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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. Vic

    On Biblical Archeology:

    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/magazine/

    September 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Thy claim they are associated with the Smithsonian but the Smithsonian says The Babble is not a historical doc.ument. Hmmmm. . .

      September 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
      • truthbeknown

        ur an idiot and a lying manipulative horse's rear end

        September 9, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Ken

      Not a shred of any archaeological evidence for anything in the Bible before people claiming to be from "The House of David". No Genesis, no Abraham, no Moses, or the Exodus, and no Solomon or David either. Just scaled down, backwater petty rulers of small kingdoms.

      September 9, 2013 at 12:15 am |
      • truthbeknown

        absolute proof. bible don't lie. earth is here. tons of historical references. what lying morons. what complete fools. no wonder you love stanky weed patches. makes perfect sense

        September 9, 2013 at 10:58 am |
        • In Santa we trust

          What evidence other than the bible for Genesis, etc.?

          September 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
        • karie

          Is there any truth in the bible?

          September 10, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • Vic

      Example:

      http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,983854,00.html

      September 9, 2013 at 8:44 am |
      • ME II

        Paywall. What's it actually say.

        September 9, 2013 at 9:38 am |
      • Ken

        Do you have another source, for those of us without a subscription to Time.com?

        September 9, 2013 at 9:59 am |
      • ME II

        All hail Zeus, whose existence is confirmed by the discovery of Troy.
        http://archive.archaeology.org/0405/etc/troy.html

        September 9, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Vic

        To be honest I don't know if it is for or against, and I don't have subscription myself. I am still looking for another source. Sorry about the inconvenience.

        September 9, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
        • Vic

          Oh.. I just found some commentary on that. The article was against. 🙁

          September 9, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
        • ME II

          @Vic,
          Well at least you own up to it.

          September 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Realist

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

    They all worship the same god, yet that ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

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

    September 8, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  3. Realist

    ..........

    They all worship the same god, yet that ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com

    ..........

    September 8, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  4. Inquiry and verification in the fundamentalist mindset - how does it work?

    Let's take a look:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YIj4rLYo0c

    September 8, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  5. tony

    Do all the angels of all the religions dance on the head of the same pin?

    September 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  6. cg

    For Believers – God created man in his image. God is perfect and humans are not perfect. If we are not perfect we should stop passing judgement. Let us prey / complain / request our respective gods, but never ever fight each other. Let the God or Gods decide. Why should we take matter in our imperfect hands? Cane was punished for killing his brother. Are we not the children of Abraham? Whom we are trying to please by killing fellow brother?
    For Non Believers – The God or Gods mentioned seems to be superior to humans. Should we not try to achieve or surpass them. Should we humans waste our energy and resource on war and enmity? Or should we cooperate to conquer death, disease and degeneration(old age).

    September 8, 2013 at 2:54 am |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Surely theists don't want to conquer old age? Wouldn't that make the afterlife redundant?

      September 8, 2013 at 2:57 am |
      • cg

        Yes that's a very good point. Seen a video on Russian TV where a fundamentalist was saying he has made a deal with God if he gives his life doing x,y,z he will get benefits a,b,c in heaven. Perhaps going to heaven is a big attraction for grown up people like Disney Land for children. Do your homework properly and be nice and Daddy promises to take you to Disneyland this summer. If the greed of heaven makes a grown up person behave nicely for his summer of life (40-50 years) so be it.

        September 9, 2013 at 3:40 am |
    • Ken

      cg
      You're stringing the words "perfect" and "being" together as though the act of doing so somehow makes it come true.

      September 8, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
      • cg

        No I was quoting from whatever limited knowledge that I have from Scriptures for argument.

        September 9, 2013 at 3:44 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      How could a non-believer think that a god is superior to a human? It's just a figment of primitive imagination.

      September 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
      • cg

        Even though we assume that they are figment of imagination we associate some good qualities to God or Angels let's say in truthfulness, kindness, helpfulness, righteousness, maturity and spirituality. In terms of technology they seem to be superior performing miracles. Can we take them as role model? Like we take Da Vinci, Nostradamus, Washington, Benjamin, Lincoln, Einstein, Mahatma, Lenin, Mao, Churchill etc as role model in various countries. We must imbibe good qualities and technology from wherever we can. Be it aliens or from the hard working bees, the kindness of dolphins saving human life.

        September 9, 2013 at 3:29 am |
    •  

      Godless Vagabond
      Jeez, cg! You don't even know the difference between prey and pray and you're telling us all this bullshit? Let's get real.

      September 9, 2013 at 2:56 am |
      • cg

        My bad. It should be pray.

        September 9, 2013 at 3:12 am |
        • Patricia

          "The light shines on in darkness..."

          September 10, 2013 at 1:03 am |
      • james

        I thought he had it right the first time.

        September 10, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  7. How many different flavors of Christianity are there?

    MANY. That's how many. And some of them are contradictory.

    They can't ALL be right. Some of them (ALL) are incorrect, by DEFINITION.

    September 8, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  8. Phelix Unger

    God wouldn't need idiots to talk for him. Now the devil if he were real, he would definetly know that morons on thsi rock would follow just about anything.

    September 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  9. Pauli

    Having received Farouki Babooni as Messiah and Sprayer I have truly changed. The emptiness I felt before is gone. I have peace and joy in its place despite my gangrenous toenails. Baruch Ate A Sandwich. Thank You Thank You Very Much so that we might have Tuna and Salami. Lunch.

