Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are the world’s three major monotheistic religions (i.e., they all believe in one God). They have far more in common with each other than they do with Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. In fact, they each trace their roots back to Abraham. This raises the question, do Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God?
The answer to this question largely depends on what one means by “worship.” When people ask this question, they are usually looking for the answer to one of three more specific questions:
- Do Muslims, Jews, or Christians all refer to the same God?
- Is the God posited by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity essentially the same?
- Do Muslims, Jews, and Christians all know, love, and honor the one true God?
Do Muslims, Jews, or Christians Refer to the Same God?
In Athens, Paul “found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). In this context, Paul uses the word “worship” in a general sense. He does not mean that idolaters worship God in the way that Jesus describes in John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Paul knew that the Athenian worship was not true worship and that it was unacceptable to God; however, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was comfortable saying that the Athenians “worshipped” God in that they referred to him without knowing it.
Suppose a woman hears footsteps in the middle of the night and wakes her husband: “Someone’s in the kitchen!” Her husband mutters, “Go back to sleep. It’s just little Johnnie sneaking a cookie.” In one sense, both the husband and the wife are referring to Johnnie, the one in the kitchen, although the wife does not know that it is him. In fact, the wife probably has false notions about the identity of the one making the noise. She probably thinks, “It’s a robber!” Only the husband is referring to Johnnie in truth. But there is still a sense in which the wife is referring to him; indeed, there is no one else to refer to.
While there is more that needs to be said, this helps us to understand why some people affirm that Muslims, Jews, or Christians worship the same God in the sense that they refer to the same God. In a philosophical setting, there may be few consequences for acknowledging that Muslims, Jews, and Christians worship the same God in this sense. But this is rarely all that is implied by the initial question, especially in a postmodern world.
While there may be a very specific way to interpret the question as to allow for a philosophical “Yes,” there is too much room for confusion and the stakes are too high.
Is the God Posited by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity Essentially the Same?
In reality, Muslims, Christians, and Jews are not like three people making their best guess about what goes bump in the night. The illustration would be more accurate if the woman replied to her husband, “No, it’s not Johnnie. It’s a robber! And I know exactly who it is! It’s that grungy Gary from across the street. You know, the one who’s married to Sue and drives the brown station wagon. He’s a maniac! Nobody will convince me otherwise!”
Christians posit one kind of God; Muslims and Jews explicitly deny this God, and posit a different kind of God. The God posited by Muslims, Christians, and Jews is not essentially the same. In fact, the Allah of Islam and the God of Christianity are just as different as grungy Gary and little Johnnie. This is the matter of key importance. The husband and the wife do not need to lay in bed and discuss the philosophical question, “Are we referring to the same thing?” They need to figure out if there really is a robber in their kitchen, so they don’t end up dead. When it comes to differences over the true nature of God, the consequences are eternal.
Christians posit a triune God; Muslims and Jews deny the Trinity. Gregory of Nazianzus explains, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” This is the case for all true Christians. Nothing is more basic to the Christian understanding of God than the truth that he is tri-personal. Creation and redemption are rooted in God’s triune nature. The Athanasian Creed states:
Whoever desires to be saved should above all hold to the catholic faith. Anyone who does not keep it whole and unbroken will doubtless perish eternally. Now this is the catholic faith:
That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.
For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
Philip Brown notes that according to the Qur’an, “to teach that Allah is a trinity or that Jesus is God’s son is an unpardonable sin (Qur’an 4:116). To worship Jesus as God is blasphemy and idolatry.” Christians (at least Western Christians) believe that to deny the Trinity is to be damned; Muslims believe that affirm the Trinity is to be damned. Jews side with Muslims in denying the Trinity. Clearly, the God posited by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is not essentially the same.
Christians posit Jesus as the incarnate God; Muslims and Jews deny the deity of Christ. Jews believe that Jesus was a false Messiah and Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, inferior to Muhammed; neither believe that “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Col. 1:19) and that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). The Nicene Creed affirms Christian orthodoxy:
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
Christians believe that to deny that Jesus is God is to be damned; Muslims believe that to affirm that Jesus is God is to be damned. Jews side with Muslims in denying the Deity of Christ. Clearly, the God posited by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is not essentially the same.
Christians believe that to deny Christ’s Deity is to be damned; Muslims believe that to affirm Christ’s Deity to be damned. Jews side with Muslims in denying that Jesus is God. Clearly, the God posited by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is not essentially the same.
Christians posit a God who loves his enemies; Muslims posit a God who only hates his enemies. Christians believe that “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19), and believe that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro. 5:8, cf. Jn. 3:16); “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Ro. 5:10).
William Lane Craig explains, on the other hand, that “The Muslim God only loves those who first love Him. His love thus rises no higher than the love which Jesus said even tax-collectors and unbelievers exhibit.” Craig cites a few passages from the Qur’an to highlight this irrational and morally deficient view of God’s nature:
“God loves not the unbelievers” (III.33)
“God loves not the impious and sinners” (II.277)
“God loves not evildoers” (III. 58)
“God loves not the proud” (IV. 37)
“God loves not transgressors” (V. 88)
“God loves not the prodigal” (VI. 142)
“God loves not the treacherous” (VIII.59)
“God is an enemy to unbelievers” (II. 99)
While Christians believe that God’s love is best understood in light of the interpersonal relationships within the Trinity, our view of God is more similar to the Jewish view in that both Jews and Christians believe what God has revealed about himself in the Hebrew Scriptures:
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Ex. 34:6-7)
In summary, the God posited by Muslims and Christians is more different than the God posited by Jews and Christians. Both Jews and Christians believe that the one true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; however, since Jews deny the Trinity and the Deity of Christ, their view of God is still very different than the Christian view. In this sense, we must conclude that Muslims, Jews, and Christians do not worship the same God.
Do Muslims, Jews, and Christians Know, Love, and Honor the One True God?
Some acknowledge the differences between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian conception of God, but still suggest that the one true God is known, loved, and honored by each sincere worshipper. The only worship that is accepted by the Christian God, however, is worship in truth: worship that corresponds to reality.
Jesus said to the Jews in his day, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (Jn. 8:19). He insisted, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn. 5:23). In fact, Jesus said, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (Jn. 5:42-43).
No one knows, loves, or honors the Father who does not know, love, or honor the Son.
No one knows, loves, or honors the Father who does not know, love, or honor the Son. Since Muslims and Jews deny the true identity of Christ as the incarnate God, we must conclude that they do not know, love, or honor the one true and living God.
If required to answer the exact question, “Do Muslims, Jews, and Christians all worship the same God?” Christians should say, “No.” While there may be a very specific way to interpret the question as to allow for a philosophical “Yes,” there is too much room for confusion and the stakes are too high. On the other hand, we should be quick to explain our response: the God of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is not essentially the same; since the true God has revealed himself in Christ, whom Muslims and Jews reject as coequal with the Father, only Christians know, love, and honor the true and living God.