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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. jocelynsophia

    Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad all told people to love and worship God, our Creator. God Gave us life and God Knows all that we did and what we do. God revealed to the messengers what the sins are, and told us not to do them. If a person does do a sin, the person must repent of that sin. The person must believe that a sin is a sin, and feel very bad for having done it. The person who repents intends to never do the sin again. Always talk to God. You don't need to go to a special place. God is always with you. Tell God how you love God and that you need God. Love God always and see this life as a great opportunity to do good deeds and avoid sins. Be happy during this life and do not complain. The good person does not fear death. The good person only fears to do sins, and he or she does not do sins. I humbly ask God to help you and me and guide you and me.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      So it would be okay for me to take my unruly children to the edge of town and stone them to death? That wouldn't be a sin, right? Because the Bible commands it. It's right there in black and white. And the Bible is the Word of God, right?

      Kewl – stoning someone to death isn't a sin – as long as it's your own child you're killing!!

      September 1, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Onedoall

      You need to read this mind blowing book "I want to kill God or die trying" you can find it on Amazon

      September 1, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  2. christinekarman

    There is no God. So whatever they worship is whatever they want to believe in. It's all so sad....

    September 1, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Certainly there is a god. Everyman a god.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Peon887

    If I were God, I would want people to have my morals. I think it is pretty much so for the false gods.Few people actually care about what our Creator in the Bible has to say. I say the Bible because it has never been proven wrong about anything.Peon887.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      The Bible has been proven false, especially stating that the world was created in 7 days when it has been shown that the world was created in a billion years.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Really?? So virgin birth makes sense to you? Noahs Flood makes sense? A dead man rising after 3 days? The bible also teaches that child abuse is okay; that you shouldn't eat shellfish; that LGBT is wrong; that owning slaves is okay; that forcing a woman to marry her rapist is okay...to you these things aren't wrong?
      If you need religion to tell you right from wrong, you lack empathy.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Hey, Peon: is a bat a mammal or a bird? Does a rabbit chew its cud? Do insect have 4 legs or 6?

      Check Leviticus (which is part of the Bible) – it's gets all of these wrong.

      Funny thing, that, what with your God creating everything, including all of the animals, and then your God getting their characteristics wrong in his infallible book. You'd think – if you created rabbits – that you would know about their digestive system. Hmmmmm.......

      September 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Doobs

      If I were God, I would want people to have my morals.

      The god of the bible is a psychopath who commits genocide whenever it has a hissy fit.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  4. h

    As a Hindu, I am often amazed by the inability of the three Abrahamic faiths to coexist peacefully.

    Recently for example, the Hindu Indian foreign minister went to Israel and got a very warm reception from Avigdor Lieberman.

    This despite the fact that foreign Minister Krishna's religion is totally different from foreign ministerLieberman's religion.

    Lieberman can't even get along with the Palestinians even though Judaism and Islam have a lot of common background and despite the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are next door neighbors.

    India has excellent relations with both Iran and Israel, but Israel and Iran can't stand each other.

    In other words, Hindus get along much better with both Jews and Muslims than they get along with each other even though logic would dictate otherwise.

    I just don't get it.

    I don't get it.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Peon887

      Arent the hindus the ones raping women all the time? Or at least considering them of lesser value to God? Not so in the Bible. Subjection, but equality.Peon887.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        This disagrees with you:
        1 Timothy 2:11-12
        Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

        September 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  5. Same God Indeed

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mhY-CfyL-w

    September 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Tuskerman

    Allah revealed to Mohammed that he is "the deceiver". Christians and Jews know well that God is not "the deceiver".

    September 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Ali

      I dont understand m why you just want to gain enjoyment through criticizing other religions . Becuase unless thins mindset doesnt changes , Holocaust like What happened to Jews through christian hands and other smaller level holocaust done through wars for oil or strategic advantage in Muslim lands wont stop . Muslims and Jews Believe in One God , same God , Christians according to the bible also belive in same One God , the bad acts done by christians or muslims are not due to God almighty ordering these , but these happen due to the voilent nature and Evil within human beings regardless of religious affiliation . PLease stop criticizing any single religion and first study it , becuase this behaviour will only bring chaos to our world .

      September 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Observer

      Speaking of not healthy for children, the Bible says that God sent a flood to KILL every child, baby and fetus.

      No atheist EVER did anything that bad.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  8. hharri

    I agree with the earlier posted exhortations. Prayer is key, particularly for their young children. Many are lonely, sui ci dal, on drugs and associate with antisocial peer groups. Many suffer from depression and a sense of profound emptiness and lack of direction. So pray for them. And keep praying for them.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Don't pray to them. Help them. I'm not going to pray for my child being teased and bullied in school. I am going to head straight to the school board and demand a change in school policies and to help those being bullied for no reason.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
  9. OhBoyAZ

    You forgot to mention that part of the Jewish religion says you must nit pick your fellow man apart until you have all of his money.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Abe

      Nowhere does it say that. That's just good old antisemitism.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  10. Portland tony

    Since the beginning of the "God" or "Gods" concept, man has always fought over which is the true one. In most cases the ignorant uneducated masses did the fighting in order for the various religious figureheads to keep their political and economic power. When you look at the "Holy Guidebooks" of most major religions, they all espouse peace and kindness, yet somehow this concept gets forgotten when a religion's political dominance is threatened!

