and defend him. . . . One could hardly wish for a more capable advocate than Wills.”
Chicago Tribune
“A bracing book of spiritual commentary [by] one of this country’s leading public intellectuals and American Catholicism’s most formidable lay scholar.”
Los Angeles Times

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What Paul Meant 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
The Apostle Paul has been named as one of the 10 most influential thinkers of history. His writings have survived 2000 years of scrutiny, multiple interpretations and have influenced the leaders of reformations of the Church (Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, to name but three). These same writings have been used to support: Slavery, Male domination, misongyny, anti-Semitism, absurd dress codes and a host of ludicrous issues that he had no idea of given the culture and context of the age when he was penning majority of the Biblical New Testament. (Dr. Willis indicates, and supports, there being only seven letters in the New Testament which are authentically Pauline in origin.) It is because of these misleading interpretations that this Student had arrived at a place of distaste for this Saintly, early church leader. Actually, it was an idea that this small, but powerful, book would support his disdain (and it was in the sale bin at one of my dealer's) that this uneducated pupil purchased this book. I was wrong about the purpose of the book and am a better: Christ-follower, Biblically educated and have a renewed friendship with Paul after reading this volume. Dr. Willis has a Curriculum Vitae that is astounding (Ph.D. in the classics, Greek Professor at Johns Hopkins, Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University) but his passion and respect for the scripture is what gives this book about the Apostle Paul its authenticity. Dr. Willis has no agenda in writing this work beyond seeking to clarify what the title indicates, what did Paul mean in his writings? For those of us who have had the opportunity to formally study religion, it is doubtful we had anyone as qualified or as well researched into Paul's writings as is Dr. Willis. He reminds (or instructs) the reader that Paul's writings are dated the earliest in the New Testament and are therefore to be seen as having a large influence over the other writings contained therein. He uses the nine chapters to address the different issues causing the most confusion in the reading of Paul's writings. The most astounding for me was the discussion Dr. Willis has of the ongoing conflict Paul had with the early church leaders in Jerusalem and the contradiction Luke's account of Paul's life and activities had from Paul's account of his life and actions. This is a book filled with Scripture. Having been written by a Greek Professor, one can expect the interpretation of the various New Testament passages to be commonly unfamiliar. Dr. Willis changes nothing about what the scripture says, he only translates the Greek more closely to what was probably said. He is respectful to the Scripture, as reflected in his frequent references thereto and in the passion with which he "allows" Paul to speak. He understands Paul as an "emissary" of "the revelation (that God has arrived to redeem all humanity)" and all of his writings were directed toward getting that message to the entire world. To achieve this goal, he was called upon to address the conflicts present in those gatherings around the known world of which he was involved. After reading this book, I found the comfort of knowing that Church people have been fighting each other since approximately day one of the second month after the Ascension. This book confirmed for me, yet again, of the need for me to "let the Scripture say what it says, not what I want (or have been necessarily taught) it to say.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How's this? Paul was the first of the writers, not the Gospels, but Paul himself. He didn't borrow from the Gospels because they weren't written yet and his accounts are the closest we have to Jesus's life of all the material in the New Testament. Wills takes the seven books that are definitely written by Paul and analyzes what Paul meant. The book is fascinating and anyone with an interest in New Testament history and theology will enjoy reading it. Frank Scoblete: author of Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution! and Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution!
neiatze More than 1 year ago
This author told me things about the apostle Paul that I had never noticed before. Most books I've read about Paul portray him in a negative light, but Garry Wills will let you see Paul in a light comparable to how Luke portrays Jesus. Paul, in What Paul Meant, is seen as a friend and spokesperson for Jesus.
CCD-dave More than 1 year ago
Mr Willis sheds much needed light on St. Paul. In reading this book you will learn much about Paul the person. Why he was what he was. And some of the "mystery" about Paul is explained to better understand him. And Paul' teachings are given historical background and explanation to allow us to grasp a better understand of Paul. Anyone who wants to better understand Paul needs to read this book. It is written for everyone, Catholics and Protestants.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't recommend this book for those whose faith is easily threatened. I considered it an interesting read. I don't know that there was necessarily any cutting edge analysis, but it was a thoughtful review of Paul's letters and the context in which he wrote them. Other than Jesus himself, Paul is arguably the most influential Christian theologist. While the desciples focused efforts among Jews, Paul evangelized Christ's message to the Gentiles. But, he may very well be the most misunderstood. Accused of misogynism and homophobia among other prejudices, the collection of Pauline letters has been used to defend some questionable positions. But, accepting the first Pauline letters as the authentic letters, one can begin to isolate Paul's core message and interpret it in the context of the time. I recommend this book for those who are open to alternative perspectives and interpretations of Paul's theology.
Doondeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting perspective on the most unique of Jesus' "emissaries". Historic and factual insights are good though some of his conclusions are suspect.
PointedPundit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is an understatement to say that Paul is controversial.Paul has often gotten a bad rap. As one of the first New Testament writers, instrumental in transforming a universal message, stifled by a provincial culture, into a worldwide faith.. We are told he traveled more than 10,000 miles establishing and encouraging the spread of Jesus¿ message. His letters were occasional writings. They were dashed off to deal with local crises. Today, we read his raised voice without knowing or hearing the other side¿s shouts. His words are heated. They tumble out in self-defense and urgent guidance. Where Jesus taught and guided using simple parables, Paul relied on complex theology.Paul may not have written much of what is attributed to him, Wills tells us. Of the 13 letters he is often thought of having written; only seven are now believed to be his. They are 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans. All were written before 55 CE, long before the first Gospels and Acts of the Apostles were penned.Although he is not a biblical scholar, as a voracious reader and a gifted writer, Wills uses recent scholarship to separate fact from fiction. As in ¿Lincoln at Gettysburg¿ and ¿Nixon Agonistes¿ (my two favorite Wills books) the author looks at a familiar set of facts and draws startling insights. In this book I was fascinated by Wills¿- a former Greek professor at Johns Hopkins University - ability to draw insightful and nuanced meaning from his personal translations of familiar New Testament verses.With characteristic clarity, Wills frees Paul from the misconceptions that distort his significance.Penned by the Pointed PunditFebruary 15, 200712:59:13 PM
Osbaldistone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This clear and easy read has helped to 'save' Paul for me. The real and apparent contradictions in Paul's writings are far less disturbing and easier to accept as truth when the letters that are believed to be Paul's own by the majority of scholars are then examined in chronological order and in light of what else we know about Paul's conversion and ministry. These letters are the earliest known writings about Jesus, and this informed and honest reading can make you think twice (or at least think more) about things you've been taking for granted.
bethlea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book in audio - and found that I kept wanting to re-read that last sentence - Also, Garry Wills is working with what he calls "market place Greek" - he says this is the Greek the Jews used and the language of the new testament. I kept wanting to compare his translation with the translations I am more familiar with.
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Christian_Catholic More than 1 year ago
Yes, according to the NYT review, I quote "By argument or by implication, he manages to reject the legitimacy and authority not only of the papacy and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy but also of the early church councils, the church fathers and even, in many instances, the Gospels themselves." So not only has Mr. Wills rejected the Gospels (hence the Words of Christ Himself) and the early church fathers who actually learned and were ordained, by the Apostles themselves, to supposedly bring us the true meaning of the teachings of Jesus. I guess we now have a new messiah in Mr. Wills since we do not need to actually know what Jesus himself said/did or His appointed successors taught. We have Mr. Wills to thank for reaching back in time and telling us what Jesus really meant. I have some ocean front property right in the heart of Oklahoma for sale too. Cheap and if you buy now, I'll throw in the Brooklyn Bridge. Wake up people! Snake oil salesman alert. He tickles your ears and tells you what you want to hear. That's not what Christ came to do nor what He Himself said He would do. Try reading the Bible for yourself with a good commentary (I'd recommend the Navarre Bible Commentary if you truly want to know what the texts mean). This stuff is only good for filling in when you are out of TP.
sheep More than 1 year ago
Wills, for all his good points and they are formitable, joins the growing body of persons who are eager to tell us that Paul doesn't mean what he says. (Why do these folks instantly discount that "Paul's gospel" was delivered to him personally by the Son of God.) This is more than can be said for this yarn spinning by so many so popular in the 21st century.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Christian, I wouldn't recommend this book. It is to confusing and it makes the bible look like a big fat lie. I was so offended by this book that I couldn't read the entire thing. I choose to believe that Luke was not lying about his accounts of Paul but was stating what he perceived. It could be the enemy keeping me from finishing this book but unless God tells me to continue, I will not. As a matter of fact, I'm throwing it away.