Garry Wills, “What Paul Meant”

See the introductory remarks in my discussion elsewhere on this site of the same author’s What Jesus Meant, noting that reading Wills’s books on the Bible was (somewhat surprisingly to me) a net plus.  Some other notes on this book:

  • An excellent introduction puts Paul in context.
  • Wills’s book is similar to Sarah Ruden’s Paul among the People in arguing that Paul has been unfairly and mistakenly labeled a hater, etc.
  • He also argues, less persuasively, that much of Luke’s writing in Acts about Paul is “fiction” (really, Wills usually just thinks it’s slanted).
  • He sees Paul as a quasi-prophet — for example, believing that he communed with God/Jesus during his time in Arabia.
  • He notes that Paul often distinguishes between what he thinks and what Jesus/God thinks (e.g., 49).
  • Regarding the intramural politics in Galatians, Wills observes:  “The veracity of the early records of the faith is established by the fact that this letter was not suppressed” (108).
  • When Paul criticizes “Jews,” Wills says he often means Christian Jews (128).
  • What is often translated as “faith” (pistis) Wills would translate as “trust.”  Otherwise, he argues, it would make no sense to write, as Paul does, of God’s “faith” (versus “trust”) in us (183-84).  (Cf. belief in God?  Yes, I think so:  John 3:16 is pisteuon.”)