Protestant “Verses” Catholic?

A Catholic school teacher recently posed this question to me: “Protestants always have signs, t-shirts, and the like with John 3:16, so it seems that for them that is the one definitive verse of the Bible. If you had to sum up the Catholic faith in one Bible verse or passage, what would it be?”

Obviously our faith isn’t reducible to individual verses or passages or “sound bites,” but I still thought this was a most interesting question.

I began by acknowledging that Protestants and Catholics alike rightly emphasize John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s a beautiful verse that succinctly captures much of the Gospel message or, in more technical terms, the Gospel kerygma.  It shows God’s love for the world, the shared divinity of Father and Son, Our Lord’s saving mission, the necessity of faith, and the goal of eternal life—not bad for just one verse!  Catholics do well to proclaim that verse in season and out.

Nonetheless, I came up with five other verses or passages that I think are especially significant for Catholics and indeed for all who believe in Christ:

(1a) 1 John 3:1—See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

(1b) Galatians 4:4-7—But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.

Okay, I cheated by pairing up those two passages. What has always struck me about these passages and others like them are the fact that the “eternal life” spoken of in John 3:16 is to be experienced as truly sons and daughters of God, as what St. Peter describes as being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our “sonship” is a present reality, which among other things makes us “heirs” of the fullness of eternal life in heaven. I think these verses also help us to understand the problem with a “once saved, always saved” theology that implicitly denies the freedom we have as children of God to turn away from Him through mortal sin.

(2) Acts 2:42—And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

These four activities are described as the pillars of the first Christians, and they continue to be the pillars of the Christian life today and in fact are expressed in the four pillars of the Catechism, which is the basic structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Namely, “apostles’ teaching” refers to the Creed; “breaking of the bread” refers specifically to the Eucharist and more generally to the Sacraments; “fellowship” refers to Christian morality and a Christian understanding of the Ten Commandments; and “the prayers” refers to Prayer, typically summarized by the Our Father.

(3) Philippians 2:5-11—Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I have always been especially moved by this passage. Also, scholars generally believe that this passage from St. Paul was quoting an ancient Christian hymn, which also demonstrates the role of Tradition and the function of the liturgy as the Church’s “memory” of what God has done for us through His Son.

(4) Matthew 5-7—Christ’s Sermon on the Mount

This is a little longer, but it is truly the “Magna Charta” of the life Christ calls us to lead. Here we see Christ as the New Moses giving us a New Law. While Moses brought the Old Law down to us from Mt. Sinai, Our Lord takes the crowd (and us) up on the mountain to give us His blueprint for our eternal happiness or “beatitude.”

(5) Matthew 28:18-20—And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

These are the instructions of Christ to His Church before His Ascension. He instructs His Church to go out and make disciples–baptizing and teaching with His authority, and also promising His continual presence in His Church.

Obviously many other passages or verses can be cited. Let me know if you think of any others that should have cracked my top five.

23 responses

  1. Thanks for your list, Leon. Great top 5! I would add Mt.16:18-19 and Mt. 18:15-20 as 5b and c as well as 1 Tim. 3:15.

    I think these are ones evey Catholic should know by heart!

  2. I always thought that the following verse to be a good statement of the Catholic faith. “Amen,amen,I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, You do not have life within you.”(John 6:53)

  3. I had my children commit to memory this verse: Michah 6:8 “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; only to love justice, do right, and walk humbly with your God.”

  4. For we Catholics I’m suggesting we all shout out the message in James 2:26 “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also FAITH without WORKS is dead”.

    It’s a keen reminder for us, and them.

  5. Those are very good bible verses, along with good theology.

    I think it would be important to include at least one parable, since Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables quite frequently. They really do well in showing the mysteries of God’s love, as well as give us a glimpse of what the kingdom of Heaven is like. They’re also just good, practical models for living a good, Christian life.

  6. As an ex-Protestant, I know from experience that Protestants do not fully grasp the implications of the Incarnation: note how Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia has no mother and is not really related to any of the other animals. Only the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox) get this right. Accordingly, for my one verse I would choose one from the Last Gospel, John 1:14. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”

  7. Protestant vs Catholic,,:: the very title of this article saddens me as it should all believers
    who love Jesus Christ. Need examples of this ?? look at Northern Ireland. How many folks need to die needlessly over the nonsense that was born in
    the Refprmation,and seems to have a life of its own today. In the old days,we older Catholics like me(i am 66)we were taught Church History and the Nunns were sure to refer to Henry 8th and Queen Eliz 1st as bad & heretical,NONSENSE!!!!
    We all need to practice ECUMENISM and love..

