walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: December 14, 2011
Do The Three Abrahamic Faiths Worship The Same God?

It has become common now to speak of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as constituting three forms of “Abrahamic faith”. I have not been able to nail down just when this term was first used. (To use another term of current interfaith politeness, this may be due to the fact that my Internet skills should properly be dated BCE—“before the common era”.) I have the impression that it came to be widely used in America in the wake of 9/11, with the altogether admirable intention of countering anti-Islamic hatred. In that it is similar to the term “Judaeo-Christian”, which originated around the 1950s with the similarly admirable intention of countering anti-Semitism. In 1955 Will Herberg published an influential book, Protestant-Catholic-Jew, in which he argued, among other things, that these three faiths now constituted a common foundation of the American creed. Even then this left out a lot of people—for example, the millions of Americans belonging to Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. The notion that “Abrahamic faith” now undergirds the political ideology of the United States naturally annoys American Hindus and Buddhists, not to mention agnostics, atheists and adherents of more exotic religions (how about Wiccans?!). But there has also been opposition to the usage within the three alleged religious cousins.

There was both Christian and Jewish resistance to the earlier term. Scholars from both communities criticized the term as substituting a fuzzy commonality for the sharp differences between the two faiths. But this criticism was somewhat muted, not only because just about all these scholars approved of the purpose of interfaith amity, but also because the continuity between Judaism and Christianity is hard to deny. After all, the most conservative Catholic or Protestant cannot overlook the fact that the Hebrew Bible is part of the canonical Christian Scriptures. (Indeed, in terms of sheer bulk, the New Testament looks like an appendix to the Old.) And the most Orthodox Jew cannot ignore the fact that Jesus was himself a Jew and that the earliest Christians constituted a movement (however heretical) within first-century Judaism. The Muslim case is not the same. The way in which the Koran interprets Judaism and Christianity is hardly compatible with the self-understanding of these religions. Even the most liberal Christians, who might approve the recitation of Muslim prayers at some ecumenical events, are unlikely to advocate the inclusion of the Koran in the Biblical canon. But some Muslims have not been happy either. An interesting development occurred in Malaysia in 2010. An Islamic group asked the state to forbid Christians to use the name “Allah” both in Malay translations of the Bible and in church worship. The contention was that the name “Allah” properly refers to the God proclaimed by the Prophet Muhammad, and to no one else. The High Court rejected this request. There were anti-Christian riots to protest this decision and some people were killed during attacks on churches.

On November 29, 2011, The Christian Century carried a story about an event that occurred earlier in the month at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a widely respected Evangelical center in the Boston area. Miroslav Volf gave a lecture there, evidently provoking a lively debate. Volf is a very learned and much published Protestant theologian of Croatian origin. I think he can fairly be described as an open-minded, moderate Evangelical. He used to teach for a while at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, one of the centers of the current revival of Evangelical theology; he is now a professor at the Yale Divinity School. His book Allah: A Christian Response was recently published. Its central thesis was reiterated in the lecture at Gordon-Conwell:  Yes, one can say that Christians and Muslims believe in the “same God”. There are enough common affirmations to justify this—most importantly, of course, the belief that there is only one God (what the late Richard Niebuhr, coincidentally another Yale Divinity professor, called “radical monotheism”)—but also the belief in a personal creator distinct from the creation, and the giver of a moral code. Volf said that his position was one of “political theology”, rather than a statement of what is required for salvation. I understand this to mean that Christians, without giving up their faith in the unique salvation provided through Jesus Christ, have enough in common with Muslims to collaborate in seeking justice and a better society. The audience at Volf’s lecture was divided. He was warmly received, and some agreed with him. The opposition was succinctly summarized by a seminary student: “At stake is the gospel. If you are saying to a Muslim, ‘See, there is common ground between us, and then there shall be peace’, essentially you have nullified the need for the gospel”.

How one comes out on this will obviously depend on one’s own theological position. Both Christian and Jewish conservatives are likely to be at least uncomfortable with the notion that theirs is an “Abrahamic faith”. [Full disclosure: As a theologically liberal Lutheran, I have no problem with the term.] But I think that one can temporarily bracket one’s understanding of one’s own faith, and look at the issue objectively—that is, truth claims set aside, trying to assess descriptively what the three religions do and what they do not have in common. If one does that, I further think that both those who say no to the idea of “Abrahamic faith” and those who say yes are right in a way.

