home
RSS
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
[twitter-follow screen_name='WeissFaithWrite']

(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. rdg18

    Same God:
    Jews & Christians = Yes
    muslims = No.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  2. BO

    I don't worship a god that calls for the killing of all infidels.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  3. clevercandi

    Two words we should all remember when it comes to ANY religion/god:

    HARM NONE

    September 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  4. mikeaceshadow

    What does it matter who they worship? It is all imaginary. There is NO GOD!!

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • rdg18

      Good luck with that!

      September 1, 2013 at 9:35 am |
      • Realist

        Man has worshiped thousands of gods. And every ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

        September 1, 2013 at 9:39 am |
  5. Arun

    If only people get over their dogmatic and orthodox belief systems and take time to read good meaningful interpretations of the scriptures of the world. Be it KJV, Quran, Torah, Gita, Dhammapada, Tao or the Sufism. Truth can not be many, but one. Truth is the exact correspondence with reality. Each of these religions explain the supreme intelligence (Lets not call it God) and the laws of the universe in stunning similarity. People do not want to accept this because they fear that the most powerful force of this universe will retaliate and punish them. Of course it will and that force is ignorance. This is the part of religion which has lead to the massacre of over 100M of our own species just in one century, unsurpassed by any other species.

    This dogmatic and orthodox belief systems are wrongly referred to as religion. This is religion without Spirit. This is Religion without love, compassion and understanding. This is the path the weak choose to gain power and dominate their own people. On weak people. Because they have no true intellect, talent, ability of any sort that MLK, Lincoln, Gandhi or Mandela had. What could ignorant do? how could they disguise their vile? How could they disguise their ignorance? RELIGION!! The best medium for the ignorant. A part of it exists in the followers of every religion for this reason. The ego has to get its feed. and Religion is the best grazing pastures.

    If there were many Gods, the creation would never exist.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • mikeaceshadow

      Could not agree more with you Arun! Well put. Religion is about power and control of the insecure and the ignorant. WWII alone 60 million were killed. God was probably taking a nap!!

      September 1, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • loki

      interesting post

      September 1, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • Arun

      The most important thing MLK, Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and such had was COURAGE!! A Moral Courage and an unselfish PURPOSE that could face and defeat a tsunami of backlash, single-handedly.

      But, only the COWARDS use religion and many Gods to their benefit before they have to hide in a 8'x2' hole. Which is again very sad.

      🙂

      September 1, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  6. Mary

    YES , they believe in the god of Abraham they just quarral about the minutia .
    The theism of the god of Abraham says 1 god from the beginning to end of time , who is everywhere and created everything . . .
    Note: Mormons call themselves Christians BUT believe in a god who was once a man and that they will become a god later if they jump through all the right church hoops first . Hence Mormons are actually polytheistic like HIndu's except Hindus believe in a multiplicity of deities on earth .

    Many who study Buddhism believe in no deity but some are from cultures who had animistic gods and that has been folded into their Buddhism .

    Jews , Christians and Muslims fight because they believe "daddy" set down different rules so like most children they are antagonist .
    It would really help the planet if they EVER GTFU buy I am Not holding my breath on that one .

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  7. Skeptic

    Yes, they all worship the same "God" that never existed.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Mary

      Correct altho I suspect in early human evolution it helped in establishing "ground rules" as humans were still quite 'wild' in nature and challenged about issues of ethics like murder and thievery .

      September 1, 2013 at 9:35 am |
      • Realist

        Man has worshiped thousands of gods. And every ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

        September 1, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  8. allenwoll

    ONE and ONLY one agency created the Universe : END of story !
    .
    Say any more and you are a divisive propagandist for evil.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • midwest rail

      Utter nonsense.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • S-3B Viking

      And where the story ends in and from the minds of Christians, the whole wonder of the cosmos begins.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      so anyone who disagrees with you is "a divisive propagandist for evil."

      You must be a christian.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Mary

      Bzzzzzzzzzz – Wrong Answer , go to the back of the class and practice learning to actually THINK instead of being a regurgitating robot .

      September 1, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • spork

      ignorant moron

      September 1, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  9. MagicPanties

    All of these fairy tales would fade into mythology if parents didn't enable (and participate in) the brainwashing of their children with the same crap they were raised with.

    The internet may finally break the back of organized religion. Information, and knowledge, is power.

    More and more people are throwing off the cognitive shackles of blind faith and are thinking for themselves.
    When that happens, belief in imaginary beings tends to slip away.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Boisepoet

      Exactly!

      September 3, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  10. Realist

    ...

    .. No ..... Because... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

    ...

    September 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  11. mikeaceshadow

    What does it matter who they worship? It is all imaginary. There is NO GOD!! Wake up dumbos!!

