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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. Robin Jones

    They're all the same. Nonexistent.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • rabgem

      My God is better than your God. He is a vegetarian and has never killed a fish or a chicken.

      September 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  2. Alaa

    well, I disagree with few things but in general I agree that we all share the same god. This article not surprising me at all because I knew that from the Quran, and I'm a Muslim. what surprising me that is this article in here and in English!

    September 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  3. time

    time is approaching when these animals will face everlasting torture. pray for their children. they are innocent

    September 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  4. Non-man

    I find the notion of believing in a god or gods utterly and completely ridiculous. Any mention of jesus or Mohamed or yaweh etc is like talking about donald duck taking his sailboat out on the lake...FICTION.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  5. muti

    a very happy sweet new year for all my Jewish friends.

    Proud Hasidic Jew

    September 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Dan W

      Yea! King of the Universe! Id crown Him every day if He asked me to.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Non-man

      Not fair, you are one of the "chosen people" the rest of us are less worthy.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Nina

        Who told you that? We aren't less worthy

        September 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Moshe

      Happy Rosh Hashanah!

      September 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  6. David

    Earth is a penal colony for the more intelligent life forms in the Universe – – –

    September 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  7. The Antichrist

    There is no heaven, there is no hell. There is only us.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  8. oscarguijo

    Rosh Hashanah is on Thursday, so Shanah Tovah.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Dan W

      Its on Wednesday, the day of healing and the day of the messenger.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  9. Mick

    Do they all worship the same god? The question is phrased a bit oddly. What they all worship is a variation of the same legendary figure.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Dan W

      I much prefer Legendary to Mythological.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  10. mac101

    How naive to assume that different religious groups fight each other over 'god.' They fight each for the same reason that kids fight in the sandbox: power, pride, and resources. 'God' has nothing to do with it, although he/she/it makes a convenient excuse, but can't you just hear the kids now?

    "My god is bigger/better/has more marbles than your god, neener, neener, neener." "Oh yeah? Prove it."

    Could just as easily be a fight over someone's mama, stash of baseball cards, or school mascot. In fact, maybe it is.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      you can't be that naive. you think religions don't cause strife and wars? are you joking?

      September 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • Dan W

        You think strife and wars have no purpose in Gods plan? There were wars and strife in Heaven, why not here? How does one know good without evil? How can people grow if there is nothing to challenge them? Life is a prison, death is parole. Trying to beat death is like trying to stay in jail longer. There is this saying and I've come to cherish it, "only the good die young".

        September 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • EA

      "Religion is a powerful motivator, and thus is often invoked in wartime, but the real reasons most wars have been fought have nothing to do with it. Instead, they have to do with political control–either allowing certain political leaders to gain or remain in power (e.g., who is the rightful heir to the throne) or they have to do with gaining political control of resources (e.g., land, money, food supplies, transportation and trade routes) or they have to do with a particular leader’s ambitions (i.e., being remembered as a great man, or not being remembered as a weak man). When leaders aren’t being totally naked about those things, they dress them up with national pride or religion, but ultimately they are not at the root."

      "According to the Encyclopedia of Wars (Phillips and Axelrod, Facts on File, December 2004) of the 1,763 major conflicts in recorded history, only 123 of them were classified as having been fought over religious differences. That’s just under 7 percent. The encyclopedia also explains that the number of people killed in these conflicts amounts to only 2 percent."

      http://www.jonsorensen.net/2012/09/18/is-religion-really-the-number-one-cause-of-war/

      September 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  11. CommonSense

    Yes, all gods are false. But they are all the same ancient myths told in different form and stories.
    And these myths aren't even good literature although they are entertaining. It is amusing to see what primitive people created and then chose to believe.

    Although, it is pathetic that anyone believes these myths today. It is so childish to hear people talk about "Satan", the hilarious horned "demon". Come on, do people really refuse to admit that this is a metaphor for anything that is bad or anything they dislike. How painfully obvious can this be?

    I suppose that a percentage of certain human beings like to put themselves in groups, which gives people a reason to dislike or hate others outside their own group. It's tribalism.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Mick

      Right. It amazes me that otherwise intelligent people in this day and age can believe in things like a magical demon that influences our behavior because he wants to torture us after we're dead. The ancients had an excuse...at the time, these were the best explanations for the workings of the world around us. But a college-educated person in this day and age should feel ashamed for believing in such imbecility.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
      • Non-man

        good on ya mate!