Say no: Both Christianity and rabbinical Judaism developed side by side in the early years of the common era. (The Pharisees got bad press in the New Testament, but many historians think that both of the above two developments grew out of a Pharisee tradition, of which Rabbi Hillel was one of the founders.) But they divided sharply early on. The New Testament (in Acts 15) reports on a meeting of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem, attended by both the Apostles Peter and Paul, who together convinced the assembly that Gentile converts need not be circumcised or follow the full Jewish law. Whatever may have been intended by the two Apostles, this decision marks the emergence of Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism. The rabbis reciprocated. At the probably mythical Council of Yavne, the “Nazarenes” (still the term used for Christians in modern Hebrew) were formally cursed and expelled from the Jewish community. (There probably was no single “council”. Yavne was where the Sanhedrin relocated after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Its rabbinical school made a number of important decisions over several years, including the fixation of the canon of the Hebrew Bible.) Rabbinical Judaism never rescinded the excommunication. The history of Jews under the rule of Christians hardly encouraged the notion that the two worshipped the same God! In recent times some Christian theologians have emphasized the Jewish roots of Christianity (for example, in the assertion that God’s covenant with Israel has not been “superseded” by the new covenant with Christ’s church). And some Jewish scholars have taken a more benign view of Jesus. But the problem of Christology, summed up in Jesus’ question to his first disciples “And who do you say that I am?”, cannot be wished away by either side.

If the notion of Christians and Jews sharing a common Abrahamic faith is problematic, that of Muslims joining in as number three is more so. The most solemn affirmation of Muslim faith, the shehada, says that “There is no God but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his prophet.” A very liberal Christian might even pronounce this formula, as long as he mentally puts an indefinite article before the word “prophet”—a prophet, rather than the prophet. But such an act of interfaith concession would violate a central Islamic doctrine—that while there were prophets before Muhammad—notably Abraham, Moses and Jesus—he is “the seal of prophecy”, its final culmination. For Islam, both Judaism and Christianity, as they developed, distorted the message of these earlier prophets. Needless to say, this compliment was returned by those who have interpreted Islam as a distortion of Christianity. (Incidentally, the aforementioned liberal Christian had better be careful. In at least one version of Islamic law, there is the provision  that anyone who, whatever his intention, pronounces the shehada before witnesses, thereby becomes a Muslim. If he later changes his mind, he will be guilty of apostasy, for which the penalty is death.)

So yes, there are very distinctive differences between the three traditions. But so there are within each. Do Catholics and Protestants share a common faith? Do Sunnis and Shiah? And what about Reform and Orthodox Jews? If one looks more closely at any collective category, its alleged essence can quite easily be deconstructed, and not only when it comes to religion. Are there such creatures as “musicians”? Or “Americans”? Or, for that matter, “human beings”?  Sometimes it is a good idea to step back and look at the imputed collectivity from afar. It may help to look at the three “Abrahamic” faiths from, say, Benares, one of the most holy cities of Hinduism and near which the Buddha preached his first sermon. Looked at from that far location, the family resemblance between the three versions suddenly appears quite clearly. Hindus and Buddhists sometimes speak of “West Asian religion”, in contrast with their own “South Asian” or “East Asian” religion. It then seems just about inevitable to say that Jews, Christians and Muslims, whatever their differences, do indeed worship the same God.

To be sure, there are similarities between Benares and Jerusalem as well. There are Hindu versions of theism, with intense devotions to personal deities (bhakti), but there is no real analogue to the monotheism that originated in the deserts of the Near East. In Vedanta, arguably the most sophisticated form of Hinduism, the ultimate reality is the brahman, the impersonal ocean of divinity in which all individual identities eventually dissolve. There are theistic elements in Mahayana Buddhism, with devotion directed toward godlike boddhisatvas—individuals who have attained Enlightenment, but who, out of compassion, delay their entry into the final bliss in order to help others to get there. But that bliss too ends in that impersonal ocean of divinity that seems for many centuries to have dominated the religious imagination of India, from where it migrated eastward. One can find almost anything in a religious history that is over three thousand years old. But, once one has encountered the high points of this history, some in ancient texts but some still very much alive today, one will find the notion of Abrahamic faiths very plausible indeed. From a sophisticated Buddhist points of view, these faiths are at best forms of upaya—a Sanskrit term usually translated as “expedient means”—that is, illusions useful as crutches on the path to Enlightenment for those not yet ready for the truth. Tolerant Christians (like the Jesuit missionaries who first came to China and Japan) have reversed the patronizing concept by looking on some aspects of Buddhism as errors that may yet serve as praeparatio Evangelii—if you will, upaya stood on its head.

