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What Jesus Meant

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,010 ratings  ·  129 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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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,010 ratings  ·  129 reviews

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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.
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
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
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
This was an alright book that took me a lot longer to read than it should have(!). It actually took me about a week; I misplaced it for three weeks, sadly, otherwise I would have finished it sooner.

Anyway. It held my interest throughout the entire book, overall. I do not necessarily agree with all of the author's assertions or statements, but that is okay. Granted, some of them seemed quite a bit out there, for me (view spoiler)
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!

Jan 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: christian
Garry Wills looks at historical, cultural, and linguistic context to help unravel "What Jesus Meant." His book does not contain some secret esoteric knowledge that has remained hidden for centuries but rather, makes an attempt to untangle toxic religion from the work of Jesus Christ. To do so, Wills examines at how a predominantly 1st century, Jewish audience would have received Jesus' works and deeds. He takes many well-known and misunderstood stories of Jesus from Scripture, and the environmen ...more
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
William Ingram
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Beautifully written and insightful interpretation of the mission of Jesus!

I greatly enjoyed reading this well crafted book about the mission of Jesus and the resulting religions that emerged. The author exposes the errors of religious leaders, in their hunger for command and control of the growing movement that was preached as The Way to atonement with God, by the first Apostles. Mr. Wills carefully presents a serious and insightful interpretation of what and why Jesus said, and what the deeper
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I disagree with Wills on some of the political lessons we should (or rather, in his argument, should not) take from Jesus's life. But besides that, I found this a very compelling, compact telling of Jesus's life. It's not a life that most of today's major political or religious leaders should take any solace in, nor is it one that anyone who uses Christianity to exclude and oppress gay people or women or immigrants or any other "other" are reading very closely. It's also a life that is unsettlin ...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.
Jacob Collier
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a life changing book that I have read after a long time. Here are some more similar books on Christianity:
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.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good stuff

This book was not what I was expecting, but there is some good stuff in here. It's a survey of the life of Jesus, hitting the high points and explaining... what he meant. It lost a star in my rating because it was wider than it was deep. There were many places where I wish the author would have said more.
Julia Alberino
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
I had to give it four stars. Garry Wills writes in a clear, deceptively simple style and leaves the reader with much to contemplate. Good book for Advent or Lenten reading. I started it in Lent, put it aside, read the balance during Advent, and finished by New Years Eve.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Not a badly-written book, but nothing profound in it. Ideas are clearly written and there are a few fresh perspectives on some particular words and deeds of Jesus. One chapter, ‘The Death of Jesus’ has a slightly new perspective.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A deeply moving and faith-affirming book. If you regard yourself as a Christian, you need to read this book. It strips down our faith to its most essential and most radical elements in simple, accessible prose.
Héctor Torres
Amor y Caridad e Iglesia?

Es claro que el autor cree en Dios y esta a favor de vivir con amor y caridad. No me queda clara su opinion o actitud para con la Iglesia Católica.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Biography of a low caste radical
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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.