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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

    Yes, they all worship the god that exists only in their mind.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Do they exist in your mind??

      September 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  2. hharri

    THAT IS THE FUNNIEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN

    September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Mason

      Hey Captain Capslock, your key is stuck.

      September 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • hharri

        R U SURE?

        September 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
      • hharri

        HOW CAN YOU TELL? ANY SUGGESTIONS?

        THANKS FOR PROVING THAT NO ONE, NOT ONE FILTHY ATHEIST WOULD CONDEMN THAT DEMON POSSESSED DINGO. PPRECIATE IT

        September 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
        • Mason

          "HOW CAN YOU TELL? ANY SUGGESTIONS?"
          Yes. Turn your capslock off. If you're doing this deliberately, it's childish.
          As for the rest of your post, I'm not an atheist, so I don't know what you are talking about.

          September 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  3. God Vs. satan

    What seems to sound like an innocuous question quickly turns into a discussion that points to fundamental differences, differences that answers the question very clearly, those fundamental differences include answers to

    the purpose of humanity,

    the relationship of God and humanity

    sin,

    forgiveness,

    salvation,

    the afterlife,

    Jesus,

    Muhammad

    and the religious importance of Abraham himself.

    Plus the nature of God.

    On a collective analysis of these answers the answer to the innocuous question is NO.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Coherence is goldie.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Faith without works is dead...

      –and without faith in Christ there is no hope of salvation!

      September 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        salvation from a punishment that your god himself created to threaten you with. How is that different from the schoolyard bully who twists your arm until you say uncle? ( I don't want to hurt you, you are making me hurt you by not obeying me)

        God=bully.

        September 2, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
        • hharri

          lol

          just ask ms. stone

          September 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
      • God vs. satan

        Good article, raises pertinent questions on key concepts, the answers to which focuses on one person, Christ who is the key to answer the question that the God of the Bible is not the god of the Quran.

        September 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Truth is exclusive!

      If Christ is not God and was not crucified and resurrected, then Christianity is in vain.

      There is absolutely no way for man to be reconciled with God.

      September 2, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  4. hharri

    look at that! the atheists are freakin out! easy on the crack, girls, or is that called "BUSTED?"

    September 2, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwc1Wi-mlCI

      September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • bostontola

      The cracks are spreading, the little Dutch boy is getting overwhelmed, scary.

      September 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  5. Curious George

    Christians, Jews & Islam, they all use Amen.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  6. hharri

    not a one so far. and i thought athies like taking personal responsibility? see, ms stone was just demonstrating that christians need to make some changes, in her polite, sweet way. just like the terms of service demand.

    "It's Mr Stone and why would we condemn him for pointing out how crazy you are?? If you didn't come across like you overdosed on crazy pills, he'd have no reason to bother you...you bring it on yourself...stop whining!"

    and, btw, why do atheists ALWAYS answer for one another? where is lady stone?

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

    The three are not the same. Only by faith in Jesus Christ will someone have eternal life.

    "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life." 1 John 5:11-12

    September 2, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Proof?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  8. Still in the Dark Ages

    Jesus: I walked on water!

    Science: Pics or STFU

    September 2, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • CGAW

      Asking for physical proof of a spiritual world is illogical and shows the limited intellect of most atheists that can only comprehend a material universe.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:54 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        Believing in a spiritual world where there is absolutley no evidence anywhere of it is what is truly illogical.

        September 2, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  9. Still in the Dark Ages

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

    no, they don't. There is no god. Religion is just delusional mythiological magical thinking. Unfortunately, some people are still living in the Dark Ages.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • CGAW

      Yep, atheists typically live in the Dark Ages – a self forming universe that created everything "just right" Who's delusional?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:52 am |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwc1Wi-mlCI

        September 2, 2013 at 11:54 am |
      • bostontola

        Who in the dark ages came up with the self forming universe?

        September 2, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • Richard Cranium

        CGAW
        With your response, you show clearly who is the delusional one. (hint, look in the mirror)

        September 2, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • tony

        Most Us Christians believe in the god of the megachurch with the greatest TV ratings. And that allows their lifestyle.

