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?
In order to properly answer this question, it is necessary to understand that it is actually two distinct questions:
- 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?
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:
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- Islam, Christianity, or No Religion at All?
- What if the Quran were the Bible?
- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?