        September 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Nash

      To say that you are religious and still claim that you are a logical, straight-thinking person is the same as saying you haven't bathed for a month but still somehow believe you're clean and smell nice.

      September 1, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  12. Essjay

    Here we are on our iron-cored space ship (planet Earth) acting like bad ants, killing other ants because they want our food, land, natural resources, etc., or because they don't read from the same holy book. If God is listening and knows what we are doing, most of it all wrong and offensive to others who also live here, and since the whole lot of us are behaving as our individual religions dictate, maybe it is time that He/She drops us a little note to make the corrections and set it all straight. Why would it be acceptable to the Higher Power that we all go on muddling through and destroying the place, especially with our worst inventions (from our Ant Science) that might be nuclear. The Second Coming will be indescribable in scope but some are saying that's what it will take to reset life on this here ant hill.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  13. Hanibal

    I wish man could get past this whole sky fairy crap sooner rather than later.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  14. gregski

    DO THEY WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?????? YES!! THEY ALL WORSHIP THE SAME NONEXISTENT DEITY..

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  15. Time For You To Grow Up...

    There are over 3000 different religions in this world, each one worshipping a god... As soon as you come to understand why you reject all those other gods, you'll understand why I reject yours.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  16. Honestly though...

    http://www.adherents.com/images/rel_pie.gif

    Hey Guys,

    Here is another good point. Why is it that Christianity is broken up into so many different types, along with Islam? What is the 'true' religion of each religion? Like completely pure, without personal bias? Does such religion exist within Christianity or Islam? Note also how Hinduism is the third most practiced religion, and doesn't even get a mention in this article. How can Judaism even get a mention when only .22% of people practice it let alone be called a major religion.
    What warrants Hinduism, and Buddhism to be left out of this discussion because if you think about it, there is much less argument in the countries that practice these religions. I still disagree with the notion of god, but the fact that people can completely disregard Hinduism because it sounds strange should really take a step back and look at their own religion. Religion was one of the worst things to happen to mankind, not only at the time it was created but also now. Honestly though...

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • muti

      if Christians and Muslims would not have slaughtered Jews in the last 3 thousand years , Judaism would have been one of the largest religions.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  17. Trent H

    Three groups of people arguing (and killing) over which version of imaginary friend is the real one.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • Non-man

      sad and pathetic 🙁

      September 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  18. muti

    6) JEWS AND GENTILES

    (back)

    Judaism does not demand that everyone convert to the religion. The Torah of Moses is a truth for all humanity, whether Jewish or not. King Solomon asked God to heed the prayers of non-Jews who come to the Holy Temple (Kings I 8:41-43). The prophet Isaiah refers to the Temple as a "House for all nations."

    The Temple service during Sukkot featured 70 bull offerings, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world. The Talmud says that if the Romans would have realized how much benefit they were getting from the Temple, they’d never have destroyed it.

    Jews have never actively sought converts to Judaism because the Torah prescribes a righteous path for gentiles to follow, known as the "Seven Laws of Noah." Maimonides explains that any human being who faithfully observes these basic moral laws earns a proper place in heaven.

    For further study of the Seven Laws of Noah:
    The Seven Laws of Noah

    7) BRINGING THE MESSIAH

    (back)

    Maimonides states that the popularity of Christianity (and Islam) is part of God’s plan to spread the ideals of Torah throughout the world. This moves society closer to a perfected state of morality and toward a greater understanding of God. All this is in preparation for the Messianic age.

    Indeed, the world is in desperate need of Messianic redemption. War and pollution threaten our planet; ego and confusion erode family life. To the extent we are aware of the problems of society, is the extent we will yearn for redemption. As the Talmud says, one of the first questions a Jew is asked on Judgment Day is: "Did you yearn for the arrival of the Messiah?"

    How can we hasten the coming of the Messiah? The best way is to love all humanity generously, to keep the mitzvot of the Torah (as best we can), and to encourage others to do so as well.