I have long argued that the dialogue between Jerusalem and Benares is an important task for Christian theology. It seems to me, though, that between those who say no and those who say yes to the idea of Abrahamic faiths, the latter have the better case. But this is not to reject Volf’s view that there is enough common ground between these faiths to make possible political collaboration for morally desirable ends. But there is also common ground, I think, between morally decent people of all faiths or no faith. That common ground is humanity. Jews, Christians and Muslims, the children of Abraham, believe that this humanity is part of the creation by the one God whom they worship.

show comments
  • Jbird

    As a conservative Christian, I’m not sure why I should have difficulty with the concept of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam being 3 Abrahamic faiths as the article intimates. All 3 faiths have many points in common, most obviously Abraham himself, and have some similar concepts concerning God the Father. This can be freely acknowledged while also acknowledging that without the affirmation of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, just believing there is a God isn’t enough to save. As James 2:19 says (a little out of context), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

    The greater point of the article is correct, however. There is no reason why Jew, Muslim, and Christian should not be able to work and live in harmony together other than people no matter their creed, ethnicity, race, or language have been unable to live together peacefully for any length of time since we were kicked out of the Garden. Religion creates an easy flashpoint, for which we religious receive an appropriate amount of oppobrium from neo-atheists; but as a fallen race, we’d find something else to quarrel about if we needed to.

  • Sterling

    ‘There is no reason why Jew, Muslim, and Christian should not be able to work and live in harmony together”

    Other than the fact that it is completely against our nature to do so…

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the Tower of Babel?

  • Matt Kantrowitz

    My God is Jesus Christ.I respect my Jewish and Muslim friends, but we all know that they don’t worship Jesus. Hence, the idea that “we all worship the same God” is nonsense.

  • Leonard

    Excellent post. I understand that Islam mistakenly considers the trinity 1) God the father, Jesus the son and Mary. Could this be a reason for misinterpretation and dissent from the gospel message as one potentially blasphemous to muslims? A pastor once told us during his trip to Israel he saw the wailing wall and asked what the women were praying for. The guide responded that they were pleading that the messiah arrive quickly. Above he saw a mosque with an inscription in Arab and asked what had been written. He was told the inscription read, “God has no son.” Any wonder the three religions cannot be reconciled?

  • Walter Sobchak

    Whether the 3 faiths worship the same God is a difficult question that can be analyzed on many levels. Below is a exposition of an analysis that holds there to be a deep gap between the ideas of God in Judaism and Christianity, on one hand, and Islam, on the other.

    “… In the normative Muslim view of things, Allah personally and immediately directs the motion of every molecule by his ineffable and incomprehensible will, … directly and without the mediation of natural law. [12th Century Muslim Theologian Abu Hamid] Al-Ghazali abolished intermediate causes, that is, laws of nature, leaving great and small events to the caprice of the absolute tyrant of the universe. …

    “What is it that unites [Christians and Jews], but divides all of them from Muslims? It is the Biblical belief that God loves his creatures. … That is a dogmatic assertion on the strength of Biblical revelation, not a logical conclusion. A loving God, in the Biblical view, places man in a world that he can comprehend, which is to say that God establishes order in the universe out of love for humankind.

    “The Jewish (and later Christian) alternative to pagan social order is the Covenant: God in his love assigns rights to every human being, and establishes laws for the protection of the weak and helpless. Covenant is a concept alien to Islam, for by definition a God of covenants places a limit on his own power and enters into a partnership with a human society. The all-transcendent Allah does not stoop to make covenants with mere humans; not so YHWH of the Hebrews. …

    “Pagan society worships itself, its blood and its land. Jews and Christians worship a God who cannot be like them, for their God is perfect and incapable of doing evil. … God thus is wholly other, for we are imperfect: frail, mortal, and prone to sin. God does nothing without a reason, and his reasons always are good, even if they remain beyond our understanding. Not so Allah, who is beyond good and evil. His cosmic caprice determines everything, and who if he so wishes can make us commit acts of evil, even the ultimate evil of idolatry. For all his supposed absolute transcendence, Allah is rather more like us.”

