Iran’s Ethnic Christians: The Assyrians and the Armenians -- By: Philip O. Hopkins

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:1 (Mar 2018)
Article: Iran’s Ethnic Christians: The Assyrians and the Armenians
Author: Philip O. Hopkins


Iran’s Ethnic Christians:
The Assyrians and the Armenians

Philip O. Hopkins*

* Philip O. Hopkins is a professor of Christianity and Islam at Russian-Armenian University, 123 Hovsep Emin St., Yerevan, Armenia, 0051 and Research Associate for the Centre of World Christianity at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He can be contacted at philandmaryann@gmail.com.

Abstract: The idea that Christianity is foreign to Iran is a misconception. Christians have lived and often thrived in Iran. People from most every major Christian sect have made, or have tried to make, Iran their home. To a degree, these sects have cross-pollinated, but they have maintained their own identities. After mentioning Iran in the OT and early church history to provide an overview of the country’s connection with all of Christianity, this paper focuses on the Christianity of the Assyrians1 and Armenians of greater Iran, two ethnic Christian groups that left a marked impact on the country and the area in general. The account of Assyrian and Armenian Christianity2 in greater Iran centers on their beginnings to the modern period when the Protestant Modern Missions Movement began.

Key words: Christianity in Iran, Armenian Christians, Assyrian Christians, Iran and the Bible, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Church of the East, Eastern Christianity, persecution, growth

Greater Iran3

I. IRAN IN THE BIBLE AND IN EARLY CHURCH HISTORY

Eleven books in the OT directly reference the lands or peoples of greater Iran.4 Iran’s current Islamic government displays Bibles in museums that date back hundreds of years and promotes the idea that the tombs of well-known OT figures such as Daniel, Esther, and Mordecai are located within its borders as are the tombs of Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes. In many OT books, the peoples of Iran play a prominent and positive role in God’s plan for the nations, particularly Israel. Cyrus, for example, is used as a type of Christ and is called a “servant,” a term used for Davidic kings. Even more significant is the designation of Cyrus as the Lord’s “messiah” or “anointed one” in Isa 45:1. In certain ways, the policies of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) molded post-exilic Judaism; the Achaemenids allowed the Jew...

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