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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. Steve D

    Answering the "same God" question will solve nothing. One need only look at the atheistic Soviet Union and Maoist China to see that religion is merely a rationalization for a desire to lash out at scapegoats. In Bosnia I saw icons on the wall of people who had not a shred of religious belief – they had merely become symbols of group allegiance. Look at the way American fundamentalist groups splinter into ever tinier factions. We could never have enough uniformity of belief to stop sectarian strife, because it's all about finding some "them" to defend against.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  2. joanie

    Christians, Muslims and Jews all worship the same God. You wouldn't know it by the way Muslim extremists act toward Christians and Jews. We all have the same father in faith, Abraham. Again, Muslim extremists don't seem to acknowledge that. They say that they acknowledge Jesus as a prophet. If they acknowledge Jesus as a prophet and Mohammed as a prophet, they're putting Jesus and Mohammed on the same level. They're both prophets. Yet they kill everyone who wont' convert to Islam. They are not following God, they are following Mohammed. It doesn't make sense.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • John

      And the Crusaders were just a benign force looking to coexist with Muslims in Jerusalem. No religion seems capable of dismissing the affronts of the past, so as sad as it might be, Christianity's misdeeds of the past still resonate in today's world.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  3. Colin

    There are two fundamental aspects of the Christian faith that were still not settled when the last book of the Bible was written. The first was the exact nature of Jesus – how much was he a god and how much was he a man – and the second was the god they would worship. Recall that Christians were, at first, a sect of Jews. After a couple of generations there were more pagan converts than Judeo-Christians in the faith, so the loyalty to Judaism gradually disappeared. The problem they had was they spurned Jews as the killer of their leader, but worshipped the Jews' god.

    So, the Holy Trinity was born. It served the dual purpose of deifying Jesus and distinguishing the Christian god from Yahweh. The Christians simply added the Holy Spirit and Jesus to Yahweh to come up with the holy Trinity. This happened by vote at a series of ecc.umenical councils in the Fourth and fifth Century.

    That is to say, the Christian god was voted into existence. Had the vote gone in a slightly different direction, Saint Paul may have been included or even Mary, and Christians today might be worshipping the "Sacred Square" or the "Divine Pentagon" instead of the Holy Trinity.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Jake from State Farm

      In this case, Colin, nuance is everything...and you missed it by a mile. The votes were not to decide suddenly "made up" issues-these were issues the church had been wresting with from day one and the votes were nothing more than confirmation of church teaching already in existence.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
      • Colin

        So what? It is still all made up. Fabricated, albeit with a firm conviction that it is true. This is how Christian theology works. It is all made up. to the extent a Christian thrologian "researches" anything, they simply look to an earlier theologian who made it up. To the extent this earlier theologian "researched" anything, he, too, looked to an even earleir writer. But, come end of the day, some theologian ultimately made it up. No god ever appeared to them and said "ah ha" you got it right. They don't even claim he did.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
      • Colin

        And another thing, quit calling my wife at 3:00 AM.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:23 am |
        • Jake from State Farm

          Hate to burst your bubble my friend–she was calling me 😉

          September 1, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  4. Captain John

    Publish or perish, this article is next to worthless; however it did get published so a win for the author. Of course, he did provide a disclaimer about summaries leaving out "enormous nuance." Sadly, many of his statements are false and/or misleading. He chose ease of reading and entertainment over informing. Real understanding will require real research.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Interesting criticism, but I would think you'd want to at least address some point made within the article you find so disappointing.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • John

      Please educate me. Which are false or misleading? And if there are too many, how about just a few. Thanks.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • St Xavier

      Your rejection of this article is a good example of the differences of the people of the world confusion in wanting to BELIEVE in a one GOD for ALL. The people of the world are many an they all think for them selves. Selfishness, greed, hate an of course LOVE is in there make up, THE EATING OF THE APPLE the cause. What you have left is a wondering people going their separate ways looking for their GOD to believe in.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:38 am |
  5. PraiseTheLard

    If you're too old to believe in Santa Claus, you're too old to believe in mythical "gods"...

    September 1, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • WhoLagain

      If you are (abstractly) like a Pinnochio, it might be best to believe there is a Geppetto

      September 1, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  6. ELH

    There is no acceptable scientific proof that any god exits. By the same token, there is no acceptable scientific proof that there is no god.

    Therefore, god or not god is simply a matter of one's belief and anyone has the right to quantify a god in any manner they desire. Likewise, anyone is free to deny any or all gods as they wish.

    I do think, however, that religion (god belief) is responsible for more evil than atheism.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Pablo

      Lord Bertrand Russel said that he sees no evidence supporting the existence or non-existence of a supreme being but see no reason why the mind doesn't cease to exist when the brain dies and decays. He was asked what he would say to God if he meets him on death as to why he didn't believe. He said he would say "you should have provided more evidence".

      September 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
      • Jake from State Farm

        ...and God's response would be, here I am, just as I said I would be and all of my witnesses, who you decided to reject, had said as well.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:16 am |
        • snowboarder

          lol! the same could be said for every religion. total hogwash.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • Harry Cline

        Ah, and he too missed the fundamental, a God works by faith. It's rather easy to believe that science is responsible for everything because it works with the tangibles of see, touch and feel.