    September 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Sara

      They all espouse peace and kindness to those worshipping the same god. When they talk about outsiders the messages are much more mixed.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Red

    Those who believe in the Trinity may have the last laugh as we learn more about Quantum entanglement,

    September 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    •  Athy

      There's no connection between the two.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  12. Wodja

    The topic here is about God and if the three Abrahamic religions believe in the same God.
    As for the differences between the religions themselves – one crucial difference was not mentioned. The fact that Christianity and Islam are missionary religions – bent on converting as many humans as possible to their faith. Judaism on the other does not seek to convert non-Jews to the Jewish faith. This explains why so many atrocities were comitted in the name of religion by Christians and Muslims and why these two religions have spread all over the world. There are over a billion Christians and over a billion Muslims but only about twenty million Jews, even though Judaism is the oldest religion of the three.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  13. Mr. Butters

    Of course they do. These three religions are all Abrahamic religions originating from the same place. The religions were merely altered over time to fit how people wanted to see the religion grow. We're still seeing variations of the same base religion. From Protestant and Catholic differences to recent Jehovah's Witnesses. The only difference is how the aspects vary but they all lead back to the same source.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  14. hharri

    We know their offspring are incarcerated with greater frequency than the children of those attending church regularly. Alcoholism and drug abuse plague them more than church goers and survivors of incest fill their ranks, leading some to wonder if there is a direct relationship between that and their aversion to the concept of a loving heavenly father.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Do you have any evidence for the nonsense you've been posting? Did you forget your medication?

      September 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Morgan King

      I don't know who told you that, but you should probably stop listening to them. Current polling of prison populations is 10% non-religious, 66% Christian, 9% Muslim, with other faiths being about 1.5-2.5%.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • hharri

        As a percentage of specific population groups

        September 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • Morgan King

          Yeah, incarcerated population groups in the US.

          September 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      That's a bunch of crazy in one comment. I can attest to the fact that you are wrong. My daughter is in college; doesn't drink; doesn't smoke; doesn't use drugs; has no criminal record and no belief in a god.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  15. Abe

    I believe in a God however I do not believe in religion. To say that God interacts with people or to even think of God on human terms is wrong. That is all manmade and is used for control. I think God is more of a force. Explains everything.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    •  Athy

      Actually, it explains nothing.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Abe

        Answers all my questions

        September 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
        •  Athy

          Maybe it answers your simple questions, but not mine.

          September 1, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
      • Abe

        Which of your questions is left unanswered. Give me just one.

        September 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
        • Morgan King

          'What made the God-force" seems like an obvious one. And if it always existed, why does it have to be a God at all?

          September 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • Abe

          You are still thinking of God as a being who judges. Scrap that. Whatever caused this world to be I.e. whatever caused the big bang and subsequently life as we know it is "God". Whatever life force started everything. You cannot know it for you are a result of it. But the very fact that we live and their is a universe means that it exists. For there was a beginning.

          September 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
        • Morgan King

          Was there a beginning? We have no way of knowing that. I'm not thinking of a judging being, as much as any form of sentience – non-sentient forces can't really qualify as a god – a catalyst perhaps?

          September 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
        • Athy

          What's the weight of an electron neutrino? Are the number of twin primes infinite?

          September 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          What's the answer to life?

          September 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
        • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

          @ truthprevails: 42

          September 1, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • Aneriz

      Maybe it answers your questions because in your mind an impersonal God requires no accountability. The Creator is God, and He delights in His creation because He is good.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
      • Morgan King

        If He didn't delight, would He then be bad? If He requires accountability, does the absence of accountability, then, not delight Him?

        September 1, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Are you a Deist?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  16.  Athy

    "Do we have a common God?" No, but we all have a common non-god. The fact that different religions have a different concept of their god would lead any logical thinking person to the obvious conclusion that, in reality, there is no god at all, it's just made-up baloney. Indeed, all "believers" do have that in common.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • ProdicalSon

      Which goes to show we all connect the dots differently, and some not at all.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  17. Tiger82

    I always get a chuckle out of seeing so many self-professed "non-believers" spending so much time on the Belief blog, then spending even more time posting about all their non-beliefs.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Keep your religion out of our lives and you probably wouldn't hear from atheists.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Tiger82, you post would lead one to believe you think "believers" own the rights to the word "belief". Odd.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Doobs

      I always get a chuckle out of religious folks who spend their time apologizing for their supposedly omniscient, omnipotent god and his violent, bigoted, misogynist book of horror stories.

      "But he loves you, and he always needs money." – George Carlin

      September 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  18. Lionly Lamb

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=06z9izxl20Y

    September 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  19. less

    Its a female, Miley Cyrus say the masses in the USA

    September 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  20. Apple Bush

    That is the most ridicu.......do humans all believe in the same Santa? omg

    September 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      No all hail Ba'al.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
    • Sara

      Yeah, it's kind of silly and also way off the mark. Whether or not religions are all worshiping the same god, they can still justify fighting to the death if they think the worship is done wrong by another group, endangering the immortal souls of the descendants if the poor version spreads.

      September 1, 2013 at 5:16 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.