All my life, I've been massively confused about how there exists separate, seemingly incompatible and separate, "branches" of Christianity. I know about "protestant", "catholic" and then there's something else in the "main three" which I probably "should know" by heart but I simply don't. And then there's also things like Mormons ("Latter Day Saints") and many other minor "variants".

I find Wikipedia and all other websites to be utterly exhausting to try to browse. They seem to always assume that you know most of what you're reading about, instead of having basically no knowledge and wanting to hear the most important elements of each "flavour" and preferably a short summary of why they are separate in the first place.

It would be much simpler if there were just "Christians", "Muslims", "Jews", etc., but it's apparently not enough to be "Christian", because all the different groups of Christians will not approve of you unless you use their "variant". At least that's how I perceive things and how they must logically be if they are different branches. I mean, why would they exist if they all agreed to the same stuff anyway?

Some (a lot, in fact) even say that Jesus was a Jew and thus Christianity in itself is branched out from Judaism? That seems like an important fact if true. It makes Christianity as a whole just some kind of "expansion pack" to the "main software product", to speak in computer jargon.

I'm really just trying to get an overview by asking this question. If such a thing can be had. I find that the more basic my questions are, the more vague are the answers.

In fact, I have never heard of any Christians who refer to the "protestant Bible" or "catholic Bible" -- it's always just "the Bible" (by which they mean the old and the new testaments combined, I assume) or "the good book" or "the holy word". Does the Bible in itself talk about and name these branches, or were they created much later, long after the Bible had been finished and spread?

I also know that the Mormons have another "testament" added to the first two, but that's just about it. And I know there's a stereotype about Catholics making a lot of children, but that also seems to be a common cliché for Mormons as well. That's just about all I know, amazingly. (It's why I ask.)

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! This question is a bit broad. I would edit this down to just one question (see the help center on asking), as it's likely to be closed as-is
    – Machavity
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 16:27
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    It would be much simpler if there were just "Christians", "Muslims", "Jews", etc. - Biology would (also) be much simpler if there were just "cats", "dogs", "mice", etc., instead of the various subspecies into which they are divided. Linguistics would (also) be much simpler if there were just "Latin", "Slavic", "Germanic", etc., instead of the various languages and dialects deriving from them. Optics would (also) be much simpler if there were just "black" and "white", instead of fifty shades of grey.
    – user46876
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 16:47
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    Note that most religions, including Judaism and Islam, have many internal divisions as well.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 1:00
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    One reason it's exhausting to look at is Christianity spans ~2000 years and scriptures go back further. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch looks like a decent book showing the history of Christianity and how complex it is-not an endorsement
    – depperm
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:49
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    As to the notion of "the Bible" as a unique object, there isn't even agreement over which books should be included (e.g. the so-called Apocrypha), more disagreement over what is the "correct" biblical text in the original languages when different ancient manuscripts disagree with each other, and even more dispute about how some of the text should be translated into whatever modern language you wish to use.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 15:10

10 Answers 10


The branches come from difference in opinion. Here is a diagram showing where Christianity diverged. image of major branches of Christianity Image source

From the beginning Christianity diverged from Judaism1:

where Christianity emphasizes correct belief (or orthodoxy), focusing on the New Covenant as mediated through Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. Judaism places emphasis on correct conduct (or orthopraxy), focusing on the Mosaic covenant, as recorded in the Torah and Talmud.2

As time went on further differences in opinion let to more denominations that fell under the umbrella of Christianity.

  • Great Schism of 1054 was when Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism split over3:

    • issues of the procession of the Holy Spirit
    • whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used in the Eucharist
    • the Bishop of Rome's claim to universal jurisdiction
    • the place of the See of Constantinople in relation to the Pentarchy
  • Reformation began around 1517-15214

  • Restorationism attempted to re-establish Christianity in its original form and spans over many years5

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but a brief summary showing where some denominations OP mentions come from see also

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_Christian#Split_of_early_Christianity_and_Judaism

