June 22, 2021
Current Events

Are there three “Abrahamic religions,” and do they worship the same God? 

                 The Bible says no to both questions. Recent reading has brought some thoughts to mind that help to confirm in my mind the Scriptures' assessment of this issue. (We need to remember that the Torah, or Pentateuch, was written roughly 3,400 years ago—1,400 years before Christ and 2,000 years before the beginnings of Islam.)      

                 In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God at Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, in what is now Saudi Arabia. There is some irony in this fact. Keeping his father-in-law’s sheep, he stumbles upon a bush that is ablaze, but not consumed by the flames. Stepping closer to investigate this incredible phenomenon, he discovers the Angel of theLORD there (a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ). God calls him out of the bush and commands him to remove his shoes, because he is treading on holy ground. Then he says a very important thing: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6).  

                 In identifying Himself, God says He is not simply Abraham’s God, but also the God of Abraham’s descendants,of whom Moses is one. This fact constitutes God’s purpose for this encounter. He wants to use Moses, whom He providentially preserved and prepared, to deliver the descendants of Abraham from cruel slavery in Egypt. He tells Mosesas much. 

                 After questioning God’s judgment in calling him, Moses poses this question: “If I go back and tell the Hebrews that the God of their fathers [with whom they were as unfamiliar as he is] has sent me to deliver them, they’re going to ask me your name. What should I tell them?” 

                 “I AM who I AM . . . Say tothe people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14).  

                 This is another momentous declaration. First, God has identified Himself as the God of not only Abraham, but also of his descendants. Now, He names Himself: “I AM.” This name is so holy that in Hebrew, it is unpronounceable. This is deliberate, as God does not want His name used sinfully or carelessly by His people. (He tells them this later on the same mountain, when He hands down the Mosaic Law after their deliverance from Egypt.) These four Hebrew consonants—in English, they are transliterated as YHWH—form the Tetragrammaton, the most significant name for God in the Hebrew Scriptures. That is not my opinion. God goes on to say to Moses, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations”(Exodus 3:15).  

                 Literally, the name YHWH means, “I am what I am,” and speaks to many facets of God’s nature. Three that come to mind in the context of this post are  1) His eternality;   2) His constancy and unchanging character (He has never not been as He is, because He has never not been);  and  3) His autonomy (no one can decide who God is or what He is like, and He did not determine what He would be like because He has eternally been the way He is.)  

                 To insist that YHWH cannot be a trinity, for instance, is not a theological oversight. It is defiance against God. The creature does not have the prerogative to decide what the Creator is like. To declare that God could not become man and could not beget a Son is equally defiant.  

                 Another name of God, in Numbers 16:22, is an intriguing one. When Korah leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, God threatens to destroy the entire congregation. Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before Him and intercede for the people. They address YHWH thus:“O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh . . .” 

                 God views Himself as everyone’s God, whether they worship Him as such or not. How can He do this? Because it is He who made us in His image, crafted the first man from earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). This is why God, when commanding the Hebrews to worship no other God, describes Himself as a “jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” Exodus 20:5,6). As “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” God can claim exclusive rights to worship. There are only two postures people can have toward God: we either hate Him or we love Him. 

                 God again speaks for Himself to the Jews through Isaiah the prophet in a powerful text that destroys any notion of usurped or shared deity: 

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. Who is like me? Let him [the god who thinks he is like me]proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people [the descendants of Abraham—remember them?]. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:6-8).

                   In declaring His uniqueness and exclusivity as God, YHWH (LORD in English) says two things that set Him apart from the countless false gods the hearts of people have devised over the eons of time. First, He says he is “the first and the last.” To be both the first and the last, He must also be everything in between. The whole thing. God’s eternal nature can neither be disrupted nor interrupted. Second, God challenges any false god to foretell the future. None can. One of the most persuasive evidences for the authority and veracity of the Bible is fulfilled prophecy. God keeps his covenants, and He does exactly what He says He will do. (For instance, the OldTestament makes over three hundred prophetic statements about Jesus Christ. The mathematical probability of even eight of those being fulfilled by the same person is a one with seventeen zeroes behind it. We don’t even have a name for that number. Yet, Jesus fulfilled all 300 of them to the letter.) In our time, a thoughtful person and an earnest seeker of truth will acknowledge the NewTestament’s description of the last days (as in 2 Peter 3) and the OldTestament’s prophecies of the re-establishment of the state of Israel as outstanding illustrations of God’s declaration in Isaiah 44. 

                 A New Testament name for God warrants our attention in this context. In Romans 15:6 and 2 Corinthians 1:3, He is described as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Clearly, only one of those “Abrahamic religions” would acknowledge that the One God exists in three persons; that He is a Father; that Jesus Christ is His Son and the Lord—the second Person of the triune Godhead.   

                 God’s relationship with those who love Him (Exodus 20:6) is not a religion at all. In fact, it is the antithesis of religion. Religion—any religion, just name it—is a delusion that we can reach God on our terms. God tells us that is not possible and that any attempt to do so is not only foolish, but an afront to Him.  

                 Religion deludes people, and it also enslaves them. It seeks to convince them that by behaving a certain way according to false notions of who God actually is, they can actually achieve enough merit before whatever god they worship to avert its displeasure, whatever form that may take. The Scriptures say that naturally, none of us seeks God (Psalm 14:1). We are lost and floundering, like sheep without a shepherd, following our own way to our own destruction. So, God seeks us. He explains through Luke, the Beloved Physician, that “the Son of Man [Jesus, God in flesh] came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). 

                 The Jerusalem Post (November2, 2020) reported that in the city of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, a site is being constructed on Saadiyat Island that will include a mosque, a synagogue, and a church. Dubbed “The Abrahamic Family House,” this architectural wonder designed by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye will, according to the Jerusalem Post headline, “foster inter-faith reconciliation.” Adjaye says, “As an architect I want to create a building that starts to dissolve the notion of hierarchical difference – it should represent universality and totality – something higher, that enhances the richness of human life.” His firm’s website describes the project this way:  

The Abrahamic Family House will be a collection of three religious spaces: a mosque, a synagogue and a church, all of which will sit upon a secular visitor pavilion. The house will serve as a community for inter-religious dialogue and exchange, nurturing the values of peaceful co-existence and acceptance among different beliefs, nationalities and cultures. Within each of the houses of worship, visitors will have the opportunity to observe religious services, listen to holy scripture, and experience sacred rituals. The fourth space — not affiliated with any specific religion — will serve as a center for all people of good will to come together as one. The community will also offer educational and event-based programming.* 

                 Will it really foster inter-faith reconciliation? The logical law of non contradiction suggests that two—and certainly three—contradictory propositions cannot both, or all, be true. But logic is not the only consideration here. Theology is at the root of nearly all of the world’s woes and wars, and this has been the case throughout history. World leaders who naïvely dismiss this fact are doomed to continue to establish impotent foreign policies and engage in bloody conflicts.  

                 To suggest that there are three Abrahamic religions is to ignore the fact that the God of Abraham is also the God of Isaac and Jacob and “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Building three ostentatious houses of worship on an island in the Persian Gulf will not change that.

*Quotation and other architect's conceptions of the impressive Abrahamic Family House can be found at www.adjaye.com

Rob Heijermans

Rob Heijermans (rhymes with “fireman’s”) is a church planter and Bible teacher who has served with Biblical Ministries Worldwide since 1979. He is a 1977 graaduate (B.S. in Bible) of Lancaster Bible College. His travels have taken him to forty countries on four continents, including detailed research for this book in Israel. He has three married children and ten grandchildren. He and his wife, Madeleine, live in Ontario, Canada.

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