    “The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis” by Robert R Reilly, Book Review by Spengler (a/k/a David P Goldman)

  • Mietopol

    Diligent study of the Scripture is necessary to make this kind of statement As much as Torah and the Bible Are truly inspired texts presenting The same Holy Omnipotent God who created all things and established order according to his divine pleasure Koran is clear contradiction of this order and since God is not the author of confusion but the giver of sound mind and God cannot contradict himself i must strongly reject the notion of three Abrahamic faiths .And to reinforce my rejection i will say this The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob said “Thou shalt not kill”and the imposter Allah said “kill unbelievers wherever you find them”can both commandments be issued by the same God. You may answer this question in the privacy of Your heart But i know who God is and i dont need PHD in theology to recognize the fake one.

  • Abdullah

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

    Firstly, yes we Muslims, Christians, Jews can work and live in peace together. As in the Quran “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion. (6)” [Quran, 109] and “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (256)” [Quran, 2].

    One of the comments indicates that Allah said kill unbelievers. This is wrong to TRUNCATE part of the verse from its general context, because it is in the case of defense. Another comment about God loving human beings, this is correct, but God has a wisdom so when a human being face a problem in his life it is a test from God. God created good and evil so one can choose his way and rewarded accordingly.

    Islam is a continuation of the undistorted messages of Abraham, Moses and Jesus the Christ.Did Adam, Abraham, Moses or Jesus worship Jesus or did they worship the One God?

    I conclude with this verse “Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (64) O People of the Scripture! Why will ye argue about Abraham, when the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed till after him? Have ye then no sense? (65) Lo! ye are those who argue about that whereof ye have some knowledge: Why then argue ye concerning that whereof ye have no knowledge? Allah knoweth. Ye know not. (66) Abraham was not a Jew, nor yet a Christian; but he was an upright man who had surrendered (to Allah), and he was not of the idolaters. (67) Lo! those of mankind who have the best claim to Abraham are those who followed him, and this Prophet and those who believe (with him); and Allah is the Protecting Guardian of the believers. (68)” [Quran, 3].

  • Randy

    A decent post except for the fact that the Trinity isn’t mentioned. Hard to ignore the notion that it was deliberately avoided at the end of the fifth paragraph.

  • John Barker

    There have been many versions of Christianity over the centuries; I am waiting to receive the upcoming Oxford commentary on the New Testament by Jewish scholars to get a better understanding of the Jewish roots of the faith.

  • senoy

    It’s a semantic argument. If God is defined as ‘omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe who is said to have revealed himself to Abraham, Noah, David, etc.’ then yes, we all worship a god fitting that description. If we define God as ‘a being with one ousia and three hypostases that manifested as a being both fully man and fully divine and ultimately sacrificed himself for the sins of humanity.’ then I don’t think that all three faiths worship that god. Ultimately, the three faiths have different conceptions of God with some commonality and shared roots. To turn it into a taxonomy discussion, a lion and a tiger both probably descend from a common root, Panthera schaubi and they certainly hold many features in common and they look a lot more like each other than they look like a camel or an elephant. At various times they have even been referred to by the same name. They are not however the same beast. In a similar way, Allah, Jehovah and Yahweh (and possibly the Mormon conception of God for a fourth Abrahamic faith?) may share a common ancestry and may share characteristics and may appear a lot more like each other than they do like god-figures in other religions and may even share the same name from time to time. This does not make them the same entity.

  • Thomas Wicklund

    An excellent post!

    The concept of “three Abrahamic faiths” has existed for a long time. Islam explicitly recognizes this in the “People of the Book” who are to be given respect and allowed to live under their own faith. It is primarily since 9/11 that Islam has been vilified as a religion of violence, and I’ve found that the books arguing the evils of Islam have without exception publication dates of 2002 or later.

    Any attempt to deal with the differences between human beliefs, whether in religion, politics, or other fields, is controlled by the approach taken. Emphasize the commonality between beliefs and a constructive dialogue results. Emphasize differences and distortions and an “us and them” situation results. The 9/11 attacks have provided ammunition for extremists on both sides, as has the conflict between Israel (Jewish) and Arabs (Muslim and Christian). In the end, the actual conflicts are about something else, whether land, money, power, or culture. None of today’s “religious wars” is about an abstract theological concept, there is always a worldly cause.

    In the late 1980s I attended a series of lectures by a Rabbi about the Synoptic Gospels. His favorite technique was to compare the gospel version of a “Christian” statement with various Old Testament or Talmudic references. He would then frequently take the concept (e.g. love your neighbor) and tell his congregation “you say this here in your morning prayers”. The emphasis was the commonality among the three Abrahamic faiths while acknowledging their differences.

