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Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?
September 1st, 2013
03:26 AM ET

Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?

Opinion by Jeffrey Weiss, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other in several nations, most notably in Syria's escalating civil war.

Coptic Christians churches are being torched in Egypt.

In Israel, what passes for peace talks has restarted after years of murder and brutality.

Religion is a common thread in each conflict. But why? Don’t these folks worship the same deity?

After all, Jews, Christians and Muslims all trace their faiths back to a fellow named Abraham, whom they all claim was chosen for special treatment by the Almighty. Why can’t they all get along?

Not academic

The “same God” question is one theologians have hammered at for as long as there have been enough religions for the query to make sense.

The question is hardly academic, though. In fact, a number of politicians, religious leaders and scholars have expressed hope in recent years that a convincing answer on the God question might dampen the violence committed in His name.

Last year, for example, Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf edited a book titled “Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue.”

In the introduction, Volf explained why the title question matters:

"To ask: ‘Do we have a common God?’ is, among other things, to worry: ‘Can we live together?’ That’s why whether or not a given community worships the same god as does another community has always been a crucial cultural and political question and not just a theological one."

On the other hand, there’s CNN Belief Blog contributor and Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero. His book on this subject is titled “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World.”

Prothero writes:

“For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world where all gods are one … In fact this naive theological groupthink – call it Godthink – has made the world more dangerous by blinding us to the clash of religions that threaten us worldwide.”

In the world of politics, President George W. Bush asserted the unity side of the argument more than once in the years after the 9/11 attacks - often as a way to deflect accusations that America was at war with Islam.

Bush told Al Arabiya television, “I believe there is a universal God. I believe the God that the Muslim prays to is the same God that I pray to. After all, we all came from Abraham. I believe in that universality.”

Pope John Paul II drew from the same rhetorical well several times.

“We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection,” he first said in a speech to Muslims in Morocco in 1985.

Looking for a more recent example? Consider the plight earlier this year of the new Vatican envoy to Malaysia.

Shortly after he arrived there, Archbishop Joseph Marino said that is was fine by him that Christian translations of the Bible into Malay use the word “Allah” for “God.”

“Allah” is, of course, the Arabic word for God and is found in the Quran. The Christian translators explained that since most Malaysians are Muslim, it’s the word they’re most comfortable with and therefore the best choice for the translation.

But many Muslim authorities in Malaysia are furious. They say Christians are slipping in the familiar word as a way to convert Muslims. And conversion of Muslims is all but illegal in Malaysia.

There’s a lawsuit ongoing about the translations. Marino had to apologize for pushing into Malaysian politics.

Points of disagreement

So what do the “Abrahamic” religions disagree about?

Among other things: the purpose of humanity, the relationship of God and humanity, sin, forgiveness, salvation, the afterlife, Jesus, Muhammad, the calendar, and the religious importance of Abraham himself.

Plus the nature of God.

Any summary will leave out enormous nuance. Internal divisions within religions have fueled some of the worst examples of human violence. Consider the long and frequently bloody history of troubles between Catholics and Protestants or the growing death toll of Muslim-on-Muslim attacks.

But there are common elements about God widely accepted in each tradition.

Judaism

Start with Judaism, since it came first and established roots that carried into the other two.

Jewish tradition teaches that there is one and only one God, creator of everything, and He established physical and moral laws. As Judaism’s preeminent prayer says: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

This God walks and talks directly with His creations – for a while.

Eventually, He chooses one particular nomad (Abraham) to father a mighty nation that God sets up as an example to other nations.

This God likes the smell of burning meat and demands other extremely specific physical offerings as evidence of obedience and repentance. And He gives His chosen people a particular set of laws – but doesn’t mind discussion and even argument about those laws.

A famous rabbinic saying implies that every word in Judaism’s sacred texts can be understood in 70 correct (but related) ways. And human reasoning can even trump divine intention. (No kidding. It’s in the Talmud)

This God judges His people every year. Tradition says he’s willing to accept imperfection, as long as it comes with repentance.

He’s big on obedience, not so much on faith. He’s not nearly as attentive to the behaviors of non-Jews. (There’s a famous Jewish joke with the punch line “Would you mind choosing somebody else once in a while?”)

Tradition holds that there’s a World To Come after death where moral accounts will somehow be settled. But this God is vague on details.

Christianity

The most obvious differences in the Christian God are the traditional teachings about the Trinity and Jesus. God is three separate persons who are also one. How? Christianity says the Trinity is a “mystery” of faith.

According to Christian tradition, God begets a son who is somehow also Him but not Him to atone for Original Sin. He sacrifices that son though a brutal death and thus achieves humanity's salvation.

But the son, who also is God, rises from the dead. And that sacrifice redeems eternally all who accept and believe in it. Faith, not behavior, is the essential measure of salvation.

