Christianity in India

There is a tradition that the Apostle Thomas, one of the Twelve Disciples of Jesus, worked for the Gospel after Christ's ascension in Parthia and Persia and died there. At a later period, India was named as the place where he had preached and suffered martyrdom (a place near Madras is called St. Thomas' Mount). The Bar Thoma Christian Church claims St. Thomas as its spiritual ancestor.

The first regularly equipped Roman Catholic mission, consisting of friars, arrived from Portugal in 1500, two years after the arrival in India of the explorer Vasco de Gama. Francis Xavier arrived in 1542.

The first Protestant missionaries to arrive in India were Lutherans: Bartholomew Ziegenbalg (from Pulsnitz near Dresden, Germany), and Heinrich Pluetschau. They came in 1705 under the patronage of the Lutheran king of Denmark to the Danish settlement at Tranquebar. After learning the language in the first year, Ziegenbalg began the translation of the Bible into Tamil. In 1719 Benjamin Schultze arrived and carried on his successful labor in Tanjore. Assisted by J. E. Gruendler, he completed the translation of the Bible in 1725, which was the first translation of the Bible into any Indian language.

William Carey of the Baptist Mission, arrived in Calcutta in 1793, settled at Sermapur (at that time a Danish settlement) fifteen miles from Calcutta, and he and his colleagues began at once the task of translating the Bible into many languages. Within ten years the Bible was translated and printed in part or whole, into thirty-one additional languages.

The London Missionary Society began its work in 1798, when Nathaniel Forsythe was sent to Calcutta, who was joined in 1812 by Mr. & Mrs. May. Interestingly, the East India Company refused to allow missionaries to India to be carried in any of its vessels, and in order to reach India the first missionaries had to go to Copenhagen, whence, in a Danish vessel, they sailed to Tranquebar.

From its beginning in India, Protestant activity has been shown (1) in the direct preaching of the Christian faith, (2) in translating and circulating the Bible, (3) in preparing and circulating a vernacular Christian literature, (4) in education from primary village schools to colleges, (5) in medical work, (6) in industrial education, and (7) in a great variety of philanthropic institutions. Protestant missionaries were the pioneers in modern education for both boys and girls.


The first Lutheran missionaries, Ziegenbalg and Pluetschau, set foot on Indian soil at Tranquebar in 1706. Subsequently some 15 mission societies in Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Canada and the United States have provided missionaries, teachers, doctors, nurses and pastors for bringing good news. Some one and one-third million Christians are members of Lutheran Churches in India.

The history of Lutheranism in India, and summaries of the various Lutheran churches can be found here, and information about the India Evangelical Lutheran Church is included here. 

NOTE:  The information on this page was prepared by the late Rev. Dr. Oscar  Sommerfeld, MMS Board Member,
andt was last modified May 27, 2002.

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