    The truth is that one can prove any viewpoint using scripture. The Quran can be used to justify violence against non-Muslims, as the Old Testament can be used to argue that non-Jews must be killed or driven out of the Promised Land, or the New Testament violence against Jews. Those who focus on those passages live a religion of violence. Focus instead on the primary message of each holy book and we can live together peacefully.

  • Jbird

    Mr. Wicklund: I trace my family tree back to Charles the Hammer, so I would move your date back a bit on when the “vilification” of Islam began, justified or not.

  • Fred

    Thomas Wicklund,

    Actually, while the New Testament has been used to justify killing Jews, a careful reading of the texts dispenses that argument rather quickly. Jesus himself said as he died on the cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The frequent mention in the Gospels about loving one’s enemies and forgiving seventy times seven times etc. also militate against any interpretation that would justify anti-semetism, much less violence against Jews. If Jesus forgave them, how can we justify killing them in His name? Besides, the Jewish Sanhedrin reacted to Jesus the way any human power structure tends to react to threats to its power. There’s nothing specifically Jewish about that. And the Jewish mob was an easily led collective moron just like any human mob. Again, nothing specifically Jewish about that.

  • New Class Traitor

    The writer’s bringing up Buddhism and Hinduism reminds me of something.
    Whenever I need to explain the difference between Christianity and Judaism to Hindus, I tell them “their faith has one G-d with three avatars, and mine just one, full stop”.
    It is funny that the concept of the Trinity is instantly comprehensible to a “pagan” Hindu when explained (with some loss of accuracy) in their cultural reference frame, while virtually no “Abrahamic” Jew or Muslim can wrap his head around it.
    Finally, while theologically Jews and Muslims should have more common ground than Jews and Xians, in practice the opposite is true, for cultural reasons. Culture will trump even religious faith — something all too easily forgotten by professional theologians.

  • R.C.

    Thomas Wicklund,

    Adding to Fred’s comment, let me say that your assertion that Islam being viewed as a violent religion is a post-9/11 development is incorrect, because it is detached from history and from an understanding of the nature of historical Islam.

    Mohammed, as a Byzantine emperor once commented, introduced nothing new into monotheistic traditions except the notion of compelling conversion. Mohammed’s approach was a bit like that of an Arabian Shaka Zulu: Once his followers were numerous enough to constitute a powerful war band, he would assault travel routes until they became unsafe, then towns until they surrendered. Any who would not convert were killed or driven into hard oppression so that their numbers would dwindle over time into nothing and the Muslims would wind up with all their wealth.

    Islam followed that pattern for most of its recorded history. On occasion, when it was strategically convenient, they tolerated Jews or Christians in their midst, but always in such a way that the numbers and economic power of the minority was either dwindling, or rising only in a way that increased the economic power of the Muslim rulers even more.

    Thus the conquest of southern Spain and the tide turned back by Charles the Hammer. Thus the near-conquest of Vienna. This was the pattern as recently as the 18th and early 19th century, when the U.S. was forced to deal with the Barbary Pirates. For all their (not-ordered, papally-forbidden) depredations against innocent Jews and Byzantines (which included evil and barbaric acts I do not for a moment excuse), nevertheless, the crusaders were a response against an invading threat, and a disproportionate one in the sense of being insufficient.

    When in 1785 Thomas Jefferson and John Adams negotiated with the Pirates, here is what they learned: “It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”

    That is historical Islam.

    Then came the defeat of the pirates and the technological eclipsing of the Ottomans by Europe, which took the Ottomans entirely by surprise: Here, they thought, were these ignorant stinking northern barbarians, who, for all their success in manufacturing interesting mechanical trinkets and inventing interesting music, were clearly inferior because they lacked the True Religion of Mohammed. Suddenly they found the “barbarians” were far, far wealthier and more powerful than they; that their empire was itself a backwater; that the European trade ships were perfectly willing to bypass this backwater en route to Asia where the real economic opportunities were.

    The Muslim world found, to its horror, that something had gone wrong, and that they, not the infidels, were suddenly the inferiors. At first it merely looked as if world domination would be harder than expected. Then it started to look as if world domination wasn’t even a sure thing. Then it looked as if they could hope for parity with other empires. Then they found that other empires laughed at them as men laugh at a once great beauty who, long past her prime and showing bad wrinkles, is still trying to dress mutton as lamb and dine out on her looks.

