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June 2017 Issue

Great Wisdom in Small Books

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Question & Answer

Do Christians, Jews, and Muslims all pray to the same God? The Pope said we do, and in my conversations I find that people seem puzzled and divided on the issue.

The “same God” question is creating a lot of confusion in the Christian community. Pope Francis has asserted that Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God, and Miroslav Volf—a prominent Protestant theologian—argues the same in his book Do We Worship the Same God? Jews, Christians and Muslims in Dialogue. Last year, the question also sparked a major controversy at Wheaton College when a tenured professor publicly espoused this view. The professor eventually resigned, but questions remain as to whether this view is compatible with orthodox Christian belief.

“Same God” proponents argue that there is enough overlap between ideas about God in the three religions to conclude that all three refer to the same deity. For example, Christians, Muslims, and Jews all acknowledge that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, who will someday judge humanity. Proponents argue that when speaking to Muslims or Jews, Christians can affirm that we all worship the same God, much like the apostle Paul did when speaking to the Athenians about their “Unknown God” (see Acts 17:23).

Certainly, this argument has merit when considering whether Jews and Christians worship the same God. Christians can affirm the God of Judaism, for both religions embrace Yahweh as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. But like the “Unknown God,” the Jewish concept of God is incomplete. It includes an accurate depiction of God the Father but fails to acknowledge Jesus, His Son.

A similar argument could be made for Allah prior to the sixth century and the creation of Islam. In ancient times, Allah was simply the Arabic name for God and literally meant “the God.” But Muhammad transformed Allah from a vague concept of God into one that fundamentally contradicts the God of the Bible.

Though Islam recognizes Abraham and the prophets, Allah as described in the Quran is dramatically different from Yahweh. He is not love, but is capricious and sometimes cruel (see 1 John 4:8). And he is not our father but instead is distant and remote. Islam also recognizes Jesus, but only as a prophet, not as the Son of God (see 2 Cor. 1:2–3). In fact, Muslims consider the Trinity to be blasphemy.

Additionally, tradition holds that Muhammad received his revelation about Allah from the angel Gabriel. But Scripture says that any spirit that denies Jesus as Christ is the antichrist (1 John 2:22) and that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). Islam’s origin might then be satanic, and to claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not only a stretch, it’s blasphemous. Allah is not an incomplete revelation of God; rather, he is an idol and a false god.

In the New Testament, God elevates women to a place of honor unlike the culture in those days. But in the Old Testament, God seems okay with polygamy and concubines. Why is that?

You are correct that the New Testament honors women in a way that was uncommon in the ancient Greco-Roman world. In his book, How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt notes that in ancient Greece, women had the social status of slaves. They were not allowed to speak in public, and girls were not allowed to attend school. Women were considered inferior to men, and poets even equated them with evil.

The Romans didn’t treat women any better. They considered a wife to be the property of her husband and granted him complete control over her and everything she owned.

In contrast, Jesus treated women with respect, and two of His closest friends were Mary and Martha. Rather than discouraging women from learning, Jesus encouraged Mary to sit at His feet and listen to His teaching (Luke 10:38–42). He also violated cultural norms when He started a conversation with a Samaritan woman in public. Likewise, the apostle Paul commanded husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25)—a radical idea in the ancient world.

Certainly, the value God places on women in the New Testament seems inconsistent with the Old Testament practice of polygamy. It also seems inconsistent with Genesis 1 and 2, where God creates male and female in His image and the two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24), intended to reflect Trinitarian life and love.

Some believe polygamy is the result of the curse God placed on the woman after the Fall: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Sin perverted the relationship between men and women, so it’s not surprising that men begin to take multiple wives and treat those wives as property.

Jesus, after His resurrection, appeared first to women, perhaps symbolizing a reverse of the curse. After the resurrection, polygamy is not mentioned in the Bible, and the one-flesh union is revealed to have even more significance. As Paul notes in Ephesians 5:31–32, it signifies a “profound mystery”: Christ’s relationship to the church.

Scripture always depicts polygamy as causing problems. It seems to be something God temporarily permitted, but (like divorce) only because of the hardness of men’s hearts (see Matt. 19:8).

By Julie Roys, Moody Radio Host of Up For Debate

Julie Roys is a speaker, freelance journalist and blogger at www.julieroys.com. She also is the host of Up For Debate on the Moody Radio Network. Her book, Redeeming the Feminine Soul: God's Surprising Vision for Womanhood is available at major bookstores.

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