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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. Realist

    ..... No ..... Because... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

    September 1, 2013 at 8:12 am |
  2. Troyboy21

    What amazes me is that human kind has been able to advance into such amazing technology, some of which we are all talking on right now, and yet has been unable to figure out how to get along with each other. How is it that we can get so smart and yet act so dumb.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Sean

      Intelligence and moral Intentions are two different things, and stem from two different parts of the brain.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  3. Sean

    {Those who believe [in the Quran], and those who follow the Jewish [scriptures], and the Christians and the Sabians,—any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.} (Al-Baqarah 2:62) Quran

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

      snore

      September 1, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Copenshaw

      The Day of Judgment will not arrive until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind the stones and the trees; and each stone or tree will say: Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him; except from the gharqad, which is the tree of the Jews.' – hadiths

      September 1, 2013 at 8:19 am |
      • Sean

        Hadeeths are not considered authentic by Muslims because they are written by men. Many are false. So if you want to judge Islam, judge it only by the Quran.

        September 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Ron Natalie

    As the graphic shows, all religions, Christians, Jews, Miscellaneous, are touched by his noodly appendage.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  5. freddo

    Silly, it's not about religion ... it's about domination... and religion is just a tool employed for domination.

    Gods are just used as a way to differentiate the "home team".

    September 1, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • jimmer

      Like most atheists, you will probably recant on your death bed "just in case",,,,,,

      September 1, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • Realist

        ..... No ..... Because... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

        September 1, 2013 at 8:12 am |
      • jungleboo

        Fortune-telling is a sin.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  6. Hmmm

    That's like asking do kids believe that the Santa at one mall is the same as the Santa at another.
    Heck, people who worship in the same Church/Mosque/ect... don't believe in the same imaginary friend.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  7. Lauradet

    Yes, all three religions worship the same Hebrew god. The Christians plagiarized, deleted and added their own version to the word meant for the Hebrew god's chosen people the Hebrews. The Jews (I have no clue where they came from) and the Muslims copied everything from the Hebrews and added stuff. All three religions control the minds of all that follows...unfortunately.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • gehazi

      The jews got it from the egyptians , as they are the Hyksos, who worshpped set of the desert- they took set out of egypt and established it as the one true god in the genocide of canaan. after they were chased out of egypt by the theban kings.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  8. Veritas

    It's all what you make it to be, since "god" is a human invention that exists in the mind only. People have used this for sectarianism and warfare for thousands of years. Hopefully we will one day evolve beyond religion.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  9. Sean

    "Surely, those who believe, those who are the Jews and the Sabians and the Christians – whosoever believed in God and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."
    [al-Maa’idah 5:69] Quran.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:02 am |
  10. gar

    god is pretend

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

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

      September 1, 2013 at 8:09 am |
      • Realist

        ..... YES .... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

        September 1, 2013 at 8:11 am |
        • Realist

          ..... Because... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

          September 1, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Sam

      Only a non-believer can say such a thing. If you do not have God and have not allowed God into your heart then God is not real.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:22 am |
      • S-3B Viking

        Great rationalization, Sam. If that helps you avoid reality, then...

        September 1, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  11. John 3:16

    If only Abraham was patient we wouldn't need this discussion.Well, hindsight is 20/20 🙁

    The truth is we are all God's children, whether we call ourselves Jewish, Christian or Muslim. 🙂

    September 1, 2013 at 7:59 am |
    • truthprevails1

      The Truth is that that is what you believe, it is not based on evidence and thus for some of us, there is no justification to believe.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Realist

      ..... No ..... Because... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

      September 1, 2013 at 8:15 am |
  12. Guest

    "For every tree is known by his own fruit.". We don't need so called "theologians" to answer for us this question. There is no way you can equate the teaching of the Christian God to that of the Moslem one.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:55 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Of course you can equate the teaching of the Christian God with the Muslim (with a "u", not an 'o") god. Watch carefully:
      Christian God is man-made and non-existent.
      Christian God is man-made and non-existent.
      Non-existent ent-ities cannot have "teachings".
      Therefore, the supposed "teaching" of the Christian God and the Muslim God are equal. Equally non-existent.

      The teachings of Christianity and Islam – both being the creations of people, not gods – are different.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:03 am |
    • awasis

      Nor the Jewish one, if you are being perfectly honest. But you won't be perfectly honest. The God of the Old Testament and the New are two different gods.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

        Which, if you take that at face value, shows how silly the Bible is. There is only ONE God (although he's actually 3 in 1), unless, of course, you're talking about the OT, in which case it's another god. Which begs the question: what happened to the OT god? Did he die? Go away? Morph into the new and improved 3-in-1 god?

        Geez, this religious stuff is such nonsense!

        September 1, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  13. Donato

    Awful article. Stop validating the idea of religion or the supernatural in any way. Putting religion on a major news site's main page is an affront to intelligent people worldwide. Religion is a sham. That should be the headline every day. There is no god, never has been, never will be. Grow up.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • Veritas

      CNN will perpetuate anything that sells advertizing, whether it's religious nonsense or Miley Cyrus' twerks. I am always am amazed and perplexed that there are actually adults who believe this religious nonsense is in any way real.

