Do Non-Christian Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?

Last night I was listening to some US history lectures from The Teaching Company as I drove home through the night. Here is one thing I learned: Apparently the concept of “Judeo-Christian values/morals” is a relatively recent concept, birthed right here in America.

(Here is more information from Wikipedia that supports this assertion.)

Prior to the time when this term was birthed, a greater separation was usually assumed and promoted between Judaism and Christianity. And apparently (Wikipedia again), some Jews even today find the term “Judeo-Christian” offensive. I’m missing a lot of details, but I’ll let you pursue that history further if you wish.

This discovery relates to all sorts of knotty questions. For example, consider the recent convoluted debate about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. There is legitimate debate about whether that is a helpfully-phrased question. (See, for example, this insightful post.) But, setting that aside for a bit, I’ve noticed that the strongest negative answer that Christians give to this question is to rightly note that Jesus insists that the only way to the Father is through the Son, and that “whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Thus a person who does not worship Jesus does not really worship God/the Father, either.

I agree with that observation (despite lots of undeniable overlap between Mulsim and Christian concepts of Allah/God on other points). However, this rebuttal just as surely suggests that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God. That sounds like a radical suggestion to our modern (“post Judeo-Christian”) ears. (In fact, I’ve seen someone make the same observation, then use it as proof that Muslims and Christians must indeed worship the same God—for Jews and Christians surely do, right?)

Yet, as radical as it sounds to suggest that non-Christian Jews and Christians don’t worship the same God (and, again, there may be a more helpful way to frame the issue), somehow it also sounds pretty much like what Jesus might have said. After all, it was to Jews that he insisted on the above-noted relationship between the Father and the Son. And he also said this, which is even more offensive to our ears:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-47, bold added)

There is much to ponder here, and much need to define terms clearly and speak to each other with grace.

But one thing is already very clear: If you want to know and honor God, Jesus is non-negotiable.

What do you think? I’m not sure I have time to host a big discussion about the current events issues I’ve raised. But perhaps you have an observation about how Christ is at the center of true worship of God, or an observation about how we can discuss these matters helpfully in the context of missions and witness. If so, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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25 thoughts on “Do Non-Christian Jews and Christians Worship the Same God?”

  1. I appreciate you raising the question and agree with your proposition. I have become increasingly concerned with the recent emphasis of some Anabaptists on looking to Jewish culture as authoritative on issues of worship, family life, etc. I think the Apostle Paul would have been concerned about this. Gal_4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? I understand the need to be familiar with the culture of the various periods of Bible history, but the early church and the Anabaptists would be much more profitable place to look for help in developing/maintaining Christian culture.

    1. Thanks, Tim. There is a balance here. On the one hand Paul warns us Gentiles not to be arrogant; we must remember that we have been grafted onto the stalk of Israel’s patriarchs. On the other hand, both Jew and Gentile alike come only to God through Jesus, with neither having a leg up in securing eternal life. There have been theological corruptions and lost understandings of Scripture as Gentiles forget the Jewish context in which the Messiah was given (many of the early church fathers suffer in this respect). Yet I share your concern when some, including some Anabaptists, seem to feel that all things Jewish are automatically worthy of imitation—including many Jewish traditions that actually date from not only long after Moses, but even after Christ. I think there is room for variation in practice here, but may each of us become more firmly (and humbly) Christ-centered, not resting our hopes on any culture, whether Jewish, Anabaptist, or otherwise.

  2. I would imagine this will get a lot of pushback but nevertheless it is true. The same reasons that Muslims and Christians don’t worship the same God apply equally to Jews. The reality is that our geopolitical concerns coupled with the popular dispensational hermeneutic leads to a lot of Christians essentially seeing Jesus as an optional figure for Jews while at the same time denying Muslims worship the same God. Of course there are also ugly historical issues with blood guilt on the Jews as a people . Still we do the Jews no favors by giving them a pass on Jesus.

  3. Thank you for your gracious thoughts. I am concerned about the stridency that I hear in the West about these issues.

    There are times when a strong rebuke to willful blindness is appropriate. Clearly it was right when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees. An interesting counter-balance is Paul on Mars Hill, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23b, ESV). Though they did not understand who God was and were not worshiping Him in the way He desired, Paul acknowledged the commonalities in order to reach out with a clear message of who the One True God is and how we come to Him through Jesus.

    It’s helpful to realize that there are those like Nabeel who have come to faith and feel like they truly are worshiping a different God. However I have met many others who feel like they now truly know and have come close to the God they had previously sought to worship from a distance.

    We should never say “Everything is OK because we all worship the same God.” However, we should also be thoughtful about how we communicate with people who seek to worship God and do not yet know the Son. As you did in this article, we need to keep coming back to Christ as the revelation and way to God. We need to keep following the example of Christ who spoke with deep love and clear truth and who knew how to speak in each situation. This is where we need to keep growing in and listening to the Spirit.

    1. Thank you, Friend. That is helpful. If you read the article I linked to in my post, you will find similar thoughts. When we recognize Christ as central, then he can guide our responses according to the needs of each dialogue partner.