    About the time the Muslim world realized that they, not the outsiders, had become the stinking barbarians with crude lifestyles, the stage was right for a movement to adopt modernity. Sadly, they adopted the wrong modernity, lurching first into experiments in nationalism, which divided them, and then into betting on the wrong horse (socialism) for “the economics of the future.” Oops.

    It was during that period, Mr. Wicklund, that they were temporarily unfaithful to the historically violent character of Islam. The reasons were obvious: They were too busy trying to learn technology and economics from the infidels, and didn’t want to scare the infidels off.

    So those of us outside Islam experienced a reprieve, a half-time break.

    9/11 merely showed us that the marching band had finished its show and the commercial break was concluded. The third quarter has just begun, and the Muslims scored an early touchdown.

    That is the historically informed view of Islam. It in no way denies the existence of peaceful Muslim neighbors in our communities, who have no desire to conquer, and whose jihad is limited to an internal struggle for personal righteousness. They exist.

    Of course they exist. Theological liberals exist in every group. They are to Islam what Shelby Spong is to Christianity, and if they were to encounter Mohammed suddenly standing armed among them, they would quickly be divided into two camps: Those who whined to him that their peace overtures to the infidels were merely intended to keep the infidels off-guard until their strength had grown, and those whose heads Mohammed cut off with a sword.

    As for the three Abrahamic faiths: Yes, monotheism is distinct and truer and better thus to be more respected than the traditions which lack it, even while we respect as fellow humans and brethren all the people we meet, of all traditions.

    Still, I put Judaism much closer to Christianity than Islam, if for no other reason then because Judaism at least does not require embracing a lie about the facts of the beginning of our common story. Islam holds that Ishmael, not Issac, was the child of the promise. This alteration was made by Mohammed because he lived among Arabs and as he wove for his own benefit a conqueror’s ideology from the easiest strands of Judaism and Christianity, he naturally wanted his followers to feel like insiders, not outsiders, in God’s plan. Likewise with other details where the Koran, a much later document, claims out-of-the-blue that the Christian and Jewish scriptures are in error about critical events. Mohammed as not just an anticipation of Shaka Zulu; he was the inheritor of the mantle of Marcion.

    Thus, while we respect all men, and while we hold “the Abrahamic faiths” in higher respect than the others, we should hold “the Judeo-Christian tradition” in still higher esteem.

  • andrea ostrov letania

    Athena rules.

  • Daniel Silliman

    Regarding the use of the phrase “Abrahamic faith”:

    Google has a corpus of published materials that is searchable for the usage of words and phrases, so one can track this kind of thing.

    A little searching shows that, in the singular, the phrase “Abrahamic faith” was actually more common in America in the 1820s, ’30s and ’90s than it has been at any time in the 20th or 21st centuries ( Examples of that earlier usage include *Mahometanism unveiled: An inquiry, in which that arch-heresy, its diffusion and continuance* by Charles Forster in 1829; in Alexander Campbell’s “Millennial Harbringer” in 1841; and “The Ladies Repository” in 1850.

    In the plural, “Abrahamic faiths,” the phrase enters usage in American writing in the 1980s, and increases pretty steadily after that ( There’s an increase after 2001, but it appears to have been fairly familiar in the 1990s. John Polkinghorne uses the phrase in his book “Science and Theology” in 1998 (by way of defending Buddhism, incidentally).

    The Islamic Study Group at AAR has organized panels with the phrase in the title at least as far back as ’85 and ’86. It would be possible to account for the increase in usage post-9/11 to an increase in interest, rather than a change in the language or any change in attitude.

    It doesn’t affect the main thrust of this blog, but this nails down the first uses of the phrase, and they’re not, actually, “interfaith politeness.”

  • G

    For me, this is a simple question. The answer is NO!….I see the obvious similarities between the Jewish and Christian conceptions of God, but Allah, is a “god” of a different sort. Just study what Allah “says” (which sounds a heck of a lot like what Mohammed believed), versus what the God of the Jews and Christians “says” in the Bible. Allah is all about conquest, force, stealing, murder, retribution, rape, pillage, subjugation of your neighbor, lying, deceit and the repression of women. This is most assuredly NOT the God of the Jews and Christians. Go to the following site to learn more about the vast differences between Judaism/Christianity and Islam.

    • Henry

      you are crazy :)

      Allah is the same god of Abraham, it’s just a different word, plz don’t be so stupid, go and read something from Quran

  • Federale

    Technically the Orthodox are in communion with Rome. The Orthodox Patriarchs attend upon the election of the Bishop of Rome. While they do not accept his supremacy, they recognize that he is first among equals.