This God is willing to vastly expand what it means to be among His “chosen people.” He’s also willing to cancel many of the laws that had applied to that chosen group for this expanded membership.

Orthodox Jews say that God prohibits them from eating a cheeseburger; Christians say God has no problem with them wolfing down Big Macs.

Unlike the Jewish God, whose instructions are almost all about this world, the Christian God is focused more on eternal salvation: heaven and hell.

Finally, for this God, much of the Jewish scriptures (which are all God’s word) are actually about foreshadowing Jesus. Including Abraham.

Related: Should Christianity be so boring?

Islam

The Muslim God is a bit more like the Jewish God.

There is no Trinity in Muslim tradition. Jesus was a prophet, but no more divine than other prophets.

God has never has had anything like physical attributes and has no gender. (Some Muslim commentators say that the noun “Allah” is masculine, but only in the way that all nouns in some languages include gender.)

Muslim tradition holds that God wants one thing from humans: Submission. The word “Islam” is defined as “submission to the will of God.”

For Muslims, all true prophets in Jewish and Christian traditions were actually Muslim because they knew to submit correctly to God. Differences between Muslim, Jewish and Christian interpretations of God are due to errors that crept into the other two faiths, Islam teaches.

The Muslim God, like the other two, initially demanded that Abraham sacrifice a son. But the Muslim God wanted Abraham’s son Ishmael, not Isaac, who Jewish tradition holds was offered as a the sacrifice.

The Muslim God also designated, from before the world began, a perfect man to be his final prophet: Muhammad. God’s perfect truths are found only in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad, the hadiths.

And the Muslim God, like the Christian God but unlike the Jewish God, will welcome believers to paradise and condemn many non-Muslims - exactly which ones is a matter of much discussion - to eternal torment.

Final answer

So do Christians Muslims, and Jews, really all worship the same God?

In two major volumes on the subject recently published by scholars from various faiths and traditions, including Volf’s, the most inclusive response from these scholars is basically: Yes, and it’s our God.

This is not a new way of answering the question.

In 1076, Pope Gregory VII wrote this to a Muslim leader: “We believe in and confess one God, admittedly, in a different way…”

But like many other religious leaders on all sides of the argument, Gregory insisted that his version of the Almighty is the one whom the others are unknowingly and incompletely worshiping.

A less exclusivist set of religions might shrug off the differences. But all three claim to have the only “True Faith.”

So do all three faiths actually worship the same deity, whether they call him God or Allah or Adonai?

God only knows.

Jeffrey Weiss is an award-winning religion reporter in Dallas.The views expressed in this column belong to Weiss.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Faith Now • History • Islam • Judaism • Muslim • Religious violence • Torah • Vatican

soundoff (6,792 Responses)
  1. 00 00

    refute what jesus said.

    January 19, 2014 at 3:45 am |
    • stewpidmonkey

      Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.

      Not possible, There is no mountain high enough for one to see the kingdoms in China, Egypt, the Galec lands, etc.

      March 31, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
  2. Joe M

    Leave it to a Pope or any other "heathen" to profess that all religions worship the same GOD. The Catholics worship the Sun while using Christianity to hide it. Islam also plagiarized from Christianity as well. There seemed to be a trend. And we have also seen much false "evidence" of other religions creeping up in the past 100 years, claiming to have come before the Christian faith. But NONE have proven themselves over time to be TRUTH. Islam continues to do damage in the world. Catholicism continues to exalt a man to be authority over the Christian world. Of course, its all pretend for the sake of Mary the sun goddess.

    It doesnt matter that Christ was nailed once. He continues to be crucified over and over by the world. And as He told us, know that when the world hates us for walking Truth, they hated Him first.

    Christianity in its truest essence, well before the roman religion, has always been clear and precise. And fully accurate in defining the world. All others are worshiping suns, statues, murderers, symbols, and anything other than TRUTH. Christianity without denomination will forever be the ONLY TRUTH.

    January 9, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
    • Dick

      Joe, somebody forgot to tell you. There is no god.

      January 14, 2014 at 11:50 pm |
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    November 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  6. Steve Finnell

    WHAT DID THE FIRST CHRISTIANS BELIEVE?

    THE CHURCH OF CHRIST HAD ITS BEGINNING ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST 33 A.D.. WHAT BELIEFS AND ACTIONS DID THE THREE THOUSAND CONVERTS TO CHRIST HAVE IN COMMON? DID GOD APPROVE OF EVOLVING BELIEFS, DIFFERENT REQUIREMENTS FOR SALVATION? IF THAT WERE TRUE, THEN WOULD IT NOT BE FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES?

