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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. Lionly Lamb

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiSW8ctUdOQ&feature=player_detailpage

    September 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
  2. Lionly Lamb

    Science is currently studying the effects of cannabis cannabinoids on cancer cells and the pharmaceutical "organizations" are making attempts to create such cannabinoids artificially and have done so but in tests the artificially created cannabinoids don't have the same effect as cannabis sativa cannabinoids naturally occurring components... Weed should be freed for all human consumption for many people who are suffering from many illnesses that cannabis sativa can cure such as brain cancer, lung cancer and all endocrine cancers...

    September 1, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  3. Tima

    Is this some special kind of prayer here??

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvtdh6s6low

    September 1, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  4. Kim

    It has been this way from the beginning. Where has everyone been? They all are the same basic religion with a twist. Basically we are all naughty little Jews for twisting their religion to make our own. lol

    September 1, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
  5. Chris Hitch

    All three religions adore the god of Abraham, the guy who would kill his son to appease the voices in his head.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  6. Tima

    Jesus was nailed to a cross, Thor carries a hammer.........you figure it out.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  7. Lionly Lamb

    How many differing cannabinoids are their in cannabis sativa..?

    September 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • Lionly Lamb

      there not their my bad....

      September 1, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Tima

    Thor promised an end to the ice giants.

    Jesus promised peace on earth.

    I don't see any ice giants around.

    Thor – 1 Jesus – 0

    September 1, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  9. A.Beig

    🙂 When you find the true orthodox Jews and Christians, you find that they actually worship Allah. In fact their way of worship is almost like the Muslims. The language of the two religions were either Hebrew or Aramaic while the language of Islam is Arabic. What is common with those three languages is that words could easily be under stood. The word God in those languages are Elohim and Elah and for Muslims and those around those regions Allah is God. In Islam Allah is a joint word Al meaning The and Ilah meaning God, put together The God = Allah. When times changed people at the time either changed or distorted the religion and became an idea and not fact. Islam seemed to have maintained the true teaching and is supported by the true orthodox Jew and Christians. Of-course one needs to know the religions core value e.g. Islam is free from any Error, Muslims follow the true teaching however there are secs not in the fold of Islam but call themselves Muslims. Regardless, the monotheistic regions first standing is that... There is only One (God) worthy of worship, The Eternal, He begetteth not nor is He begotten, And there is none like unto Him. As simple as it is for those who reflect and understand.

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

      Allah is too violent. God is supposed to be a forgiving and kind being - unlike a violent, intolerant, and ruthless Allah.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  10. Tima

    There are about 4,000 gods, which one is the "true" god? See how silly all religions are?

    September 1, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Guest

      Of course that the Biblical god is the true one. People believing in any of those other 3,999 gods are delusional. This is so obvious, there is no need for a proof.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
  11. Guest

    I lead my life based on the beliefs of bronze age tribes. There is absolutely no proof for existence of a god or gods but it does not matter. Claims made by various religious books or people have been proven wrong countless of times but it does not matter. I am more than happy to believe in an imaginary creature, pray, go to church / mosque / synagogue and give money to my religious group. If there is a church / mosque / synagogue that is short with money: please contact me, I would love to donate to you a part of my salary (we can arrange for a direct deposit).

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

      Shock and awe, is all...

      September 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  12. Sean

    "Do Christians, Muslims and Jews worship the same God?"

    No. Only the Christian (and one true God) set his Son in human form to die for the sins of humanity. Neither the Jewish or Muslim god has done this. Any god that has not done this is a false god.

    If there were three groups of people with beliefs about Tom Cruise, and group A believed he never did Mission Impossible, group B believes he only did one Mission Impossible film, and group C believed he did 4 films, would they "believe" in the same Tom Cruise? Of course not. The history of Tom Cruise would be completely different for each group, and only one of them could be correct.

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

      Stop believing in fairy tales and myths. ANY of the 4,000 gods out there is as real as santa claus or the easter bunny.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
      • Guest

        Wait, you are saying that Santa is not real?

        September 1, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          They're lying to you. Keep the faith.

          September 1, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
        • Guest

          For "In Santa we trust": Thank you for reassuring my faith in Santa. I had a brief panic attack but your post calmed me down. My four year old son does not believe Santa; he said that the story does not make sense and cannot be real. He is clearly stupid!

          September 1, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Akira

      Yes. They worship the same God. The God of Abraham. It is their books that differ.
      Tom Cruise is irrelevant to this discussion, and that analogy is absurd.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  13. make your bad and lie in it.

    whether Christianity, Judaism or Islam is the True way you can argue till youre dead. Its each ones choice but when you stand infront of the True God you WILL be judges son. no way around it.

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

      Make your bad?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      That's right – ! Be prepared to be judged, and be prepared to answer that question when God asks it: "Why didn't you believe in me? Thor! God of Thunder!"