        September 2, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
        • Will

          That is a reflection on them, not God. Many "Christians" in the US are not really Christians at all, rather they want God to give them things so they claim to be Christians but are really not. So what I'm saying is that in many ways, I agree with you, but there are tons of Chistians who worship God as He calls us to

          September 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  10. SkepticalOne

    Since God is imaginary, one could argue that there is a different one for each person that believes.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  11. alain

    It's very common for non-Muslims in areas with large Muslim populations to use the word "Allah" for God, such as in the Middle East, Pakistan and India (with the exception of Hindus in those last two).

    September 2, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  12. Ibn Johnson

    No witnesses, no EVIDENCE, no prophecy = a LIE...

    Yes all 3 religions pray to the God of Abraham – but not all 3 are SAVED! In my study of the 3 faiths, only Christianity passes the test of holy authenticity in today's spiritual dispensation… Origin and History are EXTREAMLY important! Christ came and did things NO MAN ever did before MANY witnesses.. He was risen from the dead before witnesses, and gave commandments before witnesses. Commandments in which Islam rejects… 500 years later a man, claiming to be a prophet (Muhammad), is visited by a so-called angel... This angel gives him words and commandment that totally refute the commandments of Jesus Christ who is supposed to be a holy prophet in their eyes. Muhammad then takes these words and begins to proclaim them as truth from God… Here’s the problem – the Koran has No witnesses, no EVIDENCE, no prophecy… Concerning witnesses, Even in the Law of Moses (in which Muslims believe in as well) it says, let every word be established by 2 or 3 witness, and that’s concerning worldly things – HOW MUCH MORE SPIRITUAL THINGS? ... Well, billions of people have placed their souls in the hands of one man, "Muhammad", who claimed to have had a spiritual experience that NOBODY ELSE SAW!! ... This will prove to be a grave error in judgment.. Christianity, which is fueled by eyewitness, evidence, prophecy, and holiness – and in this same Christianity the bible says “But though we, OR AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” … Muhammad was already warned! If an angel did come to him, he should have rebuked the angel!! He should not have tried to add to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Gospel was more than enough to save souls from hell… Now because of his disobedience, billions follow a fable, made up by one man, and ZERO witnesses.

    Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Proof?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • bostontola

        Elvis and Hitler were the master minds. JFK knew about it and was going to spill the beans so they had to assassinate him. Hitler was the trigger man and Elvis signaled the all clear with his umbrella. Jimmy Hoffa drove the getaway car.

        September 2, 2013 at 11:54 am |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Jesus H Christ! It's all falling into place.

          September 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  13. mike

    To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. It doesn't matter how someone believes in God, believe in your own way. Hold no judgement on others in their beliefs because noone is so perfect to judge others, keep your own house in order. If you don't believe, don't chastise others in their faith because you are showing nothing but jealousy of their faith. Anyone killing in the name of God or religion is doing so outside of God's teachings, no matter the religion.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Have you read the OT? Killing aplenty under Yahweh's orders.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • janette

      "Anyone killing in the name of God or religion is doing so outside of God's teachings, no matter the religion."

      Nonsense. Both Quran and Bible condone, suggest, and demand murder. Unless you are a cherry picker.

      Now, as to "it doesn't matter", no it matters. A lot. Especially when there are people acting on religious dogma to withhold medical treatment from their children, kill doctors, sabotage the education system, fill kid's minds with imagery of gratuitous torture, fly planes into buildings, stone women to death for driving alone... etc... etc. It very much matters when religious zealotry is the main driving force between today's wars in the mid east.

      Further, no matter what side of the fence you are on, you'd have to be impossibly naïve and brain dead to say it doesn't matter whether your beliefs are actually true or not. Yes, it matters. I don't want to believe in things that are false. No sane person, I would assume, feels that way.

      September 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  14. Rustbelt Democrat

    As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that all roads lead to God.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Um, that yellow brick? A dog pack came through a couple hours ago.

