One of the common sentiments held by many today is that the Abrahamic religions acknowledge and fundamentally believe in the same God - that whatever differences there are within each of those religions can easily be syncretized. Is this popular belief reasonable? Is it true?
Before we do anything else, let’s first take a brief detour and establish some critical guidelines. If we’re going to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, we must first understand one of the most important rules of logic - the Law of Noncontradiction. This law states that for any truth x, there cannot be any other truth of not-x at the same time, place or context. For example, suppose we meet a woman at a party. In getting to know her, we ask if she has any children, and she answers, ‘no,’ and we hear the same woman two minutes later tell someone else that she has three children, the logical conclusion is that the woman is either lying or just hit her head somewhere. She cannot have three children and also not have any children. The Law of Noncontradiction is one of the fundamental rules of logic without which no one could say anything meaningful about the nature of reality. What this means is that to be correct in saying that the Abrahamic religions reveal the same God, we must conclude that they ALL share the essential facts surrounding the very nature and essence of that God. At the very least, if any two of them do not share these basic facts, then we cannot reasonably conclude that the Abrahamic religions believe in the same God.According to Aristotle, without the law of noncontradiction we could not know anything that we do know Click To Tweet
The Law of Noncontradiction is one of the fundamental rules of logic without which no one could say anything meaningful about the nature of reality. What this means is that to be correct in saying that the Abrahamic religions reveal the same God, we must conclude that they ALL share the essential facts surrounding the very nature and essence of that God. At the very least, if any two of them do not share these basic facts, then we cannot reasonably conclude that the Abrahamic religions believe in the same God.
Abrahamic religions are religions that, at their core, give a prominent paternal role to the Hebrew patriarch, Abraham. As to what kind of role Abraham played in the development of each religion, that is not designated by the label. 'Abrahamic' is only significant in identifying that Abraham was a patriarch, not how he was a patriarch. The major Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There are also minor Abrahamic religious traditions, such as Samaritanism, Druze, Rastafari, Yazidi, Babism and the Bahá'í Faith.
It would take too long to consider all the minor Abrahamic religions and since it may not ultimately matter, we’re only going to look at the major Abrahamic faiths. For our intents and purposes, we need to evaluate whether Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reveal, teach and believe in the same God.
Since Judaism is the earliest of these religions and Christianity second, let’s section off those two and evaluate them first. Judaism and Christianity share many doctrines. Since the Christian creeds admit this similarity, there isn’t much friction of particular beliefs when it comes to those commonalities. Many of the sacred texts of Christianity, the books included in the Old Testament (OT) canon, are also part of the sacred texts of Judaism.
With that said, there are also differences in the hermeneutics of the OT text over which Jewish and Christian theologians will vehemently debate. Those debates are not trivial, and a debate usually implies a friction of some sort - that we cannot easily harmonize at least some specifics. The debates point to the fact that the two sides have different views. The law of non-contradiction is the catalyst for the debate because during a debate the sides involved have views that are at odds with one another. As such, x can be true or false. x cannot both be true and false at the same time.
Apart from the debates over hermeneutics, we also see an enormous gap in the two belief systems, namely the life, miracles, death, burial of Jesus of Nazareth and claims of his resurrection from the dead. Jews who maintained their Judaism reject that Jesus came back from the dead. The earliest Jewish explanation of the empty tomb was that the disciples had snuck in during the night and stolen his body from his tomb (Matthew 28:11-15). Conversely, the disciples said they did no such thing. The actions of the disciples after the resurrection are compelling. Before the resurrection, the disciples were dejected. Their beloved teacher was dead. After the resurrection, they all appear to have a newfound confidence that makes absolutely no sense if they had indeed stolen Jesus’ body and pretended Jesus had come back to life. Most of the disciples underwent extreme persecution, and some were put to death merely for their insistence that Jesus had come back to life. Liars make poor martyrs. It would seem to stretch credulity for the disciples to have concocted a story for which they would be willing to undergo such immense suffering and martyrdom.
