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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
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(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. Chris

    hello.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  2. DJ

    There's only one worldwide religion that does not go kill their own in other lands. I think that's obvious and clear at this point in history.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  3. kingmalign20

    @Chedar Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, and Biology should be more of a reason for you too see there is God.
    Science prove God, Not Disprove God. Sumerian Universal Science.

    https://www.facebook.com/sumerianuniversalscience?ref=hl

    September 1, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Firstly, learn to use the reply button.
      Secondly, no, Quantum Mechanics does not prove any gods described by any men so far. If it did, it would be a part of Quantum Mechanics and the whole world would believe in that god and that proof to the exact extent that it believes in Qunatum Mechanics. Right? Learn to use that thing between your ears.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  4. Chedar

    Agree that if each one is claiming that God will bless them to win a football game. Then what happen to the looser in the game? Ask yourself how foolish the analogy if they really have the same God. God exist in ones consciousness and God is you. Nowhere else can you find God.

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

      I found god in my alphabet soup.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  5. tom LI

    Just reading the compare and contrast section of this article should send any reasonable person running for the zee hills in order to get away from all Religions! What a bunch of nonsense...that a SUPER BEING of alleged SUPERNATURAL intellect and powers would care that humans, his alleged most beloved creations, believe all the silliness preached by these Faiths. That this SUPER Being would use the most absurd and silly means to communicate to us, and hold everyone to believing in them – like talking donkeys, fruit peddling serpents, virgin births, etc, etc...or burn in some fantasy land called Hell.

    Aye...what a waste of energy, time and people has been this centuries long argument and wars over who has the right GOD, and the right way to please him/it.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  6. Lionly Lamb

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

    September 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  7. heehee

    Wait, are we talking about god or conceptions of god? If we're talking about god, the question is unanswerable unless god exists. If we're talking about conceptions of god, then the answers to this question are cultural and historical – and non-controversial.

    Isn't it telling that the article does not clearly separate the two questions?

    September 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  8. bahraingreen

    Sunni is not fighting agains Shia in suria, why do you want people to believe this? Just because Iran is an allay does not make Syria a Shia county. And they are not enemies, it's American media that's trying to let people believe that they are.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • L Hurney

      Ah... at last we have discovered who the great Satan is. Why its the ubiquitous media of course. Reminds me of the oft used proof to win an argument "They did a study"

      September 1, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Lori

      It's not actually the Sunni that are fighting against the Shea. It's really the Al Queda that hates the Shea. They believe the Shiites are heretics. So, unfortunately the Sunni's are sort of sucked in by this. We should all know that most Sunni Muslim people do not hate the Shiites. It is the Al Queda that is fighting along side the rebels in Syria.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  9. Winkie

    All three religions agree there is one God, whatever name we give God. God created us imperfect and accepts our imperfections. Had He wanted us perfect He was capable of making us so. That being the case, until the end of our lives we will never know the exact truth of the matter. After death we shall discover it. But as we were created imperfect and perfection is impossible for us, I am assuming God will forgive us our imperfection, "forgive us our trespasses", perhaps dish out some punishment to the truly wicked but largely accept us for what he created us as. If that's delusional to some, it works for me and I will not dread death and what lies beyond when it comes.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      That's a rather comforting "version" of some fairy tale or other, but it'd be a lot more important if there were any evidence to support it.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • heehee

      I like that you say we will never know the truth of the matter, but then I don't understand how that is consistent with all your specific claims.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • tom LI

      And the waiting for death to know this answer is getting – – – tiresome. Because even if that were true, it does not help the Living! The dead dont care about the living, and vice versa. There is no email from death. "Hey I made it here okay...lots of light and stuff, haven't settled into permanent housing yet..."

      Its a tiresome excuse, exposing how empty and worn out is these subject.

      No one knows the real and exact answer, so lets all just get on the "We dont KNOW what the X#%@^& we're talking about Wagon, and be done with these battles over salvation and who gets it or not! .

      September 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
      • snowboarder

        I like the quote.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  10. Colin

    Gods evolve over time, like words or Galapagos finches. They come and go. They influence other gods and die along with their last believer. As a society’s norms and collective values change over time, so does the personality it attributes to its god(s). A god, its personality and the people it favors are a direct function of time and geography. Indeed, a sociologist or anthropologist who knows nothing else about a god other than the personality attributed to it by its believers and what it expects from humans on Earth can pretty reliably tell you the point in history when this god existed and where on the planet it was believed in and worshipped. They are as traceable as languages, as DNA.

