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136 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A popular presentation of Pauline Issues.LIttle Theology.
`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...
Published on December 6, 2006 by B. Marold

versus
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Sequel to fantastic What Jesus Meant
This is a solidly argued but uninspiring sequel. And though the author jokes about it in the acknowledgements, I'm forced to wonder if this follow-up wasn't forced on him by the editor or his publisher.

Where his "What Jesus Meant" easily rates 5 stars for theology, readability, and inspiration, "What Paul Meant" is a rather dull formulaic defense of Paul...
Published on January 15, 2007 by J. Minatel


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136 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A popular presentation of Pauline Issues.LIttle Theology., December 6, 2006
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This review is from: What Paul Meant (Hardcover)
`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. Schweitzer's opinion was that Paul's thought was firmly rooted in the Judaism of the Pharisees, and that the century of scholarly blather preceding Schweitzer's work had done nothing to establish the contention that Paul imported Hellenistic (stoic and Platonic thought primarily) thinking into Christianity.

I have looked closely only at Paul's Epistle to the Romans, but I do know Platonism quite well and I find it totally puzzling how anyone could consider Platonism to be a more important influence on Paul than the Jewish writings in `the law and the prophets and wisdom' which we today call the `Old Testament'. Every page of Romans seems to bristle with references to Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Leviticus and what have you. Against pages dedicated to theology of the God of Israel, I see one brief reference to a notion that may possibly have been borrowed from Plato's doctrine of innate ideas.

Unlike Pastor Wright's excellent volume, Professor Wills' book is less directed at explaining Paul's theological doctrines than it is directed at disproving many false impressions created over the years about Paul's opinions, most of which are more social or historical than theological. Like `Rabbi Paul', much of Wills' argument is with the disparities between Paul's letters and Luke's `Acts of the Apostles'. One of my early discoveries in my recent study of Paul is the fact that of all the `books' of the `New Testament', Paul's genuine letters were by far the earliest writings.

Of the thirteen (13) Pauline letters, seven (7) are believed to have been written by Paul himself. These are, in chronological order, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans. All were written before 55 CE, decades before the first Gospels and Acts of the Apostles were written. This means that of the events in Paul's life and work, they are the only first hand reports we have, as Paul was executed around 62 CE in Rome, probably as part of Nero's `pogrom' against the Christians in his effort to blame them for start ing the Roman conflagration. So, any misconceptions about Paul that arose from reading Acts are immediately suspected.

Professor Wills addresses Pauline issues regarding relations with Peter, women, difficult gatherings, Jews, his relation to the James and the Jerusalem church, and the Roman church. Just as it is almost incomprehensible that people should attribute Paul's theology to Hellenistic sources, it is baffling how, after reading Romans, his longest and most important Epistle, one can possibly consider his writings to be the foundation of Christian anti-Semitism. On the other hand, it is quite easy to see Luther's writings as a source of Christian and German anti-Semitism, but then, Luther misinterpreted Paul's approach to Judaism to fit his own agenda.

While Wills' book is written for a lay audience, it is quite careful in avoiding misleading language and anachronistic terms which Paul himself never used, such as `church', `congregation', `Christ', and `Old Testament'. Thankfully, Wills is much better at avoiding extreme revisionism, unlike Griffith-Jones in `The Gospel According to Paul', which becomes almost unreadable until you get used to his `authentic' translations.

Wills' book may not be the best starting point for a study of Paul, as his bibliography is just a bit thin. (Wright's book is far better, although it is also more difficult reading). However, Wills' book is by far the best if you want a strong overview of Paul's thought with no interest in pursuing Pauline theology or the history of scholarship into Paul's life and writings.

This book certainly whets my appetite for reading Professor Wills' book on Augustine, on which he appears to be a major authority.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Raises some interesting points, January 1, 2007
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This review is from: What Paul Meant (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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Paul Meant, May 3, 2008
This review is from: What Paul Meant 2006 (Paperback)
Review of: "What Paul Meant"

By: Garry Wills

Paul was the first letter writer of Christianity.

His epistles are considered the most pessimistic writings of the early church.

Despite the pessimism of Paul's epistles, he guided the early church and aided the growth of the early church. The author, Garry Wills, calls the growth of the early church an explosion of belief. He says of Paul: "Paul was part of this explosion of belief." Garry Wills says that Nietzsche called Paul the "dysangelist" or the bad news bearer, and "a man with a genius for hatred." This is in contrast to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the "evangelists" or the good news bearers.

The author asks the question: "how much of this notoriety is deserved?" His answer: "very little."

This book uses seven of Paul's letters: "Letter to the Thessalonians", "Letter to the Galatians", "Letter to the Philippians", "Letter to Philemon", "First Letter to the Corinthians", "Second Letter to the Corinthians" and "Letter to the Romans." These are the letters whose authorship is not disputed.

Author Wills shows that Paul echoed and amplified the message of love spoken by Jesus. Paul had the same message of love as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when he reports on the teaching of Jesus.

