Is the God of the Qur’an the Same God as the God of the Bible?

Christianity and Islam

Christianity and Islam

Here is a question that was recently asked on Islam StackExchange:

What is the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God? Is the God of the Qur’an the same god as the God of the Bible?

You can see the original question here, and my original answer here. This is a slightly edited version of the answer I posted there:

In order to properly answer this question, it is necessary to understand that it is actually two distinct questions:

  1. What is the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God?
  2. Is the God of the Qur’an the same God as the God of the Bible?

The God of Christianity and the God of the Bible are distinct

If “Christianity” here means mainstream Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christianity, it is necessary to understand that the fundamental Christian beliefs about God are not stated in the Bible itself, but were developed several centuries after the Bible was written.

Historically, the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons was first developed by Tertullian in the third century (see “When in the development of trinitarian doctrine was the word “persons” first applied to God?” on Christianity StackExchange). It was first promulgated as official Christian doctrine in the fourth century in the form of the Nicene Creed, which was composed at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It achieved its full definition, accepted by the vast bulk of mainstream Christianity, a century or two later in the Athanasian Creed.

It is necessary to understand, then, that the mainstream Christian understanding of God is not defined in the Bible itself, but rather in the Athanasian Creed. The Christian Bible itself never defines God as a Trinity of Persons.

So to answer the first question:

What is the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God?

If “the Christian God” means “God as believed in by mainstream Christianity,” that God is quite different from the Muslim God.

Islam, based on the Qur’an, focuses on and insists upon the complete oneness of God.

Mainstream Christianity, while also stating that God is one, divides that oneness into three “Persons” of God, each of which has a distinct personality, attributes, and actions within the Godhead. Such a concept of God is contrary to the Qur’an’s insistence on the absolute oneness of God.

Now for the second question:

Is the God of the Qur’an the same God as the God of the Bible?

Here it is useful to consider distinctly the Old Testament God and the New Testament God.

The Old Testament God

The Old Testament God is virtually indistinguishable from the God of the Qur’an. The Old Testament, like the Qur’an, insists upon the absolute oneness of God. For example:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

“Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me.” (Isaiah 45:21)

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (Isaiah 44:6)

And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9)

While it is true that the Old Testament often speaks, in the context of the surrounding polytheism of the pagan world, as if the God of Israel were the greatest of the gods, and while it is true that polytheism did at times infect God’s people of Israel in the course of the Old Testament narrative, ultimately the Old Testament insists that God is one and there is no other God besides the one God, and that this one God encompasses all of the divine qualities: love, compassion, power, eternity, knowledge of all things, ability to save, and so on.

In short, the God of the Old Testament is virtually indistinguishable from the God of the Qur’an. Yes, there are some cultural differences in wording and approach. But essentially, the God of the Old Testament and the God of the Qur’an are the very same God.

The New Testament God

The New Testament, like the Old Testament, insists upon the oneness of God. For example:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'” (Mark 12:28-29, italics added)

[Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9)

However, as suggested in the two quotes from the Gospel of John just above, the New Testament God, unlike the God of the Old Testament or the God of the Qur’an, is said to have become flesh and lived among us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14, italics added)

Notice that it says “the glory as of a father’s only son.” This suggests that in line with Jesus’ own heavy use of parable and metaphor, the Gospels themselves use the terms “Father” and “Son” metaphorically to refer to different aspects or components of God rather than to speak of two distinct persons of God.

While this may be debated by mainstream Christians, the fact is that the Bible itself never defines the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as distinct “Persons” of God. Rather, it speaks of Jesus Christ as “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23), and says that the Word (Greek logos), was with God, and was God, and that it became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1-5, 14, as quoted above).

Further, the New Testament frequently uses the same terms to describe Jesus Christ that the Old Testament uses to describe the God of Israel. For example:

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:54–59)

Why were they about to stone him? Because his seemingly strange statement, “Before Abraham was, I am” is a reference to Jehovah or Yahweh, the sacred name of the Lord in the Old Testament:

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘Jehovah, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.” (Exodus 3:13–15)

In the original Hebrew, the word for “I am” used here is very similar to the Tetragrammaton, or sacred name of the Lord, traditionally translated as “Jehovah.” The Hebrew text is here associating the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” with the verb “to be,” or “I am.” Therefore when Jesus said of himself, “before Abraham was, I am,” he was stating that he was the Lord and God of Israel—as his Jewish hearers clearly understood, given their response of attempting to stone him for blasphemy.

