Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox: What is the main difference?

I have served in the ministry for fifteen years and have gained tremendous interest in religious issues. My pastor has also entrusted me to teach youths and adult groups about diverse spiritual and religious matters. During our last class, we started to discuss the history of various denominations, and one of the learners was curious to understand the differences between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. The question triggered me to compare Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox. How do they differ?

The major difference between Catholics and Protestants is their interpretation of religious doctrine and the authority of religious leaders. Catholics believe in the authority of the Pope, who they claim is guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures for them. Protestants have no specific authority and believe in each person reading the Bible and depending on interpretation from the holy spirit. Protestants and Orthodox have a lot of similarities; they differ in their historical origin and theological beliefs. Protestants originated from Catholicism in the 16th century, but the Orthodox believe they continue the early church.

In this article, we will examine the differences between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. We will also find out their similarities and which denomination is more popular. To find out these and more, keep reading.

Catholics vs. Protestant vs. Orthodox: Difference in the definition

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox - What is the main difference?
Catholics vs. Protestant vs. Orthodox. Image source: Pixabay

Catholic means universal. The term catholic originates from the Greek word “Katholicos,” which means universal, meaning that it is a church for all people regardless of social status, race, language, nationality, or gender. The name was chosen to show the difference between the church and other sects, which were limited to specific regions or groups.

The term Protestant originates from the Latin term “protestari,” which means publicly declaring or bearing witness. Since the denomination originated from the Catholic church, it meant protesting certain doctrinal teaching and practices of the Catholic church, which happened in the Reformation movement of the 16th century. Therefore, Protestants refer to Christians from various denominations, including Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, and many other denominations.

The term Orthodox originates from two Greek words, “orthos,” meaning “correct” or “straight,” and “doxa,” meaning “belief” or “glory.” The term Orthodox, therefore, means “correct belief” or “right glory.” When mentioned in Christianity, it refers to the Eastern Orthodox Church, composed of self-governing churches that trace their origins to the early Christian Church of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

What’s the Difference between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox?








Believed to have originated from the early church, with apostle Peter being the first Pope.

Originated from the catholic church in the 16th century during the Reformation movement.

Believed to be a continuation of the early church.


Authority and Apostolic Succession

Believe in the authority of the Pope and believe in a succession of leadership to enhance continuity from the early church.

Most, except some Lutherans and Anglicans, have no particular general leaders and emphasize more on continuity of teachings rather than leadership.

They believe in a succession of leadership to ensure the continuity of the early church.


Books of the Bible

Accept and refer to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, and also accepts the Deuterocanonical.

Accept and refer to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, but reject the Deuterocanonical.

Accept and refer to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament, and also accepts the Deuterocanonical.



Clergy should be male. Bishops and priests must remain unmarried or celibate.

Many Protestant churches accept women clergy, and marrying is not prohibited.

Bishops and priests must be male. Women take other smaller roles, such as deaconesses but are prohibited from teaching adults. While priests and deacons can marry before ordination, Bishops must remain celibate.


Holy Spirit

the holy spirit originates only from the Father but makes intercessions for the Son.

the holy spirit originates from both the Father and the Son and cannot be separated from both

the holy spirit originates from both the Father and the Son and cannot be separated from both



Salvation is by grace initially received through baptismal regeneration and maintained through channels of grace such as Sacraments.

Salvation is a gift received through faith in Jesus Christ. Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, those who believe are forgiven and receive eternal life.

Salvation is the result of faith in Jesus Christ working through love and is a process that takes place throughout a person’s life. One must live a holy life and strive to get closer to God to attain union with God finally.


source of divine revelation

Divine revelation comes from the scriptures, traditions, and catholic church practices. The Bible is the only source of revelation, and there is less dependence on traditions.

Divine revelation comes from the scriptures. The Bible is the only source of revelation, and there is less dependence on traditions.

Traditions and the scripture are the main sources of revelation and form the basis for the teaching.



Not every Catholic is considered a saint. Saints are highly regarded as intercessors between God and man and are invoked in prayers.

Every born-again Christian is considered a saint. Christ is the only one that can mediate between man and God.

