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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. muti

    One of the most common questions we receive at Aish.com is: "Why don't Jews believe in Jesus?" Let's understand why ― not in order to disparage other religions, but rather to clarify the Jewish position.

    Jews do not accept Jesus as the messiah because:

    Jesus did not fulfill the messianic prophecies.
    Jesus did not embody the personal qualifications of the Messiah.
    Biblical verses "referring" to Jesus are mistranslations.
    Jewish belief is based on national revelation.

    But first, some background: What exactly is the Messiah?

    The word "Messiah" is an English rendering of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which means "anointed." It usually refers to a person initiated into God's service by being anointed with oil. (Exodus 29:7, 1-Kings 1:39, 2-Kings 9:3)

    1. Jesus Did Not Fulfill the Messianic Prophecies

    What is the Messiah supposed to accomplish? One of the central themes of biblical prophecy is the promise of a future age of perfection characterized by universal peace and recognition of God. (Isaiah 2:1-4, 32:15-18, 60:15-18; Zephaniah 3:9; Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23, 14:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34)

    Specifically, the Bible says he will:

    Build the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
    Gather all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
    Usher in an era of world peace, and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)
    Spread universal knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: "God will be King over all the world ― on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One" (Zechariah 14:9).

    If an individual fails to fulfill even one of these conditions, then he cannot be the Messiah.

    Because no one has ever fulfilled the Bible's description of this future King, Jews still await the coming of the Messiah. All past Messianic claimants, including Jesus of Nazareth, Bar Cochba and Shabbtai Tzvi have been rejected.

    Christians counter that Jesus will fulfill these in the Second Coming. Jewish sources show that the Messiah will fulfill the prophecies outright; in the Bible no concept of a second coming exists.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  2. Margaret

    Of course they all worship the same god...power, corruption, greed and control.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • S-3B Viking

      Amen!

      September 1, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  3. truthordare7

    GOD does not exist. It is just a figment of people`s imagination to deal with the vast and sometimes frightening world we used to live in where you didn`t understand many of the natural phenomenons. It is understandable. But to still persist in this silly notion is to retard human civilization back to the iron age and has serious repercussions. We are constantly killing each other in the name of this god instead of learning to cooperate and build a sustainable future where humans can rise up to conquer the galaxy. Instead we have people willing to blow up others by blowing themselves with them.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  4. itnobars

    Why does CNN like to ignore major eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism? Christianity, Islam and Judaism is not the be all and end all of religious thought.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:48 am |
  5. muti

    The Real Messiah Part 1

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gOh6Ch6K3s

    http://www.youtube.com/user/JewsforJudaismCanada

    September 1, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  6. Anthony

    Grow up there is no God folks. Its all a fairy tale. Most likely created to make us feel not so alone and to control the masses. How many have died in the name of this imaginary God? How many more have to die? Organized religion is the opiate for the masses and God is the most popular drug.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  7. Hebrew Priest

    THE 4 MAJOR RELIGIONS AND THEIR HOLY TEXTS
    IN ORDER OF CREATION:

    HEBREWS = TORAH (5 BOOKS OF MOSES)
    CHRISTIANS = TORAH + GOSPELS + PROPHETS + WRITINGS
    JEWS = CHRISTIANS = TORAH + TALMUD + PROPHETS + WRITINGS
    ISLAM = KORAN

    September 1, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • harry

      what I know of Islam, it is also = Torah, Talmud, Gospels and the Koran. The Koran constantly refers to these books and confirms that they were given to prophets before such as Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  8. Paul

    The answer is yes but God does not even need or care for human worship.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:42 am |
  9. TzTerri

    I worship my toaster oven. At least it is something real and makes me tasty treats.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • One one

      Plus, your toaster will not send you to hell if you don't worship it.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • Just Call Me Lucifer

        Don't kid yourself... I've been to toaster hell and it ain't pretty.