  • Federale

    In any event, you are much too optomistic on the Islam front because you deny its real origin in paganism. Islam is the worship of the moon god al-Ilah. The crescent symbol, the worship of the asteroid at the Kabba. The Greek gods like impulsiveness of Mohammed. And the basic immorality of Islam. Abuse of orphans, abuse of women, hedonism allowed to men, etc. Islam is paganism through and through.

    You also misinterpret Buddhism. Buddhism is the attainment of nothingness. There is no heaven or hell in Buddhism, there is only the great wheel of birth and rebirth until one obtains nothingness. That is for the few, select few like some who come from Geneva. Obviously this did not go over well with the masses, so adjustments had to be made, resulting in boddhisatvas, the incorporation of various non-Indian pantheons as Buddhism expanded outside the Indian cultural orbit, etc.

    But Buddhism is much more compatible or provides a moral sense that Islam does not have. Like the great Greek philosophers, and perhaps some of the Chinese, Siddhartha is in the first circle of hell because they came close to knowledge of God. At least close to a Christian ethic of do unto others.

    But we know that there is nothing of the hate of Islam in Buddhism.

    As for Hinduism, at least they are not expansionary like Islam, but there is plenty of hate there. The basis of Hinduism is the caste system, much similar if not worse than the dhimmi system of Islam in its treatment of outcastes such as the untouchables and the tribals outside the system. Not to mention the hate cults in Hinduism like the Kali cult.

    Buddhism has a sense of the golden rule, of love, mercy, and other virtues. The Buddhist clergy have a sense of public service and doing right for all of society.

    There is little about that in either Islam or caste Hinduism. Both show their vunerability though in their violent opposition to Christianity and its message, even when Christianity is separated from its association with Western Civilization and modern international politics.

    High caste Hindus riot as often as Muslims when they hear the preaching of Christ, hear than one of their own has converted, or even if in the case of caste Hindus, a lower caste or untouchable has converted.

    • Henry

      you are crazy :)

      Allah is the same god of Abraham, it’s just a different word, plz don’t be so stupid, go and read something from Quran

  • Surya Dharma

    For those interested, here’s a link to a paper that addresses the primordial origin of the divine names of God. It argues that “all humanity shares in a legacy of knowing the Supreme Being and being able to designate him by appropriate names, which—from an Islamic point of view—reflect humankind’s inborn knowledge of God, bolstered by its remote association with the primeval legacy of universal prophecy.”
    One God, Many Names:

  • Fred

    G, I’m a Christian (Roman Catholic to be precise), but fair is fair. The God of the Old Testament is pretty brutal: Sodom and Gemorrah, Noah’s flood, the plagues against the Egyptians (especially the death of the firstborn children), various slaughters of the enemies of the Israelites, etc. One difference between us and Islam, of course, is that we no longer take those stories as guides to action. We read them symoblically/allegorically or, as Christians, believe the Gospel’s message of love and peace supercedes the violent “eye for an eye” law of the Old Testament. But let’s not pretend that there is no violence, even against innocent people, in the Bible.

  • sam

    actually, one name for god in the hebrew bible is elohim which if you cut of the plural ending (im) is “eloh.” it is obviously a cognate with allah. its the same god.

  • R.C.


    Etymology of words is insufficient for identification, because the meaning of the word may be changed over time. Your argument based on “Elohim” is equivalent to my saying, “That person in the hat just walked through a door marked ‘gentlemen'; therefore, he must have lands and title in feudal Europe.”

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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The word “Allah” simply means “The God” (emphasis on the article “The”, meaning one and only). Anyone who is familiar with Semitic languages understands the correlation with “El” and “Jahweh” as names of God, “al El Jah=Allah”. In Arabic translations of the New Testament, the word used for “God” is “Allah”.

    The relationship of Judaism and Arabic Islam is a belief in common descent from the same ancestor, Abraham, one through his son Isaac, and the other through his several other sons. Each religion believes it has preserved (or revived in the case of Islam) the true worship of the God who is the one worshipped by Abraham. The creation of Islam in a culture that was mostly pagan, worshipping idols, was seen as a repetition of Abraham’s own establishment of monotheism, the worship of the only true God, among his own pagan contemporaries.

    So if you are a believer in the reality of Abraham as ancestor to both Jews and Arabs, you believe that Abraham actually spoke with God, and that the God of Abraham is the real God of the earth. Even though you believe different things about the God of Abraham, you both believe He is the true God and Creator.

