Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? This question might seem rather silly to any Christian. Of course we do. The God of the “Old Testament” (or better put, the “Hebrew Scriptures”) is the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Well, that of course is the Christian interpretation. Were I a Jew I would have a few questions.
In Jewish theology there is no room for a Trinity of Divine Persons. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One” (Deut. 6:4), is the key creedal prayer of Judaism and is known from its Hebrew first words as the Schema Yisrael. It is the center prayer of both the Morning and Evening Prayer in the Synagogue (equivalent to our daily offices of the same name or sometimes called Lauds and Vespers). It is the prayer Jewish children are taught to say before bed and it is the final prayer on the lips of a devout Jew as she or he surrenders their soul to God. So while Judaism does speak of the Word of God and of the Breath (Spirit) of God, there is no room to give them a personality unique from the Creator.
And that is another difference. In the Hebrew Scriptures while God is sometimes referred to as the Father of Israel, a devout Jew never assumes any familiarity with him in the way Jesus did (remember, they wanted to kill him for “making God his Father”) or has taught us to do. God is King. Master of the Universe. Lord. Creator. He is not Jesus’s Father or any other individual’s Father. It is the supreme lèse majesté to address God with such familiarity and in Jesus day it was even worse—it was blasphemy.
Nor in Judaism is it possible for there to be any sort of Incarnation of the Divine Person assuming a human nature. The Incarnation is the rabbinic equivalent of a square circle, essentially self-contradictory. God is God and humans are human. There is an essential difference between Creator and creature that cannot be breeched.
In the 80’s, about fifty years after the Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Rabbis inserted into the daily prayers known as the Eighteen Benedictions, a “blessing” (actually a curse) on the minim—the heretics or apostates. While not explicitly identifying Christians as those placed under this “blessing,” historians agree that they were among the various groups the Rabbis were trying to separate out from the synagogues for their “unorthodox” beliefs.
Given this history it is surprising that most Rabbis acknowledge that Christians and Jews worship the same God. It would seem even to me that Christianity had so changed the understanding of God from our roots in Judaism that we had in effect “morphed” the God of Israel into a very different Deity. I suspect that some of the ultra Orthodox (and I mean ultra as in the Hasidim) might think this but they keep themselves so isolated even from other Jews that if they do it remains unspoken in inter-faith circles. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews express no problem that despite the doctrinal issues relating to Jesus we do in fact worship the same God.
Now to the point: I am not writing about Jews and Christians at all but rather Christians and Muslims. It is much more clear that Jews and Muslims worship the same God and if they do then Christians and Muslims obviously worship the same God.
The name “Allah” is the Arabic for “The God” (literaly al ilah) to distinguish Allah from the lesser deities worshiped among the Arab people before Mohamed. Allah is not unique to Islam but was used to speak of God by Arab Christians both before and after the rise of Islam. Christians, including Catholics, who speak Arabic, even today refer to God as “Allah.”
The Name “Allah” finds its cognates in other languages spoken by the ancient peoples of the Bible. When speaking Aramaic, his native language, Jesus would refer to God as Elah—a Name very closely related to Allah. The Canaanite Name for God, El, was borrowed by several of the authors of the Old Testament. In Hebrew God is called Elohim. These Names are all closely related to the Arabic Name of God, Allah.
When Mohamed devised his new religion of Islam he rooted it Judaism and Christianity. As a young man driving camel caravans for his uncle, a merchant, across Arabia to the markets along the Mediterranean coast in what is today Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, he was familiar with both religions. Moreover, it seems that for several months he lived with a Christian monk who taught him to read and write. This monk apparently was not Orthodox but belonged to the Nestorian tradition. The Nestorians believed that in Jesus God did not truly become human but sort of wore a human body to mask his Divinity. It gave the young Mohammed a skewed understanding of Christianity and its beliefs, but he always maintained—and wrote into the Quran—a deep respect for Christian monks and priests.
His exposure to Judaism and Christianity led him to the idea that God had first revealed himself to Abraham but over the centuries the Jews had changed the revelation and strayed from the Truth. So God sent Jesus to be his prophet and set people right but again, over the centuries Christians moved away from the Truth, “exaggerating” Christ into a Divine Person. In the end Mohammed felt that he was the final prophet who came once and for all with a Revelation that would not be corrupted.
As a consequence of his exposure to Christianity Jesus and Mary play a significant role in the Quran. The Quran teaches that Mary was and remained a virgin through the conception and birth of Jesus. Muslims have a great respect for the Virgin Mary. I remember being in a procession in honor of Our Lady in Trapani in Sicily about 20 years ago. While the participants were all Catholics, it was mainly Muslims who lined the streets respectfully to watch Our Lady’s statue being carried by.
There are those who want to tell us that the “Muslim god” is a false god, an idol. But in fact they know neither their history nor their theology. Yes there is a significant difference in how we understand God but there is an equivalent difference in how we and Jews understand God. Whatever divides us one from another is the work of the Evil One and the sort of bias that slams the door of authentic commonality between Christianity and Islam is from Satan and not from God.