        September 1, 2013 at 9:17 am |
  10. dannybye

    God is relationship. In love or relationship (same thing) there is no need for rules. Rules is what allows expectations and judgement. Expectancy is a living of love. Love is energy God is energy.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • One one

      But since god does not exist, your relationship and love, in reality, is with yourself.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  11. stevie68a

    Humans worshipped the sun for thousands of years. When they made up christianity, they knew they could not turn people
    away from sun-worship. So they included it. Therefore, you have "the son of god" whose day is SUNday. Look at pictures of
    jesus with the sun behind his head. All made up.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • One one

      At least the sun shows itself to every person in the world every day to let us know it really exists.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • sbp

      So obviously you think the ancient people of the Middle East spoke English, such that the words for sun and son were hominyms (yes, had to spell it wrong to get past censor), and Sunday was the word for the day of the week? Didn't think this through, huh?

      September 1, 2013 at 8:57 am |
  12. The Viking

    What difference does it make?

    3 invisible sky daddies are no different than 1.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  13. Hebrew Priest

    Also, the 5 Books (aka, Torah, Pentateuch) consider a 'messenger' as a person who speaks the word of God, and those that do not follow, 'it will be required of them'. This statement in Torah 'it will be required of them' has NEVER happened. That means every person that mankind has thought was their messiah or messenger, was a false prophet is destined to die (according to Torah). No man since Moses has had the support of God to influence mankind to change their ways to the religion of the Hebrews (the literal interpretation of Torah and the establishment of the Priestly governance by bloodline Hebrews of Aaron)

    September 1, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  14. us_1776

    The Sky Fairy does not exist.

    Get over it!!

    .

    September 1, 2013 at 8:37 am |
  15. One one

    How many gods are there to believe in?
    God has angels, Satan has demons.
    My god and religion are real and true.
    YOUR religion is just a pile of bull poo.
    They say there’s only ONE god to believe in.
    If you don’t believe, it’s the ultimate sin.
    No more Zeus, Odin, or Thor, MY hero.
    We’re just one god away from the true number…. ZERO.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Mitch

      There is no God? Are you sure about that?

      September 1, 2013 at 8:45 am |
      • One one

        As sure as I am there is no Santa Clause.

        September 1, 2013 at 8:49 am |
        • Prez

          Do you have kids?

          September 1, 2013 at 8:56 am |
        • Prez

          Would you tell them there's no Santa Claus if you knew it would crush there heart? Apparently so.

          September 1, 2013 at 9:01 am |
        • S-3B Viking

          Prez,

          It's time. Call your 30 year old son and 28 year old daughter and let them know Santa isn't real...

          On second thought, why don't you wait until after the coming holidays...wouldn't want them to be so broken-hearted.

          September 1, 2013 at 9:08 am |
    • Prez

      No scientific fact can be proven to be 100% correct thus every scientific law, principle, and theory takes some measure of faith. If you firmly believe that beyond the core of our existence is truly nothing I am truly sympathetic for your health. No one should have to live thinking that they have no purpose or are only here by chance. But even in your current state of hopeless I would advise you not to crush the remnant of hope so many people have on this earth and that is a belief in a God who put us here for a reason.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:54 am |
      • S-3B Viking

        Prez,

        You don't understand the definition of "fact."

        And, really? "Crush" someone's remnant hope? Are they that weak-minded? Is their faith that pathetic?

        You obviously don't get out of the pew much. How childishly ignorant and typically arrogant of you to as.sume that an atheist is "hopeless" or without health. And I have yet to find an atheist who lives a purposeless life.

        I have however known far too many Christians who have committed suicide...and many, many more who have attempted.

        Hospitals are full of believers in varying stages of poor health.

        What an as.s you are.

        September 1, 2013 at 9:05 am |
        • Prez

          Perhaps I am misinformed about atheists, I respect their right to a religion without God however what I do not tolerate is a suppression of hope that so many people have in a creator. You don't why Christians commit suicide. Whether they choose to take their own life or not cannot be contributed to a lack of purpose but a lack of awareness of God's purpose in life. Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about atheists but enlighten me: what is the point of life if it yields no eternal merit?

          September 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • Prez

          btw it seems you don't understand the context of fact.

          A fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.

          http://ncse.com/evolution/education/definitions-fact-theory-law-scientific-work

          September 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  16. doctore0

    Yea they worship the same fictional character!!

