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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. Cpam Buqet

    Judaism has its roots in more ancient Mesopotamian religions, so it is not "first".

    It just points to the notion that all religions are mere constructs of imagination.

    September 2, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  2. What is going on? FREEDOM

    When you have a Christian telling you that you are going to hell for not believing in God, just tell that individual to stop being scared of you.

    September 2, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  3. samonCNN

    I think Islam is a spin-off of Christianity with more controls, rules and regulations. And this is also the reason why they hate Christianity (for their liberal views). The very close similarity of the names itself will be a great pointer towards this view.
    Abraham/Ibrahim.
    Joseph/Yusoff.
    Jacob/Yacob.
    David/Dawood.
    Zachary/Zakaria.
    Ishmael/Ismail.
    Solomon/Sulaiman.

    September 2, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      If Christians followed their rules as diligently as Muslims follow theirs, Christianity would be just as restrictive, if not more so.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:16 am |
      • guest

        Not sure just what rules you may be referring to Dave, but you may have a valid point.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • Ahmed from Dallas

      Christianity? More liberal views? Was that a serious statement.

      If you dont accept the "Lord Jesus Christ" as your lord and savior in this world then you go to hell in the Christian religion.

      In Islam, one's deeds, and one's belief in a God are a sole determinent of whether you will go to heaven or hell.

      So you can be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Bhuddist, or Agnostic and technically go to heaven; or your could be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Bhuddist, or Agnostic and go to hell. Again......deeds and a beleif in God.

      Thats a lot more liberal then "If you dont worship Christ" you will burn in eternal hell fire.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  4. Bill

    Christians and Jews worship the same god. Those faiths are closely intertwined. Muslims worship a moon god called Allah, represented by the symbol of a crescent moon. It's a belief descended from the old Arab pagan beliefs that were practiced around the time Mohammad was living. They also borrowed heavily from Jewish history, believing themselves to be the true chosen people who were destined to form a great nation (Islam).

    September 2, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • Me.

      You just read (maybe) a decent article and still want to profess what YOU think (bigoted). Come on man, don't lie to yourself at least. Don't be a hater, just accept that Muslims indeed do worship the same "God" that created Adam/Eve, the same God that spoke to Abraham and Moses and Jesus. Don't keep lying to yourself even after reading/knowing better.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • chris

      You can find pagan roots in Jewish and Christian religions as well. The Jews have roots in Saturn worship, hence, their holy day is saturday (Saturn's day). Their Star of David is the seal of Saturn. The Christian have roots in sun worship, their holy day is Sun Day. Their cross was originally call the Sun Cross and had been a pagan symbols centuries before Jesus.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  5. Realist

    .............

    Man has worshiped thousands of gods and goddesses. Yes, like all the rest, this http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    .............
    .

    September 2, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  6. Universe

    God in Quran says, (Islamic scripture)

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    ‘They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper." [2:135]

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate!” [5:75]

    “It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is.” [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They do not value God as He should be valued. God is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.”[22:74]

    “If you obey the majority of people on earth, they will divert you from the path of God. They follow only conjecture; they only guess.” [Quran 6:116]

    “There shall be no compulsion in religion: the right way is now distinct from the wrong way. Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient.” [2:256]

    “O people, here is a parable that you must ponder carefully: the idols you set up beside God can never create a fly, even if they banded together to do so. Furthermore, if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it; weak is the pursuer and the pursued.” [22:73]

    “God: there is no other god besides Him, the Living, the Eternal. Never a moment of unawareness or slumber overtakes Him. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. Who could intercede with Him, except in accordance with His will? He knows their past, and their future. No one attains any knowledge, except as He wills. His dominion encompasses the heavens and the earth, and ruling them never burdens Him. He is the Most High, the Great.” [2:255]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    September 2, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  7. amadea

    You either believe or you don't. God is not mocked. He knows the heart and what is in it. The Bible is God's love story for mankind, His story of redemption from a sinful world. Jesus is the Redeemer. You make a choice ... believe it or not. Like C.S. Lewis, I would rather believe and find I was wrong at the end, than not to believe and find out I was wrong.

    September 2, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • UncleBenny

      But what if you believe and then find out that you picked the wrong God to believe in?

      September 2, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • rick

      which bible?

      also, look up pascal's wager

      September 2, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      God's father smells of elderberries and his mother is a hamster. How's that for mocking this 'God' character?

      September 2, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • fsmgroupie

      love me or I will burn your a$s in hell !! how can you live in such fear all your life ?

      September 2, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • Will

        Christians don't. We believe that if we accept Christ into our hearts and trust that His death paid for our sins, then we don't have to wonder or worry about going to Hell. The Bible clearly says: For "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved." Romans 10:13

        September 2, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • HA25

          That's still not Love. That's not you loving God for the sake of his virtue. That's you loving God so he saves your a$$. If that's not brainwashing...