    Acts 2:41 So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls. Acts 2:47....And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    All three thousand believed the apostle Peter's message and were baptized in water. Then they were added to the Lord's church by the Lord Himself. The Lord did not add the unsaved to His church. They had to believe and be baptized in water prior to being added to the body of Christ.

    1. Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-

    All three thousand believed Jesus was a miracle worker.

    2. Acts 2:31-32 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

    All three thousand believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    3. Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you crucified."

    All three thousand believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ.

    4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    All three thousand repented in order to have sins forgiven. (repentance meant that they made the commitment to turn from their unbelief and sinful lifestyle and turn toward God).

    All three thousand were baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

    All three thousand received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit after they believed, repented, and were baptized in water.

    5. Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

    All three thousand were saved after they believed Peter's message: They believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized in water. (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:35-38) THEN THEY WERE ADDED TO THE LORD'S CHURCH! (Acts 2:47)

    WHAT THINGS DID PETER NOT PREACH AND WHAT THINGS DID THE THREE THOUSAND NOT BELIEVE.

    1.Peter did not preach that men were saved by grace alone.

    2.Peter did not preach that men were saved by faith only

    3.Peter did not preach that God had selected a few to be saved and that all others would go to hell.

    4. Peter did not preach that water baptism was not essential to salvation.

    5. Peter did not preach that Jesus was just one of many Saviors.

    6. Peter did not preach that once you were saved, that you could continue in a sinful lifestyle and still be saved.

    7. Peter did not preach that God did not have the power to give us an inerrant translation of the Scriptures.

    8. Peter did not preach that God would provide hundreds or thousands of different Christian denominations, and that they would teach different ways of being saved.

    9. Peter did NOT preach that you had to speak in tongues as evidence that you were saved.

    AS BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, MEN SHOULD USE THE BIBLE AS THEIR GUIDE FOR SALVATION. Looking to man-made creed books, Bible commentaries, denominational statements of faith, and church catechisms, is looking in all the wrong places for the absolute truth!

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    November 20, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Will

      Greeting Steve, I generally agree with most of what you have written, especially needed to use the Bible as the final authority. I do want to say that I am glad that we have more than just Peter to get the whole picture on salvation–we have the whole Bible. Our understanding of salvation expanded through the epistles and even Peter was rebuked for some of his behavior via Paul. The book of Acts was not written as a book of dogma but it is a very important witness and details the beginning of the church as a whole. I believe that believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross along with our repentance is what the scripture teaches. Water does not save but it is a part of the act of obedience in regards to salvation and we know that the thief on the cross was saved unless you regard that as a different part of salvation. I don't have time to go into further details but I will definitely try to check out your blog and hopefully have further discussion. Keep up the fight and may the peace of God be with you.

      November 21, 2013 at 8:48 am |
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    November 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  8. Mohammad Masud Pramanik

    You all know who is "ALLAH" : we have been taught to respect other religions by prophet Mohammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). If you all have any confusion regarding religions or prophets, please read the holy "QURAN". There are billions, billions, billions................. of copy of the holy "QURAN" but contains same words A – Z of "ALLAH", not a 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 % of deviation.

    November 9, 2013 at 4:42 am |
    • drturi

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      November 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Rehana

      :) before the 'same copy' there was many copies of koran. Even Ali had one! the ruler wants his own version to be as the standard one and BURNT rest of them! Power matters to the koran you used today. And if you ever been to a research, there are changed according to some copies found. And also don't forget before such news come to surface, Muslims do the patches! Part of a koran has been eaten by a got according to Aisha, and many who memorised the koran killed in the war too. So do your home work. Anyway koran and holy bible is two things. Bible is a ensiclopedia which included God's word and words are changes to get more understanding rather than forcing people to learn Armenic kind of very remote languages. The aim is to know what God said, not the 'original languages it revealed matters. So the way of Muslims compare has no meaning. And also have a search.

      December 18, 2013 at 4:02 am |
      • Ross

        Jeremiah 27Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah after the king had burned the scroll and the words which Baruch had written at the dictation of Jeremiah, saying, 28"Take again another scroll and write on it all the former words that were on the first scroll which Jehoiakim the king of Judah burned.…

        If you don't understand, let me break it down. Basically the bible has been rewritten a thousand and one times, by kings and scribes. I know it sucks, but hey...That is why there are so many bibles amongst the many different Christianity. So yeah, The bible really doesn't hold any water whatsoever. Not saying I support Islam or Jews, Im just saying in all.

        December 21, 2013 at 1:22 am |
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  10. Kris

    You say Christianity deals with "Faith, not behavior, is the essential measure of salvation." You can't have one without the other. Are you really being faithful if you are not doing what God asks you to do?

