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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) - Pope Francis surprised Israeli and Palestinian leaders last month when he invited them to a special prayer ceremony at the Vatican this Sunday - not least because religion has often been the source, not the salve, of the region's conflicts.

Still, Pope Francis offered his "home" - the Vatican - as the perfect place to plea for some divine assistance, and Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dutifully agreed to attend.

"The Pope has placed it in this perspective: Prayer is like a force for peace,” Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin told Vatican Radio.

"We hope that there, where human efforts have so far failed, the Lord offers to all the wisdom and fortitude to carry out a real peace plan."

But Sunday's special ceremony at the Vatican raises an interesting question: When Francis, Peres and Abbas bow their heads in prayer, will they be talking to the same God?

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.

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.

Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf recently 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 Francis invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Vatican peace talks

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 of Vatican envoy to Malaysia.

Shortly after he arrived there last year, 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 were 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.

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. A version of this story first ran in September 2013. 

CNN's Daniel Burke contributed to this article. 

- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (7,438 Responses)
  1. joey

    the christian user manual is a farce, like all the others. amway

    September 2, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  2. We Have a Verse for That

    Oh, My...CNN wiped an entire set of comments out.....No more angry Saved....no more...OR was it Saved who did it?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      unknown who is using nazi book burning tactics to sensor people. There was nothing that violated the terms of use agreement.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  3. Man of Reason

    No, because http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    September 2, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  4. quieteye

    Man attempts to understand the ocean with the cup of his mind.
    (origination credit other than me)

    September 2, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  5. Apotropoxy

    - Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not
    omnipotent.
    – Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    – Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    – Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    Epicurus

    The standard response by Christian theologians to Epicurus’ conundrum is to say that their god gave man Free Will and is thereby divorced from his creature's decision making. But did not the creator of all things also create Free Will?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • n3kitme

      He is no God if He cant do what pleases Him. He will show mercy on whom he will have mercy.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • Sara

        The way we have previously labelled gods they really don't have to be all powerful, and knowing or all good. Historically figures labelled gods haven't always even truly been importal, with some susceptible to certain types of death. I doubt the Abrahamic god was originally seen as anything like as powerful or kind as he is now, with the gradual change leading to some of theinconsistencies we see.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  6. couyon

    No one has ever seen what God look like. Is it possible that there may be no god or multiple gods? The truth is we do not know. So, what should we do? We should acknowledge this fact and just go about being the best human being that we can be and that is simple, do no harm and apply any talent you have to good use. If there is a god or gods, ou will be rewarded. If there is no god or gods, you will go through life a happier person and at peace with yourself as you lay on your deathbed.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  7. paul

    OMG (no pun intended) religion; the scourge of humanity.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  8. Archer

    The name of the God of the Jews (as stated most commonly) can be found in Psalms 83:18.
    (Psalm 83:18) That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth.
    Jews today don't use his name, nor do Muslims. We all do not all study from the same Holy book. I say NO, we all do not have the same god.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Thinker23

      God is God and Book is a Book. I do not think that God is nothing but a machine running a program coded in a 2000-years-old book.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  9. Essjay

    Folks: when all these holy books were written no one knew about IVF or artificial insemination except scientifically advanced beings from other planets. If an "angel" appeared, it might have been the advanced being that was going to perform the implantation. Jesus is the exact copy of the DNA of God, so they are the same. In this century do we not have to at least consider the "alien" possibility?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Thinker23

      Sure we do. The impregnation of Mary is, however, only one (and, probably, not the most important) story of the New Testament. Still, there are many way more probable explanations of Mary's insemination than the alien involvement. After all, she was a married woman at the time meaning that she had a living and, probably, a loving husband. In addition, she could have a boyfriend.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:19 am |
      • Sara

        That's essentially the Mormon belief, that a visitor from Kolob in our form inseminated her, so they would be vindicated.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • UncleBenny

      God has DNA? I thought He was a spirit. Spirits don't have DNA.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • G to the T

        Then with what was Mary impregnated? If no sperm then Jesus only carried Mary's DNA.

        Either way – hard to say he was a decendant of David eh?

        September 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  10. Kenrick Benjamin

    It's Regilious Evolution with God and Abraham being the root and trunk of the tree, and Judaism, Christianity, Islam being the branches. They are even split further to represent the diffrent sects in each religion.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  11. joey

    there is no god or gods. it does not exist except in human fantasy

    September 2, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • Thinker23

      Who are YOU to make such declarations? and WHAT can you offer to support your claims?