    September 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  10. Dug

    Three times zero is still zero, same as one times zero.

    September 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  11. observer

    just be patient my dear

    September 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  12. observer

    no?

    September 7, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Doris

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnyS2fiHm20

    September 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  14. jknbt

    Trinitarian Christians worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit who are three persons and yet one being, co-equal, co-eternal, and transcendent. There are many minority opinions on the nature of the Godhead to be found in Christian sects which do not accept this orthodox position.

    Jews worship Jehovah God. This is how God reveals his Word, Jesus, in the Old Testament. Jesus' name is actually Jehovah-Shuas, the Lord who Saves, Jehovah who Save, aka the Salvation of the Lord. "Jesus" is the greek form of this name. He appears many times in the Old Testament, most notably to Abraham in Gen. 17-18.

    Muslims worship Allah, which is the Arabic version of the name Jesus used on the cross for God, "Eli" Originally the gods worshipped in Mecca and Medina were the Babylonian god and goddess of the moon. The lunar calendar and the crescent moon symbolism were important in Babylonian religions, are they are also important in Islam. The root of belief goes back to the goddess of Sin worshipped in Babylon. The deserts of NW Arabia are called the Wilderness of Sin in the O.T. Mohammed drew on the religious roots of paganism in the Arabian peninsula and also Judaism and Christianity when he founded Islam. He originally intended his Islam to be an extension of Jewish and Christian belief. It grew into a different religion entirely as the writings of the Koran were recorded. It is an Abrahamic Monotheistic religion since muslims look to Abraham as the founder of the faith, and since they worship the One God.

    September 7, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      I as a fellow Xtian would like to add some clarifications to your post above.
      First there is nothing like a Trinitarian Xtian. All Christians believe there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead. However they do not agree as to how they are related. Some believe the Father to be superior to the other two. Others believe Father and Son to be superior to the Spirit. Others believe all three to be co-equal. This is never in doubt in the NT.
      Next is the relationship b/n Judaism and Christianity. What is called Judaism is mostly Rabbinical Judaism [Pharisaism], there are other forms of Judaism and the most prominent is Messianic Judaism (aka Christianity).
      The doctrinal differences between Rabbinic Judaism and Messianic Judaism stem from the initial antagonism between the founders of the two schools of thought on YHWH.
      The Talmud and the New Testament represent the divergence but the Old Testament(Jewish Bible) shows convergence of the two!
      Islam was founded on the basis of Muhammads fascination with the two Judaeo-Christian religions. Muhammad wanted a much more logical interpretation to the Bible which he rewrote as the Taurah, Injil, Psalms and added the Quran as his new revelation. His students added the Hadith to complete the work.
      So they all follow one God but in different ways.
      Whether God is pleased with their styles is what they quarrel about!

      September 7, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      "Assert that there is not enough evidence to support belief that God exist."
      So they believe they know he does not exist. How can I get that wrong?

      September 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • Jens Gessner

        First of all, I appreciate that you are now engaging in a more meaningful discourse.

        You have to be careful not to confuse the difference between 'belief' and 'knowledge'. The evidence required for a knowledge claim has to be significant. I know of no atheist who would make a knowledge claim with respect to the existence of god, and perhaps we can agree that the few religious folk who claim to 'know' that their god exists probably just 'strongly believe'.

        Atheists assert that there is not enough evidence to justify believing in a deity. That means we observe the natural world around us. If there is anything outside the realm that we can observe, we need compelling evidence before we can believe it. It is also true that the evidence required changes with the claim that is made. In short, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. With respect to theism, no such evidence exists.

        September 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  15. the AnViL™

    yes, jews, xians, and muslims all worship the same imaginary god...

    /thread

    September 7, 2013 at 11:12 am |
  16. Atheist, me?

    Ken
    I appreciate your respectful post. I do know what an Agnostic Atheist is. However all that I am saying is it is better to know that you don't know than to think you do! Thanks

    September 7, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Jens Gessner

      And that shows you are still not getting it.

      Atheists don't claim to 'know' that God doesn't exist. Atheist simply assert that there is not enough evidence to justify believing in a deity.

      September 7, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I know I have never seen any evidence of any God or anything supernatural which leads me to believe none exists. However, since I know I have only experienced the tiniest fraction of what is out there I am still open to the possibility of something I or others might define as a God/god.

      Think of it this way, if a man told me "There is a God" and I reply "I see no evidence of such a claim so I do not believe you." Is that the same as me saying "There is no God!" I do not believe they are the same, for my first reply was just stating the fact that based on the lack of evidence I cannot believe in some other persons claim. The second response would be a claim that I had somehow done all possible research that would be required to rule out the possibility of a God, which only a fool would make. I doubt there are any atheists who would make that claim, but they do collectively refute all current claims of specific Gods/gods existences due to the fact that zero evidence for any of them has ever been verified.

      September 7, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      "However all that I am saying is it is better to know that you don't know than to think you do!"
      And yet you think there is a god with no evidence to support that.

      September 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  17. Extra Medium

    My god is NOT better than your god, the real truth is: your god is lesser than my god.

    September 6, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
  18. Atheist, me?

    Your religious friends? Well an Atheist with religious friends is not surprising. An Atheist with spiritual friends, that is news!

    September 7, 2013 at 12:56 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.