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INDIA (Heb. hōddû). The name occurs only twice in the Bible (Esth.1.1; Esth.8.9). This was the country that marked the eastern limit of the territory of Xerxes (kjv Ahasuerus). The Hebrew word comes from the name of the Indus, Hondu, and refers not to the peninsula of Hindustan, but to the country adjoining the Indus, i.e., the Punjab, and perhaps also Scinde. Some have thought that this country is the Havilah of Gen.2.11 and that the Indus is the Pishon. Many characteristic Indian products were known to the Israelites.

The tradition that the Apostle Thomas came to India grows no weaker in the Indian Church. There are two separate considerations. The first is the tradition held particularly by the Syrian Christians of Kerala: that Thomas came to Cranganore in a.d. 52, founded churches in seven places in Kerala, later proceeded to the east coast and indeed beyond India, and finally was martyred at Mylapore in 72. Mylapore is within the modern city of Madras, and the reputed burial place is within the present Roman Catholic cathedral at Mylapore. There is, however, no written evidence for this South India tradition earlier than a Portuguese account about 1600.

The second consideration-whether Thomas was ever in India at all, leaving aside the South India details-is different. There are early references to Thomas's being in India. But the difficulty lies in demonstrating beyond a doubt that “India” in these references corresponds with India as we know it. One example is the Syriac Doctrine of the Apostles (c.250), which states that “India and all its countries, and those bordering on it, even to the farthest sea, received the Apostles' hand of priesthood from Judas Thomas, who was Guide and Ruler in the Church which he built there, and ministered there.” Where the reference is to “India,” it perhaps refers to somewhere around S Arabia, as when Eusebius writes of Pantaenus in India (about 180), and incidentally associates Bartholomew and not Thomas with the Church there.

Regarding the Acts of Thomas with its allusions to the apostle, even if it indicated that Thomas was in NW India, this would in no way substantiate the South India theory, but it has a grain of credibility which contributes to modern hesitancy before dismissing the traditions. There is no inherent impossibility in the theory that Thomas came to India. The sea route, using the monsoon, was known then. Both proof and disproof are lacking.

The existence of Syriac liturgy in the Keralan churches (giving them the name “Syrian,” for they are not racially distinct from the rest of the population) is sufficient proof of a link between these churches and the Near East. But in trying to trace the antiquity of the link, the same difficulty, of defining the word “India” in documents, arises. For example, there is mention of a bishop of Basra, Dudi, leaving his see and evangelizing in “India” (c.295-300), and there is the signature of John the Persian to the Creed of Nicea (325) on behalf of churches “in the whole of Persia and in the great India.” Keralan tradition is of an immigration of Syrian Christians in 345, to strengthen an already existing if ailing church, and such an exodus would be likely from the Sassanid Empire at that period of persecution of Christians. Another tradition speaks of an immigration in 823; but long before that Cosmas the “Indian Sailor” (c.552) writes of Christians “in the land called Male [Malabar] where the pepper grows” and of a bishop appointed from Persia at a place called “Kalliana,” which was probably equivalent to “Kalyan” (beside modern Bombay).

This link, whenever it began, determined certain things of importance about the Keralan Church. There was a distinct foreignness about having worship in Syriac and depending on a supply of foreign bishops; there was an indirect link with the patriarch of Antioch, via the Church of the Sassanid Empire, but that link would be severed when the Eastern Church stressed its autonomy; and when the Eastern Church adopted a Nestorian confession, the Indian Church would be Nestorian also, from the seventh century until the Portuguese period. Further, when the mother church suffered losses, and in parts vanished altogether, during the Muslim era, its dependent church in India became weak and neglected. It was, in extent, a church in Kerala with an outpost on the east coast at Mylapore, the Thomas shrine. Whatever had existed further north in India would hardly survive Muslim invasions.

