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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. One one

    There are as many gods as there are believers. Because their minds is the only place gods exist.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:48 am |
  2. katem

    The question is simply devoid of meaning unless one can show that some of the "god"s at least has some basis in reality. Until then (not holding my breath), it's no different than asking if the invisible dragon in my garage is the cousin of the invisible dragon in your garage. Just because one can string together English words in a grammatical sentence and add a question mark at the end doesn't mean that such a construct carries any meaning.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:45 am |
  3. Joseph Bleaux

    ALL religions are nothing but ancient mythology, written thousands of years ago by primitive people in order to try and explain existence, comfort people in the face of their mortality and keep people in line. Religious people blindly accept ancient mythology and ignorant superst!tious nonsense as reality while rejecting modern science. It's very scary to me that there are so many people living in a delusional fantasy world of invisible, supernatural beings in the sky. I keep hoping mankind will finally start to cast of ignorant superst!tion in favor of modern science but I guess the average person doesn't have the intellect to overcome centuries of brainwashing and indoctrination. It's just really pathetic.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • jschmo123

      And you have been indoctrinated to believe that science can explain all reality. Not to mention Mormonism was created in 1820, hardly ancient by any standard.

      September 1, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  4. Angry Arab

    The only violent religion in the bunch, derived from this article, appear to be the Muslims. They kill each other over their differences, kill jews over some territory disagreements, and burn down coptic christian churches in Egypt. Maybe people need to stop hating on jews and christians, and start directing their disapproval of violent muslim behavior.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • saggyroy

      The only violent in the bunch? How many countries has the USA bombed and invaded as a so-called "Christian Nation"?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:57 am |
      • Tsoho

        None.

        US policy has everything to do with US interests and NOTHING to do with religion.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:07 am |
        • saggyroy

          US policy comes from people that can't get elected unless they profess a faith. Religious groups receive 40 billion of government money. (www.theocracywatch.org).

          September 1, 2013 at 8:22 am |
      • Long Willy

        What does the US policy have to do with the muslim problem in the Philippines, the muslim problem in Burma, the muslim problem in India, the muslim problem in Pakistan, the muslim problem in Afghanistan, the muslim problem in China, the muslim problem in Bangladesh, the muslim Problem in Afghanistan............muslim problem in Nigeria..........the muslim problem in Chechnya.......the muslim problem all over. One single common denominator wherever you go. Do you see the pattern. They claim that their Koran has not changed in all these years – it is still Version 1.0. So, evidently Version 1.0 tells them to kill. May be if they had Version 10.0 it would tell them to stop killing.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Ivan

      Maybe you would like to read some history of the black people being ensalved by Christians, quite violent; wouldn't you say? World War 1, or 2 anyone? Seems like you have a personal gripe.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  5. Bill

    There is one god his name is death and he don't care who you worship

    September 1, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • One one

      And he consistently delivers on his promise.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • saggyroy

      Death AND misery

      September 1, 2013 at 7:55 am |
  6. Long Willy

    The common denominator in all the fighting between the three religions and all the other religions in this world are the muslims. Hence there is something inherently wrong in Islam that makes their followers violent. Evidently their moon God is not the same God that Christians and Jews worship – a loving and forgiving God.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • thomas

      Loving and forgiving god my heiny. Did you forget how barbaric Christianity was before it was tamed? It's not the imaginary gods that make religions evil or tolerable, it's the people.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:57 am |
      • Long Willy

        Stop speaking of the past. If Christians have evolved into better human beings, kudos to them and their religion. They have learnt to interpret their religious teachings in a better way. Muslims are still barbaric after all these years which makes you wonder as to what it is in their religion that makes them behave that way, because as I said people of this religion are the only ones fighting with people of all other religions currently. Even the passive buddhists have been riled by them. So please do not argue for the sake of arguing, try to make some sense.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:17 am |
        • thomas

          "Stop speaking of the past. If Christians have evolved into better human beings, kudos to them and their religion."

          No. Kudos to reformists and humanists and rationalists and realists. The religion had nothing to do with it, in fact, the high priests of Christianity werre kicking and screaming during the reform, so it was all in spite of them.

          And don't you ever forget history. That's how you learn. Speaking of history, islam is 7 centuries younger than Christianity. So, compare islam today to Christianity in the 14th century. Christianity 14 centuries after its inception was just as barbaric as Islam is after 14 centuries after its inception. Maybe Islam will be tolerable in the 28th century.

          September 1, 2013 at 8:32 am |
        • Long Willy

          this is in reply to thomas' posting since the reply button was missing on his posting.

