home
RSS
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
[twitter-follow screen_name='WeissFaithWrite']

(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. God has a name

    Not all worship in fear. Not all believe in a fiery hell. The book of Job is an example of worshiping from love, whether rewarded or not. It is a fallacy that all Christians worship out of fear.

    Isaiah 41: 10

    " So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

    September 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Morgan King

      The problem, though, is in picking and choosing what passages to follow. If you can disregard some, why imbue the others with truth?

      September 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
      • God has a name

        The bible gives no indication of a fiery hell. This is a creation of man ( a distortion). In fact, the bible declares. "The dead are aware of nothing"

        Ecclesiastes 9:5

        "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten."

        Something which has been forgotten is not being tortured...

        September 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          But most Christians would disagree with you and neither you nor they have a method by which to verify your own interpretation/perspective or falsify the other's interpretation/perspective.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
        • Morgan King

          That doesn't change the problem of subjectively selecting what passages to adhere to, though. I agree – sheol is translated as 'grave' or 'pit' as much as it was 'Hell' -but there's plenty of contradicting messages outside of the possibility of eternal torment. (I take the 'hell' stuff mostly to connote 'you'll have died and no longer have a chance to have known divine love, which is a form of eternal suffering at having missed the opportunity in life')

          September 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
        • God has a name

          CPT obvious – indeed we do. The bible book of revelation speaks of those brought from the grave (resurrection) for judgment. Why would God ( or anyone for that matter) resurrect anyone (from "hell" who has been judged) only to judge them again? The idea is silly and illogical.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
        • God has a name

          @Morgan King, please elaborate. Not sure what you believe I have "subjectively interpreted". Please tell, so I can clarify. I believe in truth and purity. I do not "tickle the ears of men".

          September 1, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  2. utakin2me

    3 religion's worshipping the same invisible sky fairy....al think they are right and other's are not.....religion is the biggest scam on mankind...how come all this stuff happened eons ago but nothing has happened since?...oh that's right, because people who thought critically figured its all BS....instead of praying all day, how about getting off your a$$es and do something productive?...they all claim to be religion's of peace but they are not.....read their crazy books and you will probably become an atheist

    September 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Lionly Lamb

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBuWKiN3fMI&feature=player_detailpage

    September 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Yoda

    For the arab audience

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6ZcA4uGgRI

    September 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  5. Don

    Interesting how religion control weak minds now in the 21st century. It's not about religion, it's about power. We use religion to obtain control and power.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Dan W

      And if God made a weapon and gave it to someone good, do you not think that the bad people will come and try to take it away from the good person so that it could be used for their own evil purposes? Where is the logic and reason with this crowd? It's nonexistent.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • Doobs

        The Judeo Christian god gave his followers instructions to invade and destroy the cities of outsiders and to pillage their food, animals and wealth, murder every man, woman and child, publicly rape women who weren't virgins and take the virgins as slaves. Sometimes he provided help in the form of raining fire, or knocking down walls when shofars were blown.

        "And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.

        5 And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:

        6 Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.

        7 And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city."

        Ezekiel 9:4-7

        He starts the genocide with helpless old men, then works his way down through the able bodied to women, children, babies and animals.

        And you want me to worship that thing? Never going to happen, bud.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  6. Jeff

    God is a subjective concept created by humans thousands of years ago. Therefore, no one worships the same god, because it's all subjective. Theology is only what you think. If you want to accept what primitive humans dreamed up to explain existence in the Bronze Age, it's your choice. But new kinds of light have come into the world since then. In regard to spirituality we all get to create our own version now.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  7. sandalista

    They all worship an imaginary friend in the clouds.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  8. Yoda

    Read my lips

    Religion leads to fear, Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    September 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • bostontola

      My take

      Religion is based on fear, religion leads to power, power corrupts, corruption leads to new religions, hate, and war.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Dan W

      It warms my heart to see how many Atheists are drawn to God's flame. You hate us, you hate religion, you hate the idea of a God, yet here you are. Your heart is trying to lead you in the right direction, but your mind refuses to listen.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • bostontola

        Nope, I don't hate Lex Luthor either.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • Dan W

          So comparing God and religion to fiction isn't going to work. You all should have realized that a long long time ago. You're arguments are veiled antagonisms. The only result you are going to get is a hostile one.

          September 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  9. God

    Do Christians still think that we were not ONE with the great ape species at some point in our past? HEE HEE 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK3O6KYPmEw

    September 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Bill

      Nice! That video should be required viewing in all churches and mosques around the world...

      September 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Sasha

      Wonderful video, thank you for posting! I learned something today (more than I can say for all those millions of folks in church today!!!)

      September 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • jungleboo

      This was good to see.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  10. Rett

    tacitus, Seutonius and Josephus, non Christians, lived around the same time and all made reference to Christ

    September 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • bostontola

      So?