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_Judaism

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East%E2%80%93West_Schism

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformation

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorationism

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    @NigelJ I did mention this is not meant to be a comprehensive list but showing orgins of some of the denominations mentioned by OP. Which parts do find unrepresentative, historical, or contemporaneous? I didn't find the OP question about doctrine-besides the bit about children but left that out as that seemed out of scope.
    – depperm
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 19:34
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    +1 Just because and the diagram of course!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 1:35
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    The diagram implies that Anglicanism is not a Protestant denomination. Is there sound reason for this? Or was it just a matter of space issues?
    – Chozang
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:14
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    @Tharpa I just pulled the diagram from wikipedia, I don't believe this is fully accurate and as NigelJ pointed out is self proclaimed approximate. It did however list each of the broad denominations that the OP mentioned so I used this one instead of similar ones. via media page
    – depperm
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:28
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    Most denominations in most of these branches do not consider the others “damned” but rather as having less-than-critical errors in their thinking. (Even though they may raise their voices when discussing these ‘errors.’)
    – WGroleau
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 20:55

Such a simple question, and so difficult to provide a simple answer!

Probably the main reasons for Christianity dividing into branches and sects are:

(a) issues of dogma: disagreements about points of doctrine some of which seem with hindsight to be incredibly hair-splitting, such as the precise relationship between Jesus' physical nature as a man and his spiritual nature as son of God

(b) issues of authority: both as regards the authority of people and institutions (does the Pope get the final say?) and as regards the authority of written scripture versus traditional handed-down teaching.

(c) differences in liturgical practice (such as adoration of the saints), sometimes mistakenly thought to represent doctrinal differences.

(d) attempts at reform: reformers like Martin Luther recognising that the church as an institution, or the people running it, had become corrupted and needed to return to first principles.

These days most branches of Christianity are respectful to each other and try to understand each others' point of view; both among theologians and among ordinary followers there is much more acceptance that many of the old doctrinal differences are really technical quibbles of little importance. For example, there is general agreement (and a public statement) that there are no longer any significant doctrinal difference between the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. And yet, bringing the two communities back together is extremely difficult, because both are wedded to their traditions and practices, such as the celibate male priesthood in the Catholic tradition; a lot of this is little more than nostalgia, but it is traditions that bind communities together and give them a sense of identity.

  • I don't know any groups which teach the adoration of the saints; veneration of the saints, on the other hand, I know of ;-)
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 0:31

The other answers here are good, but I'll try to directly address some questions with more detail. And this is the sort of question where a lot of answers are "it's complicated, and no one perspective is correct."

As you stated, there are three "main branches" of Christianity, with most branches and sub-branches claiming to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. In this context, "one" means that there is only one true churches (not multiple correct churches with differences), "holy" is self-explanatory, "catholic" is a a synonym for "universal" (meaning all-encompassing), and "apostolic" means following in the tradition of the apostles

  1. Catholicism: ~1.3 billion followers. Catholics believe the pope has primacy in the Church handed down through the generations from the apostle Peter. The pope has the power to proclaim dogma (major beliefs) via papal infallibility (as instructed by Jesus), though this has only officially happened once (with Mary's Assumption). Not everything he says is automatically infallible, and decisions are deliberated among other clergy. There is a formal hierarchy which essentially only has bishops above priests above deacons; the pope and cardinals are special bishops. Split with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1054. Most Catholics are Roman Catholic, though there are many other rites (groups) that all agree on what they think is important.

  2. Orthodoxy: ~350 million followers. Includes many Churches, but Eastern and Oriental (another word for eastern) are the largest (and rather unrelated) groups. Orthodox Churches generally have multiple high-ranking clergy (called autocephalous patriarchs, literally meaning that they are their own heads). The Ecumenical Patriarch is the first among 5 equal patriarchs, and the Coptic Pope of Alexandria fills a similar role in the Coptic Church (the second-largest Oriental Church). Split with the Catholic Church in 1054.

  3. Protestantism: ~900 million followers. The widest variety of large groups under one of the 3 branches. Succeeded in gaining a foothold while protesting practices of the Catholic Church starting in the 16th century (though many attempts had been made previously, resulting in smaller schisms or reformers being crushed). Generally tend to reject supremacy of any clergy member over others (preferring local preachers, with governing bodies setting guidelines more than rules). Generally believe that faith alone saves humans from damnation, and that works (good deeds) should come from a faithful person, but are not required for salvation (in contrast to Catholic and Orthodox Churches).

