Garry Wills, “What the Gospels Meant”

This is the third book I read by this author; see the discussion of his What Jesus Meant for my general take on how reading them turned out to be something of a pleasant surprise (the other book of his discussed on this site is What Paul Meant).

Some notes on this book in particular:

  • Wills here goes through each of the four gospels.  He believes that each had a particular point of view and  set of themes.  And he sees each point of view as valid, with no mutual exclusivity, and with each contributing to a full picture of Christ.
  • Wills sees the gospels as a product of an oral tradition of different sets of believers:  They recounted their memories of Jesus and blended in how His life fit in with the sacred writings of Judaism.  It’s not that the different accounts falsified anything; it’s just that they were not simple reportage, and more that they reflected an effort to present Jesus’ life as also making sense in the greater scheme of Judaism.  (Would this have been of less particular concern to Luke?)
  • Wills does not think that Peter worked on Mark; he reads it as too unsympathetic to Peter for that (but maybe Peter was just being honest, or didn’t prevail on Mark in all respects).
  • Luke and Matthew were aware of Mark, thinks Will, but neither was aware of the other.
  • Wills is definitely not a believer in the inerrancy of Scripture, and sometimes he seems to declare error when it is not certain.
  • Still, he believes in the basic veracity of the Christian story.