East of the Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia

by T.V. Philip

T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India.

Published by CSS & ISPCK, India, 1998.This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) An introduction to the exciting and fascinating story of the movement of the Christian Gospel in Asian lands. The evidence is slight and fragmentary, but there is enough to indicate that while Paul and other missionaries were converting Greeks, Romans and the barbarian tribes in the west, there was a movement of Christianity to the East – Edessa, Persia, Arbia, Central Asia, China and India before the arrival of western missionaries.


  • Introduction A general and brief introduction to the exciting and fascinating story of the movement of the Christian Gospel in Asian lands. Christianity came to Asia in the first century itself.
  • Chapter 1: Asia: The Cradle of Christianity No contemporary historian has recorded the Gospel’s eastward march, but there is no doubt that the Gospel did move east even while Paul was opening his mission in Europe. And however Western scholars may write their histories of the church, from time immemorial Asia has linked the church’s expansion eastward to the missionary travels of the apostle Thomas.
  • Chapter 2: Christianity in Edessa On the basis of new historical evidences available, it is possible to establish the fact that there was a Christian church in Edessa (Western Mesopotamia) in the first century, and not only there but also in other places in Mesopotamia.
  • Chapter<I> </I>4: Christianity in Arabia and Central Asia Christianity Among the Arabs When Christianity spread to Syria (probably by the end of the second or early third century) there is no doubt that some of the Arabs also became Christians. Islam which originated in Arabia in the seventh century was a great missionary religion. By the 13th Century, Islam became the prominent religion. Yet numerous bodies of the Nestorian Christians were still scattered over all Central Asia.
  • Chapter 5: Christianity in China There are traditions that Christianity found its way to China in the first century, but the earliest more reliable report is from Arnobius who wrote in 300 AD, stating that the Gospel had been preached in China. A definitely more reliable report comes from Patriarch Yeshuyab II in about 635 AD from an excavated inscription by him which was found in an excavation in 1625 AD.
  • Chapter 6: Christianity in India From the evidence available to us, especially the East Syrian and Indian traditions, it is reasonable to believe that the Indian church has an independent origin, independent of Persian Christianity, in the apostolic activity of St. Thomas in the first century.
  • Chapter 8:Christianity In Other Places In Asia Contrary to what has been said by western historians, there is evidence to show, though very scanty and fragmentary, that Christianity found its way into South East and East Asian countries even before the coming of western missionaries, through the efforts of Nestorian merchants and missionaries from Persia or India or China or from all the three places.
  • Chapter 7: Christianity in India up to AD 1500 The expansion of Christianity in the East was not the work of Hellenistic Christian missionaries from Antioch, or a linear progression from Antioch. It was the work of Jewish Christian missionaries such as Addai in Edessa, Aggai and Mari in Persia and Thomas in India.
  • Chapter 3: Christianity in Persia The earliest centers of Christianity in the East were: Edessa, Arbela in Parthia, and India. As long as the Roman emperors considered the Christians as enemies of Rome, the Persian emperors were inclined to consider them as friends of Persia. It was not until after Constantine’s death in AD 337 that the Christians began to be persecuted in the East.
  • Chapter 9: In the Shadows of History By AD 1500, the story of Asian Christianity, after a millennium and a half of heroic efforts and phenomenal expansion almost came to an end in several countries; so much so, the historians speak of the eclipse of Christianity in Asia. Reasons for the eclipse are suggested.