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. JD

    If we keep arguing surely we'll reach an agreement at some point. Let's go another hour and see if that happens.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • snowboarder

      lol!

      September 1, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • heehee

      If only there were an objective method for determining the truth through evidence.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  2. Daniel

    The article misses the point. If there were only one religion that believed that their god(s) wanted them to convert the world, it would just be sad. Since there are several (Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, etc) it is tragic. No matter what it says on bumper stickers, religions which believe they are under orders from God to convert each other cannot possibly coexist. Those religions which do not believe in converting the masses are not part of this problem, though they are dying out.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  3. Marc Perkel

    Asking if all religions worshiping the same god is like asking if both Leonard Nimoy and Zackary Quinto are the same Spock. If you believe Trek then it is so. If you don't believe in Trek then it's just a science fiction show.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • snowboarder

      an interesting analogy.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:41 am |
  4. tony

    "Noah's" Rainbow displays in Muslim, Hindu, Shintu, Buddist and all other countries around the world.

    But then how many of the bible reading religious truly believe their own religion's claims that much?

    September 1, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  5. Alex Abenchuchan

    What is the most unsettling is that all three religions claim that they have "God" firmly in their fists, that this "God" is on their side, listening to them, and that this "God" approves of their rites and worship while at the same time is waiting to condemn any other two groups. The adherents of all three religions believe to their cores that either other two religions are W-R-O-N-G. Without any kind of plausible explantation, without a careful analysis of evidence – most make this determination based on the loud, passionate preaching of their local religious leaders or a deep fear of leaving, of the possibility that it all might not be true.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  6. MD

    The real god applicable to earth consists of Wind (air to breath), rain (water to drink), sun (for everything), forest (plants for food) and perhaps caves (shelter). We pollute/destroy these, then we are doomed. So bring in this Earth god above all the other gods we can live in peace, instead of living in pieces. All these religions teach "love your neighbor." – So listen to that.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  7. Colin

    Have you ever noticed that God/Allah/Yahweh loves all the same things you love, disapproves of all the same things you disapprove of and has an identical moral outlook to you? Ever thought that maybe you molded him in your image and not vice-versa? Know any Christian who thinks their moral outlook is fundamentally different to the Jesus in their head?

    September 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  8. Prakhar

    Yesterday, my 9 year old yesterday said, " Pa, people are stupid to call God as Christ or Krishna or whatever. Now on, I choose to call Him Apple. One day, when the Universe ends and then restarts, it will be the end of an Apple's dream momentarily." To this, my younger son responded,"That is a good name but one may end up eating God". And I said to myself, introducing names for God has really screwed up this world big time. Why cannot we have a sense of humor on this whole subject? I am sure He (or She) above (or below or within) is amazed at why He chose man at the top of the evolutionarly ladder. I bet the Karma theory needs to be reversed and if we do evolve into more intelligent beings, we will end up as plants 🙂

    September 1, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Zaphod

      Interesting and different kids you have there. Some other people's kids speak in full sentences.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  9. Edison

    As always, the problem is man, not God. If a thing is, it is as it is. It is man's wrongful interpretation of it that needs course correction.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • snowboarder

      obviously if there is a god he is a shoddy creator and far from perfect.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  10. samsart

    Of course Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God. That is the reason for their 'holy' places being nigh on top of one another, the dogmas are more similar than dis-similar. As to WHY they choose to worship- well, that's a Gordian Knot. It seems to afford them a reason to not be aware of the world around them , not be accountable for their own acts and to try and put into perspective the need to kill, maim, torture, oppress and repress that is at the core of their doctrines. Perhaps there might be less friction if people , no matter what dogma they seem to need to adhere to , would just do that, and let others either follow their own dogma, or not follow any dogma at all. After all~ it's just words.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Exactly. All three believe that Jerusalem is a holy city for all three religions. You cannot deny that there is no link between the three if they all believe Jerusalem to be a holy city.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • beyond the arc

      It's all just words, that is, until the words refer to realities. To you God is a word. To me God is life, light and love. Just more words? I hope your life isn't that empty.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:52 am |
      • snowboarder

        of course, life, light and love all exist regardless of your god.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  11. Byrd

    Do they all worship the same god? Yes. Badly.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  12. Surfer George

    Anyone who says they know the answer to this question is mistaken. There is no way to be certain.
    Even sects within Religions believe things that are anathema to other sects of the same Religion.

    On the other hand, I contend that there IS only one "God" and that we are all a part of that.
    Either, a workstation in a gigantic network gathering data or a nerve fiber in a gigantic organism spanning the Universe(s?) evolving.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • ggargoyle

      Neither the islamic, christian nor jewish god exists, so logically, its all the same non-existance god.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
      • Surfer George

        Like I said, we're all interconnected. What we do to or for one we do to or for all of us.
        Greed would be a form of cancer and compassion would be a curative. The fact that we have free will in this equation allows each of us to choose when we will excise the cancers in ourselves and embrace the curatives to help the organism to resolve.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:53 am |
      • beyond the arc

        Very poor understanding of logic when you begin with a premise that's untenable.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  13. Colin

    At least Allah and Yahweh anre mentioned in the Qur'an and Tanakh respectively. The Christian trinitarian god is not even mentioned in the Bible. The reason for this is simple. The Christian Trinity did not get formulated into Christian theology until after the last book included in the Bible was written. The christian god is absent from the Bible becuase he postdates it.