      September 1, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Akira

      Josephus also made references to Hercules. J.K. Rowling makes references to Harry Potter.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Colin

      Passing references, but nobady says anything substantive about him

      September 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Colin

      Seutonius didn't by the way, but Pliny the younger references his obliquely.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • jungleboo

      And how many Retts are there?

      Oh Lawdy, Miss Scarlet! Yo husband been postin' on CNN! Ain't fittin'! Jes ain't fittin'!

      September 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  11. Mike Muller

    I still believe in god the same way I do that the earth is flat

    September 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  12. Yoda

    Religion leads to fear, Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    September 1, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • bostontola

      Abrahamic religions are based on fear.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
      • Dan W

        Physics tells us that this is a world of opposite and equal reactions, this opposite and equal effect does not just apply to matter, it applies in sociology and psychology as well. Child psychology teaches you how to trick kids using this kind of thinking. You know what happens when you are inundated with fear for long enough? You no longer feel afraid, in fact you feel defiant against fear. I think that this is a good thing, because Id rather fear God (which ultimately I don't feel that any more) than to fear human beings (who really should be feared) because I know how the story ends. Good triumphs over evil, God reveals Himself and we go back to the way it was before we started these trials.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  13. Jesus Built My Hotrod

    My invisible man in the sky is better than your invisible man in the sky.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • bostontola

      That's the problem, my god is mean. It will burn you for eternity if you don't comply. I risk nothing by ignoring your good god.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Mr.X

    Time to revive dormant Indo-European religions which is for Indoeuropeans and by Indoeuropeans

    September 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  15. Truth

    I never new CNN was gonna post a article about Science Fiction.. I hope they start something with stars soon

    September 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  16. IW

    No

    September 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  17. Rookie

    There are faith differences but there is only one God. All three religions believe in the same stories with different plot twist and have similar places that are considered holy mostly centered in or near Israel. And that part about faith and salvation in Christianity makes sense now considering all the hypocrisy coming out of the Christian community they believe so strongly but they could care less about each other. This makes me wonder why people were up in arms about This Is The End where they did good deeds to get into heaven. Isn't that how you get in? The article and movie said it was. This is why I'm not a believer; too much bs going on. Oh and as far as the Sunni and Shi'ites are concerned, their conflict arose out of who was to succeed Muhammad. Their conflict has been going on for ages, don't really see a end near.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
  18. RickP

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

    September 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Morgan King

      As passed down orally before being recalled by devotee writers after his death and then retranslated repeatedly.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Without a single shred of evidence to substantiate any of it.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  19. God has a name

    John 14; 28

    "The father is greater than I"

    September 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • tallulah13

      If god has a name, it's Steve Yzerman. He brought the Cup back to Hockeytown.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  20. myrtle may

    Why, in God's name, do so many people waste time equating God with religion? When we fight each other over our respective interpretations of God, "His rules", "His prophets" etc. we're fighting each others egos for egotistical purposes.

    Of course we don't all worship the same God because we've made God in our image. Nobody really asks God anything – we place orders, demand smiting, moan & put on pageants to prove to each other that we're holier than each other. If Mrs. Smothers had one more son I would say we're staging a sick parody of "Mom always liked you best".

    I hope to God that God intervenes plainly & loudly very very soon, because we're killing ourselves & the planet. A collective kick in the a$$ is what we need.

    September 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Dan W

      Earth is a prison, we were cast out after eating the apple. If you want to talk to theists, you have to pretend you know what are theism tells us about the world we live in. I can juggle the scientific version and the religious versions and make them mesh, but it seems like you only know one, and can't figure out the other, let alone get them to mesh.

      September 1, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
      • jungleboo

        Not YOU again?? "Earth is a prison..." What a horse's behind you are.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
        • Dan W

          You can't argue with a theist unless you use the paradigm that theism operates on. Theism almost universally says we were cast out because we were bad and we are here to invert that bad nature. You don't have to believe it, but you should probably know it so your comments don't seem so off beat. The more you all talk about faith, the more it shows you don't really know anything about it or how believers think.

          September 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
        • jungleboo

          I think you misspoke. You meant "...how believers fantasize." If you reject the very attribute (logical thought) that separates us from the animal kingdom, and then glorify that rejection as somehow indicative of your holier-than-thou nature, no wonder reasonable people keep telling you that you are nuts. A logical man would stop in his tracks and take a look at what he's become. Don't bother, Dan. You would not last two minutes on your own. Religion is for you, that's a certainty. You are shoulder to shoulder with zealots world-wide who reach into their knapsack to teach their incorrigible neighbors a lesson.

          September 1, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • elene

      I like the way you put that! So true.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80
Advertisement
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.