Next, compare this passage from Isaiah, quoted above:

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (Isaiah 44:6, italics added)

with this passage from the book of Revelation in the New Testament, which is spoken of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ:

These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life. (Revelation 2:8, italics added)

And one more example:

In the book of Isaiah we find this prophecy, which Christians commonly read as a prophecy of Jesus Christ:

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, italics added)

In the New Testament, in Jesus’ final words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, we read:

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, italics added)

Clearly the New Testament sees Jesus Christ as the human embodiment of the same God that is presented in the Old Testament.

Regardless of historical debates among Christians about the precise nature of God, and regardless of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons by Christians in the third through the sixth centuries, the New Testament itself presents a picture of the one God, who is the Old Testament God, becoming flesh and living as a human being among human beings here on earth.

The difference between the God of the Qur’an and the God of the Christian Bible

This, then, is the primary difference between the God of the Qur’an and the God of the Christian Bible, which includes the New Testament:

  • The Qur’an sees God as one, and does not present God as becoming flesh and living among us here on earth.
  • The Christian Bible sees God as one, and does present God as becoming flesh and living among us here on earth.

(Note: Some parts of this answer are revised versions of material that originally appeared in my article, “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach.”)

For further reading:

 

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in All About God
7 comments on “Is the God of the Qur’an the Same God as the God of the Bible?
  1. Trevor says:

    No less an authority than that great 20th century Sacred Language and Religion professor, the Rev. Bruce Rogers, says that a better, more accurate, and significantly more understandable translation (that certainly makes much more sense in context) of Exodus 3:14 is “God said to Moses, ‘I Am I Who Am.’ “

    • Lee says:

      Hi Trevor,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I remember Bruce Rogers saying that in class lo, these many years ago. Unfortunately, no published Bible translation that I can find has picked up on his simple brilliance in translating that famous verse.

  2. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    If we were to assume the worst case scenario, as many critical scholars of Islam do, that there is nothing divine in the Quran, that the text itself is in many places vague and incoherent, that it incorporates an old polytheism that’s given a monotheistic facelift and reflects a poor theological understanding of the Christianity it critiques, with a composition that has been drawn from external sources and heavily altered since it was first recited…if all these things were somehow true, is that at all a problem for Swedenborg’s credibility?

    My own take is that Muhammad was a spiritually elevated person who didn’t receive direct revelation as a prophet, but was receptive to spiritual insight, and was allowed (not ordained) to found his new, imperfect religion because it would go on to serve a great spiritual purpose. In that sense, I regard the Qur’an more a book of spiritual meditation that flowed from the sincere heart of a seeker- who strived to see the oneness of God despite still anchored by the trappings to some degree by the old polytheistic ways of his culture- rather than a text that was inspired by God. I might be inclined to say that anything that speaks toward and about spiritual truths is Divinely ‘influenced,’ in the same way that anyone who speaks spiritual truth is Divinely influenced.

    • Rami says:

      When I refer to an incorrect understanding of Christianity, the Quran does indeed repudiate the Trinity, but the relevant verses have been analyzed to, at least debatably by some scholars, attack an incorrect understanding of the Trinity that Christians believe in, and some would go so far to say that the text even *affirms* the Trinity, albeit unintentionally.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      These very same charges have long been brought against the Bible by scholars who are critical of Christianity. (With the exception, of course, of “reflect[ing] a poor theological understanding of the Christianity it critiques,” given that Christianity did not yet exist when the Bible was written.) Swedenborg himself mentions such criticisms of the Bible in a number of places in his theological writings.

      If we were to assume the worst-case scenario, then there is no God and no spiritual world, and the Bible, the Quran, and Swedenborg’s writings are at best mere cultural relics—and at worst horribly deceptive and destructive documents—in a cold, dark universe.

      Personally, I prefer not to assume the worst-case scenario. It doesn’t lead anywhere good. And it has no greater claim to being the truth than the best-case scenario. People who are wise in their own eyes consider themselves “realists” for believing that there is nothing beyond this material universe, and that in the end, all is cold and dark. But believing such things is a choice, just as believing in God, spirit, and light is a choice. And whichever choice a person makes, there will be plenty of evidence to support it. See:

      Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?

      Swedenborg did not have a very clear understanding of Islam and the Quran, as shown by some of the incorrect statements he made about them. See, for example, Divine Providence #255, where he says, among other things:

      It is because of divine providence that Islam recognizes the Lord as the Son of God, the wisest of mortals, and a supreme prophet, one who came into the world to teach us. Most of them regard him as greater than Muhammad.

      You would be hard-pressed to find any Imam who would consider this an accurate characterization of Islam—to put it mildly. If we’re going to judge Swedenborg by the accuracy of his characterization of Islam, he definitely flunks the test.