        Try believing in something just by faith. If you can't then God offers no reward. If a God has to prove to you they exist in order for you to have faith then there is no free will. It's all by coercion and seduction, those our attributes of mankind not of a God.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
        • snowboarder

          "faith" is a believers attempt at explaining the absence of his god.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |
        • Hobo Banana

          wrong. there's a flat earth society, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is pretty much spherical and just one minor planet of many (very important to US, but that doesn't make it major...). So proof doesn't take away free will.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  7. tom LI

    The real issue is over ownership. And lets face it, humans demand ownership of most things, Ownership of being right is a major driving force in human interaction. And winning is a close second. I own God, and I know you dont, follow me or lose!

    September 1, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  8. patw

    Christians worship God.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  9. Amin

    Your analysis of the comparative aspects of the three religions is informative and commendable. The one aspect for Muslims is that Allah (God) (SWT) is masculine as He describes himself in the Quraan in El Korsi Ayeh (The Throne) and other Ayehat as well. He Almighty stated that "Allah, there is no God save Him (not her), the Alive, the Eternal" and the rest of the Ayeh continues referring to Allah (SWT) as Him, His or He. Also in Surah El-Ekhlas (The Sincerity) Allah (SWT) said "Say He is Allah the One (or the Unique), Allah is eternally Besought of all, He begetteth not nor was begotten, and there is none comparable (or equal or equivalent to) unto Him"

    September 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  10. Joe

    Mankind is a spiritual being one with God. It is the egos of men that have warped the message of God and the prophets throughout the ages,creating the animosity between religions.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  11. Jimmy

    There is one God – incomprehensible and describable, worshiped according to one's spiritual culture. No religion or religious scripture has absolute authority over God – just a dim indication of His existence. Following religious doctrines to believe in God is a matter of faith but to embark on a relentless journey to seek out to realize truth and develop conviction of His existence is called intelligent human quest. I am not putting down any religion and as matter of fact I think religions do provide tools that helps in relentless journey to seek out truth. But religious doctrine and dogmas pose dangers to the human civilization. So world, wake up ! love one and understand one another. Our journey is brief and quest for the truth is colossal.

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

      Amen!

      September 1, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  12. dara

    go buddha

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

      I agree! However, Buddha was not God. He showed us the path to God. I love that my religion teaches us not to worship God but rather become like Him. That is true worship.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  13. Eric B

    Yes they all worship the same fake being in the sky, everyday i wish someone would come to power and outlaw religion.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  14. Lori

    I used to believe that there was only 1 God and he was the God of all religions. I have since changed my mind. If you study the Jewish history of animal sacrifice and their God's demand for a blood sacrifice. Then carry this to the Christian claims that Jesus was the blood(human)sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Where did they come up with this sacrificial religious ideas. They really seem to me more like pagan tradition. I am Buddhist and we do not believe in killing anything even for consumption. So, my big question is...Who is this blood thirsty God that demands blood and human sacrifices? I know him not. And don't tell me that God has changed over the years or evolved. Because I believe both these religions have stated in their holy books that God never changes. Or may I quote, "He is the same today, yesterday and forever".

    September 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  15. Mark

    All these religions stem from the same god and the same book. They have all been corrupted to the point where they barely have anything in common with what the bible teaches. Islam goes so far as to change the name of God to Allah while Christians simply pretend God has no name and just refer to him as God or Lord.

    I'd like to be able to say that Islam is twice as ridiculous as Christianity since they have written a new book to replace the bible (a book that has absolutely none of the attributes that made the bible special in the first place) and they have somehow managed to disown Jesus but still assure people he was a notable prophet..

    Christians however have done just as poor a job holding true to the original scriptures. They invented hellfire, the trinity, Christmas, infant baptism, they recite the lords prayer over and over and count on rosary beads while grasping a cross for dear life. All things the bible condemned. And lets not forget their thirst for political power and their involvement in virtually every war of the last 2000 years.

    It's important that people realize that all these religions do in fact stem from the same source. And it's even more important for people to realize that none of them accurately represent that source!

    September 1, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  16. fisheye

    All religions are based from the Egyptian religion. The similarities between Christianity and the Egyptian religion are staggering. The Egyptian religion was written 3,000 years before Christianity.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Just like the ancient Roman gods were based off the ancient Greek gods.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • heehee

      While there are many historical connections between various religions, your claim is too outrageously simple to be true.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  17. Not Important

    The idea that "Religion is a common thread in each conflict. " is superficial and misleading. The fact of the matter is that each of this conflicts is first and foremost political. The Syrian conflict has taken on a secterian shape because of stupid people, but it began as something as simple as the people protesting the despotic rule of a brutal dictator. Iran's interest in Syria has less to do with the sunni shia and more to do with Syria being a political ally of Iran in opposing Western intervention. Common sunnis and shias in places like Kuwait live side by side peacefully without problems. I am sure the same is true in other places. The Saudi royal families' support for the rebels has more to do with opposing Iran and secondarily opposing shias as a political threat. Note the Saudi royal families' support for the military dictatorship in Egypt against the sunni MB.

    The same is true for the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The Israeli Palestinian conflict doesn't stem from some inherent conflict between Jews and Muslims, but conflict between Jews and Muslims stem from the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

    Such oversimplifications is an argument of opportunists opposed to religions.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  18. Chedar

    After death and if you can remember who you are and the question you have in mind. When God come around and ask do you remember me? The one you want to meet. We'll I am Lucifer waiting for you down under.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • snowboarder

      all thinking and memory resides in the brain. when the brain shuts down at death all that stops. no questions are asked and no answers given.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      That sounds like it might be interesting if it made any sense whatsoever.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
  19. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God's signs, that they may take heed.” Quran [7:26]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    September 1, 2013 at 10:54 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.