Mark Dever and Ancient Baptistries

Mark Dever and Ancient Baptistries May 24, 2007

Mark Dever has been visiting ancient baptistries during his ministry trip to Italy. This picture is of the baptistry in which Ambrose baptised Augustine.

Everybody’s favorite Presbyterians, Lig Duncan and David Wayne, will be interested to know some facts about this baptistry.

Firstly, it’s BIG — surely only necessary if you are planning to baptise an adult by immersion?

Secondly, it’s round so that everyone can get a good view, suggesting that baptism is seen as a testimony to others at least as much as for the individual being baptised.

The other interesting fact that Mark Dever points out is that Ambrose baptised Augustine after the latter had been appointed a bishop. (Ed. — incorrect see below!) This suggests that baptism had become detached from conversion by the fourth century, and that it surely cannot have had any connection to regeneration in their minds as why would someone risk everything by not being baptised immediately on conversion?

I don’t know about the textual evidence for the mode and subjects of baptism in the fourth century, but this picture of this baptistry seems to give us some pretty potent archaeological evidence.

Now, lest anyone misunderstand the point here, I am not (and I am sure Dever would concur) in any way suggesting that the way in which Augustine was baptised has any direct authority over us — any more than how people were baptised for hundreds of years before the advent of the modern Baptists should. It is always reassuring to discover that what might initially appear to be a novel view (the modern day adult baptism) may have been the norm at an earlier point of history. Knowing that others interpreted the Bible the way we do today just adds a little to our confidence in the way we have interpreted Scripture.

So what do you make of this Lig, David, and any other Presbyterians or Anglicans who are reading?


When you make a mistake, as I did this morning, you have a choice — either change the entry and hide it, or add an addendum. This time, I thought I would add the following from an email from Mark Dever:

One error on your entry. It was not Augustine that was not baptized until he was a bishop, it was Ambrose. Ambrose was a public official, and though trusting in Christ, felt that because he may have to order some morally problematic things while a high-ranking Roman official, it was better for him to do so as one unbaptized, that is, not publicly identified with Christianity. But, after he was elected bishop (against his will) he immediately resigned his position, sought baptism, and only then began to serve.

Augustine was not baptized till he was in his early 30’s but that’s because that’s when he was converted. He had been a Christian for several weeks before he was baptized (and had been listening to sermons at church for more than a year). He was not baptized as an infant. The practice was not universal at that point.

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