Only special people qualify to be saints. Saints intercede for men to God. A saint must have two verifiable miracles that result from their prayers.

Differences in the beliefs between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox
Beliefs between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. Image source: Freepik

There are several differences in beliefs in issues such as Purgatory, sacraments, the position of Mary, and the Eucharist, among others.


The Catholics believe there is purgatory, an intermediate place between heaven and earth. They believe that when one dies, they first go to Purgatory, cleansing and preparation for heaven occur. Additionally, punishment and removal of unremitted venial sins take place here.

The protestants believe that there is no intermediary section between heaven and earth. Once believers die, they go directly to heaven because Christ’s death cleansed their sins.

The Orthodox believe that there is an intermediate state between heaven and earth. However, they believe that sin cleansing and purification occur on earth.


Catholics believe believers should partake in seven main sacraments: Holy Unction, Confirmation, Penance, Chrismation, Holy Orders, Marriage, Eucharist, and Baptism.

Protestants believe believers should partake in two main sacraments: Holy Communion and Baptism.

Orthodox believe that a believer should partake in seven sacraments: Holy Unction, Confirmation, Confession, Chrismation, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, Eucharist, and Baptism.

Position of Mary

The Catholics believe that since Mary gave birth to Jesus, she is blessed more than all women, the first saint, and she is ever a virgin since she is the first saint and a major intercessor, an intermediary between man and God.

Protestants believe that Mary bore Jesus but does not hold any high position than other believers. They believe that she bore other children and did not remain a virgin.

The Orthodox believe Mary is a saint because she bore God in human form. They also believe that she is forever a virgin.

What are the similarities between Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox?

The three share a belief in the Trinity. They believe one God appears in the Trinity that composes the Father- God, Son-Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit. They worship the three persons of the Trinity but believe each has a specific function within the church.

They all believe that the Bible is the word of God and was entirely written by individuals inspired by the holy spirit.

They believe in Jesus Christ as the savior and that through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, those who believe in him receive the forgiveness of sins.

What do Catholics think of Protestants and Orthodox?

There is no formal position in perceiving protestants and Orthodox that the Catholics have taken. There are only individual and generalized perceptions. Some of them are regarding the origin of the protestants. Some Catholics view protestants as rebels. Most Catholics think of protestants as fellow Christians and encourage Christian unity. On the other side, Catholics consider Orthodox as close brothers in faith because they share many beliefs and traditions.

Do Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants use the same Bible?

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox
Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants bible. Image source: Pixabay

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants do not use the same Bible. The Catholic Bible has the Old and New Testament and additional deuterocanonical books or the “Apocrypha.” These books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First, and Second Maccabees, and additional portions of Esther and Daniel. The Orthodox Bible is similar to that of Catholics but has additional sections, such as the Prayer of Manasseh and 3 Maccabees.

The protestants bible is significantly different from that of Catholics and Orthodox because it only contains the Old and New Testaments.

Which one is more popular between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox?

Catholicism is the most popular because it has the highest population and is available in every part of the globe. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion Catholics. It is particularly prominent in Latin America, Southern Europe, the Philippines, and Africa.

The protestants come second with an estimated population of 900 million to one billion followers. It has the greatest number of denominations.

Orthodox is the least in popularity and is estimated to have 200 to 300 million followers across the globe. Most of its followers are in Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Romania, the Balkans, and some parts of the Middle East, including Russia and Greece.

Is it better to be a Catholic, a Protestant, or an Orthodox?

The three Christian denominations are equally good; one should choose to depend on their faith. However, Catholics are available in most regions and hence easily accessible. It is crucial to examine each denomination’s beliefs and decide which you think are more correct or the ones that suit your faith.

Which one is true Christianity, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant?

Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox differences
Christianity, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. Image source: Freepik

There is no way to tell which one is the true Christianity. Each denomination has a valid argument for its interpretation of the Bible, beliefs, practices, and traditions. Since their basic belief is in the Bible and Jesus Christ, most divergences are negligible, and there is no way to measure which one is correct.

Leave a Comment