Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God? Obviously there are significant theological differences between Jews, Christians, and Muslims but should these be considered examples of groups that have different understandings about one God or are these three groups that worship different Gods?
Theism & Monotheism
All three groups are theists. Unlike atheistic materialism each of these faiths believes that there is a spiritual reality that transcends the physical world and includes some type of divinity. Beyond this we recognize that these three faiths have many important points of basic theological agreement. Unlike Buddhism each of these believes that the divine is a being in the fullest sense- having an individual identity and mind. In distinction to Hinduism the divine is considered to be a single being. In addition to simply being monotheistic each of them teaches that God is the creator and is distinct and unique from the creation itself. Each of them recognizes God as vastly powerful, as sovereign, and as judge. Likewise they all teach that wisdom and mercy are important characteristics of God and that as a result human relationships should be conducted in a certain way as well. They also share the belief that God works through angels, prophets, and reveals Himself through particular revelation in words. They even agree on the names of particular people through whom God has worked, such as Abraham.
Therefore, we can say that they all agree that a single God exists and that there are certain things true about Him. In terms of a concept of monotheistic creator-deity they would be classified together, however, this does not mean that they worship the same God. Before we could make that claim we have to look at a few other things.
Allah, Yahweh, & God
Since there is some similarity between the attributes of God between the faiths many people assume that they are all talking about the same god but differ on what is true about Him. As we saw above, if we simply mean by the term “god” the concept of divine being then we may say that this is true because at that point we are engaged in a theoretical conversation about the concept of divinity. However, when it comes to what people believe insofar as it informs their worship it is not that kind of vague conceptualization. For example, Yahweh is a personal name and other more generic words such as “god” or “elohim” are infused with all sorts of content when used in the context of faith that would prevent them from the kind of base conceptualization that would be restricted to simple monotheistic referents. There is a certain set of beliefs and a certain set of fundamental attributes and propositions that pertain to God in the theology of each of these groups and if those are different from each other then these groups are not worshiping the same God though they may use the same terminology.
For example, the word “allah” is simply the Arabic word for “god” and Arabic Christians use the term Allah when they pray. It is clear, however, that they do not mean the same thing when they use the term as do Muslims. The Christian (or Muslim) prayer is not limited to basic monotheistic creator-judge categories but includes a lot more. Let us assume that I know a man whose name is Bob. He is a 6’ tall dark skinned man who was born in
, loves jazz music, and loves college football. Now let us assume that you also know a man named Bob. He is a 5’ 8” light skinned man who was born in New York , loves country music, and loves professional football. We can see how the following conversation could be possible: New York
Me: “I really like Bob, he is a great guy”
You: “Me too, he makes me laugh”
Me: “You know Bob?”
You: “I think we are talking about the same guy… he is from
right?” New York
Me: “Yeah, he loves music and is always talking about football”
You: “Yes, that is him”
Obviously if the conversation were to end here both of us could walk away thinking that we were talking about the same person. If, however, we continued to talk it would become evident that we were not in fact talking about the same person. When a person uses the term “god” it is a linguistic shortcut for a series of attributes and propositions associated with a particular divine being. For example, all three groups believe that God created the world but Christians believe that it was through Jesus that this happened. Obviously the other two do not share this view so though all three worship creator gods they do not worship the same creator god.
Biblical Judaism & Modern Judaism
Many Christians would be quick to say that Muslims worship a different God but would be hesitant to make the same statement about Jews. After all, doesn’t the New Testament clearly tell us that “salvation is of the Jews” and isn’t the New Testament itself dependent upon the Jewish scriptures for its own claims?
Although there is no question that Christianity is reliant upon the Jewish scriptures it is extremely important that we distinguish between biblical and non-biblical Judaism. There are a variety of different perspectives within modern Judaism but none of them are examples of biblical Judaism. We already see in the New Testament a divergence between faithful Jews who correctly understood the scriptures and those who were following the teachings of men. Modern Judaism has developed in contradistinction to Christianity whereas the faithful Jews of the Old Testament were waiting in anticipation of the culmination of the promises in the Promised One who was to come. It is therefore anachronistic and incorrect to assume that the faith of the Old Testament is the same as the faith of modern Judaism. Jesus Himself teaches this when he says: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me." (John 5:45-46 ESV)
The entirety of the Jewish scripture was intended to point to Jesus Christ. Any rejection of Christ is therefore a rejection of the Law and the Prophets as well.
The Centrality of Christ to Theology
This brings us to the crucial point. Since the divinity of Christ is the indispensable and most foundational element of the Christian understanding it is clear that Muslims and Jews do not worship the same God as do Christians. It is an indispensable element of the Christian faith itself that it is not possible to claim to have an understanding of the Father if we do not accept Christ. The scriptures do not give us the option to formulate our theology in any other way. A few examples should suffice to make the point:
Matthew 10:40: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”
Luke 10:16: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
John 5:22-23: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
John 15:23: “Whoever hates me hates my Father also.”
1 John 2:22-23: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”
2 John 1:9: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.”
The bible is clear that a rejection of Christ is a rejection of God. If, therefore, we attempt to develop some concept of God that excludes Jesus Christ what we are doing is engaging in a form of idolatry. The result is that instead of worshipping the one true God we worship some other false conception of him. It doesn’t matter if it a mental construction or a carved idol because in either case we have rejected His revelation of Himself and replaced it with something else. As Christians we cannot talk about God’s mercy, love, patience, or even His sovereignty and justice without including in our thoughts the fullest expression of those attributes in Jesus Christ. This is why when Philip asked Christ to show him the father “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 ESV)
Therefore we have to conclude that Christians, Muslims, and Jews do not worship the same God though there are similarities and some of the same terminology is used. Regarding the worship of Muslims and Jews we would agree with what the apostle Paul wrote when referring to the unbelieving Jews of his day:
“Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4 ESV)
Though Jews and Muslims are zealous theists they do not know the Christian God and do not worship Him. Our burden is that by His grace they come to see the excellencies of Christ who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”