Some other denominations do not fit well into these branches, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Mormons have holy scriptures in addition to the Bible, which are rejected by all 3 main branches. The official stance of the Catholic Church (since they have one on everything) is that Mormon baptisms are invalid (despite accepting Protestant and Orthodox baptisms). Finally, some people count the Anglican Church as Protestant, while others count it as a separate branch.

These differences came about for a variety of reasons. Many reasons were theological in nature, and many were political. Also, many variants succeeded largely because of additional factors: the Protestant Reformation was aided by the printing press and disgruntled German princes, and England's defensible position meant that invasion to depose a reforming king (Henry VIII) was difficult.

AS far as variants and their beliefs, one issue is the existence of denominations. A colloquial definition of "denomination" is "branch of Christianity," but another definition implies that other denominations might be right. I'll focus on the latter. Many Protestants view different Protestants as denominations, but the Catholic and Orthodox Churches each maintain that being "one...[and] catholic" means that other "denominations" are heresies. There's not much bloodshed about that these days, but it does show how some religions view others.

Protestants tend to believe that lay people (non-clergy) have substantial authority in interpreting the Bible, while Catholicism and Orthodoxy tend to spell out every belief and interpretation in the Bible. This is one of the reasons Protestants tend to accept denominations; they're a little more like "let's agree to disagree."

In terms of actual differences, there's a lot, but birth control is a big one. Catholicism teaches that any artificial birth control is always sinful (although it can be the lesser evil in some circumstances), while many Protestants are fine with it. This is also part of the reason for the stereotype of Catholics having many kids. Divorce is similar: Catholics can under no circumstances get divorced (only annulled), while most Protestants accept divorce. It's worldly matters like these that tend to get people more agitated than minor differences in the nature of Christ's holiness.

Jesus was a Jew, but a core belief of Judaism is that the Messiah has not yet come, while all Christians believe the Messiah has come. If you want an analogy, it's more akin to needing new laws and customs to deal with the internet after it came than an "expansion pack."

There is just one Bible, but Protestants leave some books out of the Old Testament that the Catholics include and consider some New Testament books as less important (like James, which explicitly states that works are required for salvation in 2:14-26). The Bible was also assembled over time; it didn't exist for the early years of the church (arguably, the first standardized Bible was the Vulgate in 384).

Paul explicitly condemns divisions in the Church and encourages simply following Christ in 1st Corinthians chapter 1, which is about as close as you get to the Bible talking about denominations.

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    Protestants don't view themselves as leaving any books out of the OT; they view the deuterocanonical books as not being part of it. Also, I don't know that I've heard anyone describe James as less important and certainly far from all protestants take the "it doesn't matter what you do" position; that's mostly only Calvinists. Many, if not most, also don't believe divorce and remarriage is biblically permissible, though more liberal denominations do. Even the Anglican church, which effectively started over that issue with regards to the King of England, doesn't allow it in most cases.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 3:06

Interesting question, but where to start? It’s a big ask! The Wikipedia diagram provided by depperm is a very useful illustration showing the timeline and emergence of the different major branches within Christianity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations_by_number_of_members

However, if “all” you want is a brief, easily understood overview or summary of the main branches within Christianity then allow me to partially quote from an article from a Protestant perspective:

The church started with a supernatural work of God in Jerusalem. About fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, and they were empowered to preach the gospel. Acts 2 records the results of the Spirit’s coming—three thousand people were saved that day, and the church had begun (verse 41). Since that time of unity and simplicity, Christianity has separated into various branches. Today, most scholars identify three major branches of Christianity: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, which are subdivided into other branches. Sometimes Anglicanism is listed as a fourth branch; sometimes it is listed as part of Protestantism. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/branches-of-Christianity.html

The article gives a brief historical overview of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The article concludes:

The doctrinal differences between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are serious enough to have kept those two branches of Christianity separate for almost 1,000 years. The crucial differences between those two groups and Protestants are likewise substantial and far-reaching. Ultimately, there is only one church; the Body of Christ is made up of all those who by faith in Christ are born again and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6).