Marco Polo was in India in 1288 and 1292 and was shown a tomb said to be that of St. Thomas. From about this time, friars were calling at India on their way to China, and one of these, John of Monte Corvino,* made converts and recommended missions. In 1321 four Franciscans who landed at Thana, near modern Bombay, were martyred; but their companion, a French Dominican called Jourdain de Severac, who was evidently assigned to work in India, remained in the area and baptized many people. The friendly Nestorian Christians whom Jourdain met were a neglected, ignorant people; and, of course, they were sadly heretical. In 1330 Jourdain was sent back to India as bishop of Quilon (in Kerala), and he carried a letter from the pope urging the Syrian Christians to submit to Rome. This was the first outright papal claim to authority, and although we know little of Jourdain's subsequent ministry, a Latin Rite church was established in Kerala.

The Portuguese discovery of the Cape route to India (1498) and settlement at Goa (1510) changed everything. These were men with a religious mission, for the pope had granted the kings of Portugal perpetual right of church patronage in the east, the Padroado. By 1534 a bishop was at Goa, head of a powerful church, but not a church whose life could in many aspects have pleased Francis Xavier,* founder of Jesuit missions in the East, when he arrived in 1542. Xavier's character contrasted with the general picture of that Portuguese period, earning him the respect of almost all (despite his recommending the Inquisition* in India). At Cape Comorin he instructed and established the neglected converts who had been won from the pearl-fisher community, and he laid foundations for Jesuit work in India.

To a degree, Roman Catholic success corresponded with Jesuit fortunes. They were agents in establishing authority among the Syrians of Kerala, becoming somewhat less than popular in the process (see Malabar Christians and Diamper, Synod of). They responded to an invitation from Akbar, the Mogul emperor, and conducted a mission at his court which actually proved fruitless but might have had great consequences. In the south an Italian Jesuit, Robert de Nobili,* led the way in trying to overcome the foreign appearance of Christianity by means of “accommodation” to Hinduism. He dressed and lived like a Brahmin sannyasi, dissociated himself from the existing church at Madurai, and when he made converts permitted them to remain separate from the other Christians and to keep their outward signs of Hinduism such as the sacred thread. They thus preserved caste, which to Nobili was simply social custom. A bitter church controversy arose over these methods, and Nobili was withdrawn from Madurai in 1645. Eventually the method of “accommodation” was condemned. The Jesuits themselves were suppressed as an order. Their lot was to be succeeded by others; but, again, it might be said that the Roman recovery from a period of decline coincides with the restoration of the Jesuits in the nineteenth century.

If a difficulty exists about defining India, one might sometimes have pause in determining what was Christianity. From a Protestant viewpoint, it was the arrival of Protestant missions which gave to India the Bible; and it was the belief of many of these early missionaries that they were introducing biblical Christianity, in contrast with what stood for Christianity in the existing churches. The first Protestant missionaries were the German Lutherans, B. Ziegenbalg* and H. Pluetschau,* sent personally by Frederick IV of Denmark to his trading territory at Tranquebar in South India. They arrived in 1706, royal missionaries about to enjoy a far from royal welcome at the hands of the Danish authorities, not even wanted by the chaplains who cared for the European community; but it was nevertheless a great day in the story of Christianity in India and, to single out what is basic to the Protestant period, by 1714 Ziegenbalg had translated and printed the Tamil NT, the first in an Indian language.

Tranquebar was a tiny territory, but the mission had reverberations to the end of the earth. A new missionary conscience was stirred, as news was spread in the annual letters distributed by the Pietists at Halle, Germany. Although Germans led the way, impetus was to shift to Britain-as political power in India was to be won by the British-in that eighteenth century. Even before there were British missionaries, Anglicans were so inspired by news of Tranquebar that they gave financial support to “English” missions at other places in South India, staffed by German Lutherans. The East India Company countenanced these missions and even lauded a man of the caliber of C.F. Schwartz,* but it became alarmed at mounting pressure in Britain that it should itself make provision for mission work. Talk of missions was a threat to good trading conditions, and the Company for two decades pursued a policy of strictly forbidding the entry of missionaries.

