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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. jake

    Collectively, the sum of all evil, that's what religion is. If there is a God, then all of them got tickets on the express bus to hell.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  2. panorain

    The ancient Greeks acknowledged that there was only one original source, or maybe two, and everything else is a manifestation of that. But the original source is somewhat mysterious, too tough to figure out. So they had everyday gods.

    The Jews did the same thing. They had a bunch of gods. Then this Yahweh apparently decided he wanted to be the top god. Or this Abraham decided he wanted to create a top god. But it could have been one of the other gods that got elevated to the supreme being. So yes, the three religions all worship the same god. But the god the worship is not God.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  3. tron80

    All 3 major religions worship the Hebrew God. You trying to rewrite history? Trying to find sense in how 3 different religions hate each other when they all have the same God? It's because religion is a human sickness that has been plaguing humanity for thousands of years. Hopefully it will end soon...

    September 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  4. Erasmus

    The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, Mr Sand Man, and the Easter Bunny all joined me for a meeting, the meeting didn't go that well though. I mean, I couldn't tell them apart, I guess i didn't realize they look so much alike...........................
    sounds DUMB! not as much as this article.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  5. clean9224@gmail.com

    There is no God but Allah and no being is equal or superior to Allah. Islam is the only true religion. You humans shall see that your puny minds and your little philosophies/theories are nothing but garbage. The Quran is the only true word of God. Islam will prevail over all other religions before the Day of Judgment. This last prophecy shall be fulfilled before humans meet their creator.

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

      not a chance. your god is just as imaginary as everyone else's.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I wonder if it's comforting to be convinced that you know what is right and you are right above any other idea or belief held by others.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • jake

      All religions are FOS. God is the complex process of everything in the universe. He is not a man, nor does he have a name. If he did, he would way too busy creating vast universes and solar systems billions of light years away to give a damn about this puny planet. In the big scheme of things, we are nothing. Only we with out fairy tale religions believe we are important. Not even close.

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

      Let me know when they run out of 40 virgins. That's so ridiculous, it's beyond belief that anyone believes this nonsense.

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

      I'm going to make the rather large as-sumption that you are human and therefore your little personal philosophy is garbage as well.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  6. MyManDarwin

    It is all mythology. All this violence over whose imaginary friend is more believable. How can you read this article and not see how utterly idiotic it all is? I can only hope that, if reason cannot be brought to all delusional people that believe in boogey men in the sky, that they just kill each other off so that this mythology dies.

    Of course....they will just come up with something else. FSM or something.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  7. MightyMoo

    A lot of people would look really dumb if that is what it turned out to be in the end.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  8. What

    if they'd only treat their beliefs as the p–or–n.. and keep it away from children until age 18.

    Then again,, they won't, because the brainwashing just doesn't stick as well unless begun in childhood.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  9. gwtars

    "Major religions"? Buddhism is a world religion as well, bur for some reason, is always left out of discussion.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • gwtars

      Oh, since the headline on the main page is not the same as the one on this page, this is what I'm referring to: "Do major religions all worship the same God?"

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

      Buddhism is a major religion too. I just think they would have a hard time comparing the other 3 religions to it. Since they have very little in common. That is why I do not believe that these 3 religions worship the same God I do. BTW I'm Buddhist.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Dave

      Hinduism is older by far than any of these and would be a better argument than adding Buddhism which is actually irrelevant to this question anyway because Buddhists generally don't believe in a god.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
  10. Randy

    Christianity as spelled out in the Bible is the only way. Islam is a sham along with all of the other false teachings – Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Buddhism, you name it.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Damocles

      Your way or no way, right?

      September 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • snowboarder

      all religions are equal shams. your bible included.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Lori

      I don't think that Christianity has ever proven that it knows the only way to God. I think Jesus said he was the way. I take this as meaning...follow me because I know the path to God. I don't think he ever intended anyone to believe that he himself was the way to God.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  11. ELMO

    Killing people because they don't WORSHIP a deity that everyone openly agrees cannot be comprehended is Darwin at work.

