What Do Coptic Christians Believe?

What is the difference between Coptic Christians and Christians in other parts of the world?  Are there major doctrinal differences?  Why do they seem to suffer more persecution than most Christians in the world do?

Coptic Christians are Christians as far as their beliefs are held. The fact that they are Christians and living in a predominantly Muslim part of the world is reason enough for them to be persecuted more than most Christians in the West.

What is a Coptic Christian?

Who or what is a Coptic Christian? Maybe you’ve heard of them and if so, you probably heard about them being persecuted.  A Coptic Christian is called “Coptic” because this is the Afro-Asiatic language of the Copts, which survives only as a liturgical language of the Coptic Church. Others define Coptic as “Egyptian” so a Coptic Christian could be called an Egyptian Christian or a Christian in the Middle East or Afro-Asiatic region.  Coptic Christians are Christians as far as their beliefs are held. The fact that they are Christians and living in a predominantly Muslim part of the world is reason enough for them to be persecuted more than most Christians in the West.  The Coptic’s are believed to have originated in the city of Alexandria, Egypt.  John Mark, the author of the gospel of Mark and believed to be one of the earliest of the four gospels, is thought to be the founder of the Coptic Christian Church.  Although John Mark wrote this gospel, the vast majority of biblical scholars firmly believe it is actually Peter’s gospel with Mark being the author of it.  This is the same John Mark that traveled throughout the Asiatic region with Paul and Barnabas so it is not beyond belief that John Mark may have went to Alexandria and planted a church there.

What do Coptic Christians Believe?

The fact that they rely so much on the gospel of Mark reveals that they believe in the divinity of Christ.  They believe in the resurrection and the miracles of Christ.  They believe in the bodily ascension of Christ and that He was the sinless Messiah and will come again to gather together the Body of Believers worldwide and take them into the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Coptic or Egyptian Christians essentially believe what any other Christians do but since they are in a region that is predominantly Muslim they see more of the persecution that Jesus warned was to come.  Jesus said that if they persecuted Him they will also persecute His followers (John 15:20). The Coptic’s have lived with this persecution for about 2,000 years now. They have seen their churches regularly burned down and they have seen many of their members die by the hands of radical Muslims who see Christians as infidels that are opposed to the Islamic faith.  They have seen more persecution in a year’s time than most Christians will see in their lifetime.

The Coptic’s were one of the earliest Christian groups to see Christ as being both God and Man or what is called “one hypostasis in two natures.”  Only later would the Eastern Orthodox, the Catholic and the Protestant churches come to this conclusion.   The Coptic Christian tradition says that when John Mark took a missionary expedition to Egypt he was well received because many of the Egyptians had already believed in eternal life but in a different setting.  They were more eager and willing to believe this because this was not that different than what they believed happened after death; that they passed from death to the Underworld and then to the next life.  This was the primary reason why the Pyramids were built…to supply provisions for the Pharaohs so that they could pass from this life into the next as well as protect their valuable treasures.

The Coptic Christian Explosion

Relatively few Coptic Christians remain where they began, that is in Alexandria.  Today they are estimated to range in numbers from between 10 to 60 million members worldwide but most are not far from the Middle East or Asia Minor.  The exact numbers of Coptic Christians is hard to determine because many worship in secrecy for fear of persecution and regular threats of death in the more radical regions of the world where the Islamic faith is the dominant religion. Some believe that they are more closely associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church because they emphasize meritorious works as part of their salvation.  That is they lean on liturgical rituals rather than a personal relationship with Christ by which salvation is possible.  Due to pressures from the Muslim world, many Coptic Christians converted under pressure to Islam which is the dominant religion in their part of the world.  Those who remain staunch in their Christianity often pay dearly for it.


No matter what Christian persuasion you are, you belong to Christ.  Differences in beliefs that are not different in the essentials should not divide us.  The main tenets of Christ’s divinity, His sinlessness, His redeeming work on Calvary, His resurrection and ascension into heaven and His offer of salvation by faith alone should serve to unite us.  We need to be praying for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, especially those who are suffering from severe persecutions, some even dying for their faith.  These include the Coptic Christians, those who are in hiding in parts of Asia, those who have house churches in China, and those who are based in Muslim countries.  These Coptic Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  They may do things somewhat differently than we do, but that doesn’t mean that they are not part of the Body of Christ.

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Pastor Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at What Christians Want to Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design

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  • David Howard

    Very well written article. Thanks for taking the time to share it!

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    • frednova


  • seba

    “Differences in beliefs that are not different in the essentials should not divide us. ”

    uh huh, but differences between protestantism and orthodoxy are absolutely essential. You should write about eucharist at least, because around that is build whole orthodoxy and which is deviated hard in protestantism. To coptic christians, or any other orthodox, protestantism with their “intelligent designs” and pastors and ministers are nothing but a pagans.

  • Robbie Robel

    Coptic Christians share about 90 percent of the same beliefs as Roman Catholics. You would be hard-pressed to find Evangelical Protestants who would say that doctrine is not essential where Roman Catholics are concerned.

