Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?

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The discussions of whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians have continued in a few places since my recent post. Two posts in particular deserve some attention, raising issues that didn't really come out well in my own post or in my previous discussions of this subject. I'll treat them in separate posts. The second one will probably appear tomorrow.

The first is another Justin Taylor post. Justin quotes a section of a book by Timothy Tennent, in which he argues that 'God' in English is a descriptive term, while 'Allah' in Arabic is more like a proper name. I disagree. He's right about 'Allah', but I think 'God' in English also functions like a proper name. Otherwise we shouldn't capitalize it as a name. We should speak of the god but not of God. So the two are used similarly. But there's a more interesting argument that I thought was worth responding to:

The phrases "God of Muhammad" and "Father of Jesus" are spoken by communities of faith with important books of revelation that provide hundreds of predicates, all helping to set forth the full context for the meaning of thee two phrases. From the perspective, I must conclude that the Father of Jesus is not the God of Muhammad.

I'm with Tennent that it sounds so wrong to say that the God of Muhammad is the Father of Jesus. I'm even close to him on why it sounds so wrong. But I don't think he's quite clarified what the problem is. That sentence involves two terms that aren't mutually acceptable. No Christian will say that God is the God of Muhammad, since that means he's a true follower of God. No Muslim would say that God is the Father of Jesus in the way Christians mean that. So putting the two expressions together in an identity statement is extremely funny, linguistically speaking, and it's strange to affirm such a sentence. Affirming the sentence seems to amount to affirming that both descriptions apply, and no faithful Christian or Muslim would do that.

But you can say all that while still thinking that the referent of the two funny statements is God, even if in one case you think the expression gets something fundamentally wrong about him (just as I can refer to the red-haired man across the room drinking champagne when the guy is actually a bald woman in drag drinking wine in a champagne glass while wearing a red-haired wig). It's technically false that the guy with red hair across the room drinking champagne is my English teacher, even if the woman I'm referring to is my English teacher, and I don't know she's a woman. I still refer to her when I describe her that way. So I don't think this argument counts against the view I've been defending.

2 Comments

Tennent isn't saying that "God" doesn't ever function like a proper noun. His main point in that chapter is that "Allah" always functions as a proper name in Islam. If they want to refer to a "god", they use a different word. We, however, will use the same word.

I think he words the question (Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?) this way for 2 main reasons: one, it's the title of another book that deals with this issue; and two, I think he's trying to avoid the "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same god?" wording that ends up in confusion (see Justin Taylor's blog discussion). I think, in a sense, he's rewording it in order to be a little more helpful. Whether or not he's successful, I suppose, is subjective.

Besides, it's fairly common for writers to spend pages answering a question we already "knew the answer to." The purpose of Tennent's book is to begin to reask and rethink issues in light of the fact that Western Christianity is beginning to encounter other religions on a more regular basis. I have found it refreshing.

But we use lower case when we use 'god' as a common nouns, so it isn't exactly the same word as the proper name 'God'.

I think he's being less helpful wording it that way.

As I said, I agree with much that he was saying.

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