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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. SteveinBC

    To me the question is irrelevent. ALL religions preach respect for others, Murder is the worst sin you can commit against God in any religion. There is not a single religion where God permits believers to pass judgement on others (including their faiths) A true believer in God and God's word welcomes others of all faith's and cultres.

    I personally enjoy learning about religions, languages, and cultures. I encourage others to do the same.

    Steve

    September 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Waitaminit

      The christian god was quite fond of "murder".......

      September 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  2. Vijay !

    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 4:18 pm |
    • tony

      Many human messengers aren't nearly enough to give everyone a fair shot at hearing a god's word. A real god would use a perfect method.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Elena

      What a waste of time debating what or who God is and which one is the true one! is better to grow the spirit and to evolve conciously

      September 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
      • JimK57

        I agree, alot of egos around here.

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

    'spake"

    September 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Aasim Ali

    yes all of us Muslims , Christians and Jewish we worship same God , some more religion for their won purposes and make wars against each other , God created the of man and the make it live in the earth, devotees to God

    September 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Colin

      No islam is an idolatrous cult allah is not God.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        How cute! You have as much evidence for your imaginary friend as this guy does...it's the bigger-imaginary-friend battle...children at play.

        September 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
      • Morgan King

        How is it any different?

        September 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
      • Colin

        Unless you know God you wouldn't know the difference.

        September 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Enlighten us.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          How does one come to know an non-existent deity?

          September 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  5. cigarlover9

    Absolutely Jyoti. The western media and machinery is heavily influenced by the Abrahmic religion's lobbyist. Its nauseating.
    If you lived in US for the past 12 years, you would see how Islam's creep in to the daily news discourse of this country. And you guessed it why? Simply 9 / 11. That event has penetrated the judeo-christo bubble that the media kept perpetrating prior to that event and then the islamic Juggernaut (e.g. CAIR) came in action to push themselves in that club and the American daily conscience. Hence the transformation of judo-christo to big 3 abrahmic religions.
    Whats the lesson here then? It seems you got to be able to exert enough influence on the machinery that the media would accept you as equal to these big 3 lobbyist loaded news control.
    On the other hand Hinduism being an inclusive way of life (religion ??) has so much to give to the world then such non-sense as someone died for the whole world or humanity, etc. So normal folks find the pearls and wisdom of Hindus and live the life whereas normal Hindus dont have an organized setup and lobbyists to inject themselves in media conscience as yet.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  6. elene

    Breaking news!!!! God is not a person.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • heehee

      Your last sentence is two words too long.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • Colin

        God IS

        September 1, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          God is what??? Fictional? Fake? An imaginary thing? Your only friend? What you named your blow up doll?

          September 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • elene

        That is your religion!

        September 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • tony

      or anything else.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  7. Lionly Lamb

    WEED should be FREED...

    As the social and governances barbarisms against cannabis are slowly be brought to light, the 70 some years of reefer prohibition will (soon I hope)someday be unshackled and regulated much like the drugs of alcohol and tobacco are regulated... And, as the medicinal usages of cannabis are becoming known, I see the beneficial effects will become widely realized by the general public...

    September 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      slowly being brought to light

      September 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  8. blinky

    The strength of all three is faith. The common weakness is orthodoxy.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Miles Long

    Interesting perspectives coming from non-athiests, especially Christians counting coup on other religions.

    We have seen over 15,000 years of folks insulting, fighting and killing over who has the best imaginary friend...

    Miles "No One Ever Expects The Spanish Inquisition" Long

    September 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • heehee

      People have killed each other over difference religious beliefs for millenia, but if you disagree or (gasp!) gently mock the religious then you're persecuting them.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
      • Colin

        Atheists have murdered more innocent people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries.

        September 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
        • tony

          You forgot to include all god's massacres recorded in your bible.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          That old canard. You never get tired of that misinformation. Hitler was not an atheist and the communist leaders did not primarily kill for religious beliefs – just power and ideology. I'm sure some religious people were killed resisting but they were generally not targetted because they were religious.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
        • Morgan King

          Certainly not per capita – the world's population has increased exponentially in the last century. Stalin's brutal reign over Russia killed about 0.75-1% of the world's population, the Crusades were over 2%. Really, though, most 20th century conflicts just didn't have much to do with religion one way or the other, the fighting in the Middle East being terrible but relatively minor.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
        • Peregrine

          Colin, none of those were innocent according to Christianity. Because of original sin they all deserved to burn in hell for all eternity.

          September 1, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Rob S

    Do these religions mentioned all believe in the same God? Of course not. The religions mentioned seem actually to be diametrically opposed to each other. Muslims use the Koran, Jews use the Torah (Old Testament), Christians use the New Testament. Each of these books sees God in a wholly different light. Bummer.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Nathalie

      They all worship the same God. It's the books that are different, and get in the way.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  11. Silver Fang

    I believe we do worship one God, but our childish bickering blinds us to this truth.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • heehee

      Well, if only we could all be so mature. Then, there would be no religious disagreements.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • M.I.