This book also gives details of the life of Paul and of the history of early Christianity.

See Also:

What the Gospels Meant

and

What Jesus Meant

This book is a good amplification of the meaning of Paul's letters. It is clear and easy to understand and the reasoning is very sound.

I recommend "What Paul Meant" as a supplemental guide when reading the New Testament or as a stand alone text.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars half a loaf, January 25, 2007
By 
Daniel B. Clendenin (www.journeywithjesus.net) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: What Paul Meant (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).

Still, I appreciated Wills's intent to argue that "what Paul meant was not something other than or contrary to what Jesus meant, but that we can best find out the latter by studying the former. His letters stand closer to Jesus than do any other words in the New Testament." Wills was a classicist who taught Greek for many years, so I also appreciated the appendix with his translations of key words, an effort to move readers from stubborn anachronistic and linguistic accretions that have bred over-familiarity ("gathering" instead of "church," for example, or "emissary" instead of "apostle.").
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Sequel to fantastic What Jesus Meant, January 15, 2007
This review is from: What Paul Meant (Hardcover)
This is a solidly argued but uninspiring sequel. And though the author jokes about it in the acknowledgements, I'm forced to wonder if this follow-up wasn't forced on him by the editor or his publisher.

Where his "What Jesus Meant" easily rates 5 stars for theology, readability, and inspiration, "What Paul Meant" is a rather dull formulaic defense of Paul against mostly formulaic criticisms. Where "What Jesus Meant" cast light and glory on Jesus love in a very positive way, "What Paul Meant" was nothing more than a point by point defense often using subtle translation differences. While those subtleties are important, they fail to come together in any single unified uplifting message the way the author did in his first book.

Some positives that some readers will take away from this:

For those who don't know, the author does a good job of outlining which of "Paul letters" Paul is thought by current scholars to have actually written versus which have been mistakenly attributed to him. This is the critical first step in building a solid defense of Paul.

The author makes a solid case that in a thorough reading of the remaining letters that he actually wrote, Paul commonly and frequently lifts up the work of women in the early church and ministry and far from being the sexist he's accused of, he's well ahead of his time in recognizing the crucial value of women in the church.

Possibly the author's greatest contribution was a very well laid out case that Paul didn't indeed have any prejudice toward "the Jews" - which of course he was one of and a learned Jewish scholar at that. He makes the solid case that Paul did see Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and as a fulfillment of Jewish prophesy. It's only our centuries of misunderstanding of who Paul was and who his audience was, that lead Paul incorrectly to be branded by some as one of the fathers of so much hate toward our Jewish brothers.

However, those valuable points and others still left me wanting more and disappointed, having expected something on a grander scale. After finishing the book, I though the author had opened the door on several occasions to make the grand positive statement that Paul's ministry was one of love for all: that Jesus love applied equally to Jews and non-Jews, to men and women. And that Jesus message of love should be the most important thing in our Christian lives. But while his point by point arguments defending Paul opened those doors, he never actually introduced those broader positive messages and settled for a well-done defense of Paul against the critics.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Paul Meant, June 8, 2008
Review of: "What Paul Meant"

By: Garry Wills

Paul was the first letter writer of Christianity.

His epistles are considered the most pessimistic writings of the early church.

Despite the pessimism of Paul's epistles, he guided the early church and aided the growth of the early church. The author, Garry Wills, calls the growth of the early church an explosion of belief. He says of Paul: "Paul was part of this explosion of belief." Garry Wills says that Nietzsche called Paul the "dysangelist" or the bad news bearer, and "a man with a genius for hatred." This is in contrast to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the "evangelists" or the good news bearers.

The author asks the question: "how much of this notoriety is deserved?" His answer: "very little."

This book uses seven of Paul's letters: "Letter to the Thessalonians", "Letter to the Galatians", "Letter to the Philippians", "Letter to Philemon", "First Letter to the Corinthians", "Second Letter to the Corinthians" and "Letter to the Romans." These are the letters whose authorship is not disputed.

Author Wills shows that Paul echoed and amplified the message of love spoken by Jesus. Paul had the same message of love as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when he reports on the teaching of Jesus.

This book also gives details of the life of Paul and of the history of early Christianity.

See Also:

What the Gospels Meant

and

What Jesus Meant

This book is a good amplification of the meaning of Paul's letters. It is clear and easy to understand and the reasoning is very sound.

I recommend "What Paul Meant" as a supplemental guide when reading the New Testament or as a stand alone text.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Real Mixed Bag, July 4, 2008
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This review is from: What Paul Meant (Paperback)
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.

What Paul is actually saying is not that the Judeans saw him and didn't recognize his face. Rather he is saying that during this particular journey he did not make personal contact with those believers, though they did hear he was in their area. A simple examination of the text makes Willis' objection fall to pieces.

Other points he makes suffer from similar problems. On page 33 he writes "if Paul had been a pupil of the famous Gamaliel, he would have surely said so when he boasted of his Pharisaical training."