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

    @Weiss,
    Good article. Thanks.

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

      Agreed. I found it interesting and amusing. There is but one God.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • Lori

      It's a great article!

      September 1, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  13. les

    if there were such thing as "god", would he allow what is, and had been going on in this sad world? it is an sick invention of some ancient and "modern " wise guys to rule over the unwashed masses to enrich themselves and their cronies. it is amazing it had survived in to the "enlightened" 21st century. SICK!

    September 1, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Thinker23

      If God is not doing what He is supposed to do in your opinion then He does not exist and is a "sick invention", correct?

      September 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  14. Curt29

    I think the whole universal God theory is a feel good solution to one of thee biggest problems with religion. It's a break from what each of the religions actually says. In my opinion, if you start to throw out the parts of the bible that say Jesus is the son of God, then you are moving away from Christianity. If your going to move far enough away from the bible, that you start accepting other religions God's to be the same as yours, then why identify as a Christian?

    Most Christians don't want to accept the teaching that their God is going to send most people to hell. They also don't like the idea that they are not going to heaven, because the other religion was correct. When thinking about these options, it's easy to see why the feel good solution of having a universal God would be popular. My argument is, why would you even identify with a religion at that point?

    There are several religions which teach that there is no one correct path. If you want to ease violence, the only way to do that is to lean towards religions that done claim the solo pathway to heaven.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  15. mstevens73

    [Article] "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."

    While it is understandable that the article may cite "The Trinity" because is apparently the majority opinion of those classified under the label "Christian", it should be understood that neither that term "Trinity" nor a pronounced "God in three Persons" appears anywhere in the 66 books of the Holy Bible. The fact is that the word "Person" appears a single time in the King James Version of the Bible, Hebrew 1:3, and that it is in the singular form. Those expressing the Biblical oneness of the nature of God, understand Christ Jesus to be the manifestation of YHVH God in the flesh. They understand the Spirit of God to be very YHVH God (ie The Lord Jesus's own definition in John 4:24) no different than in Genesis 1:2. - ms

    September 1, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • snowboarder

      yeah, that's no less crazy.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
      • Mark

        The universe is full of crazy and much of it is real. Quantum mechanics doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.
        People laugh off the idea of a creator because the notion that there's some living being who actually "cares" and has a personality seems ridiculous to them. But they forget the fact that WE'RE here. We're living beings who care, love, laugh, think etc. There are human beings who devote their entire lives to trying to help the less fortunate. Is this what it means to be of higher intelligence then say a frog? If so then what would a creator be like?

        The narrative of the bible is anything but crazy. It's made trivial and silly by the deluded teachings of religion but the actual bible itself is quite coherent and intelligent. You just have to accept the fact that the idea of "family" may extend beyond the human race.

        September 1, 2013 at 11:21 am |
        • Lori

          I disagree, I think God cares. He left us in charge and wants us to grow up. We won't grow or learn anything if he constantly holds our hand.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:30 am |
        • Damocles

          Sounds good when you only speak of love and affection, but you seem to forget that there are some downright hateful people on this planet.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:34 am |
        • snowboarder

          @mark, the bible is a collection of fables and myths. the entire premise is absurd and clearly the invention of the imaginations of superst itious men.

          September 1, 2013 at 11:35 am |
        • kimmerkel

          Even if there is a 'creator' with a personality, that does not mean he/she/it is worth worshiping. Given all the pain and suffering on this planet, he/she/it could be a sadistic sob that is enjoying watching us all struggle along.

          September 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  16. oneSTARman

    CHRISTIANS don't all Worship the Same GOD.
    There is a GOD that JESUS taught US about. A GOD that is ALL about the LOVE of a Creator for his Creation.
    Then there is a GOD of Judgement and Retribution which Jesus warned the people of HIS Time from Worshiping.
    We have been WARNED about the GOD of THIS World. A GOD that is about CONTROL and FEAR that so Many Americans seem to Worship. TAT God is SATAN.

