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What Jesus Meant

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  912 Ratings  ·  121 Reviews
“Garry Wills brings his signature brand of erudite, unorthodox thinking to his latest book of revelations. . . . A tour de force and a profound show of faith.” ( O, the Oprah Magazine)
In what are billed “culture wars,” people on the political right and the political left cite Jesus as endorsing their views. But in this New York Times-bestselling masterpiece, Garry Will
Paperback, 176 pages
Published February 27th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published March 2nd 2006)
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Bill  Kerwin
Jun 16, 2007 rated it liked it

A thoughtful, insightful meditation on what Jesus said and--more important--what he was: the unique, prophetic embodiment of the Divine message of unconditional love.
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Thanks to Goodreader AC, I've become reacquainted with Garry Wills' copacetic combination of rigorous thought and felicitous prose. The Jesus as revealed through the author's careful and probing exegesis bears an appreciable resemblance—at least superficially—to my own personal and more ignorantly acquired understanding of the Son of Man: so that bodes either well for Mr. Sastre or ill for Mr. Wills.
How, if Jesus was God, could he be deserted by himself? He was both man and God—but fully man.
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-favs
Disclosure: I'm theologically liberal minded person. To me, this book illustrates Jesus' real message. Jesus was a radical. We've watered down the message. This book illuminates the powerful positions that Jesus took in his day. This book shows us the Jesus of the "koine" language (the language the Greeks used in the first century). Jesus message is as real as it gets. Sometimes the "organized" religions of today are a bit off center; not out of maliciousness, but stuck in a paradigm. Check it o ...more
Jan 29, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

An interesting discourse on the language difficulties and interpretive contexts that have led to errors in the literal interpretations of the various translations of the Bible.

Basically, Wills says that the basic translations of the Bible err from the beginning, by translating from the classical Greek in which they were written. Jesus and his contemporaries spoke to each other in "market Greek," a pidgin language where tenses change randomly, articles and prepositions are often lost, and words a
Sep 04, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one with an IQ over 80
Wills has no idea what Jesus meant. Reading this book makes one suspect he's never read the new Testament. Anyone who publishes three pages of unattributed Internet urban legend twaddle as scholarly fact deserves to be trashed.
Richard Kearney
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This 142-page devotional work offers a compelling explication of Jesus' message and his significance, firmly grounded in the Gospels from which Wills quotes extensively. Its eight chapters emphasize Jesus' spiritual radicalism. The chapter on the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, for example, centers around several examples of Jesus rejecting every category of "unclean" person defined by Jewish law and custom. Wills argues that a major component of Jesus' ministry was to extend God's love, co ...more
Jan 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
“A religion that limits itself to assuaging earthly hunger seals off the greater promise of God’s reign, his justice that is a judgment.... Jesus is not a social reformer.....