Another article I found explores the emergence of Protestantism.

The rise of denominations within the Christian faith can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation, the movement to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th century, out of which four major divisions or traditions of Protestantism would emerge: Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Anglican. From these four, other denominations grew over the centuries.

The article concludes:

The point of these divisions is never Christ as Lord and Savior, but rather honest differences of opinion by godly, albeit flawed, people seeking to honor God and retain doctrinal purity according to their consciences and their understanding of His Word. Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/denominations-Christian.html

For me, as a Christian of the Protestant persuasion, the only important issue is Christ Jesus and understanding who he REALLY is. A fascinating subject, with profound implications. Hope that helps!

  • Can you clarify one point? In the news, we often hear the term "Evangelical Christian." How/where do they fit in to the categories you offered? Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 16:47
  • This seems to suggest that when (in politics, as in "The Evangelical vote") the term is used, it's actually redundant? That Evangelical = Christian in a Venn diagram approach? Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 17:26
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    When people say "Evangelical Christians", they're referring to a subset of the Protestants that is distinct from the Lutherans and Methodists among others. The word "evangelical" also has a literal meaning of "pertaining to the gospel" or "spreading the gospel" but that's not what's meant here.
    – Jetpack
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 19:03
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    @Lesley Please don't spread a misleading explanation of the term "evangelical". It is not equivalent to "evangelistic". Catholics who reject salvation by grace alone through faith cannot be evangelical even though they may be evangelistic.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 2:42
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    @Jetpack There are evangelical Lutherans and Methodists as well. It's really a subset that stands apart from the liberal or progressive strands of Protestantism, though of course there are many people and churches that share aspects of both.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 2:47

I’ve done my best to address three of your sub-questions:

  1. Why do we have Christianity if Jesus was a Jew?

God has always called prophets to teach the inhabitants of the earth (His children). These teachings always focused on Jesus Christ (the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament) because only through Jesus Christ can we be saved from our sins. The purpose of the Law of Moses was to prepare God’s people (the Jews) to receive Christ. When Jesus came to the earth, he fulfilled the Law of Moses and introduced a higher law. He also established his church. This included calling apostles and giving them authority to preach in his name and administer with his power (such as baptizing and healing the sick). The Jews, having strayed from God’s gospel, did not recognize their promised Messiah and rejected Jesus Christ. Those who chose to follow Christ were baptized into his church and called themselves Christians.

  1. If all Christians believe in the Bible, why are there some many different branches?

While most (if not all) branches of Christianity believe in the Bible, there are many interpretations of what certain things mean. When prophets were on the earth, they were able to interpret scripture because they had the power and authority of God to act in His name. Whenever prophets were killed, there was a period of confusion and a falling away from the truth. Many of the different branches of Christianity came about because Jesus’s apostles were rejected and killed (and therefore the authority and key truths of the gospel were lost).

  1. Explain about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Basic beliefs: We believe that God is our Loving Heavenly Father and we are His Children. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he came to earth and suffered for our sins. As we follow Jesus Christ, we can find happiness and this life and one day return back to live with God (and our families) again.

Quick background of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Throughout history, God has repeatedly called prophets to teach His children. Prophets are given authority (the priesthood) by God and are called to preach repentance and teach the gospel. When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he established his church. This included calling apostles and giving them authority to preach in his name and administer with his power (such as baptizing and healing the sick). After Jesus died, Peter became the prophet (as instructed by the resurrected Jesus) and filled the vacancies in the 12 by calling and ordaining 2 new apostles. Unfortunately, Peter and the apostles were rejected and killed. Key teachings and priesthood authority were lost from the earth. This “falling away” was foretold by many prophets and other writers of the Bible. In 1820, God again called a prophet (Joseph Smith), gave him priesthood authority, and called him to preach repentance and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In one of many revelations to Joseph, Jesus instructed him to reestablish his Church on the earth and call it The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This “restoration of all things” (Christ’s church being restored to the earth) was also foretold by many prophets and apostles. See https://www.comeuntochrist.org/beliefs/jesus-christ-church

The Book of Mormon: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) to be the word of God. We study it, teach from it, and use it in our lives. We also believe that God has revealed other scriptures through his modern-day prophets. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and relates the account of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon by the power of God. We use The Book of Mormon hand-in-hand with the Bible to help us come closer to God and Jesus Christ. See https://www.comeuntochrist.org/beliefs/book-of-mormon


I know about "protestant", "catholic" and then there's something else in the "main three" which I probably "should know" by heart but I simply don't.