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

      You appear to be having problems controlling your caps lock. You may need a new keyboard.

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

      satan is just as imaginary.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • heehee

      How can you imagine that this statement would convince anyone?

      September 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  17. Sankarshan Das Adhikari

    We are all made of the same stuff, and we all come from the same original source. God, or whatever name you use, means that original source of us all and of all existence. Therefore since there can only be one original source for all of existence, God can only be one.

    Also, God also means the Supreme Being. Just as there can only one supreme court in a given country, there can similarly be only one Supreme Being. If there is more than one Supreme Being, he is no longer the Supreme Being.

    Disagreements about God are due to our ignorance only. They are not due to the existence of more than one Supreme Being. (To learn more of the science of God go to http://www.backtohome.com)

    September 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • snowboarder

      that site is hilarious.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  18. TheMovieFan

    That god goes by many names:

    Dollar,
    Pound,
    Euro,
    Dinar,
    Peso,
    Yen,
    Ruble,
    Riyal,
    Shilling,
    Franc,
    Shekel

    September 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • WhoLagain

      These are false Gods. There is only one God, Gold. Easy mnemonic.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  19. Marvin Hamlin

    For a Christian to do evil he must break the rules.
    For Muslim to do good, he must break the rules.

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

      I'd ask you to stop being such and idiot, but it appears that you probably don't have that ability.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:07 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think it's funny that Marvin actually thinks that christian bigotry and misogyny are "good". I think Marvin wouldn't know good if it walked up to him and said "hi".

      September 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  20. Guru G

    It is immature to believe that if somehow we convince people that all religions worship same God and suddenly people will stop fighting. First of all, even if Gods worshiped in different religions were different, why should people fight? If there were only one God and He/She wanted all people to submit to him/her and believe in him/her, why couldn't he make people that way. Do you know so many things are inbuilt into us, there are such amazing things in this world where birds can migrate the very first time accurately from Siberia to India over Himalayas to exact same spot as their parents. Do you think that a God who created such a complex system of life and such a vast and amazing universe would need help of some Abdullahs and Mohammads or some Christian missionaries to let everyone know the real true God. If Gods wish were to have everyone know who He is and that everyone worships Him, I am sure you will agree that it would be so very easy for Him to give that sense to us like he created the sense in the birds that I just talked about or any other means. Do you really think that a God who was able create the complex human system and how humans can reproduce, He could not find out a way to let everyone know that people have to worship him? And then he sent some messengers and told them to spread the belief and kill the people who don't believe in Him? I am sure the religious people, as illogical always they are, would say – God doesn't care, it is for us to know him for our own good. Well... good for you that you know and believe in the right God, why does it matter to you if I believe in wrong God or no God? Why do you want to kill me for believing in wrong God?
    The truth is that God doesn't care if you believe in Him or not. If he cared then everyone would believe in Him. People talk about submit to God!!!! Think carefully before you say that. Is it even remotely possible that all living beings don't submit to God. God absolutely has complete control to the extent He/She needs the control. And the bunch of Jokers who come up with all sorts of made up stories to preach religion and spread their own propaganda and violence get their way to do it because the God has setup a stage, for whatever reason, and doesn't interfere. If you can misguide people and have them kill each other for your own good, go ahead and do it.
    The religion was part of human evolution and it made sense at the time when the science and human mind was not as mature as it is today. Now the need is to grow out of it. If we don't then we can very well destroy us, God will not care as He is not going to intervene to break or relax the laws of nature for us. And believe me, God is already getting whatever He/She wants to get out of this whole life and creation thing, you don't need to worry about it. It will be good if you can worry about yourself and your kids to make this world a livable place, if not, as I said earlier God doesn't care, you are making it harder for yourself and your kids.

    September 1, 2013 at 11:04 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.