Really? How does Wills know this? Is it possible that Paul had a valid reason not to mention this training? Perhaps upon becoming a Christian his former mentor disowned him, in effect saying "do not disgrace me by speaking of our past associations," and Paul honored this request. Perhaps Paul simply didn't see it necessary to mention.

Perhaps Gamaliel was especially hated or feared by the Christians, and Paul's mention of his name would only have made them unduly suspicious of him as well.

Wills considers none of this. Upon sniffing out what may be a problem in the biblical account he loudly proclaims that the New Testament is in error.

The solution he proposes is predictable: "Luke's fiction has replaced far more interesting fact. Here as elsewhere we must look intently at Paul's own words to see what he actually meant. Luke will prove a continuing obstacle to this effort." page 36.

So, once again, it's the biblical writers who screwed everything up, and it's up to modern scholars, looking back two millennia, to correct their lies and find the real truth they failed to report. This isn't scholarship, it is arrogance, and a particularly pompous type of arrogance as well.

Yet it is this very attitude that guides Wills throughout the rest of the book, which is a mixed bag in my view. He defends Paul against claims of inciting hate (a good example is on page 56), demeaning women, etc. and at many times employs sound hermeneutical principles. On the other hand, he seems passionate to remold the Apostle into a politically correct advocate of diversity and multi-culturalism.

In conclusion, I give this book an overall positive recommendation, but with reservations. It is useful both for its insights into modern approaches to the Bible as well as its analysis of Paul's writings.
Let the reader be aware, though, that it is faulted by biases that should be critically - and fairly - examined. Of course, this is good advice when reading any book, even the Bible.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Paul Meant, June 8, 2008
This review is from: What Paul Meant (Hardcover)
Review of: "What Paul Meant"

By: Garry Wills

Paul was the first letter writer of Christianity.

His epistles are considered the most pessimistic writings of the early church.

Despite the pessimism of Paul's epistles, he guided the early church and aided the growth of the early church. The author, Garry Wills, calls the growth of the early church an explosion of belief. He says of Paul: "Paul was part of this explosion of belief." Garry Wills says that Nietzsche called Paul the "dysangelist" or the bad news bearer, and "a man with a genius for hatred." This is in contrast to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the "evangelists" or the good news bearers.

The author asks the question: "how much of this notoriety is deserved?" His answer: "very little."

This book uses seven of Paul's letters: "Letter to the Thessalonians", "Letter to the Galatians", "Letter to the Philippians", "Letter to Philemon", "First Letter to the Corinthians", "Second Letter to the Corinthians" and "Letter to the Romans." These are the letters whose authorship is not disputed.

Author Wills shows that Paul echoed and amplified the message of love spoken by Jesus. Paul had the same message of love as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when he reports on the teaching of Jesus.

This book also gives details of the life of Paul and of the history of early Christianity.

See Also:

What the Gospels Meant

and

What Jesus Meant

This book is a good amplification of the meaning of Paul's letters. It is clear and easy to understand and the reasoning is very sound.

I recommend "What Paul Meant" as a supplemental guide when reading the New Testament or as a stand alone text.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Paul Meant, May 3, 2008
This review is from: What Paul Meant (Paperback)
Review of: "What Paul Meant"

By: Garry Wills

Paul was the first letter writer of Christianity.

His epistles are considered the most pessimistic writings of the early church.

Despite the pessimism of Paul's epistles, he guided the early church and aided the growth of the early church. The author, Garry Wills, calls the growth of the early church an explosion of belief. He says of Paul: "Paul was part of this explosion of belief." Garry Wills says that Nietzsche called Paul the "dysangelist" or the bad news bearer, and "a man with a genius for hatred." This is in contrast to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the "evangelists" or the good news bearers.

The author asks the question: "how much of this notoriety is deserved?" His answer: "very little."

This book uses seven of Paul's letters: "Letter to the Thessalonians", "Letter to the Galatians", "Letter to the Philippians", "Letter to Philemon", "First Letter to the Corinthians", "Second Letter to the Corinthians" and "Letter to the Romans." These are the letters whose authorship is not disputed.

Author Wills shows that Paul echoed and amplified the message of love spoken by Jesus. Paul had the same message of love as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John when he reports on the teaching of Jesus.

This book also gives details of the life of Paul and of the history of early Christianity.

See Also:

What the Gospels Meant

and

What Jesus Meant

This book is a good amplification of the meaning of Paul's letters. It is clear and easy to understand and the reasoning is very sound.

I recommend "What Paul Meant" as a supplemental guide when reading the New Testament or as a stand alone text.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Startling, January 9, 2007
By 
Kahne Questor (Concord, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What Paul Meant (Hardcover)
The author of this book is a former seminarian and a Greek scholar, so I believe his translaltions should be accurate. If so, he changes my view of St. Paul from "sexist fanatic" to "true saint." I am having trouble connecting the man he discribes to the one I hear quoted from the pulpit on Sundays.

Don't read this book unless you want your faith in the heirarchical churches tested.
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