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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Not the Same

You remember the Sesame Street theme, "One of these things is not like the others." A few similar items, but one of them stands out as different than the rest for some reason. Well, we have this same thing these days in the world's religions. What you will hear repeatedly is something like, "All religions are basically the same. They all have the same 'god', just with different names." So "Allah" and the God of the Bible are, to these people, no different. Especially among the three primary monotheistic world religions, we are assured that they are different in name only. I would contend that the opposite is true, that "One of these things is not like the others," and the differences are critical ... in multiple ways.

Allah of Islam and the God of the Bible

There has been much debate about whether or not the "Allah" of Islam is the same God as YHWH, the God of the Bible. "Sure he is!" they all assure us, unbelievers and self-professed Christians alike. In fact, linguistically, the word "Allah" appears to have its roots in the Hebrew "El" for "God" and the Arabic translations of the Bible might include the word "Allah" for God. But are they qualitatively different? Is the "Allah" of Islam different than YHWH of the Bible? Indeed, they are. From the view of Islam, "There is no god but Allah." The Quran specifies, "Jews and Christians believe in idols and false deities" [4:51]. The Quran specifically denies that Allah is a Trinity [5:73]. Surah 4:171 explicitly denies that Jesus was God's Son. Islam teaches that Christ was a prophet and nothing more. It denies His death and resurrection. While Jesus is the literal embodiment of God in the New Testament, Islam specifically denies that claim. This is fundamental to Scripture and to Christianity. The two cannot be the same without eliminating one or the other as truth.

The Trinity in the Old Testament

What about the Judeo-Christian God? At the beginning, this is the same God. That is, the God of Abraham and Moses is the same God of Christ and the disciples. Christianity, in fact, isn't actually its own religion; we worship the Jewish Messiah. Christianity is God's idea of what Judaism ought to be. So, yes, it's the same God ... or was. I can't say that the God the Jews recognize today is the same as the God that Christianity recognizes ... or that the Old Testament recognizes. What's the difference? The primary difference is the aspect of the Trinity. Modern Judaism does not recognize God as a Triune being; both Christianity and the Old Testament do.

Jews today will tell you that God is not three-in-one and that Jews have never believed He was. Whether or not they ever did, I think we can find the Trinity in the Old Testament. If so, that would make the God of Judaism the same God as the God of Christianity. The first hint of a multiplicity-in-one God is in Genesis. "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'" (Gen 1:26) The word used in Hebrew -- 'ĕlôhı̂ym -- is a plural word for "God". It isn't "the royal 'we'." That's a big hint, especially when laid alongside God's statement, "The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deut 6:4) So, "one" and plural.

The Old Testament is littered with references to God the Spirit. For instance, we read, "'Draw near to Me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.' And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and His Spirit." (Isa 48:16) Note that "His Spirit" is differentiated from "the Lord GOD", requiring two-in-one.

Of course, the Old Testament is also rich with references to the Messiah to come. Again in Isaiah we read, "Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations." (Isa 42:1) What we see here is a reference to Christ. We see it fulfilled in Matthew 3:16-17 when Jesus was baptized and the Spirit of God descended with God speaking from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased." That same Trinitarian image is right there in Isaiah 42:1 with all three-in-one characters present. Immediately after His baptism and temptation in the desert, Jesus went into the synagogue, took up the scroll, and read from Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) It is Isaiah 61:1-2. And Jesus said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21) Where was that quote from? The Old Testament. What was the content that was fulfilled?" It was a Trinitarian statement including "the Spirit of the Lord" as well as "the Lord" upon and anointing the Son.

Now, you can see that this theme is not unusual in the Old Testament. The Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) are full of prophecies and promises regarding the coming Messiah whose name would be "Immanuel" -- "God with us." (Isa 7:14; Isa 8:8; Matt 1:23) Indeed, the Trinity was present in the Old Testament. Now, did the Jews understand that? Surely not. But neither did they understand that their Messiah would suffer and die ... yet He did. The question, then, is not whether they agreed with the idea, but whether or not the God of the Old Testament was Three-In-One just as the God of the New Testament. I think it's clear He was. As such, He is the same God, regardless of Jewish understanding.


The question here is not "What do people believe?" The question is "What is true?" Islam teaches that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible, blatantly illustrated in the Triune nature of the God of the Bible and denied by Muslim scriptures of Allah. Not the same. The Bible is absolutely clear that Jesus is the Son of God (denied by the Quran), the second person of the Trinity (denied by the Quran), and the basis of our salvation (denied by the Quran). Not the same. Judaism teaches that the God of their Scriptures is one (which Christianity confirms) but that He is not Triune. They do so without a proper understanding of their own Scriptures. As such, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament, misunderstood by Judaism.

As for the rest, differences abound. Atheism (because that is undeniably a faith) has no god. Others such as Buddhism and Confucianism have no god. Then there are religions like Hinduism (330 million gods) or the ancient Greek religion (12 Olympian gods) and the like that are polytheistic. Not the same. There are those who classify themselves, at least in some sense, as "Christian", such as the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah Witnesses, whose God is substantively different than the God of the Bible. Mormons, for instance, are not monotheists. Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Christ. Not the same. So the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, all religions are basically the same," remember that it just isn't true, and it isn't true in important ways.


Stan said...

Dan, you know I don't post your comments. Indeed, if I know it's you, I don't read them. In this case, I read the anonymous email before I got to the name at the bottom. Sorry that you failed in this case to understand the post. For instance, I specified "Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Christ. Not the same." yet you ask as if I agree they worship the same God. Then you seem to suggest that any god is the same God, leading me to conclude you don't get it at all. I apologize for being so vague.

Craig said...

To reach the conclusion that Allah is the same as YHWH, is just and example over overly simplistic rationalization and ignoring what both Islam and Christianity say.

Stan said...

Indeed, and, yet, both Christians and non can't seem to see the gulf between them, let alone between the God of the Bible and every other deity out there.

Craig said...

It's as if they choose to place other considerations above their Christianity.

Stan said...

I think they see it as a matter of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness" because "exclusive" is a bad thing.

Craig said...

Most likely, either that or a commitment to a political philosophy that trumps all other considerations.