The Claim: Christians and Muslims Adopted the Jewish God
The Jewish god was adopted by the Christians and (under the Arabic name, Allah) the Muslims. Christianity and Islam are offshoots of the ancient Jewish religion. The first part of the Christian Bible is purely Jewish, and the Muslim holy book, the Quran, is partly derived from Jewish scriptures. Those three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are often grouped together as the ‘Abrahamic’ religions, because all three trace back to the mythical patriarch Abraham, who is also revered as the founder of the Jewish people.
Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God, Chapter 1: So many Gods!
- God was never considered to be only the God of the Jews.
- Islam and Christianity do not enjoy the same type of relationship with the Jewish religion. Unlike Islam, Christianity is a continuance, not an adoption, of what came before in the Jewish religion.
- The adoption of a belief system does not undermine its veracity, but only serves to strengthen the evidence that people intuitively know there is a universal truth and that holds indispensable value for us as human beings.
God was never only "the Jewish God"
The Old Testament’s Jewishness does not give itself to the argument that the God presented there is only “the Jewish God.” As God’s chosen people, the Jews recorded God’s teaching, laws, and interventions in the Old Testament. In light of this, it should come as no surprise that the Old Testament is “purely Jewish!” Rather than attesting to the claim that Christians adopted the Jewish God, this characteristic of the Old Testament is evidence of God working through a particular and unique people to accomplish His purposes for all of humanity. That means that as these people presented God’s truth, what resulted was culturally and linguistically flavored with the Jews’ unique personality as a people. The fact that God chooses to work through that personality rather than suppressing it does not undermine the idea that the expressed truth is universal and for all people.
Simply calling God “the Jewish god” implies that God belonged to the Jews or was exclusively their God. However, the God the Christians worship was never “the Jewish God.” That idea stems from the belief that the Christian God started out as the Jews’ tribal God who was one among a buffet of tribal gods of ancient times. According to their own religious texts, the Jews were, indeed, God’s chosen people. However, the Jewish people did not adopt God - He adopted them. They never considered Yahweh to be the God of the Jews alone.
Yahweh (the Hebrew name for God in the Bible) is different than other tribal gods of the time in that His reach was not constrained to geography, ethnicity, or natural forces. He exercised judgment over other nations - the most obvious example being His action in Egypt (Exodus 4:14-14:31). But He also extended mercy and grace to them as well, such as in the case of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. God, planning to destroy the city, relents in an act of mercy and grace towards them.
Numerous verses of Scripture will affirm that Yahweh is the Creator and therefore God over all His creation, including every tribe and nation. He chose the Jews to witness that to the nations. One cannot “adopt” God as God, since He is God regardless of whether one recognizes and accepts that. One only comes to a place where he/she sees and acknowledges the truth that God is God and chooses to accept or reject that truth.
Islam and Christianity are different in their relationships to the Jewish Religion
Islam did not adopt Judaism but borrowed from it
Dawkins’s first mistake is putting Christianity and Islam in the same category regarding their relationship with the Jewish God. While on the surface, Islam looks like it enjoys a close relationship with the Jewish religion, the differences and discontinuity between the Qur’anic text and the Torah clearly show that the Islamic religion did not adopt the Jewish God, but instead borrowed elements of Jewish material. In doing so, those elements were taken out of their original context and inserted into different stories and paradigms that do not line up with the overarching narrative of the Bible. Inserted into the foreign material of the Qur’an, the biblical elements take on a different meaning that presents a very different theology and God from what is presented in the Torah (Andy Bannister, Understanding and Answering Islam 2020).
For example, Abraham is one of the biblical figures borrowed from the Torah and presented in the Qur’an. His story, however, is completely different in the Islamic text from the one told in the Torah. One of several key differences in the story is which son—Isaac or Ishmael—God uses to test Abraham. The Torah says God used Isaac to test Abraham, whereas the Qur’an says He tested Abraham with Ishmael. This is important, because what each son represents factors into the theology of the text. Ishmael was the son of Hagar, the slave woman, and Isaac was the son of Sarah (often referred to in Christianity as the son of promise). This is heavily significant, because in the Torah, human beings are enslaved to sin, and they are at the mercy of the grace of God given through His covenant promises to Abraham. These promises are represented in the birth of Abraham’s promised son, Isaac.
In the Qur’an, however, sin is not emphasized even in the story of Adam and Eve, and so slavery to sin and its effects is a concept that is nearly foreign to the Qur’an (Bannister 2020). This makes void and null the need for the type of covenantal promises that point to a Savior, much less the provisional love, mercy, and grace of God represented by the covenants. In fact, Andy Bannister points out that love is a completely foreign concept in the Qur’an, as well. There is clearly no continuity between the themes of Torah and what is happening in the Qur’an.
Because sin, the separation of humanity from God, and the covenantal promises are all themes that are either downplayed or completely absent in the Qur’anic text, the use of the concept of the Messiah in the text is irrelevant. In the Understanding and Answering Islam 2020 conference, Andy Bannister points out that the Arabic word used to refer to Jesus’ Messiahship, ‘All-Masih,’ is not explained by the Qur’an. It has no significant meaning or relevance and is there for seemingly no reason. This is strong evidence that the concept of messiahship was borrowed. Whoever inserted it thought it was important enough to include, but had no idea what to do with it in the Qur’anic framework.
