Synopses & Reviews
All through history, Christians have debated Paul's influence on the church. Though revered, Paul has also been a stone on which many stumble. Apocryphal writings by Peter and James charge Paul, in the second century, with being a tool of Satan.
In later centuries Paul became a target of ridicule for writers such as Thomas Jefferson ("the first corruptor"), George Bernard Shaw ("a monstrous imposition"), and Nietzsche ("the Dysangelist"). However, as Garry Wills argues eloquently in this masterly analysis, what Paul meant was not something contrary to what Jesus meant. Rather, the best way to know Jesus is to discover Paul.
Unlike the Gospel writers, who carefully shaped their narratives many decades after Jesus' life, Paul wrote in the heat of the moment, managing controversy, and sometimes contradicting himself, but at the same time offering the best reflection of those early times.
What Paul Meant is a stellar interpretation of Paul's writing, examining his tremendous influence on the first explosion of Christian belief and chronicling the controversy surrounding Paul through the centuries. Wills's many readers and those interested in the Christian tradition will warmly welcome this penetrating discussion of perhaps the most fascinating church father.
"This slender volume is something of a sequel to Wills's blockbuster What Jesus Meant; here, Wills defends Paul from detractors who insist that the apostle corrupted Jesus' radical message. Beginning with a reminder that Paul's letters are older than the gospels and therefore may represent the most authentic approximation of Jesus' teachings, Wills argues that Paul was right in line with Jesus. Both men stressed love of God and love of one's neighbor as the two principal commandments. Wills highlights the differences between the Pauline epistles and Luke's later writing about Paul, arguing that the famous story of Paul's road-to-Damascus conversion, which comes from Luke's account in Acts, is flawed, and that Paul himself did not consider his convictions about Jesus a 'conversion,' but part of his ongoing life as a Jew. Through a reading of Romans, Wills attempts to acquit Paul of the charges of anti-Semitism. And though Paul is often tarred as a misogynist, Wills shows that he 'believed in women's basic equality with men.' (Since Wills focuses only on the seven letters that most scholars agree were written by Paul himself, the egalitarian Paul becomes credible; some of the most overtly sexist passages come from letters written later and ascribed to Paul.) Provocative yet helpful, this book is sure to create a buzz. (Nov. 6)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Wills is a scholar who also knows how to write. His views are debatable, but he doesn't bog readers down with the nuances. This is purely where he stands on Paul." Chicago Sun-Times
"With this bracing book, Wills, who continues to call himself a Catholic, further cements his reputation as one of the most intellectually interesting and doctrinally heterodox Christians writing today." New York Times
"What makes Wills' contribution unique...is his singular combination of intellectual integrity and authentically unsentimental spirituality." Los Angeles Times
A brilliant synthesis of the Apostle Pauls thought and influence is written by a "foremost Catholic intellectual" ("Chicago Tribune").
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)
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 Pauls 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.
About the Author
Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the translator of Saint Augustine's Confessions and author of Saint Augustine (Penguin Lives), The Rosary, What Jesus Meant, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He is professor of history emeritus at Northwestern University.