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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. bostontola

    Does god have a God? Does God have a GGod?...

    September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  2. Doris

    Gosh – I wonder if the neighbor's little girl has the same imaginary friend as the one my granddaughter has.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  3. educatedman

    Religious pluralism is totally flawed logic wise. There are direct premises that defined religions that are contradictions.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  4. Susan

    I hope you God lovers strangle yourselves with your different 'strings' of faith. Should you pause to look and catch your breath long enough you might one day see the diversity of mankind that wants to live in peace. I don't think you've got it in you–yet. Unfortunately you don't get forever to 'get it right'. We will wear out the planet.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Should they become certain that there is a God, and should they feel certain they've figured out what it wants from them, they are prepared to burn the world to give it what it wants.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • joefish

      That is one way of believing in something

      September 1, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  5. atalbert

    Possibly it is just me but as I read the descriptions of Judaism and Christianity I get a sense of "tongue in cheek" or even sarcasm that does not seem to appear in the description of Islam,

    Political correctness at work, perhaps?

    September 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
  6. jake

    The God of "mama la moronga del burro" is the true God.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • bostontola

      Witness.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  7. George

    I don't think that worshipping the same God does anything to reduce violence among humans - the most violence actually seems to occur between groups that share everything about their religion except one or two small and obscure points. The Catholics and Protestants or the Shia and Sunni are macro examples, but for really violent and nasty wars look further inside of the sects.

    By the way, what's the deal with the headline link asking "do all major religions share the same God" and then limiting the article to Judaic religions? There are quite a few Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucians in the world.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  8. Lionly Lamb

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4xejnsLwKE&feature=player_detailpage

    September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  9. Jeffro B Kirkus

    Religion is the biggest scam in the history of humanity.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
    • Desmond ThreeThree

      Bingo. We have a winner.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Actually, Lucifer is, he's the King of Scams. And if you believe that nonsense, then you've just been scammed by him big time...

      September 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Brett

      +1 God was invented by Humans not the other way around.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • KKK

      Well your opinion sucks so you can stfu

      September 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • jake

      God is a factory worker in some elaborate factory that makes planets with primitives like us. There are other factory workers there that make barren planets, some that make systems, and the most talented and experienced workers get to make solar systems. Then they are shipped to various parts of the universe. The Super God is the CEO of this factory. He is rather affluent, probably worth at least 100000 trillion dollars, most of it kept abroad in Klingon secret bank accounts. See, this story makes just as much sense as all the religious stories floating around.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  10. Look To the True God Always

    Yet how sad that some people consider Money to be their god. They worship it and embrace it to no end while not stopping to realize that money is but a commodity in this world that does not make you rich inside. And also, when you pass-on from this world you cannot take your money with you. And if you did, where would you spend it? Therefore, we all need to look to God who lives inside us for His true promises and salvation for those who are worthy, something no other "god" can ever offer to us and fulfill.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • heehee

      What a strange world you must live in.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Desmond ThreeThree

      Problem is, there's no evidence that god exists and people can't agree on its characteristics or what makes it happy instead of it being a mad murderous jerk and wiping out life on the planet like god supposedly has done before in some of the more far-fetched fairy tales such as the Christian ones.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • jciii

      You can't take it with you because there would then be no YOU. Therein lies the most fundamental crux of religion; which is not about the story of life, good, or evil, it's about the schism between ego and brain. If deluding yourself works for you, then great; just keep your delusions out of the science class and city hall.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Look To the True God Always

      All of you who believe there is no God is due to your being in perpetual denial preferring your wayward ways. However, that is your problem. When your time comes to pass-on and you then see that indeed there always was a God and He is standing right there before you at the judgment you will have to bow your head down and admit your mistake but by then it will be too late to make concessions in order to gain entrance into Heaven. So, when the time comes Have A HOT One folks, you deserve it!

      September 1, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  11. deanq

    There is no god. Wake up people!

    September 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      That has got to be about the dumbest statement I have every heard. Your mom and dad should have taught you better...

      September 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Why is it stupid? Because it contradicts your personal beliefs?