Because of this and many other reasons, Christians have held through the ages that Jesus is God incarnate, the Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world. Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah and in fact, are still awaiting that Messiah. The Jewish conception of God is Unitarian - God is one in essence and person. Biblical Christianity is devoutly Trinitarian - God is one in essence, three in persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). This view is where some of those hermeneutical debates would arise with Christians maintaining that the OT makes it clear that the God of the OT is also Trinitarian. But we won’t go into that here. It’s enough to point out the differences. There are many other differences one could mention, but the point should be clear - can Jesus be that Messiah and not be that Messiah? Can God be a Unitarian God and also a Trinitarian God? The law of non-contradiction does not allow those possibilities.
At this point, it should be clear that the Abrahamic religions do NOT believe in the same God because the truth essential to at least two of them are contradictory. And so, they cannot both be true. Whatever examination we continue at this point is all gravy, but let’s get the gravy anyway.
Islam began in the early 600s when Muhammad is claimed to have started receiving divine revelations. What was Muhammad’s conception of God? He grossly misunderstood the Christian trinity, and he revealed a Unitarian God instead (more on this later). He rejected the ancient name of God as “Jehovah” and replaced it with “Allah” (Allah is the Arabic word for God, so the word Allah was not always used to refer to the god of Islam; after Muhammad however, it almost always is).
In the Qur’an, Muhammad claimed that this Unitarian Allah was the one doing the creating (Surahs 32.4, 10.3, 25.61-62, 55.1-7, 2.29, 59.24, 50.38, 41.9-12). The Christian view of creation is that the Trinity was responsible for creation (Colossians 1:16, John 1:3, Gen. 1:2, Psalm 33:6). Additionally, the beginning of John’s gospel leaves no wiggle room for possible vagueness. Referring to Jesus as “the Word” (λόγος - Greek “Logos” meaning divine reason), John wrote,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-5, 14)
The "Word" or the "Son" who made the world also made His dwelling among us; this is the doctrine of the incarnation of God as a human being. Jesus is presented as fully man and fully God. He is known to have divested himself of his attributes as God to become a man. The central theme of Christianity is that Jesus atoned for the sins of humanity. The central theme in Islam is obedience to Allah, which may eventually lead to heaven. In Christianity, obedience waivers and obedience alone does NOT lead to heaven. One’s belief and trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and confession of his lordship is what ultimately leads to heaven.
Islam has an overarching term describing Allah - tawhid - absolute and indivisible unity, (Surah 112.1) and if you assign “partners” to God, then you are committing the unforgivable sin of “shirk” (Surah 5.73, 4.171, 5.116, 4.48, 30.31). As such, Muslims do not think that the Abrahamic religions believe in the same God and rightfully so.
Muhammad inaccurately thought that what Christians were claiming was that Jesus was the biological son of God (walad) instead of understanding it correctly as the metaphysical functional personal relationship that exists in the Godhead (more appropriately referred to as ibn). This misunderstanding led Muhammad to deny Jesus as God and demoted Christ to a mere prophet. In Christianity, Jesus is God incarnate. In Islam, Jesus is just a prophet and certainly not God. Now, Jesus can be both God and prophet. But he cannot be both God and not be God. Muhammad wrote that Jesus was never even crucified let alone resurrected. Christians state that Jesus was crucified and did come back to life on the third day. Even non-Christian historical sources (Tacitus, Lucian, Pliny, Thallus, Phlegm, Josephus, Trajan, Macrobius, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Juvenal, Seneca, and Hierocles) tell us that this man called Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and that his disciples claimed he came back to life. Either Jesus was crucified, or he wasn’t. Jesus cannot both have been crucified and not crucified. The Bible is clear that Jesus was resurrected. The Qur’an rejects it.
Even if these were the only aspects of Christianity and Islam that were different from each other, we’d need to reasonably conclude that Christianity and Islam do NOT believe in the same God. But there are many more beliefs that differ immensely, including God’s love, personhood, original sin, God’s emotions, the manner of salvation, assurance of salvation, the agency of salvation, the authority of the Scriptures, and more.
It’s clear that although the various Abrahamic religions may lay claim to the same historical figure as the roots of their patriarchy, the specific claims of each religion are entirely different and mutually exclusive. The law of non-contradiction dictates, even on the most restrained view of the facts, helps us see that the Abrahamic faiths could not possibly be referring to the same God.
Photo Credit: "The Sacrifice of Isaac Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, Venice 1727–1804 Venice).jpg", © 2013 Jorge Elías, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.