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.
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. By argument or by implication, he manages to reject the legitimacy and authority not only of the papacy and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy but also of the early church councils, the church fathers and even, in many instances, the Gospels themselves. In their place he substitutes spontaneous devotion to God and neighbor and commitment to the politically subversive view that love is the only law. So much for Christianity necessarily serving as a handmaiden of conservative politics.