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

      there is a god, it just is poorly understood enough that people say "there is no god" - no religion is correct , all are built upon the rule of man, but this does not remove spirituality from being valid and very real– saying there is no god is making a declaration you cannot prove, I can prove there is no santa clause, i can prove there is no FSM– god by its nature is unprovable , agnosticism is the only correct stance if you believe in science.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:18 am |
      • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

        Okay, PROVE there is no FSM

        September 1, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  14. Bill the Believer

    Dear Jews, Christians and Muslims:

    God, Allah and Yahweh here.

    I don’t care which set of pre Dark Ages theology you subscribe to. In fact, I don’t care about anything, because, you see, I do not exist. Is not the concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being (age of the Universe) capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the actions and thoughts of the 7 billion human beings on this planet utterly ludicrous?

    Look, if I did exist, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Bronze Age and Greco-Roman Middle Eastern mythology you call the Tanakh, Bible or Koran. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was compiled with certain writings included and others excluded, nor how it has been edited over the centuries, yet you cite it for the most extraordinary of supernatural claims.

    Thirdly, to you Christians when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Greco-Roman Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who elected to withhold all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifthly, in the same vein, I would not make about 5% of the human population gay, then punish them for being that way. In fact, I wouldn’t care about how humans have $ex at all, given that I created all of the millions of millions of species on the planet, all of whom are furiously reproducing all the time. Human $ex would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Has it ever occurred to you that your obsession with making rules around human $ex is an entirely human affair?

    Sixth, I would have smitten all you conservative Jews, Christian activists, and fundamentalist Muslims long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric even for a sick, sadistic bast.ard like me to contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you cringed in fear during the Dark Ages and thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.

    God/Allah/Yahweh

    PS: You can consider this a letter from all three of us or one of us with three names. When you make the whole thing up in the first place, it makes no difference.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • Buck Rogers

      So you're saying we all 'evolved' from.... well... monkeys? It seems to me that with all of the fakery of evolution now being exposed, including the non-scientific heliocentric myth, proves Scriptures to be true....

      http://www.fountainsofthegreatdeep.com/IFS.htm

      September 1, 2013 at 8:00 am |
      • Colin

        No, from a common ancestor of apes and modern man.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:02 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Doesn't matter what you think, the facts are for evolution. Even without the fossil record, DNA alone substantiates evolution. Creationism/ID can't be taught in schools due to it being unfounded, evolution can.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:06 am |
      • Veritas

        ...not to mention gravity; what a sham! Clearly, the earth is only 200 years old (or was it 4,000 years?) old like it says in the Lord of the Ri...I mean the Bible.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:08 am |
    • NovaMan999

      Bill,

      Amen (or maybe 'I agree') to all your comments. I will never understand how most people, who are 'rational' and even intelligent most of the time can throw away all rationality with this subject.

      I just don't understand them.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • David

      If you do not exist, how did you write your comment?

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

        Ask your mommy Why is she letting you roam the internet alone at your age anyway?

        September 1, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • Guest

      Excellent. Agree on all facets.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Jim Ricker

      Gotta love the long diatribes of those who spend their time writing comemnts assuming their opinion is true and not being able to prove their assertions and conclusions are true. Typical irrationality displayed by those claiming to be the rational and scientific ones.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:13 am |
      • Colin

        And what point do yo udisagree with?

        September 1, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Sam

      Where exactly did the matter and energy that formed us all and everything in the universe come from? If and when you can answer this one simple question then you may have a claim that there is no God but for those that have faith and have God, it is rather obvious. Poof! Existence.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:27 am |
      • Colin

        And where exactly did the energy and matter that makes your god come from? It was "always there" right? Or by mnagic, right?

        your line of reasoning is absurd. Your answer to what yo usee as a mystry is to plug the holw with a being for which there is no evidence whatsoever. Then the exact same question arises, "where did God come from" at which opoit you invoke a magic act or perpetual existence. If you accept perpetual existence, why not just say the Universe was "always there" without invloking the magic bit.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:30 am |
  15. Say What

    I wouldn't consider Judaism a major religion, with only 1% (or less) of the world's population following this religion.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  16. David Fields

    In my bible there is a passage that reads,"in my Father's house there are many mansions, I go there no to prepare a place for you." To me this says that it doesn't matter who you worship, it is all the same god.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Jim Ricker

      A text without context is evidence of the fool-text.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:14 am |
  17. Mihai

    It's good that religions are separate, because each nation is different. Using religion or any other "reason" to kill people is still killing people, it doesn't make any difference if you're an Aztec pagan making human sacrifices, a Jew killing Palestinians and vice versa because "God gave that land to me", or Obama killing Libyans and Syrians to get the next Nobel prize.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  18. Sean

    " God’s perfect truths are found only in the Quran and in the sayings of Muhammad, the hadiths."

    In Islam, ONLY the Quran is considered Gods perfect truth by Muslims. The Hadeeths on the other hand, have been written down by mortal men who are prone to error. Muslims do not consider the Hadeeths perfect as it was written by people and subject to their memories and their own personal interpretation and intentions.

    If anyone wants to study Islam and put it under scrutiny, then they should judge it solely by the Quran since Quran is considered the word of God by Muslims, not the Hadeeths.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  19. Buck Rogers

    "Afterlife" is not in the Bible.

    September 1, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Colin

      That is actually correct, at least in the modern understanig of the notion – that of "going to heaven." Jesus believed the end of days would occur in his time. He and Paul were apocolyptic Jews. They thought the dead would bodilly arise and inhabit the Earth – hollywood zombie style.

      September 1, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • Dan W

      There is an afterlife.

      September 1, 2013 at 11:15 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.