  8. Matt.16:18
    And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (KJV)

  9. Being that for Catholics the Eucharist is the Summit of our faith. Although you would need a very large shirt or Flag for me “The Bread of Life” discourse truly says it all and more
    John 6:22-71

  10. Thanks, everyone, for the excellent suggestions. John 1:14, the various passages on the Eucharist, and Matthew 16 were all “finalists” by my reckoning and perhaps one or all of them should have cracked the “top five.”

    John, I meant no offense to ecumenical relations with my title, which used “Verses” instead of “Versus” as a light-hearted pun.

  11. Obviously no one text can sum up our faith, or more specifically the Catholic one since the Catholic position is clear: the body of Christ(i.e. the Church) is a living organism centered on, and born of the Paschal Mystery. As such, the one verse which leaves out nothing said or done by the God-Man is this: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). And so, everything that Jesus said and did must be kept together. We read out of the inspired texts(exegesis) and not into them (eisegesis). Neither is it a question of picking and choosing according to ones’s preferences or pretexes.

  12. This is hilarious. My deacon and I like to exchange bible verses like this. I used to be a protestant as well, and I can’t tell you how often I used to hear some standard issue “evangelization” quotes from the bible. I love the article. Really gives you a sense of what the difference is between us and our Separated Bretheren.

  13. This passage is significant, yet often swept under the rug:

    Matthew 25:31-46


    And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

    Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

    “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat;
    I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink;
    I was a stranger, and you took me in:
    Naked, and you covered me:
    sick, and you visited me:
    I was in prison, and you came to me.”

    Then shall the just answer him, saying: “Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?”

    And the king answering, shall say to them: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”

    Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. ”

    Then they also shall answer him, saying: “Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?”

    Then he shall answer them, saying: “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.”

    And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

  14. people, people, please don’t say “fellowship” when translating the koinonia! It is so demeaning in the most serious sense of the word. Literally, it takes meaning away from what the word truly IS. Communion. ‘Union’ being operative in the word. This is consistent with Paul’s writings as well as the very words of Christ: that they all may be ONE. Again, the very first words proclaimed in Testament, following the resurrection of Christ were written to the Corinthians. Paul introduces himself, greets the community and says “BE OF ONE MIND, having NO dissention among you.”

    So, we Catholics do not read the weakest translation of ‘fellowship’, for it is truly demeaning. You proclaim the COMMUNION of Christ!

  15. This is my fav- John 21:25, because it points to ongoing development of doctrine and apostolic adventures, and not the bible alone:

    25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written. (D-R)

    25Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (NIV)

  16. JOHN W MAHER said this article saddens me.

    Why? Do you believe God founded a Church and made it the place where one can find the pillar and foundation of truth? This is what faithful Catholics believe.

    I, being Catholic, worship a piece of bread. I truly believe it is Jesus.

    As a Protestant this is unacceptable because they believe I worship a silly piece of bread, a false god. One cannot worship a false god and go to heaven. We both believe this.

    How could a true Protestant friend not try to convert me away from the Catholic faith? It is the most charitable thing they could do.

    To practice ECUMENISM and love is not saying can’t we just all get along. True ecumenism would charitably try to keep me out of hell, even if it cost them our friendship.

  17. We Catholics should wear this our tees: “1 John 2:18-19″ (“Little children, it is the last hour: and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour.
    They went out from us but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us: but that they may be manifest, that they are not all of us.”).

    Let everybody knows that the word of God, The Bible, tells that many who call and represent themselves as Christians (ALL non-Catholics) are Antichrists.

    He that has eyes to see, let him see.

    Death to ecumenism.

  18. Re, do you think such a t-shirt would attract people to the Catholic faith?

    Even more importantly, there is no basis in the Bible or Church teaching for asserting that all non-Catholic Christians are “Antichrists.”

  19. John 17:20-24
    “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believein me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, thet the world may blieve you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”

  20. ? i am perplexed whats all this nonsense about the anti-christ. all non catholics are anti Christs? did i mis read that ?? goodness where have you been hiding for 50 yrs.. Ecumenism is the work of the Holy Spirit,, thanks to Pope John 23rd & Pope Paul 6th ,,all Christians can trace their roots to ONE TREE,, the Reformation was also the work of the Holy Spirit,,the western Church had become corrupt,,Vatican 2 completed the work begun in the Reformation . AMEN

  21. Pope Benedict XVI, addressing Christian leaders in the recent WYD in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney:

    “We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live.”


    “The road of ecumenism ultimately points towards a common celebration of the Eucharist”.

    -Pax Cristi

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