          "Maybe Islam will be tolerable in the 28th century"
          .
          Ok, there you have it, you agree that Islam is still backward and needs to evolve. We are in the 21st century and already advanced a lot, you can imagine where we will be in another 7 centuries.. So, by your argument Christians and Jews will always be advanced compared to the muslims by 7 centuries. Hence muslims in the eyes of Christians and Jews will always be backward. Thanks for that statement, you hit the nail on the head. Argument closed. Got better things to do than deal with someone who is 7 centuries behind. Good luck on your journey for the next 7 centuries trying to reach where we advanced folks are today.

          September 1, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • saggyroy

      ...and he hates f#gs...

      September 1, 2013 at 8:00 am |
      • Long Willy

        Your post does not make sense, not sure what you are saying. Get over that hangover before you post anything.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:20 am |
        • saggyroy

          A sarcastic remark about the "all loving god"

          September 2, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  7. 11lordsaleaping

    The wolf is an apex predator. I have always wonder why they gather in packs. There is social order, team work in hunting, caring for the sick and injured, and sharing of food. Do they have an anicent desert wolf god? A holy text written in wolfian? Wolf heaven? But they also have war between packs for territory too.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:41 am |
  8. GI Joe

    I think the whole thing is "let's get our weapons and the last one standing, gets to decide". It's what has worked for thousands of years...................

    Oh wait....................

    September 1, 2013 at 7:40 am |
  9. God of the Bible is the one true GOD.
    September 1, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • He is the Great I AM

      "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!"

      September 1, 2013 at 7:41 am |
      • sick of christian phonies

        Sam I am ! That Sam I Am ! I do not like that Sam I Am !

        September 1, 2013 at 7:46 am |
      • Tim

        Amen!

        September 1, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Tim

      The only commonality ends at where the underlying text in Koran refer to some of the same stories and heroes of the Bible.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  10. Alex

    I don't know if there is a God or not, but I'm certainly not going to trust someone else that says they know for sure - and I have to follow them or else. If you've got a "feeling" of some kind and think you've sensed God–then great. As soon as you try to convince me that I should believe in your feeling - then I know you're full of it–because you're just trying to affirm your own shaky beliefs by trying to get me on board.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • Dan W

      Well you wouldn't stop sleeping with my wife when I asked you so I had to instill the fear of God. That's why all these rules are in the bible, because human beings don't like being told what to do, especially not by other human beings. We take the West for granted, the only reason the west is civilized is because of religion. Science didn't civilize anything, it made bombs, and horseless carriages that are killing us, yet it cannot find a solution to the problem it created. Cheers.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:38 am |
      • jungleboo

        cretin

        September 1, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  11. Jerry

    The most destructive religious conflicts have been the internecine conflicts within Christianity and Islam. For this reason I believe the question about whether the Abrahamic god is one is moot. These conflicts tend to come down not to a matter of one true god, but one true way of worshiping that god. Trinity, no trinity? Sprinkling, full immersion? Four caliphs, or only one? In other words, the differences come down inside baseball. Why does this matter to someone not in the game? Because it is a game that has led to destruction, murder, war, and hatred at least as much as it's contributed to any good in the world.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Dan W

      20 million people died in Russia for the sake of Atheism.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:39 am |
      • Colin

        Closer to 60 million or a third of the entire population, by stalins hand alone. Other so called atheist leaders murdered there own millions.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:42 am |
      • saggyroy

        It wasn't for the sake of atheism, it was for the sake of communism.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:47 am |
  12. kflann

    May Buddha bring peace upon, brothers and sisters.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • nope

      @flack...
      nope

      September 1, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  13. Just Call Me Lucifer

    Yes, they all worship the same god, but they don't realize they're dolts for doing so. Not yet anyway.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • nope

      @jewst...
      nope

      September 1, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Yup

      @nope
      yup

      September 1, 2013 at 8:03 am |
  14. jag

    All Religions are in the name of MONEY & Brain wash, if you are truley looking for PEACE find yourself and your mission on this Earth first and you will have it.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • nope

      @j off..
      nope

      September 1, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • Yup

      @nope
      yup

      September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  15. Miguel Caron

    The quick answer is "No, because God is not real"

    September 1, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • nope

      @mick...
      nope

      September 1, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Yup

      @nope
      yup

      September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  16. Everyone is wrong...

    you are all wrong, none of the three know what they worship and the atheist are ignorant; they get so worked up about something that they say it does not exist. I don't go around throwing a fit about unicorns or oompa loompas. And Buddhist, well the worship people themselves and the Hindus have so many deities but none of them can teach them how to properly treat women.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • Miguel Caron

      Hindu holy texts treat women better than Christian and Muslim holy texts.
      Try to remember that in women are slaves to their husbands in the bible.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:31 am |
      • Everyone is wrong...

        and you enslave women when you spend your time in front of a computer with your pants around your knees. maybe it's time for you to go have a banana.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:35 am |
      • just one dering

        Do you speak as well as you write?