(Probably referring to Eastern Orthodox?)

And then there's also things like Mormons ("Latter Day Saints") and many other minor "variants".

Yup. Add to that, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and others. (I singled out those two because, like Mormons, they use writings that may be generally accepted by fewer of other mainline Protestant branches.)

It would be much simpler if there were just "Christians", "Muslims", "Jews", etc., but it's apparently not enough to be "Christian", because all the different groups of Christians will not approve of you unless you use their "variant".

This is not Christian-specific. Muslims have the Sunni (the larger group) and Shiite/Shia.

The Christian sacred texts (books from the "New Testament") contain multiple references to Jewish sects, probably most notably the Pharisees followed by the Sadducees, but there are others like Zealots. There were also Samaritans and Hellenists.

Within the Protestant branch, you have a group called "Christian Reformed". Some people there may be a "five point Calvinist" (using a term named after a famed theologian named Calvin), but others might just be a "four point Calvinist" because they don't accept all five points of the traditional 5 point Calvinists.

I mean, why would they exist if they all agreed to the same stuff anyway?

Right. Mostly. Umm... Err...

The truth is that many churches tend to want to have a denomination as part of their name. However, in many cases, the selected denomination ends up being little more than just a part of a name, especially after time and after a change like a new pastor. You end up having Baptist churches that are more Lutheran than they are Baptist, and you have Lutheran churches that are more Baptist than they are Lutheran.

How true that is can vary. For instance, the Seventh-Day Adventist church has a pretty centralized hierarchy, similar in structure to the Holy Roman Catholic church (the church you probably know of as the "Catholic" church). But even then, there can be branches like members of a Branch Davidian group that banded together in a famous fatal stand-off in Waco, TX.

Even within the churches, you will then have some people who are more serious about religion than other people, and among the people who are more serious about religion as a whole, you will find that some people place more importance on some teachings than others.

So, yes, it is true that the the Presbyterians and the Methodists may have some difference. But that doesn't mean that there is a ton of agreement even within a single denomination.

As an example: I remember going to Cornwall Church of God, and in a class for people interested in becoming official members of the church, people were being told that they are technically part of the "Church of God" denomination, but it was just a technicality. Years later, that church officially stopped being part of that denomination altogether.

That particular (rather large) church ended up becoming officially "non-denominational". Several churches have embraced that term for themselves, or "evangelical" (which basically means they evangelize, meaning they spread their beliefs. There is essentially no difference at all between "evangelical" or "non-denominational". But, for that matter, some of the other established denominations have been losing their distinctiveness too.

Some (a lot, in fact) even say that Jesus was a Jew

The first seventeen verses of the New Testament start with "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." That Jesus was a Jew is just not an item in wide dispute. If someone wished to contest such an established fact, then one would wonder how many other established facts would be similarly disputed. For instance, if they are so quick to toss out such uncontroversial text in the bible, what remaining parts of the bible would they embrace? There are usually much bigger opportunities for disagreement than that one.

So, yes, Christianity grew from Judaism. When many members of Judaism did not embrace the changes in religious understanding that were surrounding Jesus, then those who embraced Jesus became known as Christian. The others became known as "Orthodox Jews", although are often just called "Jews". From the Christian perspective, they follow God and so did the Jewish nation before the time from when Jesus was born, and Christianity is simply the correct continuation of the God-following people who were previously known as "Jews". But when the Orthodox Jews resisted the new understandings being taught by the Christians, the Christians happily accepted their new name because they didn't want to shy away from the name of Jesus Christ.

