St. Paul and Allah

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.

-Acts 17:16ff, NIV

I’m really torn on the Yahweh/Allah question.  I think both perspectives make strong points.  Here are a few of my thoughts.

  1. Arabic-speaking Christians use Allah in place of the English term “God.”  I don’t think that’s significant, and it’s why I tried in my prior post to distinguish not between God and Allah, but between the God of the Christian scriptures and the God of the Qur’an.  You could just as easily say the Allah of the New Testament and the Allah of the Qur’an.  Common names don’t mean common referent.
  2. If I grant that Muslims and Christians express faith in the same God, I do not therefore mean that I believe Muslims and Christians are equally saved by their faith.  The deity may be the same, but the nature of the faith is radically different.  Here is where I think a belief in the incarnation and atonement are of most central concern.
  3. The passage above seems to make a strong case for viewing the Muslim faith as directing itself toward the God of Jesus, Joseph and Abraham.  Paul seems to make the same assumption about the pagan idols in Athens.  According to Peter Kreeft, the Unknown God has its roots in Socratic belief, as Socrates reasoned that behind the gods stood an inscrutable, unknowable god who granted them all meaning.  Paul seems to grant the legitimacy of this concept (and to grant that their poets, in writing about their own gods, were unintentionally writing about the True God), but to attempt to persuade them into a fuller understanding.
  4. In 1965 the Catholic Church issued a document affirming that all three of the world’s monotheistic faiths worshiped the same God.  Pope John Paul II affirmed this statement in 2000.  Pope Benedict XVI (who, unlike JPII, is a theologian and not a philosopher by training) has made reference to this, even while making very sharp and unpopular criticisms of global Islam and highlighting differences between Christian and Muslims faith and worship.
  5. According to Volf, this isn’t a merely academic topic, but makes a huge difference in how Christians (and those influenced by Christian cultures) and Muslims will interact in the future.  He says, “In a sense, hatred needs to emphasize difference so it can appropriately latch itself onto the object of our hatred. Violence needs difference so it can unleash itself. That’s why Jews were called vermin in the Holocaust. That’s why Tutsis were called cockroaches in Rwanda. Emphasizing difference precedes violence. We need to see each other as alien in order to unleash our hatred in violence.”
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2 responses to “St. Paul and Allah

  1. I love when we think the same things and then you provide me resources for those thoughts.

  2. It seems simple and logical to say that “there is only One God.” There is a big difference between religions. They are not even close in their instructions. But there is only One God that made and rules the Universe and probably multiple dimensions. The relationship with God and people is that we are subjects under the One Awesome God that made and rules everything. We are just like “grasshoppers” and “clay pots”; and God is the one who makes or breaks us. JESUS offers us something vastly different – The Only WAY to the FATHER. Not just “God”, but the FATHER. We are family and children of God through Jesus. Jesus is the Only way to the family of God.

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