Friday, January 30, 2015

Dr. Wilson Cunha's Contribution to Biblical Interpretation Studies

The Bible. Many read it on a daily basis, but few delve into it with the fervor of Dr. Wilson Cunha, Assistant Professor of Theology at LETU. He’s recently published his first book that he describes as a “contribution to the history of Biblical interpretation studies.”

LXX Isaiah 24: 1-26:6 as Interpretation and Translation: A Methodological Discussion (Septuagint and Cognate Studies) explores different interpretations, considering historical and literary contexts, of this specific Biblical passage.

Cunha’s love for Scripture began at age 15, when he set out to become a pastor. He attended seminary in his home country of Brazil, and while he did pastor a church directly after graduating at age 22, seminary gave him a love for studying Biblical text in Hebrew and Greek. This passion led him to pursue his Th.M. in Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, followed by receiving a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands.

After his time overseas, Cunha decided to bring his expertise to LeTourneau University by joining the Department of Theology as Assistant Professor, where he currently teaches classes such as Hebrew, Old Testament Backgrounds, Pentateuch and Poetic Books.

Cunha has a long-standing interest in the Septuagint – an early translation of original Hebrew texts into Koine Greek  - and interpretation of Biblical text. These became foundation of his book that focuses on long-disputed issues of the interpretation of Isaiah 24:1-26:6.

“It’s a very interesting topic because there are so many debates surrounding it. I went to Septuagint Isaiah to see how a translator living in the second century B.C. would have interpreted this passage,” he said.

Cunha explains that the importance of the Septuagint, often overlooked among today’s church, lies in that it was the Bible that early Christians used to study the Old Testament and serves as the bridge between the Old and New Testaments..

“In these specific chapters in Isaiah, when you compare the Hebrew and the Greek text, the Greek is very different from the Hebrew. Scholars have debated since the early nineteenth century how we can explain the differences in the text,” Cunha said. “Most of the explanations have tended to say that the translator didn’t know the Hebrew very well, or he had another Hebrew text that we no longer have, or he made mechanical errors. I wasn’t very content with that explanation.”

Cunha took his dissatisfaction with the explanations and threw himself into what would become five years worth of research, taking a non-traditional angle.

“I decided to look at this from the perspective of the Greek itself. I took two and a half chapters from this book to see if these chapters had a coherence of their own - and actually, they do have a coherence of their own. All these differences that we see make sense in the context of the Greek text, therefore suggesting that this was not a mistake or from a different Hebrew text, but it was the way the translator read the Hebrew. It happens to be different from the way that scholars today read the same Hebrew text.”

In his book, he discusses such topics as the imagery of God preparing a great banquet for the nations, including the often-quoted Isaiah 25:8: “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

Cunha points out the importance of interpretation and translation in personal Biblical study:

“When we go to the biblical text, there are three worlds at play. There’s the biblical text itself, the world behind the text – what was happening historically when the text was being produced? And there is the world in front of the text – your world. It’s very important that you don’t infuse your personal view of the world into the text. Rather, let yourself be transformed by it. The most important thing is to not read into the text, but to read out from it.”

Cunha said the five years of research and writing strengthened him spiritually by relying on God for endurance to finish the massive project. Those disciplines will most likely continue to develop in his life – he’s in the beginning stages of research for another book, this time on chapters two and three of Genesis.

Dr. Cunha’s book is available for purchase on Amazon.

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