    Despite the gloom, the world does seem headed toward redemption. One apparent sign is that the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel and made it bloom again. Additionally, a major movement is afoot of young Jews returning to Torah tradition.

    The Messiah can come at any moment, and it all depends on our actions. God is ready when we are. For as King David says: "Redemption will come today—if you hearken to His voice."

    by Rabbi Shraga Simmons
    Largely adapted from Aish.com

    September 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Rebbe Bupkis

      And as a MOT, I thank God we don't proselytize. Can you imagine the door-to-door kvetching? Oy!

      September 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  19. Reality

    Again for the new members:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e. the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    September 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Elena

      But why would a group of Jews create Christianity? with what end?

      September 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
      • muti

        just like a group of Jews created communism,psychology and allot of other things they have allot of brains

        September 1, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
      • Reality

        To create a wider client-base for their cult.

        September 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
        • Elena

          dont you people have anything intelligent to say? do you even finish high school?

          September 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Morgan King

        The historical Jesus was fighting the Roman-controlled Jewish temple which were using their religious rites as a way to extort money from the poor, and to keep money out of the hands of the Jews who resisted the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. After Jesus was killed his Jewish followers kept spreading his message of returning control of the temple to Jerusalem, but it was Paul's largely anti-Jewish writings that became extremely popular in Rome – benefiting from being written in Greek – and spread throughout their empire, ultimately creating the division between Christianity and Judaism.

        September 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
        • Elena

          the roman controlled temple? from where do you get such thing, the Romans never cared and never meddle in others religious beliefs, and the money changers where Jews not Romans!

          September 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Reality

        Christian economics and greed 101:

        The Baptizer drew crowds and charged for the "dunking". The historical Jesus saw a good thing and continued dunking and preaching the good word but added "healing" as an added charge to include free room and board. Sure was better than being a poor peasant but he got a bit too zealous and they nailed him to a tree. But still no greed there.

        Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters and a prophecy of the imminent second coming for a fee for salvation and "Gentilized" the good word to the "big buck" world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist!!! And he and the other Apostles forgot to pay their Roman taxes and the legendary actions by the Romans made them martyrs for future greed. Paul was guilty of minor greed? Yes!!!

        Along comes Constantine. He saw the growing rich Christian community and recognized a new tax base so he set them "free". Major greed on his part!!

        The Holy Roman "Empirers"/Popes/Kings/Queens/Evangelicals et al continued the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today's richest organizations on the globe i.e. the Christian churches (including the Mormon Church) and related aristocracies. Obvious greed!!!

        An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

        "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

        Some of Paul's money gathering activities some of which resulted in buying the Gentile entry into the then mostly Jewish version of Christianity:

        Paul claimed almost total independence from the "mother church" in Jerusalem.[12] and yet was eager and diligent to bring material support from the various budding Gentile churches that he planted to the mother church at Jerusalem.

        When a famine occurred in Judea, around 45–46,[24] Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Jerusalem to deliver financial support from the Antioch community.[25] According to Acts, Antioch had become an alternative center for Christians following the dispersion of the believers after the death of Stephen. It was in Antioch that the followers of Jesus were first called "Christians."[Ac. 11:26]. This act basically "greased" the entry of non-circu-mcised Gentiles into Christianity.

        "Paul collected the money from his four provinces, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia but, for obvious reasons, of propriety, had representatives take each province's own contribution

        September 1, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • G to the T

        Because they (jesus and disciples) weren't trying to create a new religion. Jesus was an apololyptic Jews (essene). Much like the Pharisee, they believed the end of the world was neigh and that a "son of man" (mentioned in daniel) would come soon to begin the process. After Jesus died and no end of the world before "this generation" passed away, Paul and his followers had to rework Judaism to fit this new paradigm.

        How's that?

        September 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    The true worship of God: "What you wish that people do towards you do towards them."

    Be honest: Are we able to keep this command by natural power?

    No, we need Jesus power to overcome our hatred, our selfishness, our biases.

    Ask Jesus for the power of love, and he will give it to you.

    September 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Reality

      No, he will not as he is still rotting in the ground outside of Jerusalem.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • EvilCCP

      an evolved brain can have love attribute, Jesus just one of those brains.

      September 1, 2013 at 1:51 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.