Adrian's Introduction to the Divine Scriptures

An Antiochene Handbook for Scriptural Interpretation

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Peter W. Martens
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , February
     368 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Peter W. Martens has done a tremendous service to the world of patristic scholarship and for English speaking theologians and historians by presenting the most thorough analysis, critical text, and first English translation of Adrian’s Introduction to the Divine Scriptures. Adrian was likely a 5th century teacher or monk whose brand of biblical interpretation most strongly resembled what scholars have dubbed the Antiochene school (19). Adrian’s text is devoted to understanding the “peculiarities of Scripture,” referring to obscure forms of speech, such as idioms, anthropomorphisms, and tropes, with the intention of bringing clarity to the interpreter. 

In order to render this same service to the reader of the Introduction, Martens presents a detailed study of the work, highlighting issues of authorship, themes, structure, and even how the text would have been used as an ancient pedagogical aid. Additionally, Martens devotes ample space to the literary and theological backgrounds of the Introduction. In doing so, Martens successfully orients the reader to the world of this little-known figure. 

Regarding the first of these backgrounds, Martens maps Adrian onto the larger world of Greco-Roman literary scholarship. While earlier scholars of the work viewed it as idiosyncratic and unique amongst other literary writings of the day, Martens demonstrates that the Introduction was quite unremarkable in its understanding of literary interpretation (25). In fact, the manner in which Adrian divided his literary analysis had many parallels in Greco-Roman antiquity, namely in the works of literary critics Demetrius and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (26). This correction of earlier scholarship not only gives us a greater understanding of Adrian’s work, but further demonstrates the continuity between Christianity and broader society in late antiquity.

The greatest contribution of Martens’s study lies however in his placement of Adrian firmly in the exegetical tradition attributed to Antioch. Through the examination of parallel passages and general interpretative trends, Martens correctly identifies Adrian as most closely following the exegetical practices of the Antiochenes, Theodore of Mopsuestia in particular (19). The importance of this conclusion is that Adrian’s Introduction can be seen as a potential guide to how the Antiochenes conducted their exegesis. Currently there exists an unfortunate lacunain the writings of the major Antiochene figures of their basic handbooks on biblical interpretation. Thus the only way to understand their exegesis is to deduce their methodology from the results they present in their commentaries. Acknowledging the Antiochene nature of the Introduction, however, gives scholars an example of the exegetical tools and procedures these other figures would have used.

The texts and translations themselves are quite readable . I say “texts and translations” because Martens provides both the Greek and English translation of two recensions of the Introduction, each of which contain their own unique material (103). Because of the complex redaction history of these recensions, Martens saw fit to include both in this volume. This reviewer is grateful for this choice as the unique material in one recension often sheds light on more difficult passages in the other. Quite helpfully, the text is also cross-referenced with parallels in the works of other Antiochenes such as Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus. Through these references, the continuity between Adrian and his contemporaries is strengthened, and the occasional obscure passage is illuminated.

The work itself as a literary analysis of various tropes and irregular word usages in scripture which reads at times like an ancient version of E. W. Figures of Speech in The Bible. When reading the Introduction, insight into its author’s theological concerns can be gleaned from how he interprets certain “peculiarities.” Of particular note is how Adrian handles texts that seem to assign moral culpability to God through the use of hína or hopos clauses. While these prepositions usually are understood to indicate purpose, Adrian sees them as communicating result. Thus a passage such as Exodus 9:16, in which God is said to have raised up Pharaoh “in order that I might exhibit my power in you,” receives a radically different interpretation. Rather than communicating God’s intentions in raising up Pharaoh, Adrian would argue that the raising up of an evil man like Pharaoh merely resulted in God demonstrating his power (187). This and other interpretative gems make this work well worth reading carefully while consulting footnotes for clarification.

Martens states early on that he hopes to “rescue the Introduction from the obscurity to which it has been largely consigned” (4). After reading this engaging study, and the Introduction itself, it is this reviewer’s hope that he is successful in that goal.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brendon Norton is a graduate student in Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
July 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter W. Martens is Associate Professor of Early Christianity and Chair of the Department of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University. Prior to arriving in St. Louis he taught at the University of Notre Dame and Yale Divinity School. He specializes in Origen and his legacy, and has wide-ranging interests in the history of biblical interpretation. His previous publications include Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (OUP, 2012).



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