    October 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • supermodel

      You can commit horrendous crimes (behavior) and then "find God" (faith), thus being welcomed in to heaven w/ open arms. So, yes, you can have faith without the behvior.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  11. Kenneth

    I think God is not confused about who He is and we should not be. He is not confused about how we should app
    roach Him and we should not be. the Bible records the testimonies of 40 different writers over a period of 1600 years eco speak of the coming messiah Jesus Christ. God reveals Himself to man in different ways in different ages but in our dispensation, He has spoken us through His son.

    October 5, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  12. Anon

    Yes they all worship the same mythological piece of shít desert god.

    October 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  13. SammyD

    Until science can create living organisms I will continue to believe there is a God.

    September 30, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  14. Amanda

    This author may want to brush up on his research skills. The triune godhead originates in ancient Babylon long before the establishment of Christianity in the first century. This is not a Christian teaching. Christian meaning follower of Christ would indicate that his disciples would reflect his personality and teach what he taught. Jesus himself repeatedly refers to his Father as having a unique name seperate from his own. He claimed that the Father is greater than he, sent him, he was ressurected by Him. Remember that just because one claims to be something does not mean that this is the truth. Many claim to be Christian yet the fruitage produced certainly indicates otherwise. Are you really Christian if you do not share the beliefs of Christ? God is not mysterious, this is what those who are not familiar enough with the scrpitures to prove what they believe say. In fact the Bible says that we should search for accurate knowlege. So again, Jesus was throughly familiar with the scriptures. He never responded with empty philosophy. If you are going to stand up and promote a religion or a way of living shouldnt you at the very least be able to prove its authenticity?

    September 30, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Will

      Amanda, although we see that there are triune god concepts in ancient religions, the Bible reveals God as a triune God even though you do not find the word "trinity" in the Bible through a progressive revelation. In the gospel of John although Jesus claimed the Father was greater than himself, He did state that "I and the Father are one". Jesus claimed that if you have seen him you have seen the Father. He even made the statement that "before Abraham was, I AM" which was a clear claim of divinity and claim to be God. The Jews of that time knew this and considered His words blasphemy. When you look at the work of Satan in the Bible, he has always perverted the truth and twisted it. God has already put evidence of His existence in our hearts and creation according to the book of Romans. It is no shock that the ancient peoples spoke of one creator God. Over time, God has provided more revelation about Himself through the scriptures, Jesus Christ, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Not all Christianity that you see out there today is valid unfortunately, but that is why we need to study the scriptures to know what our Bibles (as Christians) truly teach and that does not happen for many people unfortunately. That is why you don't see the fruit that Christians are supposed to bear. I do believe what Jesus taught and claimed and He does still leave some things a mystery for us even though He has revealed much of Himself to us. Please forgive me if I misunderstood the intent of your message in my response. God Bless.

      September 30, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
      • dankwansere

        Will, I think I have some corrections to make to your comment. when Jesus claimed that "I and the Father are one" If you actually read that verse carefully. Jesus was actually saying a parable. The reason why Jesus said that "I and the Father are one" is because Jesus does the exact will of the Father. Like Jesus himself said, "Everything I do is not of my own power but of my Father who tells me what to do". So since Jesus is doing exactly what the Father is telling him to do he has a right of saying that "him and the Father are one".

        2. Jesus claimed that if you have seen him then you have seen the father. What people seem to forget is that Jesus speaks a lot of times in parables. And this statement is also a parable. If you read the statement carefully along with Jesus other sayings. What Jesus is implying is that if you have seen him then you have seen the father because Jesus is the way to the father. Jesus does exactly what the father tells him because he is the word. And the only way to see the Father is if you believe in the words of Jesus. To believe in the words of Jesus is to see and feel it. Once you see and feel the word then you have seen the father.

        "Before Abraham was I AM". A lot Trinity believers take this verse out of context. They forget to do cross references with other verses in the bible. Jesus saying that "Before Abraham was I AM" does not claim that HE is GOD Almighty himself or does not even prove the trinity teachings. Jesus had every reason to say "Before Abraham was I AM" why was Jesus allowed to say that? well if you read the book of Hebrews it states that Jesus was the "first born of all creation" meaning he was already in existence before the creation of man. So he has every right to say "before Abraham I AM"

        " For to which of the angels did He ever say: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”?[c] And again: “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son”?[d] 6 But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” Hebrews 1

        I'm a true believer in the bible because it's the word of God. I follow the words of Christ daily because its the road to salvation and the road to the Father God Almighty. But Christians have perverted the word of Christ by adding different teachings that Jesus never spoke of

        January 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm |
  15. mike

    Face it, some people are just mean. No matter the religion or lack of it, no matter the country or the race, some people are just plain mean. And selfish, and calloused, and hateful.

    September 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.