        September 1, 2013 at 7:36 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    September 1, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Miguel Caron

      AHA HA HA HA HA HA
      Good one

      September 1, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • Neo Agnostic

      Toll, always posting the same garbage.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • Salty Bob

      Sorry I cant dumb myself down enough to understand why people would kill another for no reason other than different imaginary beings. So I bow out of the debate and go back to the solid ground of Atheism where 2 hands working will prevail over 2 hands locked in prayer every time. Trust in the power and promise of science and true knowledge, or continue to war and kill and hope your imaginary friend is on your side.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  18. rar

    people are a victim of what they believe in. most muslims were born into their relig. and blindinglly follow it because if they don't they will be killed. what is wrong with this picture. there is no love in the relig. of islam. in the bible love is paramount. if you love, all other actions from it will spring forth. God so loved us that He died for us in the form of Jesus who is God but still has a separate distinction. there is so much we do not know but will find out when we die. this is our faith. christians are to lead a clean life and show love towards others as like God shows towards us. Faith in action.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • Dan W

      Wow. Islamaphobic much? Why do you feel the need to change them? Why is it that you don't think Muslims are good enough the way they are? Of course they are mad at the West we've been occupying them and taking control of their governments since the crusades. They finally got 1 Muslim nation of the Ottoman Empire and then we crushed it, divided the land like we did in Africa and tried to force them to be what we wanted them to be. Yeah if China came here once every 50 years or so and kept killing everyone, telling us to change, we'd hate China the same way Muslims hate us. Why do you feel that our way is so much better?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:35 am |
      • Tsoho

        There is nothing "islamaphobic" in what he said. It is a fact that apostates within Islam are sentenced to death. That is part of the whole Sharia thing. There was nothing in his comment about east-west, Islamic-secular relations either. He was merely comparing one aspect of Islam with a contrasting aspect of Christianity.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:03 am |
      • Long Willy

        If you think muslims are good enough the way they are, good luck to you, go get your neck chopped by them.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  19. ko

    The entire article can be summed up in this- Jesus is God- therefore, we do not worship the same God

    September 1, 2013 at 7:26 am |
    • Miguel Caron

      Despite being raised Catholic I never understood why people care more about Jesus that God.
      Jesus is God's avatar – God is not Jesus's avatar. It's actually the same thing as how Hindu deities like Kali can have multiple incarnations like Daksinakali.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • jag

      If Jesus is GOD? then how in the hell was this Earth created before him? and if he was God why in the hell did he let someone crucify him?

      September 1, 2013 at 7:37 am |
      • Colin

        Love

        September 1, 2013 at 7:40 am |
      • Neo Agnostic

        The whole thing about the crucifixion that always bothered me was, Jesus didn't sacrifice anything. When you sacrifice something you give it up permanently. If his death was meant to be a sacrifice then why did he come back to life? There was no point in dying when you would come back. Makes no sense. He didn't sacrifice anything and if he did it was just for a short time. That would be giving something up, like smoking or candy or what ever. Nonsense

        September 1, 2013 at 7:46 am |
        • jungleboo

          Your basic flaw is asking any of it to "make sense". Their absolute joy is wallowing in nonsense, and calling it a sacred pursuit.

          September 1, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • sdfsdfe

      Jesus is the son of God. Christians believe in a holy trinity. Fundamentally, God is the same in all three religions. Please stop giving the rest of us a bad name. And for the record, the Jewish people ARE God's chosen. Might wanna pick up that bible there, killer.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:40 am |
      • jungleboo

        And THAT, my friends, is the coo coo part.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:57 am |
  20. TheZogNJ

    The ONLY difference between all religions is the RITUAL that they use to worship God. Each religion has a "good book", instructs us to be moral and ethical and to be charitable with one another. The downside is that each religion claims to be the true religion.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:23 am |
    • Colin

      If you knew God you would know the difference.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:27 am |
      • Neo Agnostic

        Yeah, because you would get the same type of response from a Jew, and a Muslim. How can all three be right and true if they are all saying the same thing about their version of god? What makes one better than the other? Because you say so? But someone else of a different faith will say the exact same thing with the same conviction as you.
        This is why I am agnostic. Organized religion is a bunch of crud.

        September 1, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Howard

      And it's a reasonable bet that most of the followers of each religion haven't really read their own "Good Book," and do not conduct their lives in accordance with its teachings.

      On the other hand, it can be said that all three religions needed a historical antecedent (like Abraham) to give their religion legitimacy. They then proceeded to build their own respective religions around their own respective cultural and social values, real or desired. When you examine all three religions in that context, it makes perfect sense why their respective followers should be so much at odds with each other.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:39 am |
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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.