Marx said that religion drugs man with heavenly hopes that take away the need to do good here and now. There is another way that religion can become an opiate – by satisfying earthly needs, making heavenly aspirations unnecessary, occluding broader horizons. Jesus will not be satisfied with anything that holds the Father to
Kathryn Bashaar
Apr 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love Garry Wills. His biography of Augustine was the book that inspired my novel about Augustine's mistress. This meditation on the essentials of Jesus' message was equally satisfying to read. He emphasizes that Christ's core message was the Golden Rule, but debunks "meek and mild" as the whole picture of Christ and reminds us that Jesus was God and so he is infinitely powerful (and therefore terrifying) as well as infinitely loving. His command that we love radically is an enormous, life-chan ...more
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lisse by: Fr. Leo
A friend's priest recommended I should pick up some Gary Wills' books (a Catholic author and historian)and I am glad he did. 'What Jesus Meant' is the first Wills book I have read, but it most certainly won't be the last. Wills takes the Gospels and breaks them down what those words and actions meant during the time of Christ, instead of what they mean to us today. He talked about how Jesus and his followers would have spoken a more pidgin kind of Greek than what was translated ...more
Jul 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Utterly fascinating. I was a bit apprehensive to read Wills' work because he authored a book entitled "Why I Am a Catholic." Uh--really? I just couldn't get behind that, having a recovering Catholic as a mother and one as a husband, and I find Catholicism, as a whole, just problematic. Anyway, I was absolutely stunned by Wills' work in this slim volume. One would, after reading this, think he was as far-left, as ultra-liberal as they come if one didn't know his background. He presents Jesus as t ...more
Matthew Hundley
Mar 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Lately I have been looking at Jesus through other people's eyes. Wills' is an interesting head to climb into. He draws a lot of his insights from GK Chesterton and NT Wright - which is fine in my book. He delves into the Greek and offers his own translations as scripture reference - also fine by me. He hones in on Jesus as the alien without a true home ushering in the new temple and the reign of his Father. He offers most of his criticism of WWJD Christianity in his introduction. He has a smatte ...more
Jun 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book gives a brief, almost too brief, summary of the sayings and teachings of Christ. Wills' short chapters address such issues as Jesus' early life, his radical message, what he taught about money, equality, and religion, and the meaning of his death and resurrection. Wills does a good job of cutting through all the religious rhetoric of today and gets to the heart of the radical message that Jesus challenged the world with.

Though he is a practicing Catholic, Willis has no love for the hie
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: christian, read-2011
Well, it was definitely short and a quick read. (However, I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more in small chunks over a longer period of time. I could've been far more contemplative in my approach.) I did enjoy Wills' translations of the Greek in the New Testament (who knew that the Greek spoken in those days was so messy and grammatically horrible and practically indecipherable?). Plus, several of his passages prodded at my cold, dark heart to make some changes.

However, mostly, I found his s
Feb 25, 2009 added it
Wills, the well-known historian and writer, is also a trained classicist who studied for the priesthood. Now a step removed from the academy he has taken to writing his religious mind in books such as this. Through his own close reading of original New Testament Greek and his wide reading in Catholic theology, literature, and history he offers an insightful commentary on the meaning of the Gospels. Above all, the message is that love, as Hedges discovered in war, is the highest human faculty.
Audrey Babkirk Wellons
Aug 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: renegade Catholics
Shelves: religion
I. Love. Garry. Wills.
First of all, the man does his own bible translations. Second, he gives new meaning to bible stories I've heard a hundred times. Take. That. Benedict!

I sort of go back and forth with how I enjoyed this book. On one hand, I don't think the author sticks to his thesis -- this devotional book (which is how I would describe it) is more the author's quick skip thru of the gospels, with his particular interpretations and emphases. But that isn't really focused on what Jesus "meant," but rather what the author think's of Jesus' message and the New Testament writings. On the other hand, I did find some of the author's interpretations interesting -- t ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, catholic
I really, really enjoyed the first half of this book. The second half, however, took a very odd turn for a Catholic writer...

I definitely agree that Jesus didn't intend to make any political statements/begin political movements. But a Catholic writer saying that he didn't intend to start a church? Seems a little odd to me. I also think he really hated on Pope Benedict; I wasn't the largest fan of him, but he really seemed to dislike him.

