Deepak Chopra’s ‘The Third Jesus’ Fails Historically & Exegetically

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By J.P. Holding| Up until now, I have read nothing by Deepak Chopra, and now having done so, it is fair to say that I have still read….nothing.

Sadly, words like “appalled” come at once to mind when reading Chopra’s latest effort, The Third Jesus. Appalled, why? In part, because of the exceptionally poor scholarship; also in part because of Chopra’s clearly tendentious, revisionist readings of the New Testament (of which, more below). But also because Chopra’s books, best-sellers that they are, act as brokerages for him to place his ideas into the hands, heads and hearts of those who will know no better.

I will need to offer examples of what I have charged; I will only provide five of each as demonstrations, though these could be multiplied.

Poor scholarship: Chopra’s task is twofold. The first task is to dispense with the Jesus of the “fundamentalists,” and he does so with a host of arguments of the sort that have been repeatedly addressed and refuted, by Tekton or by others.

1. Chopra claims that “afterlife wasn’t part of” the religion of Judaism at the time of Jesus, “much less a Heaven where rewards are meted out to the righteous.” [36] This is false; by Jesus’ time, there was a well-established, detailed idea of an afterlife; a Heaven-like existence in a place called Paradise (or Abraham’s bosom), as well as an idea of hell, and rewards in accord with one’s performance in life.

2. A host of bad arguments is collected on pages 132-4 in summary form, claiming such things as the anonymity of the gospels. Despite the process and scholarship of textual criticism, “[t]here is no agreed method for sorting out when a verse entered the gospels or what the original wording might have been.” Much is made of that Jesus does not smile or laugh; and the gospels, though in the genre of ancient biography, are said to have “nothing close to a full biography.”

3. Chopra names Leviticus as the OT book that had over 600 rules for living [17]; in fact, the 613 laws can be derived from all through the Pentateuch. He also erroneously places 4 Maccabees and Sirach in the Old Testament [37-8]. Trivial though these are, they reflect a stunning unfamiliarity with the concepts Chopra is so confidently critiquing — it is as bad as spelling the title of Revelation with an S on the end, as Bill Maher did.

4. Chopra gives credence to heretical documents like the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Thomas, which he wrongly claims “came closest, perhaps, to being included in the canon of the New Testament” (actually, it was never even considered), can “lay claim to as much authenticity as various versions of the four gospels,” [33], and was “written around the same time as the gospels.” [72]

5. Incorrect definitions of the key Biblical concepts of love and faith.  The latter is especially decontextualized, as Chopra plainly says that faith is “[not] about passing a loyalty test to prove that you are a devout follower,” [61] which is exactly what “faith” (pistis) implies.

In past times, I would have responded to each of these sorts of mistakes in the book with links like these; to do so now would merely be redundant. There was nothing new in Chopra’s rebuttals to speak of.

False interpretations

Revisionist readings: Chopra’s second task is to replace the Jesus of “fundamentalism” with what can fairly be called the Jesus of Deepak. The bulk of The Third Jesus consists of revisionist readings and commentary about various of Jesus’ sayings, in which Chopra gratuitously reads into the words of Jesus all manner of Eastern thought.

Chopra believes that the Jesus of Christianity is “built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars” [9] and that the early church as well as the Gospel writers distorted Jesus’ original message…which was (coincidentally) originally more like what Chopra himself believes:

1. Jesus’ statement, “I and the Father are One,” is made a sign that Jesus had “achieved God-consciousness” [4], which is also the path by which Jesus intended to save the world [10].  This has to do with the triune, co-equality of divine nature that Jesus shared with the Father before He even incarnated.

2. Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek” is read as ahisma, the doctrine of non-violence advocated by Gandhi [14]. But ahisma is connected to karma — which Chopra also reads into Jesus’ “reap what you sow” saying [50] — and both in turn are connected to the cycle of reincarnation in Hinduism, which are concepts completely foreign to Judaism and would never have entered the mind of Jesus or his audience.

On the contrary, “turn the other cheek” as a response to a personal insult (not physical violence, as Chopra reads it) meant not defending your personal honor and thereby starting a feud.  It has nothing to do with Karma and everything to do with honouring God.

3. When Jesus said that the kingdom of God was within us, he “meant everyone” and that it was a “shift in consciousness.” [40] Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees here, whom he also called the children of the devil and children of Hell.  It’s a reference to God’s spiritual kingdom that establishes itself in the spirits of believers through faith by an indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word used here, entos, is also arguably better translated as “in the midst of you” or “among you” instead of “within you”.  In fact, most English translations do not read “the Kingdom of God is within you”.

4. Jesus’ comment about “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matt. 13:22) is taken in support of the notion that “the world itself is an illusion.” [113]  Absolutely no comparison can be made here.

5. John 20:29 is being violated by those who seek “evidence for Jesus’ existence” in things like written records, who by this verse ought to be looking for Jesus “within” themselves instead.  Is this really what Jesus meant when he said blessed are those who believe but have not seen?

Needless to say, none of these interpretations will in any way pass muster as properly contextualized understandings of Jesus’ words. It is not enough for Chopra to dismiss objections by claiming such things as that “it is only provincialism that divides spirituality East and West.” [20] A statement like this reflects an appalling assessment of the nature of spirituality in Palestinian Judaism of the first century. Concepts like karma and “God-consciousness” were simply unknown or flat-out rejected.

Not that Chopra is likely concerned with this. It seems clear that Chopra — in much the same manner as Wayne Dyer or Joel Osteen — has invented a system of epistemic non-disconfirmation for himself in which it will not be possible to convince him of the problems with his thesis. Some time ago, Chopra briefly debated apologist Greg Koukl on Lee Strobel’s Faith Under Fire, and the results were rather predictable, as Chopra was patently unable to defend his views.

But even among his own, Chopra is unconcerned, even as Dyer is, to face up to his inconsistencies. He as much as acknowledges this in the book when retelling an account of turning away a woman at a book signing who asked for a three-hour appointment with him [13]. The woman responded to Chopra’s rejection with a retort that he had said that anything was possible; and so, “If that’s true, you should be able to see me.” Chopra goes on to discuss his own attitude towards the woman, but fails to address the far more important problem of his indefensible worldview.

If this sort of thing does not disturb Chopra, then it is little wonder that he is not disturbed by the supposition that he is arbitrarily remaking Jesus in his own image, apart from a scholarly consensus — even as he appeals to the findings of scholarship (albeit dated and refuted) to deconstruct the “fundamentalist” Jesus.

What then to say of The Third Jesus in summary? It is, again, tragic that this sort of material is being offered in what has already been a best-seller — as of this typing, ranked #1525 in sales on Amazon Books, even ten months after its release. Chopra’s call for a release to “God consciousness” should be taken by Christians as yet another a call to a becoming conscious of what is being falsely presented to our friends and relatives about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is even more tragic that all that Chopra has to say can be so readily refuted — and that we are apparently not doing enough about it. Many Christians can do no more than Chopra did — which is read the Bible in English and say what they think it means — and while Chopra’s reading is inevitably a far more decontextualized one than even that produced by an average Christian today, there are few who could sufficiently defend the premise that that is the case.

This article was originally featured on Tektonic Apologetics and was republished with permission.
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