Thus when William Carey* and Dr. John Thomas of the Baptist Missionary Society came to Calcutta in 1793, they were undesirable, illegal immigrants. They found employment as managers of indigo plantations, and Carey prepared himself in Bengali and Sanskrit for his real mission. The next Baptist families, in 1799, had to bypass the Company and make for Danish territory at Serampore, sixteen miles from Calcutta, so that Denmark had again a special place in this history; Serampore proved to be the birthplace of “the modern missionary movement.” The Serampore trio of Carey, Joshua Marshman,* and William Ward attempted great things for God, and their college (1819) and their translations of the Bible (Bengali, Oriya, Assamase, Sanskrit, Hindi, and Marathi, by the time of Carey's death in 1834) indicate the foundations they laid for later work. Even in the period before 1813 when missionaries were forbidden, the Serampore men were not really alone, for there were evangelical chaplains to the Company who shared the missionary vision. Most famous of these was Henry Martyn,* who translated the Urdu NT and whose holy “burning out for God” inspired subsequent generations and is a symbol of the cost of mission to India.

As doors opened to missionaries, an Anglican Church organization was established in India, paid from Indian revenues; early bishops at Calcutta included such men as Reginald Heber* and Daniel Wilson.* Church of England missionary societies had important roles, inheriting work previously under the Danish- Halle German missionaries, helping the Syrian Church in Kerala, and sharing in the rise of a strong church at Tinnevelly.

In 1833 restrictions on non-British missions were lifted and the whole process of covering the map of India was accelerated. In the coming century churches were to rise which would approximately equal the number of Roman Catholics in India. Sometimes the converts were won singly and slowly, and sometimes in the rush of mass movements, as in Bihar and the Telugu country. It was an enterprise of foreign mission, but some of the converts were themselves leaders for the young churches. They included Pandita Ramabai,* Narayan Vaman Tilak,* and Sadhu Sundar Singh.*

Christian missions led the way in education. Alexander Duff* used higher education as a means of evangelism, but the belief that Western education would necessarily erode Hinduism and win over higher castes (Duff himself had some notable converts) was belied. Christianity undoubtedly influenced the nineteenth- century reform movements within Hinduism, and education did change belief. There was, however, a new factor of revived nationalism, with a revulsion toward the West, and if some of the great Indians of the twentieth century were to be professedly unreligious (like Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi), there was also a noticeable revival of orthodox Hinduism. Some of the reform movements within Hinduism had been close to Christianity, but others, such as the Arya Somaj (1875), were militantly anti-Christian.

India was large enough to absorb Protestant missions without much friction. The rules of “Comity” regulated boundaries. More positively there was active cooperation in such union institutions as Madras Christian College (1887); and the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh,* which gave birth to the ecumenical movement, led directly in India to the formation of the National Missionary Council (1914), which evolved into the National Christian Council. Missions integrated with national churches, and the NCC restricted full membership to churches.

Church union was another process. The strength of feeling among Indians was detected in a manifesto issued by a meeting of ministers at Tranquebar in 1919, deploring denominational disunity as something foreign and a brake on evangelism. V.S. Azariah* was a leader on that occasion. An important point conceded at Tranquebar was that acceptance of the “historic episcopate” was necessary if Anglicans were to be in union, and when the Church of South India (1947) and the Church of North India (1970) were formed, it was on this basis.

The Roman Catholic Church was not affected by this. Fully recovered from its period of decline, it weathered a sore controversy in the nineteenth century as it began to shed the vestiges of the Portuguese Padroado, established an Indian hierarchy (1886), formed a satisfactory separate organization for the Keralan Syrians in its fold, and displayed its progress by creating an Indian cardinal (1952) and holding the 38th International Eucharistic Congress at Bombay (1964).

Generally this period of readjustment in churches was not marked by expansion. Of course there were always external checks on that. Hinduism's tolerance seemed embodied in Gandhi, who had favorite Christian hymns but remained firmly a Hindu; by contrast, evangelism seemed a variant of Western imperialism, and that was in full retreat. Independence for India in 1947 did not inhibit evangelism, for the constitution guaranteed freedom to propagate one's religion, and some princely states now within the Indian Union were actually opened to missionaries for the first time. But it is also true that two states, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, passed acts in the late 1960s which were designed to make conversions more difficult; and the missionary force declined sharply as government virtually stopped inflow. The greatest deterrent to evangelism, however, was not from outside the church, but within. Evangelism was sometimes out of favor in the church leadership and replaced by a social gospel. Some theologies minimized the uniqueness of Christ, and (as elsewhere in the world) spiritual decline meant decline in evangelism.