  4. Interesting stuff, Dwight. I’m no expert on the issue, and haven’t thought carefully about this, but several things come to mind:
    1. We read the OT to learn about God and the story of his redeeming lovingkindness. Which God is that?
    2. Early Jewish Christians apparently felt free to worship in the temple. Paul himself went to the temple late in his ministry. Stephen seems to be talking to the same God the Jews had in mind.
    3. I don’t think the use of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees applies to this topic as directly as you indicate. I have always understood him to be speaking to their spiritual condition because of their rejection of Jesus. Jesus seems to be addressing a condition of the heart that wasn’t necessarily true of others who sincerely served Yahweh and who were open to the truth of Jesus. In other words, it would be possible, it seems to me to be a faithful Jew in that time who did not know about Jesus, but who was in a condition to be open once they heard. To walk up to that person and say, “you are of your father the devil” seems to me a problem. It seems to miss the important issues. Strong language is also used in the OT regarding apostate Jews.

    I agree that Jesus is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life…” …Is there value in recognizing shared historical and theological roots with Jews? Islam also speaks of Allah being the God of Abraham, though they are certainly other strains woven in. I’m fascinated to see where this topic goes.

    1. I really enjoyed blog article you linked into this post, Dwight, and it gives me a way to clarify my previous concerns. My primary concern is that we clarify the possibility that we Christians and Muslims could both be referring to God in our worship, though not worshiping rightly, which has significant implications. As I have read various articles on this issue in the last several years, I am concerned by the effort to force a complete separation from an historical position or what Kevin calls a common “referent.” It also seems to remove a significant apologetic, an opportunity to begin with the truth someone may have and point the way to a fuller truth. This was often Paul’s approach, whether in a synagogue or on Mars Hill. He didn’t start by insisting that they were not worshiping the same God. In fact he often emphasized the connections between Judaism and faith in Jesus. Of course a rejection of his message meant they were turning against the God they claimed to worship. Certainly there is less connection with Islam. Certainly there are different descriptions of God that end in very different places concerning who God is and what he does and what his followers do. I do not advocate some emphasis on our common beliefs for the sake of minimizing the important and crucial distinctions. I just don’t understand the desire to differentiate in absolutist terms. It seems to be a nonstarter and not congruent with the approach of the apostles.

  5. 1 John 2:22-23 gives us this perspective:

    “Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

    That would seem to exclude Jews who do not recognize Jesus as savior. It classifies them as “antichrist” and as in denial or not having the Father.

      1. I’m probably too lenient on these topics. But, the Bible is clear and Jews who do not accept the Messiah are no better than a Muslim. Based in Scripture, both would need to acknowledge Jesus as Savior before their profession of faith in God mattered.

        The Zionist elements of the church need to be confronted when they cross the line and become unequally yoked with unbelieving Jews. We can’t forget that the writers of the passages you and I quote were referring to non-believing Jews when they gave their warnings. There really is no reason for a Christian to make their allegiance with a secular Jewish state.

        1. I agree, Joel, that rejection of Jesus is the “line in the sand” that makes all the difference, for all peoples, regarding our position before God. I also think Brandon’s words above are a reminder that, for missional purposes, we should not assume that every individual has consciously chosen to reject Christ before we share the good news about him with them.

          1. I hesitate being too dogmatic with my Muslim friends. I tell them what I believe about Jesus and why. Maybe I should lead them to a proposition?

            But, for those in the church I draw a hard-line. We cannot say that the Jews who reject Jesus are any better off than Muslims or we lie.

  6. The question of whether Christians and Muslim worship the same God is a current and divisive question at Wheaton (Ill) College. This is just one article detailing that.

    We sing the hymn “The God of Abraham Praise,” which has no mention of the Son (at least in the version of the hymn I am looking at). However, this is the God who promised a deliverer, and Jesus is that one.

    1. Thanks, Dave. I didn’t remember that hymn has no mention of Christ. I still think it is a beautiful hymn. The God of Christians is certainly the God of Abraham, and the hymn, after all, does not deny Christ.

      1. Yes, I was surprised when I looked at the hymn and found no mention of Christ, but I’m not going to stop singing it either. And you are right that the hymn does not deny Christ. But if I am chairing a service and elect to sing this hymn, I will likely think more about the way I introduce it to the congregation than I did in the past.

        This has been a vary engaging discussion with many thoughtful comments. Thanks, Dwight, for bringing up the topic.

  7. The God of Abraham sent His Son to die for us, and His name is Jesus. So we as Christians serve the same God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, through His Son who has been revealed, Christ Jesus.

    All of the first Christ-followers were Jews. They didn’t switch the God they serve, but rather accepted the next part of His plan, salvation through Jesus, which had been foretold from the Garden of Eden.

    I don’t know if the Muslims attempt to worship the God of Abraham as they claim to, but I do know that they have rejected God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and have instead accepted the teachings of a false prophet, Muhammad.

    Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and there are no “alternative pathways” to God. So I’m not sure if it matters if the Jews and Muslims are attempting to worship the same God as Christians worship, since they have rejected Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

    1. That’s an interesting article, Jesse. Thanks.

      I wish I had more time to puzzle over this whole topic. My main points in my brief post were (and are) to (a) note that there are many similarities between the questions about Muslims raised by the Wheaton incident and the question of the relationship of non-Christian Jews to God and (b) remind us that Christ is the image of God, and to reject him after he has been revealed to the world is ultimately to reject God.

  8. Well said, Dwight. It has been said that if someone is wrong about Christ, he is wrong about God; “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15). RB

      1. In light of all the above it is probably only fair to ask if all professing Christians worship the same G(g)od.

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