A Comparison of the paths and goals and doctrinal positions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Often when things appear to have great diversity, they also have great commonality. When comparing various things, it is often helpful to identify areas of agreement as a foundation to understanding differences. Even though Islam, Judaism, and Christianity differ in many ways, they all begin with the foundational truth that there is only one God who is to be worshipped. This one God is the Creator of all things and rules over all things. The Quran states, “He is God, the One. God, to Whom the creatures turn for their needs. He begets not, nor was He begotten, and there is none like Him.” (Quran, 112:1-4) The Jewish Bible agrees as it is written, “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:” (Exodus 34:14 King James Version) This position is confirmed for Christians in the New Testament when Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:15)
However, even in something as basic as belief in a monotheistic God, there are differences. Islamic and Jewish faiths do not accept the idea of a triune (three-in-one) God, nor do they accept that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God. Islam teaches that Jesus was a true prophet of God, but that he is not God. This is very explicitly stated for Muslims.
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Indeed, they have disbelieved who have said, “God is the Messiah (Jesus), son of Mary.” The Messiah said, “Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord. Whoever associates partners in worship with God, then God has forbidden Paradise for him, and his home is the Fire (Hell). For the wrongdoers, there will be no helpers.” (Quran, 5:72)
The Quran also directly confronts the issue of God being a trinity.
Indeed, they disbelieve who say, “God is the third of three (in a trinity),” when there is no god but one God. If they desist not from what they say, truly, a painful punishment will befall the disbelievers among them. Would they not rather repent to God and ask His forgiveness? For God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. The Messiah (Jesus), son of Mary, was no more than a messenger. (Quran, 5:73-75)
The Jewish Bible does not address this subject directly, but the Jews state that the Old Testament clearly teaches the existence of only one God. Jews are still waiting for the appearance of the Messiah and state that Jesus is a false prophet. Christianity teaches that while there is one God, He is three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, with Jesus of Nazareth being the incarnation of God the Son. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7) Even though this specific verse is often debated as to whether or not it should be included in the Bible, other verses such as John 20:28 and John 10:30 confirm 1 John 5:7.
In concluding this first section focusing on God, some final comparisons should be made. Even though Islam does not hold that Jesus is the Son of God, it does believe in his virgin birth and that he will return again. Islam does not believe that Christ died on the cross, but that he ascended into heaven during the crucifixion. Therefore, obviously Islam does not believe that Christ was resurrected from the dead. Judaism holds only that the man Jesus was crucified on the cross. Jews do not believe that he was born of a virgin, that he was resurrected, or that he will return again. Christians, on the other hand, believe that Christ was born of a virgin, that he died upon the cross, was resurrected, and will return again.
Another area of comparison is how each of the religions views man. While they all agree that man was created by God, they differ in the nature of man. Islam and Judaism both hold that man is equally good and bad and that he therefore has the ability to do good or evil. Christianity differs from this in that it states that all men are born sinners and therefore are inherently evil. This sin is inherited from Adam’s “original sin.” This is a very important distinction because it directly translates into what each religion states is the way for man to be able to attain to eternal life. Islam teaches that correct belief, the five pillars, and good works will enable a man to go to paradise. “And those who believe and do good deeds, they are dwellers of Paradise, they dwell therein forever.” (Quran, 2:82) Jews focus more on the corporate or national salvation that will occur through God because they are God’s chosen people rather than on individual salvation. “And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.” (Zechariah 2:11) The Christian perspective is very different because of the foundational belief that all men are born sinners and are born unable to attain salvation on their own. For the Christian, salvation can be attained only through receiving the gift of salvation from God that was made possible by the vicarious atonement for the sins of man by Christ’s death on the cross. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Obviously, if there is a way of salvation, then there must be a final destination for those who are saved, and a final destination for those who are not. On this point, both Islam and Christianity agree that everyone will live throughout eternity. Those who are saved will be in paradise (Islam) or heaven (Christianity) with God. Those who are not saved will go an eternal hell. In Judaism, there is disagreement even among Jews. Some believe that there is a heaven and Gehenna (hell) for those who are and are not saved, while others believe that there is no afterlife.
Another aspect of eternal life is the judgment that occurs. Judaism does not address this judgment directly, but Islam and Christianity do. Islam portrays this judgment as individual, and as the way in which eternity is determined for each person. In other words, those who are judged and found worthy go to paradise, and those who fail the judgment go to hell.
Every man’s work We have fastened on his own neck, and on the Day of Judgment We shall bring out for him a book which he will see spread open, saying: ‘Read your own book! Enough for you this day that your own soul should call you to account” (Quran, 17:13-14).
Those whose scales are heavy, they are the successful; but those whose scales are light, they are the ones who have lost their souls in Hell dwelling forever. The fire will burn their faces, and there they will be gloomy with lips displaced (Quran, 23:102-4)
In Christianity there are actually two judgments. Those who are saved through Jesus Christ are not themselves judged, but their works are judged. Those works that survive the trial by fire are rewarded. Those who are not saved will stand before God at the Great White Throne judgment. It is here where they will be judged guilty of sin and cast into the lake of fire.
Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:11-14)
It should also be noted that each of the three religions sees its way of salvation as the only way of salvation. Islam teaches “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him and he will be one of the losers in the Hereafter.” (Quran, 3:85) The Jews believe “Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9) Christianity proclaims that the only way of salvation is through Jesus Christ. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31) “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
Focusing on the afterlife is not the only purpose for man. All three religions teach that man was created by God for a specific purpose while he is on earth. All three religions agree that man is to love God and to worship God and only God. All three religions also teach the need to obey God’s word. Within this obedience, however, we see subtle differences in the motives for the obedience. Jewish faith places the motive on a fear (healthy respect) of God. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The Christian faith makes love for the God primary motive. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Muhammad summarized the motive for a Muslim in the following way:
Shall I tell you who a true believer is? A person with whom others entrust their money and lives. A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand others are safe. A true fighter in the path of Allah is one who strives against the inner yearnings of his self in order to obey Allah, and the true emigrant (one who leaves a land of disbelief and immigrates to a land of belief) is one who leaves sins and wrongful acts. (Ibn Hibbaan)
All three religions emphasize that this effort to live a life that is pleasing to God is specifically empowered by a careful study of God’s word and through prayer. All three religions stress the need to perform these on a daily basis. All three religions also include fasting and giving as part of their worship to God. It is only in the details where there are differences. In Islam, prayer is required five times a day. The location and method of the prayer are carefully prescribed. Giving (Zakaah) and fasting are also part of the five pillars of Islam and therefore are required to be a part of the Muslim’s life. In Judaism, prayer is considered essential for a right relationship with God, but is not restricted to any particular mode, location, or frequency. Giving (tithe) is to be ten percent and is given as a form of worship. Fasting is recommended, but not required. Christianity is the same as Judaism except that the amount of giving is not defined as a specific amount or percent. Giving, in Christianity, is to be based on a combination of love, the ability of the giver, and the needs that exist.
This comparison of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity gives only a glimpse into the similarities and differences between these religions. However, even this glimpse demonstrates that the differences between the three religions are significant and important. When someone chooses one of these religions to believe, that person, by necessity, must reject the differences of the other two. Since the focus of these religions, as well as most others, is eternal life or eternal damnation, certainly the choice as to which religion to follow is one of the most important decisions that an individual can make.