In fact, I have never heard of any Christians who refer to the "protestant Bible" or "catholic Bible" -- it's always just "the Bible" (by which they mean the old and the new testaments combined, I assume)

Actually, these definitely exist. In short: The Jews have their main scripture which contains the same books as the protestant's "Old Testament", although the books are typically arranged in a different order what what is found in the Christian bibles. Jews often have other holy writings, Midrash, which they also consider significant. Then, the next largest major collection may be the "Protestant Bible", which contains what we call the "New Testament". However, the Catholics typically also embrace the Deuterocanon, which provides another 15 "interstitial" books, containing pre-"New Testament" content (some of which may be after the "Old Testament" books.

Islam comes along and we get the Quran, which acknowledges the Jewish and Christian texts but does not endorse treating those older texts as having full accuracy. In a nutshell, Abraham had two sons, one of whom I will title the Son of Promise, through whom God's promises were made. The Jews say that the older son, Ishmael, was born from implementation of a rebellious plan, so the younger son Isaac is who the Jewish line follows. The Quran follows the older son, Ishmael.

Of course, then there are additional books, such as the Book of Morman used by the LDS church, Mary Baker Eddy's "Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures", and Seventh-Day Adventist's Ellen White who wrote the Conflict Series of books. Both Mary Baker Eddy and Ellen White are key women who wrote a bunch of material, and each had a publishing house essentially set up to help that author's material be further spread.

Then, there are the apocrypha - even more books that some people accept, and others don't. Undoubtedly, some apocrypha is known to have been dishonest about who wrote it. But which apocrypha? Is any of it trustworthy? There are some more questions that people may have different opinions about.

Does the Bible in itself talk about and name these branches, or were they created much later, long after the Bible had been finished and spread?

No. The bible does speak of a split between Peter and Paul, but those leaders resolved their differences (as recorded in the bible). As mentioned before, the bible mentions some of the Jewish branches that existed. There is some biblical prophecy that some people will interpret as referring to religious people being non-unified, but such interpretation may be rather non-universal, and the bible certainly doesn't provide names for all the various sects/denominations of Christianity.

I find that the more basic my questions are, the more vague are the answers.

Well, one way to remain accurate is to be vague. As you leave the realm of being vague, the specifics will often introduce details that will be less universally agreed upon. there are books that provide lots of specific details. People would call such writings "doctrine" that may be widely disagreed upon by other people who don't accept some of the same narrow teaching.

So if you ask broad questions, you're likely to get some vague answers. Fortunately, this website is likely to accept questions of both types (broad/vague and specific).

That's just about all I know, amazingly. (It's why I ask.)

I suppose that as you learn some more of the basic facts, you are likely to find there are yet other details that you don't know. Realize that continuing to ask questions is not a sign of lacking intelligence. Rather, such efforts to learn just indicate that you have not fully mastered all aspects of religion.


What you are asking about is not so much the "main software product", but rather the "original" software product that many other similar software products come from - all claiming to be the original, it seems. So how do you know which is which?

When it comes to software, you will have to examine the source (code). The same is the case with Christianity. In order to really know it, you need to examine the source, which is the Bible. That is the only way you can really find an answer to your questions. I can only summarise answers here, because on each question there is much more to say.

  1. So was Jesus a Jew?

Born an Israelite, descendant of Judah and David (Matthew 1:1,16-17), Jesus was circumcised according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:21-24,41-42) and was as an adult generally recognised as a Jew (Luke 4:16; John 4:9).

  1. Did Jesus start a new branch?

Upon asking the question who they thought he was, Jesus disciples appear in agreement believing that he was the promised Messiah (Matthew 16:14-16). However, Jesus' ransom sacrifice made a new covenant possible, that abolished (made obsolete) the old covenant, of which the Mosaic Law was a part (Luke 22:20,29; Romans 10:4, Hebrews 8:7-9,13). With this new covenant came a new law, known as the "Law of the Christ" (John 13:34, Galatians 6:2). Was Jesus authorised to do so? Yes, because he had fulfilled the Law, as in completing the contract (Mat. 5:17) and was approved and appointed as king of God's Kingdom [government] (Daniel 2:44, 7:13,14; Matthew 17:5; 18:28; 23:10; 1 Corinthians 11:3).