      September 2, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • joey

        who is anyone ? there is no evidence either way. so I refuse the bigotry involved

        September 2, 2013 at 9:45 am |
        • Thinker23

          Joey... The evidence of computer scientists and mathematicians is the machine you're using to communicate here. The evidence of individuals who designed, tested and build automobiles are the automobiles. I can continue but you've got the idea, did not you?

          September 2, 2013 at 9:51 am |
        • HA25

          @Thinker – if you continue – you hit a dead end.
          Either the "evidence" you refer to is the Earth itself but then I say that is Evidence of the laws of Physics and Statistics. Can you prove me wrong?
          Or perhaps the "evidence" is the centuries of slaughter in the name of God? What does that point to but either that there is no one that is "right" (thus the fight continues) or that God is pretty much a creature of violence.

          September 2, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Man of Reason

        http://WWW.GODisIMAGINARY.com

        September 2, 2013 at 9:50 am |
      • Go Home God, You're Drunk

        You are asking for evidence of why there isn't a god? That's like if I told you that there is a Pink Unicorn named Hank that is always hovering over your shoulder BUT you can't see him. Hank created everything, including us. You can pray to Hank and might just answer your prayer and let your favorite football team win.

        Now, please present me with evidence that Hank The Majestic Pink Unicorn doesn't exist.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  12. tmac

    The posts I read here confirm what I was thinking....

    The three Abrahamic religions share more than just their belief in "the same God."

    They also share an egocentric view – "WE are the ONLY correct interpretation, and it is our responsibility to correct the rest of the world." It is this view that has led to all the ugliness that the three groups have perpetrated. No, really! Think about it!

    The Jews are willing to fight to drive others out of Jerusalem, the Christians endured dangerous pilgrimages not to worship, but to fight the Crusades to take the Holy Land for their faith, they tortured to "convert" infidels, and they fight amongst themselves (Protestant v. Catholics in N. Ireland, for instance); The Muslims declare "jihad" against their version of "infidels," and they fight wars between Shia and Sunni over who should set the rules.

    All three religions are guilty of this arrogance and intolerance. And THAT is why we have wars in the Middle East and beyond.

    Shame on you all!

    September 2, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Thinker23

      I would recommend you to get a clue of waht you're talking about prior to declare "shame on you"...

      The fact is that the Jews ARE NOT "willing to fight to drive others out of Jerusalem". If it was the case there would be no one but Jews in Jerusalem.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:32 am |
      • tmac

        The Old Testament is full of stories of the Jews fighting wars to control "the promised land." And today's events in the MIddle East... do you not see the fighting on the news????

        September 2, 2013 at 9:38 am |
      • G to the T

        Believe me – if they didn't need to keep relations with the west, they would be taking back "their" land PDQ.

        September 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  13. joey

    all the children of abraham, hating and killing each other. couldnt be soon enough

    September 2, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  14. popseal

    Jesus washed the disciples' feet. Mohammed cut off hands and heads. If that doesn't tell you anything, you can't learn anything.

    September 2, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      If you beleive either the bible or quran, you can't learn anything, your mind is too closed.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:02 am |
  15. T Rene

    Man created god(s) in his own image.

    September 2, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  16. tasyfrzz

    As I see it we are all part of God's dream. We exist so we must have come from somewhere.
    We are all matter and matter is energy. My thought is that that energy is Love and Love is God. There can only be one dream maker. How we choose to believe in this life is an option that the dream maker gives us. Perhaps as a curiosity to just see what we will do. All things are possible in dreams. End the ugly acts of submission and the debates over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Quit trying to out believe each other. Quit the power struggles. Get rid of the money in religion. There is no power or money in dreams.

    September 2, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      You need to either increase or decrease your dosage....your current level is clearly not working.

      September 2, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  17. coolusernametwo

    Not one, not two, not three – there are zero gods. No god. How's that for clarification?