In light of these differences, Muslims worship a very different god than the Jews worship. Muslims worship a distant god who is not concerned about having a relationship with humanity other than that which resembles a master and slave. They worship a god who may or may not allow them into heaven even if they follow his rules. This does not match up with the God of the Bible, who credits Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness and enters into a covenant of loving-kindness with Abraham for the good of all humanity. Clearly, adopted is the wrong term to use in reference to Islam’s relationship with the Jewish religion and God.
Christianity did not adopt the Jewish religion; it is its sequel
Unlike Islam, Christianity did not borrow ingredients of the Jewish religion and bake them into something new. Nor did they simply come and adopt the Jewish religion and the Jewish God. In fact, the first Christians were Jews who worshiped the same God their Old Testament ancestors worshipped! Jesus, the initiator of the new and final covenant in God’s redemptive work, was Jewish. In the beatitudes, especially in Matthew 5:17, Jesus reveals the relational continuity between the Old Testament and God’s covenantal work in his life, death, and resurrection:
Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but fulfill. (NIV)
Looking at the metanarrative and God’s covenantal work in the Old Testament will help us see this continuity more clearly. In Genesis, God sets up His kingdom on earth through the rulership of Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve sinned, God used covenants as vehicles for furthering His plan and purpose to redeem and restore humanity and establish His kingdom. The Abrahamic covenant promised blessing for all Earth’s families through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). The sacrifices and priesthood of the Mosaic covenant foreshadowed the Redeemer that would come for people of every tribe and every nation. The Davidic covenant pointed to the future eternal King who would rule over all of creation (2 Samuel 7:8-17, 1 Chronicles 17:11-15; 2 Chronicles 6:16).
Finally, in Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26-27, God promises to make a new covenant by which He will put His Spirit in His people to cause them to walk in His ways. This new covenant is tied in with the Davidic covenant:
"In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: The Lord our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:15-16 KJV)
This new covenant is the covenant ratified in the blood of Jesus Christ–a descendant of David, the true eternal king. He is the once-and-for-all sacrifice and eternal priest who has fulfilled the law of Moses (Matthew 5:17). And he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that all families of the earth shall be blessed because of him (2 Corinthians 1:20).
A brief look at God’s missional purpose and the covenants He established to accomplish it shows that, rather than Christians adopting the Jewish God and creating an offshoot of ancient Judaism, they have accepted Jesus’s work on the cross as the culmination of all God’s salvific work that came before it.
Is Adoption a Measure of Truth?
Though Dawkins’s claim that Christians adopted the Jewish God has been shown to be theologically inaccurate, the logical implications of his argument are worthy of considerable attention. What if Dawkins’s claim was correct, and Christians did simply adopt the Jewish God and religion? Does that argument undermine Christianity and its claim to truth or even its validity as a worldview?
Dawkins’s reasoning rests upon the presupposition that adoption is a standard by which to measure the truth/validity of a system. Using that as a springboard, he forms the premise of his argument, which is that adoption actually undermines the truth of a belief.
However, if we look at the use of adoption in our world, it can easily be seen that his premise is false. Adoption affirms the value of something instead of taking away from it. For example, a couple adopting a child not only affirms the value of that child as a human being but also acknowledges the value of the concept of family. Furthermore, it would be a gross mistake to look at a family and say that because one of its members is adopted, it is not a true or valid family! Even more absurd would be the claim that the adoption undermines the concept of the family completely! Likewise, the adoption of a belief system acknowledges the existence of a truth. Contrary to the preachings of a post-truth society, it even affirms the value of truth for people. What the adoption does not and cannot do is speak to the truth of a specific belief system. It does not undermine the validity of the worldview any more than adoption undermines the validity of a family.
Dawkins uses adoption to point to the evolution of ideas/beliefs over time (meme theory), as if that idea undermines worldviews built upon beliefs that come from ancient times. This implies that ideas and beliefs evolve on a linear spectrum, from more primitive to more intelligent. This is problematic because it assumes that the age of idea is indicative of its veracity. This assumption has repeatedly been proven to be incorrect. I was just watching a documentary called “Atlantis Rising” from National Geographic, and the host visited the dig site of a 3,500-3,600-year-old civilization that built earthquake resistant structures and had plumbing! If ideas are invalid and unintelligent simply because they are old and have been adopted and adapted over the course of time, then, based upon the knowledge of this civilization, we definitely need to question the validity of our plumbing and regional earthquake resistant structures today! I’m not sure about you, but, living in California, I do not want to question earthquake resistant structures, and I especially do not want to do away with plumbing!
Dawkins suggests that religious beliefs are accepted blindly and without any critical reflection and that commonalities between faiths prove this claim. However, even a cursory read through Paul’s letters demonstrates a mind that is wrestling with, and critically reflecting upon, all of the previous material passed on from his Jewish ancestors. This is no mindless process of belief absorption. Rather, it is an active, critical, integrative grasp of a new understanding of the old religious system in light of the Christ event.
Dawkins’s assertion assumes the Jewish God belonged only to the Jews, which is undermined by the fact that Yahweh was explicitly never confined to geographical or ethnic boundaries. Furthermore, his claim that Muslims and Christians adopted the Jewish God fails to take into account the continuity Christianity enjoys with the Jewish religion, which is in sharp contrast to the discontinuity and large differences between the Qur’an and Torah. Lastly, the implication that the adoption of a God or a belief system undermines a worldview is flawed because adoption is not a measure of truth but an affirmation of value.
I would like to express sincere thanks to @anthony.costello , who gave several significant contributions to this response.