  1. How many Bibles are there?

Jesus believed in one set of Scriptures as the inspired Word of God (Matthew 22:40), as did the apostles (Acts 15:15; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). A large number of copies and various translations have been made, but the source is ultimately the same.

  1. Does the Bible support and/or promote branches?

No, it does not. In fact, the apostle Paul explicitly urged to stay united (1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:8; 2 Timothy 2:23,24) and when there was a division on the issue of circumcision, it was taken to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1,2). A spirit-directed decision was made, keeping the unity in teaching among the congregations (Acts 15:22-31).

In addition, Jesus warned against imposters and false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:4,5) and the apostles warned against such ones trying to get a following for themselves (Acts 20:29,30; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1; Jude 4,17-19). In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3,4 it is revealed that an apostacy was to come; a falling away of the majority. How else could such a "man of lawlessness" be in God's temple [place of or arrangement for worship] "publicly showing himself to be a god"?

So how do you know the true Christian faith? Jesus gave a number of hints, pointing out that his true disciples:

  • search to do God's will (Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 5:3);
  • show love towards one another, just as Jesus had (John 13:35); and
  • follow Jesus' instructions (John 15:14), even those that are not as popular, such as sharing and teaching the good news of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Romans 10:9,13-15).

I hope the above provides sufficient material to answer your questions on why these branches in Christianity exist.

Going through the above material, I hope it's clear that there are only two branches of Christianity, just as Jesus said there would be: either true or false (John 4:23,24). I found an interesting list of points that expands a bit further on what the Bible says of these true worshippers or, as the article calls it, "true religion", backed up with a number of Scriptures at https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/which-religion-is-true/ . For example, it lists:

  • teachings based on the Bible, not human philosophy;
  • no paid clergy;
  • promotion of unselfish love;
  • political neutrality and obedience to secular authorities; and
  • religion as a way of life, not a set of rituals or formalities.

In the Beginning In the Apostolic Age and the ensuing Early Church Age, Christian believers spread throughout the Roman Empire (Mediterranean Sea and surrounding areas, such as Germany, Britain, Persia, Sudan). And each major locality morphed into areas "overseen" by ministers who were called Bishops.

The Bishops pretty much controlled the specific theological doctrines and rites practiced. This resulted in a diversity among Christianity, although much community spirit prevailed among the districts.

Councils As time went on, and as politics got involved (reign of the emperors of Constantinople) consolidation was attempted by holding *Councils where all of the Bishops were invited to come and help decide doctrine and ritual: orthodox belief to protect the Church from so many heterodox sects and cults that were sprouting up like mushrooms in a virgin forest. (See the three page listing in the Ante-Nicene writings)

During this time major differences based on politics, language, culture, began to form a wedge between the Western bishop districts (Latin speaking, and the Eastern (Greek speaking). In the West, a Supreme "universal bishop" was beginning to become powerful (See writings of Gregory I, 500s). The East was repulsed at such a thing.

Doctrinal Disputations And during this time the Eastern bishops were in heavy dispute over the conclusions drawn at the Councils. Each time a council was convened, it resulted in a new Eastern Church leaving and forming its own Church [Coptic Orthodox, Assyrian Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Syrian (Nestorian) Orthodox, etc; for a complete detailed account of this history, see Wikipedia article, "Greek Orthodox Church"]. The Greek Catholic Church (officially, Orthodox Catholic Church) remained the major branch.

Missionary Movement Out of the Greek Orthodox Church, missionaries went north and evangelized Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, etc. which resulted in the Orthodox branches there. (Except for Romania where the Latin missionaries opposed them). The Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest body today.

Schism In 1054 The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church made a formal split. The one speaking Latin in services, and the other, Greek--or a native tongue--in their rites. The form of "governments" were much different as well: the West proclaiming the "universal bishop" as the supreme "pontifex maximus" (or pope).