    Christians also believe that the God of Abraham is real, and is the Father God of Jesus, the Son of God. Christians believe Abraham worshipped the true God, and that it is the same God that Christians worship today. While they disagree with Jews and Muslims about the characteristics of Abraham’s God, they affirm that Abraham’s God is their God.

    So while each tradition can say that the description of Abraham’s God by the other religions is incorrect, they all agree that Abraham’s God IS God, and that they worship the same God who spoke to Abraham and established his covenant with Abraham.

    This is just like the fact that Mormons believe in the literal truth of the Old and New Testaments and that Jesus is the literal Son of God and only Savior of mankind, but teach Social Trinitarianism rather than a unity of substance of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mormons believe that the creedal claim that God lacks emotions conflicts with the plain words of the Bible (e.g. John 3:16). But there is no disputing that they are talking about the God and Christ who appear in the Gospels. Those who want to promote division emphasize the differences rather than the commonality of shared belief in all that the Bible teaches about God. Mormons insist that there is a real God, regardless of how men conceive of Him, and that this is the God both Mormons and other Christians strive to understand and to worship. The attempt by some Christians to claim that those who disagree with their own favorite description of God are somehow pagans actually imply that God does not exist outside a particular description of God. Mormons assert that God is who He is, regardless of how men try to describe Him. Since the fine points of theological definitions of God vary among denominations, to carry the exclusionist version of God to its logical conclusion means that certain Evangelicals are the sole people who worship God, and all other worship is of something else, which justifies their condemnation of all other human beings, past present and future, to hell. For Mormons, the description of a God who is unable and even unwilling to save more of His creation does not sound like the God who created all of us and was motivated by love to send his Son to offer an atonement for sins that can be infinite rather than arbitrarily constricted.

    So if your orientation is to send all other people to hell, you can take your constricted notion of God. If you believe that God is the God of the whole earth and all mankind, and loves all of his creation and wants to bring them all home to his embrace, if they are willing, then you can start with believing that the real, objective God is the God worshipped by Abraham, and is the same real objective God that all Muslims, Jews and Christians–including Mormon Christians–try to worship with our limited, mortal understanding. It is not God who is divided or lacking, but our human selves.

  • Muslim

    Ultimately everyone who calls on God (by whatever name) is worshipping Him, whatever name they call him in their culture. The problem is when people fall into worshipping the creation of God rather than God such as Christians do with Prophet Jesus or making partners equal to Him.

    Please read: One God, many names

  • Do we all agree Jesus is Allah?

    As a Christian my God is Jesus Christ.I respect my Jewish and Muslim (and Mormon)friends, but we all know that they don’t worship Jesus as God like we Christians do. Hence, the idea that “we all worship the same God” is nonsense.

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  • Mr.A

    Well I think that all of them are fabricated stories.No offense to anyone.Peace

  • http://google Darren

    Ive been a bible based Christian for 11 years,non church,as i was lead to the faith by a copy of the torah and 4 gospels psalms profits,it is in these scriptures alone that i hear the authentic voice of God and jesus,-paul and the letters are dead silent,so i regaurd them as commentary only.
    I have a moslem as our family doctor and he is as good as any doctor i have been under,and a very nice man,a man of God,-yes he looks at my cross tatto and silver cross a little annoyed,but besides that its just like seeing any doc.
    In Australia i can tell you the vast majority of people have no time for moses no time for jesus and no time for muhaamaad,-they quite rightly despise what they see all the evils of organised religions have cursed the world with horrors against fellow man,in the name of God.
    The world is doomed with out peace beetween the 3 faiths,
    Cheers from Oz.

  • Ononion

    I’m Jewish, and I’m with the guy who says that Christians worship Jesus, and Jews don’t.

    I respect my Christian friends a lot, but it’s against Judaism to believe that God has a body or a gender. No question that the Christian religion includes a God with both!

    “God the Father” isn’t much like the deity Jewish people worship.

    I’m also with the Christians who want to stick to the gospels. No offense, guys, but I don’t need your commentary on our culture’s Holy Book!

    Let’s have Christians be Christians and Jews be Jews, and get along even if we aren’t the same, eh? It’s the idea that we all have to be the same that’s at the root of the problem.

    Let go of the need to convert the unbelievers, and there will be peace.

  • RobertLaity

    allah is a false god and is NOT God of the Bible. God does not have two personalities. God’s precepts of love are NOT the same as those attributed to allah. God is love. allah is Hateful.

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