So I'm now confused about where I stand on this author.
Fernando Quiros
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent theology based on Jesus' actual words as quoted in the gospels. The principal point made is that Jesus concentrated on bringing Heaven to Earth and was way too radical for political or even religious categorization. What I have always enjoyed most about the gospels is the way Jesus spoke to power. It got him killed, but he knew that was his mission. Jesus' sheer courage leaps out from the gospels, and this book brings it all out.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
This would be a better book if it had a better title. "What Jesus Meant" implies so much. It implies that the reader doesn't know and that the author does. It implies that meaning could be hidden. It implies that Jesus didn't get what he said right the first time and needs an interpreter. Wills book would have done better without the implications from the title and the few spots between the covers where that statements profoundly echoes.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Biography of a low caste radical
Micah Robbins
Garry Wills's What Jesus Meant is a radical interpretation of the Christian gospels insofar as it grapples with what Wills believes to be the core meanings of Jesus's life and message. Many of these meanings appeal to our better selves. They challenge us to commit to the difficult principles of social justice, and they call on us to open ourselves to the very things we most fear and abhor in order to live the message of the gospels. Yet this is not a book that attempts to map Jesus onto a contem ...more
Feb 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010, library
I thought I was going to like this book, but it wasn't anything special. Wills offers some cultural background details that might be new information to someone who has only thought Jesus to be a non-historical figure.

The thrust of his presentation, it seems to me, is that Jesus desired and established an alternative path to God. His path was different from, and counter to, the path of ordinary Jews in that it was anti-sacrificial, non-hierarchical, inclusive, and egalitarian. These are standard
Caidyn (BW Book Reviews)
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
You know what I love about my current job? I can listen to books the whole time I'm at work. Seriously, right now that's all I do. I guess some people think I listen to music, but in reality I'm listening to books like this or Malcolm Gladwell. 100% would recommend doing this if you work at a warehouse that allows you to listen to "music".

Anyways, lately I've been on a big Jesus kick. It started withZealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which frames Jesus as a kick ass rebel. And, jus
Michael Jones
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first glance, it seems a little egotistic of the author to write a book called "What Jesus Meant." I mean, didn't Jesus say what He meant? Wasn't Jesus capable of expressing Himself clearly? Well, this book does not attempt to reinterpret Jesus' words to say something that Jesus never said; it places the stories of Jesus in their historical and literary context so that it is easier to understand the implications of the teachings and actions of Jesus in the minds of His first-century listeners ...more
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
The title, "What Jesus Meant," gives the impression that what Garry Wills is going to do here is focus directly on the teachings of Jesus themselves and interpret them for the reader. And indeed he does do that, but it's not all he does. From Jesus' teachings he then goes on to discuss the doctrines of the crucifixion and resurrection, about which Jesus himself had little to say at all. Consequently, what we have in this little book is a compact Christology which could easily carry a subtitle: " ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
When I was a kid, Garry Wills wrote scholarly historical treatises on the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, even Henry Adams as reviewed here. Lately, he's been busy writing essays on spiritaul issues as a devout Catholic, and as I always liked and respected historical work, I took this slim volume for a spin . . .

. . . And a worthwhile use of time it was. Wills explicates the difficulty we sinful humans have in dealing with Jesus as he was, not what we want him to be. With the
On the whole I enjoyed reading this book. It certainly presented a few new ways of looking at certain passages of Scripture. However, I do have a few issues with it.

Willis, near the beginning, decries those such as Thomas Jefferson who tried to remove anything smacking of the super-natural (miracles, healing, the Resurrection, etc.) and in that I agree with him, but he then proceeds to symbolically interpret almost every miracle event in the gospels. "Satan" is merely a symbolic representation o
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
At least Wills makes it clear from the start: "This is not a scholarly book, but a devotional one." Fair enough. Having read a number of his other books and articles, that is not quite what I expected it to be, but it is not particularly surprising either.
In fact, Wills is slightly misleading in his comment above. The book spends much effort refuting organized (that is to say, hierarchically structured or episcopal, in the actual sense of the word) religion. His argument is not an unusual one t
Jacob Ferrington
Jun 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Though I do not have the temerity to advocate for the abolition of all forms of institutional christianity (deliberately lower case for inclusiveness), I, myself, reject those institutional forms of faith. I believe that Wills brief exploration should serve as a moment of pause and a catalyst of course correction in the certitude of the faithful. I do not mean this opinion to be lofty or exclusive:
One should find things every day that give pause to certitude in anything, but foremost in ones fai
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Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

More about Garry Wills...