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  • zayed

    What are you talking about?!
    This characterization of Christians being subject to hellish conditions in the muslim world is ridiculous. Pre-enlightenment Europe was more oppresive to other varieties of christian than any part of the Muslim world, which regards Christians & Jews (and in Iran, zoroastrians) as ‘ahl alkitaab, or “people of the book”, who will see heaven if they live their lives righteously according to their holy books. They can even intermarry with muslims, with neither partner needing to convert according to Islam. Copts have had a rocky time the past 50 years since european colonialism, because of the blow the political system has received. Because of the numerous revolutions, Islamists who MOST MUSLIMS HATE TO BEGIN WITH have indeed been cruel to copts. But this is a problem of Islamism, not ISLAM. Have you even been here in Egypt? Stop characterizing the muslim world as innately evil, it’s tiring and inaccorate.

    • Joe Dokes

      “But this is a problem of Islamism, not ISLAM.”

      Mohammed is said to be the perfect exemplification of Islam, is he not?

      Mohammed promised the last day will not come until the Muslims have fought the Jews and killed them. True or false?

  • Deborah

    The true Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:


    The only true Christians are born again believers in Jesus
    Christ, who have received salvation, the new nature and cleansing of all sin by
    His blood, simply by placing their faith alone in Jesus Christ and His redemptive
    work, i.e. His death, burial and resurrection.

    Coptic orthodox are religious people performing works to earn their way to heaven, the same as every other false religion and cult on the earth. It is a false gospel – faith and works. They are not born again saved Christians.

    ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.’ John 10:1

    ‘I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’ John 10:9

    They have a heretical doctrine on the Person of Jesus Christ (that His two distinct divine and human natures are one singular nature) and believe in many of the catholic heresies, including the blasphemous mystical doctrine of transubstantiation.

    This article pushes the ecumenical one world church that precedes the antichrist.

    • SavedbyGrace

      Amen!! The true Gospel. What must i do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…Acts 16:31 The wages of sin is the but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:23) You are saved the moment you realize your a hell deserving sinner and then trust and believe on Jesus Christ alone to save you. Once saved always saved you cannot lose your salvation no matter what. Jesus said, I give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish.

      Sadly, Regarding the Coptic orthodox beliefs I will let the Word of God speak and may the light of glorious gospel shine upon them:

      Romans 10:2-4
      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.

      • frednova

        Keep re-arranging the deck chairs.

  • VickiGene

    Please correct the grammatical error in this sentence: This is the same John Mark that traveled throughout the Asiatic region with Paul and Barnabas so it is not beyond belief that John Mark may have WENT (GONE) to Alexandria and planted a church there.

    • Adara

      You should find something more productive to complain about.

      • Bob Dooley

        “Please correct” doesn’t sound like complaining to me.

      • Wink Winkler

        Grammar is enough when the author pretends to speak with authority. BTW, Asiatic is an insult.

  • Code000

    After reading your post i STILL dont know what Coptic Christians believe (distinctive differences). Your post seems to dodge that for what ever reason. I will have to go search other places.

    • Joe Dokes

      Like the Orthodox, Catholics and not a few protestant denominations, the Copts mix faith in Christ with meritorious works to obtain salvation, putting them all at odds with Ephesians 2:8-9. The author did vaguely hint at that, but not as directly as he should have.

    • UH UH UH

      It seems clear, try reading it again s l o w l e y.

  • Donna

    Christains from the first meeting of Christains [followers of Christ] in the the book of Acts ALWAYS believed Christ was GOD And man come to earth to die for our sins! Immanuel God with us!!

  • Becki Jameson

    We have tenets of faith, not tenants (*facepalm*).

    • Jack Wellman

      Thanks for pointing out my error. I’m sorry about that. Otherwise, can’t tell if you liked it or not so thanks for pointing out my mistakes if nothing else.

      • Jack Wellman

        Facepalm? Really?

        • http://www.youravon.com/bjameson Becki Jameson

          Just trying to give you a word picture that you might envision my reaction. Lol!

          • Jack Wellman

            Thanks. It certainly did. I appreciate knowing this. I do see that this reinforces my belief…only the Word of God is perfect. Thank you for your patience with me.

      • http://www.youravon.com/bjameson Becki Jameson

        I did enjoy and appreciate your article. I’m sorry if my attention to grammar gave you the impression that I held your article in low regard. On the contrary, I was gratified to learn that they are truly my brethren in Christ, as are you, brother Jack.

  • Sandy

    As an Orthodox Christian of the Coptic rite, I disagree with many things of this article. It is poorly researched and filled with generalizations. For example, we certainly Do NOT emphasize meritorious works to earn salvation. Faith is an act of forming a relationship of trust with God and not a mental assent to certain doctrinal statements. We believe that salvation is only through participation with Christ’s life in order to live in communion with the holy trinity (i.e. to become partakers of the divine nature 1Peter1:4). Hence, we emphasize the need for the entire person to repent, be transformed and be conformed to the Divine Image. It is a process of healing for the entire person (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12).

