Do Jewish People and Christians Worship the Same God?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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Once, while I was standing in Jerusalem surrounded by devout Jewish people, I listened to a talk an American pastor was giving to the people visiting Israel with him. “Don’t think for a second that these Jewish people worship the same God as you and I do,” he said. “They don’t! Jewish people don’t believe in the Triune God we believe in. They don’t believe in the true God of the Bible. They believe in a different god.”

Maybe you have also wondered if Jewish people worship the same God as Christians. I believe that this issue is so important that we should look at what the Scriptures actually say. A close look at the New Testament reveals that Jewish people and Christians do worship the same God. To help us understand why this is true, we’ll look closely at some biblical passages found in Paul’s defenses given near the end of the book of Acts and then at the heart of Paul’s theology of Israel in the book of Romans.[1]

Paul’s Defenses

The Same God—Acts 22:3

The first verse to consider is Acts 22:3. In the context (Acts 21:27–40), Paul had been falsely accused of bringing a Gentile beyond the court of the Gentiles into the Jerusalem temple. It was alleged that Paul brought Trophimus of Ephesus to an area forbidden for non-Jews to enter and to worship (Acts 21:29). Rather than accept his arrest quietly, Paul asks and receives permission to address the crowd (Acts 21:40). In chapter 22, he begins to tell his faith story and says in verse 3, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.” Speaking to this Jewish crowd, Paul didn’t say that he is zealous for God (referring to the God of the Bible with a capital G) but that they were zealous for a different god (with a small g). By saying that he was zealous for God just as they were, Paul indicated that both he and the Jewish people worship the same God.

The Same Hope—Acts 24:14-15

Not only did Paul and the Jewish people worship the same God, they also held the same hope of the resurrection. In Acts 24:14–15, Paul is on trial for the same alleged offense of bringing a Gentile into a forbidden area of the temple (Acts 24:5–9). However, this time he is being judged by the Roman governor Felix. Addressing Felix, Paul says of those Jewish people who accused him of wrongdoing: “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:14–15). Paul is saying that his faith and expectation is that God will raise the dead and that his Jewish accusers share that same faith and expectation in God. Since they both share the same hope, it would lead to the conclusion that their hope is in the same God as Paul’s.

The Same Worship—Acts 26:6-7

In addition to sharing the same hope, Paul and the Jewish people observed the same worship. In Acts 26:6–7, Paul is still on trial for the same alleged offense (Acts 25:23–27). This time, however, he presents his case to the Jewish King Agrippa, saying, “And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews” (Acts 26:6–7). When saying that Jewish people earnestly serve God, the word Paul uses, “serve,” actually is a Greek word used in Scripture to mean “worship.” The verse is speaking of the God who made a covenant with Abraham and it clearly states Jewish people worship Him. Paul and the Jewish people shared the same worship.

Paul’s Theology

In Romans chapters 9 to 11, Paul articulates his theology of Israel and the Jewish people. Specifically, in Romans 10:2, after expressing a heart of compassion for his Jewish brothers who don’t yet believe Jesus is the Messiah, Paul says, “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.” The word “zeal,” according to the standard Greek lexicon, means to have “intense positive interest in something . . . ardor.”[2] It’s the very same word used in John 2:17 to describe the enthusiasm of the Lord Jesus for God’s temple: “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” Based on this usage, I would define this word to mean “having passionate activism.” Therefore, Paul identifies his Jewish brothers as passionate activists, not for being Jewish, but for the God of Israel, the same God for whom Paul was zealous.

This verse is helpful because it reveals that Jewish people worship the same God, but, nevertheless, have an incomplete view of Him. Their zeal is “not in accordance with knowledge.” Although there are some Jewish believers in Jesus (see Rom. 11:1–5), most Jewish people who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob do not realize that He is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 11:31). They do not acknowledge that He is triune, nor do they recognize that Jesus is the promised Lord and Messiah.

The Bible makes it clear that this incomplete knowledge leads to incomplete worship. Therefore, in Romans 10:1, Paul says his “heart’s desire and . . . prayer to God” for the Jewish people is that they might be saved. Jewish people worship the same God but in an incomplete way. They still need to know Jesus and experience forgiveness by believing in Him. So we must pray for them and tell them lovingly of the good news that the Messiah of Israel has come, and that He is Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth.

Final Thoughts

One last thought: We may very well be thinking about this question incorrectly. Instead of asking, “Do Jewish people worship the same God as Christians?,” we might want to turn that question around and acknowledge that Christians worship the God of Israel. When Christians worship the God of the Bible, they are worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Christians worship the Holy One of Israel, as Isaiah called Him (for example, Isa. 12:6, one of 29 times this title is used in Isaiah). Instead of portraying Jewish people as worshiping a different false god, Christians should acknowledge that their faith is in the God revealed in the Hebrew Bible, the God of Israel. And if Christians truly appreciated that, it might lead to greater respect for the Jewish people and also a deeper determination to present the Good News to our Jewish friends. Realizing that Gentile Christians are standing on the Rock of Israel (2 Sam. 23:3; Isa. 30:29), they will have greater resolve to proclaim lovingly that the Messiah of Israel has come and His name is Yeshua, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1).

[1] I am indebted to my friend and colleague Gerald Peterman for his excel- lent unpublished article, “Worshiping a Different God? Jews, Christians and the Paul of Acts 22–26.” Evangelical Theological Society, 2008.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 427.

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