People of the Books: What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills

My apologies for the fact that I’m a bit behind on the post; Friday was a bit nuts for me this week.  But here it is!  Yay!  Now you can open the work week with this rather than ending it!

Yeah, even I’m not that excited about what I have to say.  I’ll try to be back on the ball this Friday, but I make no promises.

So, What Jesus Meant.  I’m going to go get my own copy of this (this copy was a loan) and re-read it, slowly, really digging into what Wills is saying.  This really does need to be savored, I think, along the lines of the quote from Donald Miller about the Bible being more like eating chocolate than salad.  It’s the seemingly simple things that are the most complex sometimes.

And this is, on the face of it, a very simple book.  I was actually a bit leery of it at first, because it’s thin and has a rather large typeface and, well, I’m an academic.  I’ve been taught that if it’s not jam-packed with info, somebody’s cheating somewhere.

The sparseness works for it, though, because it underlines Wills’s main point—-the Church has spent a couple thousand years taking the simple, direct, and different words of Jesus and sort of sprucing them up, fixing the grammar, adding churchy terminology and otherwise trying to “enhance” or ” clarify” a message perhaps better left to its austerity.  In a way, it’s actually very similar to what my friend Interpreter was talking about last Sunday concerning the tradition of the ancient Jewish leaders layering laws upon laws upon the 10 commandments—-the original wasn’t enough, we have to add and define so we “better” understand what God was trying to say.

But then, of course, we get in our own way.  We think that the words of Jesus need to be elevated, poetical, beautiful–and some of them are. More of them are pointed, direct, and utterly difficult to truly live by. Wills’s translations (which he did himself, kudos to him) are rough around the edges and sometimes a little ugly in English, but they get the point across of this radical guy who quietly flipped the world over. I respect what Wills is trying to do–I don’t necessarily agree with some of his interpretations, but I think that he allows for how much our grasping of the NT is interpretation, which is another thing I really respect about his writing.

All in all, a very thought-provoking read, which is what you want out of spiritual literature, right?  Sure.


[And in a side note, what do you think of the new layout?  I’m still experimenting with how I want this to look, I’d love feedback.]

Rating:  5/5 stars  

One thought on “People of the Books: What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills

  1. Ron Johnson says:

    I savor anything by Garry Wills. Even his short books are filled with insight. My acquaintance with him began with his book Nixon Agonistes, in which he described Spirow Agnew as being physically and metaphorically like a torpedo. And there was a scene in which the stage lights cast multiple shadows of Richard Nixon on the wall, symbolizing the many times Nixon had left political life and returned “a new man.” I can’t wait to read his new book on Verdi’s operatic transformations of Shakespeare. Garry Wills always brings a lot of depth to any subject he discusses.

    I got a few insights when I read What Jesus Meant, but perhaps my favorite line is from p. 47 regarding the Pharisees: “They knew what Jesus meant. He meant them.” In other words, they knew Jesus was criticizing them, and that’s why they were angry. In that respect, the Pharisees were far wiser than we are today. We in the church tend to assume that Jesus was talking about everybody else BUT us. Maybe we should become more like the Pharisees.


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