    A non-exhaustive list of gods that various human societies have believed in at one time or another includes Azura Mazda, Angus, Belenos, Brigid, Dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Allah Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, God, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Ganesh, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Shiva Thuno, Tir, Vishnu, Weyland, Woden, Yahweh, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, Saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Herne, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, Endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, Ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac and Zaramama.

    How any Christian (or Jew or Muslim) can argue with a straight face that they worship "the one true god" eludes me.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Tom

      You've fallen for a common mistake Colin which I hope you'll learn to see as false; you've miss the forest for the trees and are making excuses for rejecting the only true God. With this argument applied in another direction, you are saying it doesn't matter which medicine you take, they will all cure the disease. No, they won't. Get the truth from the only real source, the Bible, not Christians or any other "Christian" denomination or branch, but from the source and there will be no confusion.

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

        And let me guess, Tom, the "one true god"is the one you believe in, right?

        September 1, 2013 at 11:06 am |
        • tallulah13

          That's how it always works. Tom's god is "real" because that's the god that Tom created to suit Tom's needs. This is why people always talk about their personal relationship with god; god is just their own subconscious.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  11. caesaro

    No. Republicans worship the God of Money and Greed.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Lori

      I think we could call that God Satan! LOL

      September 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  12. carey

    Yes, all religions worship the same God. That God is the invention of men who want to control other men. It is utterly absurd to think that the Creator of the universe – of every atom of matter and every spark of energy – needs any human, mortal person to convey his word and his intention to other human beings.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  13. ggargoyle

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

    September 1, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • caesaro

      Exactly! Well said.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  14. jeff forsythe

    The practise of Falun Gong can answer this question and many other questions that people have in their hearts.
    Today's morals have declined so quickly that it has become difficult for people to distinguish the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. Falun Dafa, Falun Gong, is a heart and mind cultivation practice, and we believe in truthfulness, goodness and tolerance. There are one hundred million adherents Worldwide and the practise is completely free. http://www.falundafa.org. Thank you for your consideration.

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

      crimey. more snake oil salesmen.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  15. Kelly

    I refute the idea that Christians are only required to have faith.

    Jesus said "Why do you say Lord, Lord when you do not DO what I command?

    Jesus made it clear that faith is not enough to demonstrate a person is his.

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

      Wait, Jesus is a slave owner? Explains a lot.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Lori

      Since I do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead and instead most likely survived his execution, I believe that Christianity is a false religion.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  16. Chedar

    In the age of Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics and evolutionary biology, you still believe in God? Delusional! Absolutely laughable.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Grace

      We really do need to leave the less evolved to their evolution in their own time. They'll catch up eventually but it will not be because we push it on them. Better we should simply understand that they are not capable of understanding what is obvious to us.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Hmmm... And why do we believe in QM and the other fine points of scientific discovery? Isn't it the case that we pretty much take it on faith? I mean, how many of us who disbelieve in god do believe in QM and evolution and the current ideas on cosmology because of having done the experiments and the thousand-pages calculus to prove it to ourselves?

      September 1, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • kingmalign20

      Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, and Biology should be more of a reason to believe in the Gods.
      Science prove Gods, Not Disapprove them.Sumerian Universal Science. #Enoch

      https://www.facebook.com/sumerianuniversalscience?ref=hl

      September 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
      • tallulah13

        A facebook page cannot be considered a reliable source.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:07 am |
      • Hobo Banana

        Quantum Mechanics makes falsifiable claims and has useful, provable technological spinoffs, like the computer you're using to post your religious nonsense.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There will always be more ignorant than informed people. For some, it is because they don't have access to knowledge. For others, ignorance is a choice.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  17. Sane Person

    This is like arguing which smurf is the best.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • snowboarder

      obviously the female one.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  18. Dee

    I know way too many Christians who are buying the stairway to heaven. I have a very close relationship with my Lord but it belongs to the two of us – no-one else.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      It's always so great to know you're better than other people, isn't it?

      September 1, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • tallulah13

      All believers worship the god that they've created in their head. It doesn't matter what name they give it.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  19. heehee

    This question would be easy to settle, if there were a god you could communicate with.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:42 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.