'Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?' : Wesley, his luminaries, modern critics, and the 'sinless contradiction' in 1 John 1:8, 10 and 3:6, 9
Many scholars have perceived a contradiction between two pairs of verses in 1 John. While the first pair (1: 8 and 10) states that those who claim that they do not 'have sin' or 'have not sinned' are guilty of deceit, the second pair (3: 6 and 9) declares that those 'born or and 'abiding in' God 'cannot sin.' The apparent discrepancy, known as the 'sinlessness contradiction,' has been the subject of constant debate, an interpretive problem to which Johannine scholars have proposed varying solutions. This thesis does not propose a new exegetical solution to the debate; rather it analyses the typical hermeneutical moves that interpreters make in such a debate. It draws methodologically on the interplay between the perspectives of reader-response theorists Stanley Fish and Wolfgang Iser, with an emphasis on Fish's prioritization of the 'interpretive community.' By these lights, the thesis attempts to expose how readerly assumptions shape the perception of texts, accounting thus for the diversity of explications of 1 John 1: 8, 10 and 3: 6,9. The thesis explores how readers in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries have dealt with the 'sinlessness contradiction.' Given the degree to which John Wesley is identified with a concern for 'Christian perfectionism,' the exegetical debate surrounding Wesley's own treatment of the issues in debate with others, and the work of commentators on whom he drew, is a site of particular hermeneutical interest. Fish is used to question critically the ubiquitous claim simply to 'return to the text.' An excursus fills out the picture of Wesley's 'interpretive community.' Scholarly readers today typically view the debate surrounding Wesley from the perspective of contemporary historical-critical scholarship. The thesis thus finally analyses six recent treatments of the 'sinlessness contradiction,' which together offer more fertile ground for the interest in the readerly aspects of historical-theological reconstruction.