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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. Edna Bucket

    Strictly speaking, atheists and "God" share the belief that there is no higher power, except IRS.

    This must mean that atheists are closer to "God" because they think so alike.

    Now, if "God" believed in Sky Pixies then religious people would be closer to "God".

    Unless I'm mistaken, "God" makes hardly any mention of Sky Pixies in the Bible, unless they mistranslated "on smurf as it is heaven", which seems to be bad news for believers.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Akira

      Well, the illustration accompanying this article seems to show that the Hand of God is blue, so perhaps there is something to the "Smurf" thing after all.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      "Strictly speaking, atheists and "God" share the belief that there is no higher power"

      That is incorrect. While true for some small number of atheists the claim that we believe there is no higher power is false. Atheists disbelieve theist claims of god. The distinction is important. All claims of god or gods come from the various religions of man. Every single god that has ever been worshiped was the product of a specific religion. In every case the properties of their god are specific. Such as god's role in creation, plan and oversight of everything.
      The common problem is one of from where and how accurate is the source material for the specific claims.
      This makes perfect sense even to theists. A Christian is an atheist with regard to Zeus.
      The atheist position isn't one of belief that no gods exist. A god might exist but compelling evidence for one doesn't.
      Every single one of the tens of thousands of gods imagined by man is equally suspect, insufficiently or fallaciously evidenced and impossible to prove.
      It's entirely possible for me to switch from being an atheist to being a theist but only when the reasons for believing are sufficient to do so.
      I'm not gonna hold my breath.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  2. Insanity Workout 2014

    hharri posts as much as bunnies poop!

    Get ripped!
    http://www.wikipoops.com

    September 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Akira

      Apple, "Powered by poop", lol...you and your scatological sense of humor...

      September 1, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Insanity Workout 2014

      Hi Akira!
      AB

      September 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  3. tony

    If prayer worked, there wouldn't be any churches, or religious leaders, or bibles, korans,etc.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  4. Frank

    Lets put it this way: why would you assume there are gods? Why would you assume you know anything about gods? Why would you assume there is only one god?

    The only logical path is to assume gods do not exist until there is empirical evidence of them. Until then, the decision is over.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Insanity Workout 2014

      Where there is one, there is more.
      http://www.wikipoops.com

      September 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
  5. Frank

    That is like asking "Do Europeans believe in the same Unicorns that Americans do."

    September 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Insanity Workout 2014

      Ripped Unicorns!
      http://www.wikipoops.com

      September 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  6. Insanity Workout 2014

    Get ripped!
    http://www.wikipoops.com

    September 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  7. Mark

    This is a pretty poor summary of each of the religions, particularly Christianity and Islam.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • funky bunch

      well to be fair, they are pretty poor religions (I mean all the lies and holes woven throughout 🙁

      September 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  8. hharri

    The official Catholic Position.
    B e n t over a p e w, p a n ts down, praying the rosary and hoping the father finishes his filthy business quickly? sam stone

    notice the depth of depravity

    September 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      You forgot to mention where the father puts his beads....

      September 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
      • terry

        thanks for the confirmation

        September 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
  9. hharri

    The official Catholic Position.
    B en t over a pe w, p an ts down, praying the rosary and hoping the father finishes his filthy business quickly? sam stone

    notice the depth of depravity

    September 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  10. hharri

    The official Catholic Position.
    Ben t over a pe w, pan ts down, praying the rosary and hoping the father finishes his filthy business quickly? sam stone

    notice the depth of depravity

    September 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
  11. hharri

    The official Catholic Position.
    Bent over a pe w, pants down, praying the rosary and hoping the father finishes his filthy business quickly? sam stone

    notice the depth of depravity

    September 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  12. hharri

    "The official Catholic Position."
    Bent over a pew, pants down, praying the rosary and hoping the father finishes his filthy business quickly?

    notice the depth of depravity

    September 1, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • hharri

      for example, notice the pr ope n sity to the v u lg ar and p or n ogra phic?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • hharri

      notice the delight with which the poster makes these evil statements? the bitterness? the depravity? and the chronic attention to the lowest common denominator? all indicative of demonic possession.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
      • Doobs

        koo koo

        September 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  13. NorthVanCan

    You got to be brain washed or just plain nuts not to notice how religion is humanities biggest obstacle to peace .
    Just look at any paper around the world, it's all over it, in side and out, yet most people will tell you anything else except religion.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Reality

    Only for the new members:

    And now the nitty-gritty of it all:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation( to their god ) to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today

    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed." J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions and their god(s).

    September 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Complexity

      Only for the "old" members of the blog..

      "Reality is a douche right?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • kavita

      you are not understanding the reason of this article which is to make peace between these three abrahamic religion.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
      • Reality

        Peace is brought about rational thinking. Religion is not rational. Problem solved.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Dave Richard Silva

      As a catholic I was wondering whether there is any good side of idol worshiping. Then I found these excellent article in simple language. I couldn't resist myself from recommending it. A must read

      http://chandimagomes.blogspot.com/2012/05/worshiping-stones-trees-and-concrete.html

      December 16, 2013 at 6:32 am |
  15. acrabahyiouspe

    Good. I'm glad someone else recognizes that the one-God is very different in the so-called Abrahamic religions. I think most Muslims would convert to Christianity if they knew this.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • nope.

      @acrabahyiouspe
      nope.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • kenny

      you must not have read the article... based on your response. The end result is.. YES we all worship the same God. So why would anyone convert to anything if they already worship the same God?

      September 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • NorthVanCan

        Kenny;
        Why not covert to reality in the name of peace ?

        September 1, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
      • kavita

        because judaism (mosses pbuh) is not complete religion neither christianity (jesus pbuh)is complete religion god sent thousands of prophet to the earth for human guidance and mohammed (pbuh) is the last and final messenger.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • kavita

      chiristianity is more confused today then ever before because they dont know about reality of crusifiction and returning of jesus only islam gives full detail about it.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  16. B Charles

    They all worship the same make believe god.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  17. JCS

    caps lock, on purpose...........ADULTS WITH IMAGINARY FRIENDS ARE STUPID.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      JCS, I will just say it....NO, YOU ARE STUPID. Adults with imaginary friends are ill and need our sympathy and support.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  18. Not Kidding

    You folks are, I am sorry to say, not terribly advanced. We are all gods collectively. Nothing is ever achieved alone in nature. I am a god and so are you. This is the truth you seek.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  19. Believer in one God

    THEY ARE ALL THE SAME (ISLAM, CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM)

    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. The rest is minor details that are argued over. These minor details are irrelevant to the big picture, they all believe in the same God no matter what they call him.

    September 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      That is EXACTLY how I feel about the tooth fairy. Just one. All the same.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • counselor39@hotmail.com

      Sorry, but I dont buy it. Christianity is NOT a true monotheist religion.
      Christians believe that G-d is a "Trinity"; a "3-part" deity (Father, son, spirit) – sorry, but that's not monotheism. Christians dont pray to G-d...they pray to Jesus. (Thous shalt have no other G-ds...".)

      September 1, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
      • muti

        ur 100% right

        September 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Onedoall

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

      September 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  20. Apple Bush

    If you have kids, how can you raise them ethically if you preach the Bible to them?

    September 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      How damn it! HOW!

      September 1, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        You answer me you son-of a-bitch or I will filet you like a halibut. Yea I said butt.

        September 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      There. It's done. Clean up.

      September 1, 2013 at 6:15 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.