      September 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  15. hharri

    by golly, we've got a stampede! look at that frenzy. c.s. lewis knew what he was talking bout

    September 2, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  16. mgc6288

    Not even close. Christianity is all summed up in the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles' Creeds. Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witness, Mormons, etc. do not believe in the creeds which therefore how can they be considered Christian?

    September 2, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Who said they're Christian?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:44 am |
      • mgc6288

        Well the Bible *is* the word of God which is summed up the creeds. If one doesn't believe in the creeds then how can it be the same God? Does the Muslim, Jews, Jehovah Witness, Mormons, etc declare the creeds to be true? I do not believe they do and thus it is not God they are worshiping.

        September 2, 2013 at 11:48 am |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Well, the Bible is the word of men so that is a moot point. All three worship Yahweh, the Canaanite war deity.

          September 2, 2013 at 11:51 am |
        • mgc6288

          Dave – Negative. The Bible may have been written by prophets however they were inspired by God. The Bible is a collection of books which back each other up in the teachings of Christianity and thus *is* the word of God. The Bible explains Christianity and the belief thereof. The creeds summarize the beliefs of Christians and thus how can one be Christian if one does not believe in the creeds or the teachings of being a Christian? If one is not considered a Christian then how can one be worshiping God?

          Also, the Trinity is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. If other faiths like Muslims, Jews, Jehovah's Witness, Mormons, etc. do not believe in Jesus or the Holy Spirit then effectively they do not believe in the God.

          They may be worshiping who they foresee as a god, but it is not the God.

          September 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
        • joe

          spoken like a true religious nutcase.

          All belief and no evidence.

          September 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
        • mgc6288

          joe – I understand. Thomas had to feel Jesus' wounds in order to believe. It all depends on our faith in Jesus. When one reads the Bible then it becomes evident that earthly evidence isn't necessary.

          September 2, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Akira

      The Abrahamic religions worship the same God, albeit with different texts and in different way. This rather puts to rest the "my God is better than your God", which you are reinforcing right now with your contempt for other Christian denominations.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  17. joe

    inane article.

    Are spiderman, aquaman an superwoman all the same super hero?

    Well, they are all super. And they are all heroes so I say yes.

    Right?

    September 2, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • mgc6288

      I agree this is an inane article as only the uneducated would consider this. Christianity is all summed up in the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostles' Creeds. Muslims, Jews, Jehovah Witness, Mormons, etc. do not believe in the creeds which therefore how can they be considered Christian?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

      Well the hero Herodians did have a thing for killin'.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:55 am |
  18. mary

    am i good or what? i really am amazing!

    look at the guilt gushing from our devoted ladies as they neglect the spiritual health of their children

    September 2, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Akira

      Well, hi, faith! (Waves)
      I see you have changed it up yet again today! Mary, terry, hharri...they all rhyme! What a clever person you are! Who's the good boy? Who is mommy's good little boy?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  19. Keenan

    Whoever wrote the piece about Christians has no idea. Just like the Jewish tradition, Christians believe that God is one and not a Trinity of persons. Jesus Christ is God. The Trinity concept is often misunderstood or used inappropriately. Christians believe the same concepts as Jews only that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT. Now Faith is not absent from behavior, but if faith is present then behavior will follow. I hope this clears things a little.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      As an un-muddied lake Fred. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.

      September 2, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Akira

      So this: "Finally, for this God, much of the Jewish scriptures (which are all God’s word) are actually about foreshadowing Jesus. Including Abraham." is incorrect?

      September 2, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  20. bostontola

    Vic said:

    Actually, it is very logical by reason that "there is a God," and we detect that by sentience. Concurrently, science reveals "design" in every studied bit of this existence, which in turn reveals a "Designer" and "Creator," hence God.

    1) Sentience in humans is error prone and very limited. It is not even trusted in a court of law as conclusive evidence.
    2) Please look up "Recurrent laryngeal nerve" as an example of the absence of design in nature. There are many other examples.

    September 2, 2013 at 11:36 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.