    September 1, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  12. Morris

    Allah is too violent.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Alias

      You are too ignorant.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • mikeaceshadow

      Allah is the arabic word for God!

      September 1, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  13. Robert

    They have no choice but to worship the same God ... there is only one.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Realist

      Man has worshiped thousands of gods. And every ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

      September 1, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  14. Stardust

    Everyone's god is the only god. Yeah, right.
    All religions are contentious and contradictory. All religions kill or killed others at some point for their god.
    The only people truly at peace with themselves and others are those who don't make a big deal whether or not there is a god.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  15. Kay

    Nice. The author is a little sarcastic when discussing the Jewish God, dripping with sarcasm when discussing the Christian God, and all seriousness and respect when discussing the Muslim God. Really? The Muslim God who commands his followers to kill "infidels" in order to get into heaven is not worthy of a touch of sarcasm too? As a Christian (and no, they NOT the same God – there is one name under heaven by which all men can be saved – Jesus Christ – none other) I find the trend towards respecting Islam and bashing Christianity very troubling. Although not really surprising. It's amazing when you read the Bible (that would be the Old and New Testaments) how clear it is that this kind of thing is going to become more and more rampant as we get closer to the end times. No fear. The real God will have the last word.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  16. Z_2K

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

    Or rather, submission of the masses to the will of the Muslim Mullahs. This is why Shiites fight Sunni's...it's a matter of which sect will gain control of the World Islamic Government they hope to establish. It is also why not a single human advancement has come out of the Islamic World in the last 1600 years. Arabic minds thrived at one point in time. But Judaism and Christianity brought about the industrial revolution, advancements in agriculture, and the technological world in which we now live. Even the Western world had to show Islam how to get oil out of the ground which allowed the upper class to prosper and the lower class to remain in povery.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  17. courios george

    Two questions – Is the Bible considered reliable?
    – If so what does it say as to the truth about God and those who believe in him?

    September 1, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Jason

      Good question. Yes, the bible is widely accepted as an accurate historical account. Nothing has ever been disproven in the bible – in fact, as scientists, archeologists, etc. study more, they discover how incredibly reliable it is as an historical text.

      The bible says those who believe in the one true God are saved through Christ (e.g. John 3:16).

      September 1, 2013 at 9:30 am |
      • Steve Johnson

        So the bible says that the bible is reliable, therefore it's reliable?

        That's a little... circular.

        September 1, 2013 at 9:42 am |
        • courios george

          I think the comment was 'from a scientific, historical and archeological stand point that the Bible is reliable'.

          September 1, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • courios george

        So the question should be answered from the Bible's standards, not mans. It would be interesting to see from God's point of view the answer....................

        September 1, 2013 at 9:47 am |
      • S-3B Viking

        Jason has quite a strong faith in the claim: "Nothing in the Bible has ever been disproven..."

        Now I understand why atheists call Christians "delusional." And Jesus spoke of the blind leading the blind....

        Dear Jason, I have to confess you are delusional.

        How very sad.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • Realist

      Man has worshiped thousands of gods. And every ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

      September 1, 2013 at 9:42 am |
  18. ramesh

    In my opinion, the question is irrelevant. Whether different people worship the same God or different Gods, that won't stop the fighting and killing.

    In ancient times, Greeks had one religion. That did not stop from various city states fighting with each other. Ancient Greek history is full of blood and gore. Same with ancient Hindu history. There was only one religion, Hinduism. But the Hindu kings were at each other's throat all the time, war was considered an honorable profession.

    People kill each other because they like to kill in groups, it has nothing to do with whether they worship the same God.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  19. Vbalop

    Too broad I'd say.
    How about the hundreds of thousands "private" gods of the Hindu tradition? They may or may not have complex theologies, but are certainly accepted by those who, practicing our instinct to believe in something above and beyond, worship them and find answers to their life problems in their faith.
    Mankind will never learn to live only a few decades of brief consciousness between two eternities of unconsciousness that precede and succeed that consciousness. So the real question is "whether do we come from and where are we going to?" Sorry, but the answer is: nowhere.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Dan W

      Hindus believe in Brahman, the divine ground which is the unified whole from which all the gods spring forth. I just read the Bhghavd Gita and the English translation tries to drive this point home. Although they give personality to the many aspects of nature, ultimately they all come from 1 thing, the Divine Ground.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  20. Michael Hasson

    I can't believe this article passes for journalism. Summarizing entire religions in a few paragraphs? Give me a break.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • I've changed

      This article IS short,but I think it is well written and sheds light on the glaring differences in faith that religious people hold.I can guarantee that the majority of Christians that bother to read it,had no previous knowledge of the beliefs of the other two Abrahamic religions.Perhaps some may even realize how ridiculous their faith looks to people that weren't indoctrinated into their particular brand.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:36 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80
Advertisement
About this blog

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.