      On the other hand, some of the things he says about Islam are borne out by reality. For example, Islam did indeed root pagan polytheism out of the Middle East and surrounding regions, and established a monotheistic religion in its place. And the Quran does indeed incorporate material from both the Old and New Testaments, though it interprets that material differently than either Judaism or Christianity. There is also some evidence that Muhammad was influenced by a different strain of Christianity than the one that developed into the dominant present-day Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.

      Swedenborg did not say that Muhammad and the Quran were inspired by God, in the sense that he says that the Bible and its human authors were inspired by God. Rather, he said that under God’s providence the Muslim religion was established in the Middle East as a religion appropriate to the people of that region and its culture. Whether or not one believes that this was the work of divine providence, Islam certainly is a religion that works for Middle Eastern people. Otherwise it would not be so dominant there.

      As for Islam’s and the Quran’s critique of Christian trinitarianism, I do not have sufficient knowledge of Islam or the Quran to engage in that fray. However, in addition to the reasons Swedenborg gives as to why Christianity was not a suitable religion to become established as the primary religion of the people of the Middle East, I believe that it was unsuitable because by the seventh century, when Islam was founded, Christianity was monotheistic in name only. In reality, by that time it had become a polytheistic religion. See:

      Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Polytheistic?

      Meanwhile, aside from the Trinity of Persons, most of the key “Christian” doctrines that are held to in Western Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) today did not yet exist when the Quran was written, because they had not yet been “developed” (i.e., invented). In particular, the satisfaction theory of atonement, upon which both Catholic and Protestant (but not Eastern Orthodox) soteriology is based, did not exist until Anselm of Canterbury originated it in the 11th century. Therefore if the Quran is critiqued based on what passes as “Christianity” today, of course it will be seen as having an inaccurate view of Christianity, because today’s “Christianity,” along with most of its major doctrines aside from the Trinity of Persons, did not exist in the seventh century.

      For a reasonable critique of the Quran’s statements about Christianity and the Trinity, it would be necessary to determine exactly what type of Christianity existed in the seventh century in what is now Saudi Arabia. That is the Christianity that would have been in Muhammad’s mind when he composed the Quran.

      • Rami says:

        Hi Lee,

        I think it’s the ‘under divine providence’ that’s throwing me off. Is God ‘permitting’ the founding and expanding of Islam any less an act of providence than God ‘facilitating’ or ‘ordaining’ the founding and expansion of Islam? Because ‘allowing’ is basically the view that I have, but if providence in this case means ‘ordaining,’ then that would make Muhammad someone who falls in between a seeker and a prophet.

        As for the specifics of the Qur’ans charges against Christianity, in some places, and while it never uses the word ‘Trinity,’ it includes Mary as part of it. It seems unlikely that Muhammad was referring to a particular sect in his time, and instead rather had a partial, fragmented understanding of Christianity, which would also account for other historical and theological inaccuracies.

        And that’s okay. I’m not surprised by, understand, and accept these realities. Muhammad has been depicted at best in faithful accounts as the perfect human and final prophet of God, and at worst in hostile accounts as a murderous charlatan who fabricated the Qur’an. My own view, as I stated before, is that he was a man who way ahead of his time, but still a man of his time, and the Qur’an was the product of a sincere heart that knew and sought to draw closer to God, which God used to bring about a revolutionary religious and cultural change in the Arab world. The words of the Qur’an, in least in enough meaningful places, are influenced by God in the same sense that a poet or a mystic who’s heart seeks God has their words influenced by God. Is my take compatible with Swedenborg’s?

        And even if the Qur’an gets it wrong on the Trinity, and even if there are still traces of pre-Islamic paganism that persist in the Qur’an, it still seems like it accomplished that providential mission, according to Swedenborg: it stamped out pagan idolatry, and created a billion monotheists.

        I ask all this because I need to know what theological acceptance I have to make of Islam to accept Swedenborg. I can accept that God worked Muhammad’s seeking into His plan for humanity, but I do not know if I can accept that Muhammad was appointed and tasked for a mission. If the worst case scenario is as dark and cold as you say, then it sounds like Swedenborg being wrong as to why Islam exists (even though he was wrong about some of the details) would cast doubt on his other spiritual claims? Or does Swedenborg being wrong about Islam’s relationship to divine providence carry the sane weight of him being wrong on other non essential matters?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Rami,

          Your view of Muhammad and Islam seems quite compatible with Swedenborg’s view on those subjects. I don’t see any real problem or conflict.

          I am also not among those Swedenborgians who believe that it is necessary to accept everything Swedenborg said, or reject Swedenborg altogether. It’s just not that black and white.

          Swedenborg, also, was a man far ahead of his time as well as being a man of his time. Many of the things he said, or the ways he said them, were influenced by his particular mind and culture. Once we recognize this, then we can go about the business of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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