      Well said, best explanation ever: brief, concise, straight to the point and sums it all beautifully.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
  12. Sane Person

    If god existed, he would have easily solved this issue a long time ago. As it is, since the dawn of humanity, men have created one invisible super-being after another, and told others to believe them or else. "God" has never shown up to do or say, anything. Only the delusional people wanting to feel superior to others ever manifest.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Thinking Man

      I am taking heart that the fastest growing segment of population around the world agrees with you as do I.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Rob S

      Theologies are irrelevant. I suspect what counts with God is compassion, mercy, forgiveness and understanding – the state of my spirit and your spirit, in other words. Theologies are just mind games to see if one can "figure out" God, further. It's what we DO not what we THINK that brings home the bacon, bagel, falafel... whatever.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • elene

      God is not person that comes to solve our problems. God is a force that created us and we are all here to learn to love and evolve as individual souls (extensions of the Oneness that is). It is like the ocean and we are the individual drops of water. Expressions of it, but we are not it in totality. The goal is to join together in love and be the totality. Until we realize it collectively, we are separate and will continue to have disharmony both personally and collectively. Atheists are just as much of a religion as anything else.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Religion is defined as:
        1.
        a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
        b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
        2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
        3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
        4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

        Now please explain to me how Atheism is a religion? Do you even have the slightest idea as to what the word Atheist means?
        You too are an Atheist...(don't go running off crying now, read this out)...I know it might be hard for you to grasp...you silly children with your imaginary friends.
        You deny all other gods but your own, so you too are an Atheist in regards to those gods. Atheism only defines a disbelief in gods, it says nothing else about us!
        You might want to learn some definitions before shooting off your mouth next time!

        September 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
        • Rett

          Read No. 4

          September 1, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          So what is our cause or principle??? All the term Atheist means is a disbelief in a god or gods, it does not define anything else.

          September 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
      •  Athy

        elene, you just can't get it, can you?

        September 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  13. Monotheist

    Yes, they are all of the monotheistic tradition of Abraham. Unless you are a polytheist, you are worshipping one God no matter what name you call Him by. The idea of the Holy Trinity was inserted by the Apostle Paul at the Council of Nicae. Jesus never at any time referred to himself as God. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest scholar in Christendom clearly and logically argued against anthropomorphism which is the creation of God in a human form. This is why the Knights Templars, the greatest military order in Christian history were persecuted upon their return from the Crusades, because they no longer believed in the anthropomorphism which had taken root in Europe. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as I stated earlier was inserted by the Apostle Paul. Early Christians faced a dilemma, as did early Jews and early Muslims that were attempting to recruit followers and believers. They had to take idol-worshippers (polytheists) and convert them in to believers of one eternal God (monotheism). As such, the places of idol-worship were converted in to houses of monotheism, so they had to make their doctrines (pliable and flexible) without actually leaving the original doctrine of monotheism laid out by Abraham. So Zeus, Hera, and Athena (pagan trinity) became Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Christian monotheistic trinity). Jesus was a student of the Prophet John the Baptist and so he was a monotheist as was Moses and Muhammad. But over a few thousand years, depending on the benefit gained, doctrines are changed or adapted to suit the times. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are monotheists, but some Christians push Jesus as God, which Thomas Aquinas had previously voided with logic and reason.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Handsome guest

      Dude, we don't need a lesson. This is how it works here: you say whether you're a believer or an atheist and then attack the other side accordingly. Have some sense of fun, geezus!

      September 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • Monotheist

        A lesson is just what people need right now. Scholarship is important. 🙂

        September 1, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Irony

    ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF PEACE!!! IF YOU DONT AGREE I WILL KILL YOU!!!

    September 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • Woody

      " “Allah” is, of course, the Arabic word for God and is found in the Quran." – Belief Blog Article.

      So when Muslims claim "THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH", their really saying "There is no god but god". Sounds rather redundant.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
  15. Isabel

    And God spoke all these words:

    2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

    3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

    Any questions?

    September 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      How are you so certain god said those words? And please don't reference the bible when you answer.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • heehee

      Really, he said that? Well that clears it all up. Why are all these people arguing then? Poor humble me, it's all so confusing.

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

      And centuries of ancient oral, and incorporated pagan, traditions were written down, edited and revised, translated, edited, and translated again until they said "I am the Lord you God..."

      September 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      What are the names of the planets? Of the days of the week?

      If you answered any of those questions, you named a god other than yours, violating your first commandment. Good luck with that.

      September 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • tony

      Why were the 10 commandments written by god in just one language after the Tower of Babel episode ?

      September 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
      • Sara

        God has his favorites.

        September 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  16. Kevin D

    Our planet contains billions of individuals. Extremism seems to be the obvious threat to our world at present. But to me being told you belong to a particular religion & a particular country just by chance of birth, and then being raised and educated to believe that your religion is the only true religion and that your country and it's allies are, and have always been, the good guys. go. I dream of a smarter future for this planet with no passports, no borders and maybe even no fences between neighbours.

    September 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  17. Yoda

    shall I keep on going?

    September 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      bishopaccountability.org lists a great number of the peds

      September 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  18. 7

    Hello folks. Everyone is invited to receive a newly released "free"
    downloadable song at... thetreasureofzion.com

    September 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  19. Yoda

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zc52Coepgg

    September 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  20. Mr.X

    Enough of this Abrahmic religions. Time to revive Indo-European religions by Indoeuropeans for Indo-Europenas. Love to see Indoeuropean Zorastrianism sweeping central asia, celti religions sweeping celtic regions, greek religion in Greek, Slavic religion in Eastern Europe and Noorse religions sweeping northern europe. Indo-european Budhism sweeping the rest

    September 1, 2013 at 3:58 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.