Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims Worship the Same God?
Christianity and Judaism have the same God, but Islam does not. Here is how I see it. Basically when the Romans encountered the Greeks and the Egyptians they all tried syncretism: keep the titles of their own gods while mapping them to the equivalent entities in the other cultures. It happened locally in Palestine, too, among the pagans. But this was an offense to the Jews when the idol of Zeus was set up on the altar in Jerusalem in the time of the Maccabees (1 Maccabees 1:54). Why was it an offense? For the same reason that God chose to reveal himself to Abraham. They were different gods. They couldn’t be mapped together. All other gods are not our God because they came to be through human reasoning or private revelation (not gifted by God for public worship of Himself) or demons, etc.–things “we” don’t accept because it is not the “public revelation” of our God which our God says he only began with Abraham. That’s the faith. Different Gods.
It is true even of monotheistic religions, people desire syncretism. (I’ve even been told by a Hindu that they have only one god with many manifestations–everybody wants to get on the monotheism band wagon.) So where does “Allah” fit in, Muhammad, and the teachings of Islam? Well, consider this. The original proclamation of a private revelation to Abraham, which made it a public revelation, was that God continued the “promise” to Isaac. Then to Jacob. Our faith teaches that we worship “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This phrase occurs over and over in the Bible. It was the core declaration of faith, even after God revealed the tetragrammaton “name” in Exodus 3:13-15. This is the course through which God chose to reveal himself, through the choice of a visible people that would be his own. The identification of the two are synonymous. The God of this people. The people of this God. It is a covenant.
At one point, God had said to Moses, “let me destroy this people and I will make of you a great nation” (paraphrased from Exodus 32:9-10). Had Moses accepted the offer, the declaration of who our God is would now be “the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses” but it isn’t. Even though Moses was an important figure, God, at Moses’ urging did not choose to go that route. Neither did he repudiate his people according to good kings, bad kings, prophets, etc. Even Jesus. As important as Jesus is to the revelation of God, we are still within the Jewish religion, sharing the same God. Gentiles are adopted into the people of God (Galatians 4:5; cf. “grafted” Romans 11:11-24). Even Jews who reject Jesus yet practice their covenant religion are worshiping the same God.
But does Islam proclaim either genealogical connection or adoption / grafting into the people of the God who is “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”? I would say not. So, when it comes to considering what we say about Islam, it all turns upon what Islam says about the people of God, the Jews. Muhammad did not proclaim a worship of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He merely claimed that his revelation was the successor of previous ones and that those previous understandings of the covenants God made were mistaken and misquoted in the bible. Muhammad taught that Jews and Christians have corrupted the revelation of God and that is how Islam takes their place. But in reality, Muhammad only proclaimed the god of “Abraham, Ishmael, and Muhammad.”
Thus, having broken the core declaration of faith in this God vs. any other god, Muslims don’t worship the same God as Jews and Christians. “Allah” is just a generic name for “god” in the local languages. Christians in that part of the world use the word “Allah” for worshiping our God. But don’t let that confuse you. They are using it differently from the Muslims. There is an essential difference in that the Christians preserve the core meaning I have just related. Even more fundamental to our faith in Jesus as the Son of God and in the Trinity is our fidelity to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Some Christians may object to this seeming reduction in status of Jesus as if he were not central to the faith. I don’t think that is what I am doing. At least not for modern Jews who reject the Trinity. It was the contemporaries of Jesus who, when rejecting him, were cut off from the people as he was the prophet leader foretold who would act like Moses and render this judgment.
Acts 3:22-23 “For Moses said: ‘A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen in all that he may say to you. Everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be cut off from the people.”
But other verses clarify that it was because such unbelievers had seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his words of interpretation. Thus they had no excuse. The same is true of the miracle-working Apostles and their words of explanation.
John 14:9-14 “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.’ ”
John 15:20-27 “Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me also hates my Father. If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
So, contemporary Jews had no excuse. But neither of these statements about Jesus’ testimony and power, and the Apostles testimony and power apply to modern Jews. Thus they are not cut off, and they are not faulted (to the same extent) for living the “old covenant.” In other words, the Catholic Church gives modern Jews and Judaism some slack. They should still accept Jesus as their Messiah, but they might not know this is what God wants.
Now, some protestants take these scriptural verses and apply them to modern Jews. In this case the only valid argument is to say that modern Jews do not worship the same God as Christians. But I would not go that far. The Jewish religion wasn’t always so confused.
But Islam has always been confused on every point I have made about the identity of God. At some point we have to draw the line–as God did with all the other supreme deities of the ancient world–and take the position that a concept / identity / entity cannot be emptied of an arbitrarily great amount of content and still be merely “confused.” At some point it becomes “other.” Read that passage from Exodus again.
Exodus 3:13-15. “But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you. God spoke further to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.”
Islam is so confused that its followers have never and do not currently worship the same God.