    September 1, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Tom

      Well put.

      In my opinion as a species we will not survive until we reed ourselves of religions.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  17. Pam

    There is no way as a Christian do I believe in a "trinity". There are not "3 people" sitting on 3 thrones. The one true God of the Old Testament who created the heaven and earth that the Jews and Muslims believe in, came down on this earth to redeem us. Our heavenly Father revealed himself in the flesh. He had to "buy" us back from the bondage of sin and the devil. Jesus said, "When you have seen me, you have seen the Father". When Jesus went up to heaven, He sent Himself to live in us in the form of His Spirit. We are to be baptized "in the NAME" of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Name is "Jesus"., which means My God, My Savior. There is only one throne in heaven and Jesus Christ, the God of the Old and New Testament, is on that throne. I pray to One God. Many Jews are still waiting for that Savior. They just don't want to admit it was Jesus. The Muslims will not admit their god came down on this earth to free them from their sin. Again, that would have to be Jesus. Jesus has changed the world.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • longshot

      complete gibberish

      September 1, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • Belzehup13

      actually muslim do believe jesus (or prophet ISA they call) will come to the earth in the end of the day, but they believe Jesus will only confirm to christian that they should believe and worship the Father not the Son

      September 1, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Don

      Pam, you should realise that to be a 'Christian' is to accept the Trinity. The Trinity is the foundation of Christian doctrine and faith. If you ask a Baptist preacher, a Catholic Bishop and a Coptic Priest if Christianity is dependent on 'three persons in one God', they'll all say 'Yes, no question about it.' Non-trinitarian belief has been taken to be 'non' or 'outisde' mainstream Christianity since at least 400 AD.

      September 1, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Just Call Me Lucifer

      Sorry. The bible is really just a bunch of crap some guys made up to extort money from weak-willed human sheep who need to suckle at the teat of happily-ever-after. Only one thing happens after life. Are you really that afraid? Your god allows millions of innocent babies to suffer and die from malnutrition and disease every year and and you wanna hang out with the guy for eternity? Good luck with that.

      September 1, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  18. Hebrew Priest

    'Gods' are defined in the holy texts of each religion. Some religions have the same blocks of text, but have added others to suite themselves. Looking at each set, they are vastly different. Those texts are how mankind 'sees' their God and each is different from the other and is passed down through the generations. A good example is that many consider Moses as a Jew. He was not. He was a Hebrew following only the sacred text of the 5 Books, while Jews follow the 5 Books + Talmud + Prophets + Writings. Hope that helps CNN get over this.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:33 am |
    • Just Call Me Lucifer

      You may as well be talking about a TV drama, but I guess that wouldn't be good for business. Those of us who dwell in the real world would ask that you drop your dogma and get a job that isn't based on bronze age fiction. Just a thought...

      September 1, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  19. lovelivelaugh

    Being a Christian, as I read this article I looked first for how Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior was depicted. This is often one of the most egregious errors people make about Christianity; particularly when the bible, God's inerrant word tells us in John 14:16 that "No man comes to the father, except through me". I also prayed for that Almighty God, through Christ grants the writer of this story wisdom and also those who seek it, regarding this matter; James 1:5-8.

    Also, I want to refer to the following scriptures that came to mind while reading the section regarding Christianity and the differences our faith from Jewish and Muslim faiths. The scriptures for further introspection are: II Corinthians 5:21, Romans 10:9-10.

    Lastly, the Trinity is displayed throughout the bible from Genesis 1:2 pertaining to the Spirit of God to Genesis 1:26 where God says "Let us make man in our own image"..." to the Gospel of John 1:1-14 when it talks about who Christ was and where he came from. Remember in the book of Genesis, God spoke the world into existence? This section referenced from the Gospel of John explains to us that Christ was right there!

    I use the term Christian to describe myself because it most closely represents believers in God thru Christ.

    September 1, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  20. jman

    who cares....religion is for the weak

    September 1, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Dan W

      Then why are you here? To attack the weak?

      September 1, 2013 at 11:21 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.