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If Muslims Worship a Different God, What About the Jews?

Monday, 1 February 2016  | Bernie Power


An ongoing controversy at Wheaton College in the USA has again raised the question about Christian and Islamic views of God. A Wheaton political science associate professor Dr Larycia Hawkins chose to wear a hijab during Advent in solidarity with Muslim women. She also claimed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and was placed under administrative leave as the College feels this may be inconsistent with Wheaton’s statement of faith.

I was speaking at a church about the different concepts of deity held by Muslims and Christians when a listener asked: ‘If Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians because they reject the Trinity and Jesus as the Son of God, then you have to apply the same logic to the Jews and conclude that they worship a different God as well.’ I thought this question was very perceptive.

My first point was that a religion’s view of God should primarily be drawn from its sacred revealed texts. So the Jewish view of God should be drawn from the Old Testament, the Christian view from the Old and New Testaments and the Muslim view from the Qur’an (and probably the Hadith).

A religion’s views should not be taken simply from the stated beliefs of its adherents: any follower of a religion may hold unorthodox views that differ from those found in its sacred texts. Many adherents draw their views about their deity from a variety of other sources such as their group’s traditions, or the sermons of a popular preacher or even from their own opinions. In our weekly evangelistic outreach on the streets of Melbourne, we meet people who hold views about God which bear little resemblance to those given in the sacred books they claim to follow.

The three revelations of the Old Testament, New Testament and the Qur’an come from different eras. The Old Testament was compiled first. It constantly looks forward to events in the future, particularly about a coming one. From Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1, and in almost 400 prophecies in between, there is an air of expectation about events yet to take place.

The Old Testament leaves the door open for future revelations about the nature and action of God. Some see a prefiguring of the Trinity or a more complex understanding of God in the Old Testament’s use of plural nouns such as ‘Elohim’ for God followed by singular verbs, and references to ‘we’ and ‘us’ in Genesis and Isaiah. In several passages, three divine personages can be discerned e.g. Isa.48:12-16, Isa.61:1,2 and Isa.63:8-10. The Spirit of God or Holy Spirit is referred to nearly 100 times. God is called ‘Father’ 25 times, and there are references to a kingly son. Some find pre-incarnate christophanies scattered throughout the Old Testament. At the very least it can be said that the Old Testament does not deny the concepts of the Trinity or the divine sonship of the Messiah. There is also an understanding of an atoning sacrifice for sins and a looking forward to a suffering servant.

The New Testament portrays itself as the fulfilment of all that the Old Testament has promised. What the Old Testament presents as coming, the New Testament depicts as having arrived. There are several thousand quotations, references and allusions to the Old Testament found throughout the New Testament. Almost every New Testament book quotes or alludes to Old Testament texts. Only a handful of Old Testament books are not quoted in the New Testament. The New Testament view of God is Trinitarian. God is referred to as ‘Father’ over 200 times. Jesus is called ‘the Son’ over 120 times. Many fulfilled prophecies about the divine sonship of the Messiah, his incarnation, life, actions, sayings, death, atonement, resurrection and ascension to glorious rule are cited. Over 300 references to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God are found. About 60 passages refer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit together.

Moreover, all the earliest followers of Jesus were Jews, as were all of the New Testament writers except Luke. They did not believe they were worshipping a different God, but the same God with a fuller vision of who He was. Based on their reading of the Old Testament and their experience with Jesus, they saw the continuation and fulfillment of the revelation of God. They believed the Old Testament’s unfolding view of God was completely consistent with the expanded New Testament view they now held.

Islam, however, is different. It came into being, according to Muslims, through Allah’s revelations to the Muslim prophet Muhammad from 610 to 632 AD. The Qur’an rejects the concepts of the Trinity and the divine sonship of Christ. Although it presents a badly misunderstood view of the Trinity, the Qur’an’s intent to deny it is clear. ‘Do not say ‘three’!’ it chides the Christians (Q.4:171). Those who say ‘Allah is the third of the three’ are labelled ‘disbelievers’ (Q.5:73). Likewise, ‘Allah does not have a son’ (Q.4:171) and the Christians who say ‘The Messiah is the son of Allah’ are cursed by Allah (Q.9:30). The ‘Holy Spirit’ mentioned four times in the Qur’an is seen as the angel Gabriel (Q.16:102). The death and resurrection of Christ and the atonement are also denied. The ‘people of the Book’ who do not accept what Muhammad revealed are ‘the worst of creatures’ and they ‘will abide in the fire of hell’ (Q.98:6). While the Old Testament can be seen as looking forward with expectation to the fuller potential revelation of God which appears in the New Testament, the Qur’an looks back on the completed reality of that revelation with wholesale rejection and repudiation.