      You DO believe in the one true god – Thor – right?

      No??? Uh oh! Someone's not going to go to Valhalla!

      September 1, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
      • Tima

        Of the 4,000 gods out there, I choose Thor, at least he parties like a rock star.

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

      So, are you ready to stand before Allah?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
  14. Loki

    HAIL ODIN!

    September 1, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  15. Peggy

    I told my mother in law that I was going to hell for all the things I've done to her son in the bedroom. She changed colors right before my eyes! Lol, christ followers are fun to monkey with because of all the witchcraft they think is real, tee hee 🙂

    September 1, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      You're a guy, right? Oh, please say you're a guy – that makes the story SOOOOOO much better!

      September 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
      • Akira

        It would add a certain zest, wouldn't it?

        September 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
      • Peggy

        actually a tranny 🙂

        September 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
        • Doobs

          Ahahahahahaha! Stop it, I'm gonna pee!

          September 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • PerceivedReality

      Her shock was probably from your disrespect and obcenity, of course you probably
      wouldn't know that recation because no one you know has any standard of decency.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
      • Doobs

        It's shocking! Just like that nasty Miley Cyrus! I'll bet you get madder about that wicked, evil dance she did every time you watch it.

        Hang on to your Depends, grandpa. It's probably just a joke.

        Psst. Peggy, if it really happened, that's awesome!

        September 1, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  16. Frank

    Everyone, please flag " Insanity Workout 2014" so that he gets banned, and his spam is stopped. Thank you.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  17. Imran

    This is an Article very very close to truth. A few things that I will like to add to it is:

    Jews Belief:

    "He’s big on obedience, not so much on faith"

    Christian Belief:

    "Faith, not behavior, is the essential measure of salvation."

    Muslims Belief:

    " Fatih is the root or doorway to hereafter and Behavior decides your destiny"

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

    103:1
    By time,
    103:2
    Indeed, mankind is in loss,
    103:3
    Except for those who have believed (have faith) and done righteous deeds (obedience) and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.

    So, it can be seen that Islam actually inherits both the principles in a seamless manner, yet telling its believers to have faith on Jesus, Moses, Abraham and the laws revealed to them and be steadfast in obedience. Its mentioned right in the beginning of Quran:

    2:1
    Alif, Lam, Meem.
    2:2
    This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah –
    2:3
    Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them,
    2:4
    And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you ( onAdam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus ), and (believe in) of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith].
    2:5
    Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful.

    So, you can rightly say, "Yes" to the subject that all the three faiths come from exacly the same source and we Muslims believe that Torah was Islam 1.0 and Bible was Islam 2.0 and Quran is Islam 3.0 Final version. God has his wisdom behind the revealing the same message by way of evolution rather then revolution. God perhaps believe in teaching and not imposing.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Or perhaps people figured out that if you put in your holy book that you need faith , then people won't question your silly religion as much

      September 1, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
      • Imran

        " Or perhaps people figured out that if you put in your holy book that you need faith , then people won’t question your silly religion as much"

        My response to your sweeping remark is that one can only enter into a faith when all the silly questions are answered and person knows that I am going in the right direction. All patients ask silly question before getting into a major surgery. If someone does not understand books of medicine it will not mean that he will not have a faith in medical science.

        Keep thinking...

        September 1, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • JR

      I'm sorry, but that's just a silly idea. Why couldn't the people received the earlier versions handle the latest version?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  18. funky bunch

    I can picture the lecture in a history classroom in a few hundred years:
    "... and they gathered on sundays to pray before a large wooden torture device and share impossible stories of magic and alien beings. When they had children, they would hold ceremonies where the infant was held under water or had his genitals mutilated. They seem to have held a belief that a person's body contained a secondary invisible brain,and that after death, this brain would travel to another dimension to live out another life. They seemed to have believed they worshiped one single god, though their holy book is filled with many gods, but most adherents weren't literate enough to even know the names or histories of their chief god. Their dogma delivered a mixed message of peace, family, love, hatred, bigotry, and above all anti-intellectualism."

    September 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  19. mike

    Interesting article. Although everyone knows that Catholicism is the only true religion. Only Catholics are guaranteed eternal life after death. I will urinate on from my perch in heaven as you boil in hell.

    September 1, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      And I will fart in their general direction, because their mother was an 'amster, and theif fatehr smelled of elderberries

      September 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Hharri is her own worst enemy. She will get her own "lawsuit" thrown out because of her hateful posts persecuting people who have dared to ask her w t h?

    September 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Doobs

      I can't disagree with what you said, but I don't think people take hhari seriously. I've seen a few of the regular posters refer to her under other names. I post to her infrequently and I never expect anything resembling a coherent response. She's just a whole lot of crazy.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:28 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.