Fewer than 3 per cent of India's population of 547 million is even nominally Christian, but pessimistic signs are matched by the vitality of such an indigenous movement as the assemblies led by Bakht Singh, a converted Sikh, and by the quality of leadership appearing in the larger and older denominations.

E. Chatterton, A History of the Church of England in India (1924); A. Mingana, The Early Spread of Christianity in India (1926); J.W. Pickett, Christian Mass Movements in India (1933); D. Ferroli, The Jesuits in Malabar (1939); E.G.K. Hewat, Christ and Western India (1950); C. Dawson, The Mongol Mission (1955); L.W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas (1956); C.B. Firth, An Introduction to Indian Church History (1961); J.S.M. Hooper (rev. W.J. Culshaw), Bible Translation in India, Pakistan and Ceylon (1963); M.E. Gibbs, From Jerusalem to New Delhi (1964); K. Baago, A History of the National Christian Council of India, 1914-1964 (1965); J.E. Orr, The Light of the Nations (1965) and Evangelical Awakenings in India (1970); C.P. Mathew and M.M. Thomas, The Indian Churches of Saint Thomas (1967); W.G. Young, Handbook of Source Materials for Students of Church History (1969). See also The Christian Handbook of India (25th and last large-scale ed., 1959) and The United Church of North India Survey, 1968 (report).

INDIA. Although explicit references to India occur only in late Jewish writings, Biblical evidence seems to indicate that Pal. had established commercial relations with the subcontinent much earlier. Some interpreters have contended that the River Pishon (Gen 2:11) in the land of Havilah refers to India. The suggestion also has been made that the goods brought from Ophir such as sandalwood (almug trees, 1 Kings 10:11; 2 Chron 2:8) and ivory and apes were Indian. The Tyrian merchandise mentioned in Ezekiel 27:15 may also have been Indian, while the land of Cush (Isa 11:11; Jer 13:23) may be a name for that land. The mention of India in Esther 1:1; 8:9 seems to involve only the part of the sub-continent lying W of the Indus and forming the eastern part of the Pers. empire.

The NT makes no reference to India, but the apocryphal lit. of both OT and NT do mention it. Antiochus Eupator employed elephants ridden by Indians against the Jewish armies (1 Macc 6:38) and he eventually ceded India to the Romans, although, in fact, he had never owned it (1 Macc 8:8). The principal reference to India in the NT Apocrypha is to be found in the Gnostic Acts of Thomas which purports to tell of the apostle’s missionary journey to the Indo-Scythian kingdom of Gundaphorus. There is, however, little indication that it offers any actual historical information. Some Christian missionary may have gone to India in the 1st or 2nd centuries, and this perhaps formed the foundation of the story concerning Thomas. India has little significance in the Biblical record.



International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The name occurs in canonical Scripture only in Es 1:1; 8:9, of the country which marked the eastern boundary of the territory of Ahasuerus. The Hebrew word comes from the name of the Indus, Hondu, and denotes, not the peninsula of Hindustan, but the country drained by that great river. This is the meaning also in 1 Esdras 3:2; Additions to Esther 3:2; 16:1. Many have thought that this country is intended by Havilah in Ge 2:11 and that the Indus is the Pishon. The drivers of the elephants (1 Macc 6:37) were doubtless natives of this land. The name in 1 Macc 8:9 is certainly an error. India never formed part of the dominions of Antiochus the Great. It may possibly be a clerical error for "Ionia," as Media is possibly a mistake for Mysia. If the Israelites in early times had no direct relations with India, many characteristic Indian products seem to have found their way into Palestinian markets by way of the Arabian and Syrian trade routes, or by means of the Red Sea fleets (1Ki 10:11,15; Eze 27:15 ff, etc.). Among these may be noted "horns of ivory and ebony," "cassia and calamus," almug (sandalwood), apes and peacocks.