The following table shows this pattern of Old Testament prediction, New Testament affirmation and Qur’anic denial of some key biblical understandings about the nature of God.

Old Testament

c.1200-400 BC

New Testament

0-33 AD

Qur’an

610-632 AD

Theme

Prediction

Confirmation

Denial

Trinity

? Prefigured

e.g. Isa.48:16

ü Affirmed

e.g. Mt.28:19,22

û Denied

e.g. Q.4:171

Fatherhood of God

? Prefigured

e.g. Dt.32:6

ü Affirmed

e.g. Mt.23:8

û Denied

e.g. Q.112:3

Divine sonship of Christ

? Prefigured

e.g. Dan.7:14

ü Affirmed

e.g. Jn.10:36

û Denied

e.g. Q.9:30

Divinity of the Holy Spirit

? Prefigured

e.g. Gen.1:3

ü Affirmed

e.g. 1.Cor.2:11

û Denied

e.g. Q.16:102

Death & resurrection

of the Messiah

? Prefigured

e.g. Isa.53:10-12

ü Affirmed

e.g. Mk.10:45

û Denied

e.g. Q.4:157

Atonement

? Prefigured

Isa.53:4,5

ü Affirmed

e.g. Mk.10:45

û Denied

e.g. Q.17:15

Of course, not all Jews of the 1st century accepted the New Testament understanding of God, just as most modern Jews do not accept it. Certainly no orthodox Muslim does so. There is, or at least should be, freedom of choice in religion.

Nor does simply learning about a religion convince a person to follow it. Many people read the Bible and do not decide to follow Jesus, just as many read the Qur’an and do not submit to Islam. People may reject a revelation for a variety of reasons, such as incorrect information, lack of conviction about its truth or relevance, family or social pressure to conform to tradition, or fear of persecution.

The rejection of the New Testament understanding of God by a Jewish person, ancient or modern, does not mean that it is inconsistent with the Old Testament revelation.

The Wheaton controversy has placed the differing views of God by held by Christians and Muslims in the limelight. However, it should not be allowed to drive an artificial wedge between Old Testament and New Testament revelations of God.


Dr Bernie Power is the Missiologist at Melbourne School of Theology, and a lecturer with the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths. His book comparing Jesus and Muhammad can be ordered from https://acornpress.net.au/publications/understanding-jesus-and-muhammad-what-the-ancient-texts-say-about-.

 


Comments

Linda
February 8, 2016, 9:40PM
It is curious that anyone with even a basic level of knowledge about these religions could compare the Christian (and Jewish) God to the God described in the Koran (Quran): the Christian ‘God’ and the Muslim ‘Allah’ expect worshipers to behave in very different, and mostly opposing ways.
The Christian God, through Jesus, taught the importance of loving everyone (including enemies), to turn the other cheek, and that those who are persecuted for His sake are blessed. The Muslim Allah, though Muhammad, taught love for fellow believers only, to not take non-believers as friends, and to commit jihad in response to persecution. This, coupled with so many more opposing characteristics & requirements described in the sacred texts of these religions, demonstrate that these are not the same God.
It concerns me that the peaceful attributes assigned to Christians - those same attributes that helped create (relatively) peaceful countries that until recently had been considered ‘Christian countries’ – are now being claimed by Muslim people within those countries. The Islamic Koran includes numerous verses that forbid Muslims to believe part of the sacred text and not the whole of it, and many verses of the Koran describes how and when to commit acts of violence against non-believers. Some Muslims appear to be attempting to convince the authorities of these countries that this is not so, or at least attempting to confuse the issue by placing a different emphasis on the non-peaceful aspects of the Koran.
Based on the Koran, when an Islamic individual or group commit violence on those who do not believe Muhammad’s revelations, they have every reason to believe they will be given a privileged place in Heaven. This is NOT from the Christian God.

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