    The author also claims that we lean on liturgical worship rather than on a personal relationship with Christ–this is completely false and offensive to me. Our liturgical worship is the assembly of the body of Christ gathering around the one table of the Lord offering thanksgiving to Him and being mystically united with Him, just as He commanded in John 6 and just as the Apostles and the early church worshiped. Please read the NT carefully, then Ignatius of Antioch, then Irenaeus of Lyon to get a better understanding. Finally, we are not like the Catholics (in fact, protestant and Catholic traditions are more similar than Orthodox ones in their understanding of salvation, thanks to Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas).

    • Johannine L

      The Greek word for faith, “pistis”, simply means belief that is comprehended. Faith is not “faithfulness”. Faith produces good works, but faith is not a good work. You appear to have confused the root with the fruit.

    • newenglandsun

      “we are not like the Catholics (in fact, protestant and Catholic traditions are more similar than Orthodox ones in their understanding of salvation, thanks to Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas)”
      1. There are Coptic Catholics (Coptic Rite Christians in union with the Bishop of Rome). These Coptic Catholics are Catholic to the core as well as Coptic to the core.
      2. Orthodox and Catholic soteriology are VERY similar with the sacraments as the basis of theosis. Given, the Novus Ordo definitely makes Catholics lean a lot more Protestant these days than genuinely Catholic. There are many Orthodox that appeal to those three theologians mentioned as well–I’ve seen many appeal to St. Thomas Aquinas in respect to the immaculate conception.
      3. The primary DIFFERENCE between Catholic soteriology and Orthodox soteriology is that the Orthodox have no developed doctrine of soteriology in general so to state Catholics have more in common with Protestants than Orthodox shows more your ignorance toward Western theology.

    • Redbone01

      He said REPENT, be BAPTIZED EVERYONE of you in the NAME of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and RECEIVE ye the gift of the Holy Ghost (Spirit)…Acts 2:38 IS the ONLY SALVATION given among men whereby we MUST be saved. It’s in the NAME of Jesus. Father, Son, H.G (Spirit) are titles, NOT names. You WILL speak with other tongues as the Spirit gives the utterance. That IS the gift. His Spirit living inside you. Read it for yourselves. Jesus IS God in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16) God Bless!

  • http://www.amazon.com/Devon-Dibley-His-Golden-Key/dp/1484181557/ M F Scotto

    Worthless article. It doesn’t touch on core Copt doctrines which are diametrically opposed to Evangelical salvation doctrines. Never the twain shall meet, as it were. I’ve read better papers on comparative religion from high school students.

  • Billy

    Nelly van Doorn-Harder. “Coptic Christianity.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices. Editor: Thomas Riggs. Volume 1: Religions and Denominations. Detroit: Gale, 2006.


  • Freddy West

    One and the same, the main tenets are the same.

  • Lee McAdams

    Pretty much the same beliefs as me. I’m a Protestant Christian. I truly hate what my Coptic brothers are going through. If I was able bodied…..I would go with the Kurds and help them in their fight versus ISIS. ISIS is Satan’s tool to eradicate Christians worldwide.

  • Amy Dugas

    Uh, if you are not born again (which does NOT mean baptism), you will end up in the lake of fire. Not all “Christian persuasions” belong to Christ.

    This article was never clear about if they know how to get saved or if they are like the Catholics.

    • Andrew Dowling

      What makes you certain you have the unvarnished truth? Maybe YOU are heading towards the lake of fire!

  • Scott johnson

    “…John Mark may have went (should be “gone”) to Alexandria and planted a church there.” Aside from the grammatical error(s), and the relative lack of inclusion of Coptic doctrinal distinctives, I enjoyed the article, especially the emphasis on these brothers’ and sisters’ perilous position within their milieux.

  • newenglandsun

    “The Coptic’s were one of the earliest Christian groups to see Christ as being both God and Man or what is called “one hypostasis in two natures.””
    This statement was bothering me a little bit. While Coptic Catholics definitely agree with Chalcedon’s definition of Jesus being “one hypostasis in two natures”, this definition is entirely Chalcedonian, not Coptic. Coptic Catholics have fully reconciled with the Bishop of Rome and accept the councils of the Catholic Church, however, Coptic Orthodox have historically had objections to this definition of Chalcedon as too Nestorian (this in no way is saying they are necessarily Monophysite, just that they reject Chalcedon’s definition as being Nestorian).
    This is a major issue when it comes to ecumenism between the Coptic Orthodox (and other Oriental Orthodox) with Eastern Orthodox as well as with Catholics.

  • Nom DePlume

    “Differences in beliefs that are not different in the essentials should not divide us.” What people coming to this article want to know is DO evangelicals differ from Copts in essentials? The article doesn’t address this crucial question.

    Saying that “Coptic or Egyptian Christians essentially believe what any other Christians do” is not enlightening unless you clarify what Christians believe, and saying “No matter what Christian persuasion you are, you belong to Christ” is downright misleading considering how liberally the term “Christian” is applied today.


    I believe, based upon my study of the Coptic Christians, that the Coptic’s are Christians in every sense of the definition of a Cristian person. They believe in the definitey of Christ, the trinity, and his purity. This is all that really maters. If Mark in fact was the originator of this group of Christians, that should be good enough for all Christians. They are partners in Christ. Let us just leave it at that.