        September 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm |
      • deanq

        They taught me to think and not follow the rest of the mindless sheep.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
        • JustTheFacts

          Then they may also be the reason you'll end up in hell...

          September 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
        • bostontola

          Not hell, Tartarus. The Greek gods are much more powerful.

          September 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Hell? You mean that fictional place where the christian's evasive, good loving god sends people for not believing in it due to the complete lack of evidence for it?? You're funny and rather gullible!

          September 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
        • heehee

          @JusttheFacts: So your parents taught you about the boogeyman? And you expect this to convince grown-ups?

          September 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
      • bostontola

        His parents should have lied to him?

        September 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Brett

      RIGHT?! I read this article and had to laugh. What a lame article.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  12. Ajay

    God is One !. And his messengers were many. They were existed in different area during different periods just for one reason : Reminders. If I were born as a christian, I support christianity till my last breath. Likewise If I were labelled Muslim or Hindu I support it. In my case, I twish everyone ake tand follow the best of all religions i.e same concept with different presentations. Mom, Maa, Amma gives the same meaning Mother. However its the middlemen or some individuals make this system complex with their narrow mindedness for their selfishness. They can't kill the truth.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
    • Valerie

      YES! I am catholic and I too believe this! There is only one God! There are only different presentations of Him but they are all of the same God.....you worded it better than I could so thank you Ajay!!

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

        Strange thay when the Aztecs were taking people's hearts out to appease their representation of this 'all-deity' that it didn't swiftly choose a more positive and uplifiting representation for them to follow. Strange that it even had that as one of its representations.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  13. Not Too Hard to Understand

    The problem with religious wars is that people die trying to prove that their version of a fairy tale is more valid than some other group's version of the same fairy tale.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Rick

      Or your fairy tale that a higher power (God) could not possibly exist and that we humans are the highest power (true arrogance).

      September 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
      • adibese

        How does not believing in god equate to fairy tales and the belief that humans are the most intelligent? Not believing in some magical being is hardly a good story, and if you take religion out of the equation, the Universe gets infinitely bigger and more complex. I'm quite sure there are beings more intelligent in the universe than us. Most humans still believe in a sky god and kill each other for its love. I'm sure all intelligent beings would want to avoid us right now, lol.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
      • Dave

        We can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a deity so believe as you please. Heck, you can believe the moon is made of cheese for all I care. The problem I have with faith based beliefs is the inherent need by some to "push" those beliefs on everyone else. All religions are guilty of it and some go to the extreme.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Whereas other people spend all of their time on forums such as this trying to convince everybody else is was all just a fairy tale...

      September 1, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
      • jciii

        Pot, meet kettle.

        September 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  14. James

    Maybe there is one God, with many names....??? "He who insults other religions is a one who insults his own religion" – Buddha

    September 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Yes, better to just insult them all and be done with it.
      (so sayeth the invisible pink buddha-corn)

      September 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • gehazi

        makes you look pretty stupid.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Why? Because you don't like it when insults are fairly distributed?

          September 1, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
        • Not Too Hard to Understand

          Skepticism should be an equal-opportunity construct. That's how I practice it.

          September 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  15. Donald

    The two great questions I have in my own mind are these: 1. Is God the Universe or does God stand apart in some way? and 2. Is Ubiquity with the Universe part of our destiny in the dim future somehow?

    September 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • heehee

      What does any of that even mean? Here, watch me do that too:

      If goodness is all-pervasive, does that mean our endeavors are ultimately vain?

      September 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • gehazi

      Donald, your answers ,if you are prepared for them: 1. God is the singularity that devoured our universe ages ago, we are living in the holographic projection at the edge of the event horizon
      2. The goal of the machine is to escape the illusion and reach the true moment, at the center zero, you can only reach this by nirvana, or nothingness, or heaven whatever you want to call it, otherwise you will live eternally in the memory of lives already lived.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
      • heehee

        Your certainty that this means something and is true amazes me.

        September 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          Prolonged drug use, in particular marijuana.

          September 1, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          ...or he could be simply a nut-job.

          September 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
        • heehee

          Actually I can tell by his phrasing that he has been hypnotized by a guru of one kind or another. Possibly many. (They call it meditation).