          September 2, 2013 at 10:19 am |
        • Will

          Yes, but the reason that I believe in the first place is because He loves me and I love Him

          September 2, 2013 at 10:31 am |
        • fsmgroupie

          the bible also says - happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones– the bible says a lot of crap

          September 2, 2013 at 10:23 am |
        • Will

          Where is that verse found?

          September 2, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • fsmgroupie

          psalm 137:9

          September 2, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • Will

          That was totally out of context. God was talking about what people were doing to the Israelites not what they the,selves were doing

          September 2, 2013 at 10:47 am |
        • fsmgroupie

          there was no context referred to . the bible is full of hate , murder and all kinds of filth. you should try reading it .

          September 2, 2013 at 11:04 am |
        • Will

          I do read it, and it's full of love not hate. A number ton of battles take place in the Old Testament but God's love is shown through out the Old Testament still, and how you find hate in the New Testament is beyond me

          September 2, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • dave

      Amen

      September 2, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Roddy 2112

      That tiered old argument has been shown to be ignorant again and again, and yet Christians still love to use it like it hold any kind of weight. It just shows how uneducated Christians actually are.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  8. Vic

    Happy Labor Day

    September 2, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  9. Realist

    Man has worshiped thousands of gods and goddesses. Yes, like all the rest, this http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    September 2, 2013 at 10:01 am |
  10. tony

    Different great flood legends, same rainbows world-wide.

    But how many believers still think rainbows are supernatural messages from their god?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  11. joey

    the christian user manual is a farce, like all the others. amway

    September 2, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  12. We Have a Verse for That

    Oh, My...CNN wiped an entire set of comments out.....No more angry Saved....no more...OR was it Saved who did it?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      unknown who is using nazi book burning tactics to sensor people. There was nothing that violated the terms of use agreement.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  13. Man of Reason

    No, because http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    September 2, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  14. quieteye

    Man attempts to understand the ocean with the cup of his mind.
    (origination credit other than me)

    September 2, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  15. Apotropoxy

    – Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not
    omnipotent.
    – Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    – Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    – Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
    Epicurus

    The standard response by Christian theologians to Epicurus’ conundrum is to say that their god gave man Free Will and is thereby divorced from his creature's decision making. But did not the creator of all things also create Free Will?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • n3kitme

      He is no God if He cant do what pleases Him. He will show mercy on whom he will have mercy.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:06 am |
      • Sara

        The way we have previously labelled gods they really don't have to be all powerful, and knowing or all good. Historically figures labelled gods haven't always even truly been importal, with some susceptible to certain types of death. I doubt the Abrahamic god was originally seen as anything like as powerful or kind as he is now, with the gradual change leading to some of theinconsistencies we see.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  16. couyon

    No one has ever seen what God look like. Is it possible that there may be no god or multiple gods? The truth is we do not know. So, what should we do? We should acknowledge this fact and just go about being the best human being that we can be and that is simple, do no harm and apply any talent you have to good use. If there is a god or gods, ou will be rewarded. If there is no god or gods, you will go through life a happier person and at peace with yourself as you lay on your deathbed.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  17. paul

    OMG (no pun intended) religion; the scourge of humanity.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  18. Archer

    The name of the God of the Jews (as stated most commonly) can be found in Psalms 83:18.
    (Psalm 83:18) That people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth.
    Jews today don't use his name, nor do Muslims. We all do not all study from the same Holy book. I say NO, we all do not have the same god.

    September 2, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Thinker23

      God is God and Book is a Book. I do not think that God is nothing but a machine running a program coded in a 2000-years-old book.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  19. Essjay

    Folks: when all these holy books were written no one knew about IVF or artificial insemination except scientifically advanced beings from other planets. If an "angel" appeared, it might have been the advanced being that was going to perform the implantation. Jesus is the exact copy of the DNA of God, so they are the same. In this century do we not have to at least consider the "alien" possibility?

    September 2, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Thinker23

      Sure we do. The impregnation of Mary is, however, only one (and, probably, not the most important) story of the New Testament. Still, there are many way more probable explanations of Mary's insemination than the alien involvement. After all, she was a married woman at the time meaning that she had a living and, probably, a loving husband. In addition, she could have a boyfriend.

      September 2, 2013 at 9:19 am |
      • Sara

        That's essentially the Mormon belief, that a visitor from Kolob in our form inseminated her, so they would be vindicated.

        September 2, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • UncleBenny

      God has DNA? I thought He was a spirit. Spirits don't have DNA.

      September 2, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • G to the T

        Then with what was Mary impregnated? If no sperm then Jesus only carried Mary's DNA.

        Either way – hard to say he was a decendant of David eh?

        September 4, 2013 at 12:15 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.