    September 2, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  18. Observer

    “Whoever does any work on a holy day - put to death”
    “anyone who blasphemes - stone him.”
    “worship other gods - stone the guilty ones to death”
    “stubborn and rebellious son - stone him to death.”
    “man is found lying with a married woman - both of them shall die”
    “virgin engaged to another man and he lies with her - stone them to death”
    “Whoever strikes his father or his mother - put to death”
    "Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother - put to death.”
    “anyone who curses his father or his mother - put to death”
    “man who commits adultery with another man's wife - they shall be put to death.”
    "man or woman who is a medium or a fortune-teller - stone them to death"

    From the Quran? Nope. From the Bible

    September 2, 2013 at 8:34 am |
  19. Brad

    The Muslim God is a God of violence and pain. The Christian God is a radical departure from Islam and the God of the Jewish Old Testament. The Christian God came to serve and love humanity, not to demand submission and obedience.

    September 2, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • logicnothuff

      Ummm, Christ is not a radical departure from JEHOVAH, God of the old Testament, but He is the fulfillment of JEHOVAH's salvation plan. He came to fulfill the law.

      September 2, 2013 at 8:31 am |
      • G to the T

        Says Paul – be careful when you are working backwards from a premise. It's very easy to come out with faulty conclusions though your logic may seem correct at each step...

        September 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Observer

      Brad,

      "The Christian God came to serve and love humanity, not to demand submission and obedience."

      You're either joking or else you haven't read the Old Testament.

      September 2, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Brad's blinders

      No difference at all...just went "allah-jevoah" and poof the lake of fire was created.

      And then he made his son say, "you no believe in me, you burn."

      No difference 't all.

      September 2, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • jungleboo

      And it's all pretend as pretend can be. How is that not completely obvious?

      September 2, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • rick

      how can the christian god be a radical departure from the muslim one if christianity predates islam?

      September 2, 2013 at 8:38 am |
      • Brad's blinders

        Dear Christians...please learn from Rick...he understands what you do not...how to think critically

        September 2, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Will

      You are mostly right. The Christian God and the God of the Old Testament are the same being however

      September 2, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  20. Josh

    Jesus saith unto him "I am the Way, the Truth and the Light, no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" John 14:6. Do Jews come to God via the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ???......No. Do Muslims come to God via the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ???.......No. So that being said, someone please tell me how all three "Abrahamic" religions worship the same god? They don't.

    September 2, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • HA25

      I thought Jesus and God were the same thing. Therefore, the other two do come through "Him".
      More interestingly is what you think you will gain by sewing divisiveness among followers of God.

      September 2, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • mzh

      You are right... Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian but he was a Muslim... now the word Muslim means: submit to The Creator and not having any sort of media to get to The Creator... which Christianity does keep a media... so we could say Christianity have gone away from the Abrahamic Religion and so the Jews....

      September 2, 2013 at 8:24 am |
      • HA25

        Leaving aside the other incorrect statements, to what Media are you referring Christianity has between the individual and God?
        I suspect you mean priests.
        However – you have confused Christianity with Catholicism.

        September 2, 2013 at 8:26 am |
        • Iconoclast

          The middleman in the case of Christianity is Jesus. If Jesus is God, then why don't you just pray to God? The fact is that Christians are too attached to the prophet/messenger Jesus and are idolizing him. The Jews idolize Moses, and the Muslims are in many cases idolizing Muhammad. If all the monotheistic religions would just focus on God ALONE, then the divisions and violence would stop. That is one of the point of this article.

          The straight path is the One God alone. If you rely only on God for guidance and ask Him for guidance and forgiveness then you cannot go wrong. Should we rely on God who needs to guidance, or humans who need guidance themselves? The logical answer is clearly God, who needs to guidance.

          September 2, 2013 at 9:10 am |
        • Iconoclast

          I meant to type God who needs NO guidance.

          September 2, 2013 at 9:12 am |
        • HA25

          Yes, I listed that two posts above – they are the same, in theory so idolizing one = the other.
          But it's all BS. For example, you said "If all the monotheistic religions would just focus on God ALONE, then the divisions and violence would stop. That is one of the point of this article." But of course that's not true. Because "God" gave the same "Holy" region to each different group according to their Book. So even if they all believe in the same God, they still all believe with the same vigor that they are right. Thus, war.

          "The logical answer is clearly God, who needs to guidance." That's funny. There's no logic involved whatsoever. Your fault is your assumption that "God needs to (?) guidance." Either way if you mean he needs no guidance or if he needs to guide – either way that assumption is untestable therefore your logic is unsound.

          Use your Reason, sir. Stop apologizing for how you are made and stop thinking that you are supposed to be perfect and are a sinner for not being it.

          September 2, 2013 at 10:17 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.