          September 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
        • Harry Cline

          'transcendental' very popular in the 1970's.

          September 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
      • jciii

        Far more interesting than the childish fairy tales of the Big 3.

        September 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  16. Lainie11

    Will you explain why CNN won't post my previous comment?

    September 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • midwest rail

      automatic word (and word fragment) filter

      September 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • heehee

      No, it's a conspiracy to marginalize you. Don't believe midwest rail. Soon, they will put you in camps and teach your children to blaspheme.

      September 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  17. GDFGSDFJGJHGJDFGSD

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    FISCALIAS, JUECES Y ORGANIZACIONES DE ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA PAGANDO DINERO PARA SECUESTRAR ROBAR VIOLAR ASESINAR A HABITANTES CASOS DE ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA.

    LUEGO DE ROBADOS GENERALES MILITARES Y POLITICOS UTILIZAN AVIONES PARA ENVIARLOS A JUICIOS EN ORGANIZACIONES QUE TIENEN RELACION CON LA HAYA LA UNO Y TRIBUNALES EN ESTADOS UNIDOS.

    FISCALIAS, JUECES Y ORGANIZACIONES DE ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA PAGANDO DINERO A CRIMINALES JUECES ESPAÑOLES EL INTERPOL EUROPOL Y EL FBI.

    POLITICOS COMO NICOLAS MADURO LLAMAN DIRECTAMENTE A OTROS AUN Y CUNADO NO SEAN AMIGOS PARA VENDER ESTOS SUJETOS DE ESTUDIO

    LOS LLEVAN A JUICIOS EN ORGANIZACIONES QUE TIENEN RELACION CON CULTURAS EN CRIMENES EUROPEOS TOMANDO EN CUENTA EL COMPORTAMIENTO Y LOS OBJETIBOS PARA ROBAR INFORMACION.

    CUANDO SE LES LLEVA A JUICIOS EN LOS QUE NO EXISTEN LEYES SOLO LOS INTERESES DEL LOS REYES TANTO EN LA HAYA LA UNO O TRIBUNALES EN ESTADOS UNIDOS CON LO CUAL NADIE SOBRE LA TIERRA ESTA DE ACUERDO.
    QUE HACEN CON ELLOS:
    LOS QUEMAN LOS ABREN LES QUITAN LA PIEL LOS CAUTERIZAN LOS IRRADIAN TODO CON NANOTECNOLOGIA

    Y LES MUESTRAN PELICULAS QUE SON ROBADAS UTILIZANDO TECNOLOGIA SATELITAL EN CELULARES CUENTAS Y OJOS.

    SE ACUERDAN DE LOS VIDEOS DE LOS SERVIDOSRES QUE ELIMINARON.

    HAY MUCHAS OPCIONES PARA SALIR DE ESTOS POLITICOS SERIALES ENTRE ELLAS PUBLIQUEN EL CASO YVERAN COMO LOS MISMOS HABITANTES LOS AHORCAN.

    MIRE LAS PATENTES DE LOS COMPONENTES DE LOS SATELITES QUE SE VENDEN.

    SI SE DEBE HACER.

    CNN QUE CREEN QUE LES PASARIA A LOS PERIODISTAS DE LOS MEDIOS QUE NO DENUNCIEN Y A SUS HIJOS?.

    DONDE ESTA EL DINERO DE ESTOS ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA, LA RESPUESTA LOGICA EN BANCOS SIUZOS.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  18. NO Fing way

    There is no other ALLAH but GAWD. FATHER SON AND HOLLY SPIRIT!

    September 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  19. bostontola

    Ironic, all these splintering Abrahamic sects are clear evidence of something many religious don't believe in, evolution. In this case it's cultural evolution. New sects (species) are spawned and grow. Then then compete for minds. The ability to control men creates power, power then corrupts, new sect breaks off, the cycle repeats.

    September 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  20. Champ

    This is exactly what Quran says that, " All those in the heavens and the earth beseech Him (for their needs.) Every day He is in a state of action. 55:29

    September 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • MagicPanties

      This is what my invisible pink unicorn says: "listen to what I tell you and never think for yourself, you're too friggin stoopid"

      September 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
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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.