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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. Joe

    The author might be an award-winning reporter, but he badly needs to get a proof reader before he posts anything else online.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • el flaco

      Point out a few bad sentences for us.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  2. PrettyPagan

    Believing in god is just bad math, the numbers don't add up.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  3. chanruss

    There is only one true gospel and all others are an abomination onto the real true God. These other religions believe in a God does not or can not excise.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Dick Wiggler

      You're right, Thor is the one true god. They made a movie about his holy life

      September 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Absolutely correct!
      Only ONE true gospel!
      ALL of the others are false!

      Yes, folks, we're talking, the Gospel of Gozer! Let us read together, oh ye of the true faith:

      Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

      September 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  4. Elena

    So now scientist claim that they BELIEVE there are an infinite number of universes with a copy of you en each with an infinite number of possibilities, so very well in one of those universes there is a copy of you with v agin a or a pe eni$

    Do you atheist believe that?

    How is that different from believing in imaginary friends

    September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Time For You To Grow Up...

      Troll or imbecile?? Tough to tell with you...

      September 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Imbecile seems more fitting. Completely and willfully ignorant of science.

        September 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
      • Elena

        of those it is normal of those who lack the intelligence to debate to insult and to punch, specially when they have no arguments to debate?

        September 1, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
        • jp0

          Never argue with a fool. Bystanders will be unable to determine who is who.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Dmitry

    The question is incorrect. The question asks if the G-d is the same, but by that implies that G-d could be different or that there could be more then a whole G-d. Suppose I have proven to myself that G-d exists beyond any reasonable doubt, from 2 main things can be derived, The existence of Whole G-d, the deity is a fact (well to me it is) and also that I am a Jew, because well that's Judaism and in Judaism you have to prove to yourself that G-d exists as a fact.

    Problem is not how different people worship G-d. Problem is sin. A sin that goes against the nature of G-d. G-d did say that we should not commit murder. G-d was very specific about it. All 3 religions mentioned here agree that murder is a sin, so how is it justified when people commit murder in the name of G-d? My Answer is politics, my answers is the so called religious leaders, governments, media, people are brainwashed into thinking that it's ok to kill in the name of G-d. Yes, in Judaism we guard G-d's name like a secret because the name is to powerful.

    But Yes, I am sure many different people worship G-d, these people don't warship the same way, don't dress the same way (this is all with in Judaism) but all those people understand that G-d needs all of the people and all of the ways. I personally don't think that G-d keeps what G-d does not need. So if a nation exists, it's the will of G-d for it to exist and it should be also respected.

    But this my opinion which based on my observation and limited knowledge of religions.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  6. Peggy

    god is the bane of man (and since god doesn't exist, i.e. a fictional character, that's quite a coup!)

    September 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  7. Jon

    There are but one God and that's the creator of the Heavens and the Earth including animals and mankind .All other gods are false gods

    September 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  8. tellurian

    A pile of mystic nonsense by any other name is still a pile of mystic nonsense.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  9. Jerry

    God isn't dead. She operates a rock crusher at a diamond mine in South Africa.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Sorry can't be...my cat Darwin is apparently god or so he thinks.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  10. Bobby

    -sighs- there is no god, no heaven, no hell, no soul, no afterlife, no supernatural silliness.
    WAKE UP and do something useful and purposeful with your life!
    -sighs- monotheists...

    September 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Dick Wiggler

      LOL, There is no God, and Mohamed is not his prophet?

      September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • ahmed

      Do you think that the world could continue for million of years, with the earth moving in a space filled with millions of stones and planets. The earth carrying millions of people all of that is happening without any control? can you imagine it !

      September 1, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
      • G to the T

        Yup – it's called gravity.

        September 3, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  11. Time For You To Grow Up...

    Atheism is the result of one's desire and ability to think for oneself...

    September 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  12. tammy

    trust god. he is not mocked. they will reap for themselves indescribable destruction and misery

    September 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Dick Wiggler

      People like you are why religious violence happens

      September 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Blah blah blah blah blah...now just substantiate your claims with evidence and you might have a point.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • rick

      tammy: your god will certainly be mocked, as well as the angry pr1cks who follow it

      September 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  13. ..

    There is no god. everyone made up their own fairy tail. Humaninty needs to hate and kill. if they didn't have god as an excuse, they'd come up with something else.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  14. Bob

    Personally I find the belief in a god just plain dumb, but that's just me 🙂

    September 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  15. Charlie

    The answers we seek come from within.
    Prayer, meditation = same thing.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  16. tammy

    look at their joy when sam stone brags about her intentions towards a mentally challenged child and her mother. that is satan, brethren.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • ME II

      What?

      September 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Akira

      Hi, faith! (Waves)

      September 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      What the hell are you talking about hharri/faith/Tammy?? Gee, multiple personalities...you really do need help!

      September 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Akira

      And sam stone is a man, which everyone has told you repeatedly. And sam stone didn't write that awful post, so you are blaming the wrong person. As usual.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        I'm really curious as to what this post said. Sam can be straight forward but I can't imagine him being that big of an ass. However hharri/faith/tammy likes to believe that sam uses multiple aliases, just more evidence of her craziness.

        September 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • rick

      hi tammy/hhari/faith.....how is that big, big lawsuit coming?

      September 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  17. Ajay

    God is One !. And his messengers were many. They were existed in different area during different periods just for one reason : Reminders 1 2 3 4 ...... 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 wish everyone take and 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 hide or kill the truth.
    I suggest everyone stick to your label or religion. And there is no need of changing your religion. If you do it it would be like same old wine in new bottle. You need to understand the same concept and follow it sincerely. God don't appreciate or admire you for switching to other religion. He may forgive us for our ignorance. For the rest, seeing is believing. They can't see it till their holy soul gets separated from their bodies. Those who don't believe it .. Ignorance ...Still not ? You would get a chance to believe it.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      That was a load of crazy babble.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • myVu

      No one is born a Christian. This is a free will choice that anyone can make. To believe on Jesus Christ as their Saviour. As for God's many messengers, in the Holy Bible, all those messengers' prophecies agreed...100% of the time even when they were from different centuries.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  18. Brittney

    Wow, religions are stupid. Time to grow up out of this "creator being" nonsense and see the world with clearer eyes. All of these belief systems reek of ego – I would suspect 99% of all believers simply do so because they are told that when they die, they don't REALLY die...

    September 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • nope

      @brat...
      nope

      September 1, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

        @ Nope
        Yup

        September 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  19. brian

    "I believe in the true religion – all 324 of them." – Mark Twain

    The history of the past two thousand years is a history of these religions killing each other by the millions.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
  20. Time For You To Grow Up...

    "Those who can get you to believe absurdities, can get you to commit atrocities."

    Voltaire

    September 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
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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.