Roman Catholicism The Catholic Church eventually embraced all of the western part of Europe, from Carthage in Africa to Britain (Ireland) in the north. However, after the Big Split (from Greece), there were several Splinters in the West. Many believers saw flaws in the Roman hierarchy and practices, and wished to worship apart from them. Hugenots, Waldenses, Voudois, Moravians---and concerned priests who began to protest Roman tyranny. Hence the term Protestant.

Protestantism Many of the protesting believers were from different districts so their new Churches had "different flavors." Luther in German (Lutherans), Knox in Switzerland (Presbyterians), the Anabaptists in Prussia Wesley in London (Methodists), etc. These Protestants had differences among themselves regarding government and doctrines, so they remained separate, as they progressed in history---but they all had in common, a distaste for the Roman Christianity.

American Protestantism When America was settled, the Christian religions came along with the pioneers. One of the hallmarks of the new Nation formed was the concept of "freedom." And the various denominations took advantage of it. Differences over doctrine caused men to splinter into hundreds of smaller groups. Thus there are hundreds of different Denominations abounding in the U.S.A. They, however, are all grouped together as "Protestants."

Major Branches So this how the modern situation came to be. Orthodox (in the East) Catholic (headquartered in Rome), Protestant (independent groups spread all over the world).

With the convenances of modern travel, of course, all these branches are intermingled throughout the Earth today. Missionary activity is quite common.


The primary cause of the creation of the vast number of man-made denominations in Christianity can be attributed to the neglecting of scriptural instruction as admonished in a single verse:

2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We should not be ashamed to recognize and respect the various groups of believers in the Bible, the various doctrines given, and the various purposes each have whether on earth (Israel) or in heaven (us, the body of Christ).

Ephesians 1:10

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

Contention began between Peter's church of believing Jews at Pentecost and Paul's church of believing Gentiles, the body of Christ, before the Bible could even be completed due to the misappropriation of biblical doctrine.

Galatians 2:1-9

Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

Jewish doctrine was being presented to new Gentile believers as a requirement to be a "Christian", but Paul is forced to defend the "freedom" from these religious acts due to the new completeness a believer has been gifted through placing one's faith in the finished work of that of Jesus Christ alone.

Colossians 2:6-15

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7 Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. 10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: 11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Paul questions the believers in his churches as to why they have allowed old religious doctrine to re-emerge after having been set free from that "yoke of bondage" and thus fallen from that freedom from religion made available by God's grace.

Galatians 3:1-10

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

Galatians 5:1-6

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The major concern with religion that Paul warns us of is that in our effort to establish our own self-righteousness, we fail to submit to the righteousness of God.

Romans 10:1-4

Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

Paul is clear that we should not allow doctrines of man through religion to be our guide in the perfecting of our new spiritual identities in Christ.

Ephesians 4:12-15

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

It was by our faith alone in Christ that we were made a new spiritual creation and now perfect and justified before God through our faith alone, not by any of our own efforts found in religious works.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. 17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Just as it was imputed to Abraham, the righteousness of God is also gifted to us upon having faith alone.

Romans 4:20-25

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.


Consider these (and many other) verses:

  • Matthew 24:5 — For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
  • Matthew 24:11 — And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
  • Matthew 24:24 — For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
  • Mark 13:22 — For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
  • Romans 16:18 — For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
  • 2 Corinthians 11:13 — For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
  • 2 Peter 2:1 — But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:3 — Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
  • 2 Timothy 3:13 — But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
  • 1 John 4:1 — Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
  • 2 John 1:7 — For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
  • Revelation 12:9 — … And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world:
  • Revelation 18:23 — … for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

We see that even within the first few decades of Christianity, many false doctrines were already being introduced, and it was expected to only get worse.

Jude was very concerned about this trend:

3 — Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
4 — For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember, Jesus referred to his true Church as a small flock.
During this age, God is not trying to save everyone (if he is, he's doing a really bad job of it).

It is Satan that currently rules the world:

2 Corinthians 4:3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

And Satan that ensures that Christianity be as fragmented as possible.

Only a few, the elect, will be saved at this time, and resurrected as immortal beings when Christ returns.

The vast majority of people (including billions of people that never heard the name Jesus, and billions that have been following a false Jesus) will be offered salvation in the second resurrection at the end of the Millennium.

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