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What Paul Meant Paperback – September 25, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wills builds on the popularity of his bestseller What Jesus Meant in this audio version of his newest book. The apostle Paul's teachings have caused controversy almost from the minute he penned the letters to the first-century churches he helped found. His influence on church history and doctrine is incontrovertible, but his words have often provoked anger and dissension. Wills, who writes from the Catholic tradition, carefully reveals Paul's meaning by taking listeners back to the teaching of Jesus Christ to prove that Paul's words didn't contradict, but in fact explain and expound on Christ's. Wills's precise diction and preacherlike narration add to the listening experience. He sometimes moves too quickly between chapters and sections—listeners need a bit more time to adjust—and he occasionally reads quickly as well. But haste aside, listeners can't help appreciating Wills's voice, his scholarship and his conclusions.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

Lacking the distracting critiques of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) buttons and Benedict XVI that bracketed the main text of What Jesus Meant (2006), that book's companion gets right to the point. Is Paul "the bad news man," who corrupted the teachings of Jesus into an antisexual, antiwoman, anti-Semitic apology for oppression? Apocryphal second-century writings characterize Paul as an instrument of Satan, early critics called him the father of heresies, and to him has been attributed the most stringent, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't predestinationism. Newly translating the seven epistles now considered authentic for his references, and arguing from historical discoveries about other New Testament references to Paul, especially in Acts, Wills begs to differ. Paul's writings are the earliest Christian texts and, Wills maintains, are as orthodox as their priority suggests. They attest that Jesus is the Messiah, preaches a gospel of love, and rose from death to redeem humanity. They uphold Jewish law, repeatedly acknowledge women's equality, and discourage sex and marriage only personally, not as a matter of faith. Like Jesus, and since his epistles predate them, more authoritatively than the Gospels, Paul taught that salvation comes from the Jews. To help clarify his exculpation, Wills avoids certain words, especially church, Christians, priests, and sacraments,because nothing corresponding to their modern meanings was used by early followers of Jesus. The affect of that decision is revelatory and makes this explanation of Paul dazzlingly enlightening. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143112631
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

140 of 153 people found the following review helpful By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
`What Paul Meant' by Garry Wills is a new entry into the growing field of popular and semi-popular / semi-scholarly books on the life and doctrines of the apostle, Paul of Tarsus. Other recent entries into this sweepstakes include N. T. Wright's `What Saint Paul Really Said', `Rabbi Paul, An Intellectual Biography' by Professor of Religion, Bruce Chilton, and `The Gospel According to Paul' by Oxford (Lincoln College) don, Robin Griffith-Jones. And, this is not all of them, but only the ones I've read and reviewed recently. Pastor Wright's book, for example, is a reply to another recent book, `Paul: The Mind of the Apostle' by A. N. Wilson and Wills' book is rich with bibliographic notes to yet other, more scholarly titles. The best thing about this bumper crop is that each and every volume has been written by a major scholar in the field of New Testament studies. Most, other than Professor Wills, appear to have a Protestant affiliation. This is not surprising as ever since Martin Luther, Paul has been the hero of Protestant theology to the likes of Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Kierkegaard, Barth, Harnack, and Bultmann.

My hunch is that the wellspring of all this popular writing has been the scholarly writings of Professor Ed. P. Sanders, who, with some others, has created a `new perspective' on Paul's intellectual background with his books published over the last thirty years. While I have been studying Paul and the New Testament for just a short time, my overall impression at the moment is that what most of these `new perspective' writers, including the authors of these popular works, is to restore us to the opinion of Albert Schweitzer, whose scholarly works on Paul were published between 60 and 90 years ago.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Fairport on January 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed "What Paul Meant." Wills points out many interesting things about Paul's letters and does a good job contrasting them to information about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. It's a very interesting book--I like his translations of Scripture. (I presume the translations are his--he never says so explicitly). Wills seems to have as good a vision of Paul and his mission, as it is possible to have almost 2000 years later. He is right in pointing out that there was no Christian Church, as we think of it now, in Paul's life time. Becoming a follower of Jesus did not mean leaving Judaism for Paul or for any other Jew.

I would have wished to know more about Wills' criteria for judging the reliability of those Christian documents that came after Paul's letters. He does believe that much of what Luke writes about Paul is not historical--Luke had a particular agenda. But he often quotes later Christian works in support of a particular point he is trying to make. For instance he cites the Letter of Clement of Rome, which suggests that Paul might have made it to Spain. But Clement almost certainly wrote after Luke. So why should we trust Clement?

I would recommend "What Paul Meant" for people interested in this great apostle, who do not want to wade through a "scholarly" book.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on January 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In his book Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000) Garry Wills left readers wondering why he remained Catholic given his unsparing criticisms of institutional Catholicism. He tried to answer that question two years later with Why I Am A Catholic (2002). With five books on Saint Augustine, and his book Lincoln at Gettysburg (1993) that won the Pulitzer Prize, Wills remains one of our country's most important public and outspokenly Christian intellectuals. Today he is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University. In this sequel to What Jesus Meant (2004), Wills tries to rescue Paul from those who view him as "the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus" (Thomas Jefferson).

There's a sense in which Wills agrees with detractors like Jefferson, or Bernard Shaw, who excoriated Paul as a "monstrous imposition" upon the gentle Jesus, for at the end of the day he too excises what he considers is a "massive misreading" of Paul by interpreters like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, and Kierkegaard, with their emphases on sin, guilt, election, justification, and predestination. Wills's Paul is a radical egalitarian who taught the same ethic of indiscriminate love as Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 13), and a "heroic traveler" who logged more than ten thousand miles to spread this love. In his view, later "impersonators and interpolators" turned Paul into a misogynist and anti-Semite. Undergirding this interpretation of Paul are two critical presuppositions--that most everything that Luke writes about Paul is "nonsense, exaggeration, poetic creation, [and] fiction," and that only seven of the epistles attributed to Paul are authentic. So much for canonicity (contrast, for example, Jaroslav Pelikan on Luke in his book Acts).
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Free Thinker on July 4, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a younger man, I attended a conservative Christian college, where I majored in biblical studies. I still recall how adamant the professors were that the Bible was not only infallible but inerrant as well. It is almost amusing to watch the hoops such people will jump through to maintain this untenable position.

Fast forward a few years, to when I took my first serious look at the other end of the spectrum, the ominous "liberals." There I found an approach to the Scriptures in which any possible contradiction or inconsistency in the text is trumpeted loudly as an error, with no attempt whatsoever to harmonize the seeming disparities. Whereas my old mentors were obsessive in defending the Bible's perfection, the other side seems almost gleeful in its attempts to fictionalize as much of it as possible.

Wills obviously belongs to this latter camp, and it shows in the condescending approach he takes to the New Testament. A prime example is on pages 32-36, where he examines Acts 9:1-19, the account of Paul's Damascus Road experience.

On page 33 he writes: "We know from Paul that he was 'unknown by my features to the Judean gatherings in Messiah (Galatians 1:21)......how could a man who had gone house to house arresting the brothers be unknown by them?"

Wills fails to read the surrounding verses in the Galatians passage. They answer his question easily:

"Then I went into the regions of Syria and Silicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches in Judea that are in Christ. They only heard it said, 'the one who was formerly persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me." Galatians 1:21-24.
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