    It is remarkable how few Christians are aware of this seemingly devastating fact.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • snowboarder

      did you know that actual battles were fought over whether to include the trinity as christian doctrine? crasy!

      September 1, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  14. Chamarts

    It's senseless killing in name of God. No one knows GOD and everyone being so hypocrite preaching religion

    September 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • beyond the arc

      I know God, even if you don't.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  15. tony

    Missionaries are proof that god never existed. What god would want mere men to spread his commands and ideas?

    September 1, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • One one

      Good point. Then you end up with people like Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, and Pat Robertson telling others how god wants them to live their lives.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  16. John

    The problem, my friends, is not with God or gods. It's with people, and how they choose to express what they believe to be true.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • jajajajaaj

      yes they do.. at least that is what is what people want you to believe so you can further unite people together to make one world government

      September 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Harry Cline

      Yes, and that is where religion is at fault.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • What

      not to forget,, hitler was a christian and announced it on video..And the vatican which cut a deal with hitler. Christians hated jews back then,, they blamed them for the death of comic book jesus.

      It wasn't until secular society exposed the gory, did the christians begin feeling guilt and doing something about it.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • pigs_on_the_wing

        There was no such thing as "video" in Hitler's time you ninny. You meant "on film". That was an age-giveaway.

        September 1, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Dee

      So correct. It is what we do with our belief.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • One one

      I agree, the problem is with people because they are the ones who created gods and claim they know who god is and what he wants. It's really quite amusing.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • snowboarder

      of course it is with people. they invented god after all.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  17. Weston Liveit

    None of these religions worship the same deity. Neither are any one of these deities supreme. They are not even deities really. Any human who believes that there are no higher forces "out there" is delusional. These beings are real and operate on a completely different plane of existence and they interact with each other in their own way. One thing that they do have in common is that they desire human worship. Maybe this gives them clout in their domain who knows, but they certainly love it when we humans worship them. And in order to garner as many worshipers as possible, each declares him or herself (to us) to be the "one and only true God." Frankly, humans ought to stop worshiping these beings as they have done more to confuse and consequently pit human beings against one another than any natural resource has. While some of these beings are benevolent, you will find most of them to be malevolent beings who cause us more grief than help us. They should stay in their world and allow we humans to live in peace in ours. We have enough to fight and quarrel over right here rather than waging war over self-styled Gods who did not create us nor create our world yet constantly seek to reap where they did not sow.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Colin

      Seek help

      September 1, 2013 at 10:26 am |
      • tony

        You missed the point. . .

        September 1, 2013 at 10:28 am |
        • Rocket

          As far as religions – somehow Hinduism ..the oldest religion is conveniently ignored..all references to religion are Christianity (only 2k yrs) , Islam (1.7k) and Judaism (don't know )!!
          Regardless....Religion , worship and "concept of God" are creations of man (MAN created GOD not the other way) and attempts at our inability to explain the origins of the universe. The simple answer is that not every question can be answered (yet)...Religion and god has been an answer for Kings and Priests to control the populace by using God and fear.
          So religion just keeps a lot of people employed and in places like Iran , Middle East and Israel used to intimidate the populace.

          Reasonable people need to stay away from God and Religion which historically has only divided us.

          September 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • pigs_on_the_wing

      I agree with your comment with only one exception: We can't call these deity's "biengs" because they don't exist, never have as such. They are fictional constructions of a collective imagination. Like Superheroes. While they might get people emotionally stimulated (like comic-book characters do in our adolescence), we are not talking about "real beings" as WE are.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • beyond the arc

        "There's no God because I said there's not." And you are?

        September 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |
      • Dippy

        It's "deities," not "deity's."

        September 3, 2013 at 3:12 am |
  18. snowboarder

    "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."

    isn't that always the case.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  19. tony

    And in other news:

    Atheism is spreading like wildfire amongst the younger generation. Apparently the postings by the religious on various internet blogs are exposing all the contradictions and falsehoods of believers at an unparalleled rate.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • JanetMermaid

      Heard on NPR yesterday where Canada has just ruled Atheism to be a creed with the same rights and protections as all other religions. There is even a call for Atheist Chaplains, which seems a bit oxymoronic to me but at least Atheism is getting recognition as a valid path.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
      • snowboarder

        path to what?

        September 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • truthprevails1

        http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/08/27/atheism-a-creed-that-needs-the-same-religious-protections-of-christianity-and-islam-ontario-human-rights-tribunal/

        Perfect 🙂

        September 1, 2013 at 10:42 am |
      • Lionly Lamb

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=5ckvZ9yqOeE

        September 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • John

      If all the religions of the world were banished, if all the books of scripture were burned..if ONE scrap of paper with the words, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" remained, religion would not die.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:29 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.