God is Not a Respecter of Persons

Several times in Scripture we encounter the phrase, “God is not a respecter of persons” or “God does not show partiality.” On the basis of this phrase, some have argued that the doctrine of unconditional election could not be true since if he chose one and passed over another he would be showing favoritism. In considering this question, it is helpful to remember, first of all, what God has revealed about his actions in this regard. Then, it is important to consider this phrase in the contexts in which it occurs.

First, consider what the Bible reveals about God’s treatment of men and nations. In Deut. 7:6-8, God speaks about his choice of Israel as a nation and as a special people. This is what the text reveals,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The text clearly reveals that “God loved Israel and chose Israel to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples of the earth” simply because he loved them and was keeping the oath he swore to their fathers. He clearly treated this nation better than any other nation on earth. He showed favoritism toward them.

Additionally, contrary to the natural order, he loved Jacob and hated Esau. Though this applies to the nations that descended from these two individuals, it applies none the less to two unborn children. Paul wrote,

‘For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls- she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ (Rom. 9:9-13).

These verses reveal to us that God declared, while these two individuals were still unborn and before they had done anything good or evil, that he was going to treat them differently. According to the ordinary order, the younger would serve the older, but God reversed the order and promised to love and bless one above the other. In other words, God sovereignly determined that he would show greater favor to one child than he did to the other.

As the passage continues, it becomes clear that God chose to treat Moses better than he treated the Pharaoh. God answered Moses’ request to show him his glory, but he made it clear that the revelation of his glory was a matter of mercy and not of merit (Exo. 33:19). Moses did not deserve God’s blessing any more than the Pharaoh did. Both deserved the wrath and curse of God, yet God chose to treat Moses differently from the Pharaoh.

Consider Jesus’ rebuke of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in Matthew 11:20-27:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’ At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He clearly tells them they had received a greater revelation from God than he had given Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. If these others had received equal revelation from God, Jesus says they would have repented. What is clear is that God did not treat all these people equally. When Jesus addresses the reason behind this unequal treatment of these people groups, his answer is “yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The Scriptures are filled with examples of God treating people unequally. He sends the gospel to some and forbids his messengers to preach the gospel to others. He heals some and passes by others, leaving them in their sickness. And we could go on and on. “God is no respecter of persons,” or “God does not show partiality” cannot mean God treats everyone equally, and it certainly cannot mean God has not chosen some and passed over others because it was his good pleasure to do so.

What, then, does this phrase mean in those contexts in which it occurs in the Scriptures? Let me just list some of the passages in which we encounter this phrase or words similar to it:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deut.10:17).

“He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes” (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).

“. . . who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands”(Job 34:19)?

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts:10:34-35).

“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:9-11).

“And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6).

“. . .knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”(Eph. 6:8-9).

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality”(Col. 3:23-25).

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,. . . .”(1 Pet. 1:17).

Now, permit me to make several observations concerning these verses.

1. None of these verses occurs in a context in which the issue is remotely concerned with God’s purpose of grace. These contexts have absolutely nothing to do with whether God chose certain sinners and passed over others.

2. Most of these verses are concerned with judges and judgment. Judges are to judge justly and not take bribes because they are to pattern themselves after the Lord who is a righteous judge. The entire context in Romans concerns God’s righteous standard of judgment. God does not judge on the basis of race, religion, respectability, or ritual. His judgment is based on righteousness as defined by his law. “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Pet. 1:17).

3. Some of these verses have to do with God accepting Gentiles as well as Jews, e.g., Acts 10:34-35. “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

4. The point of all these passages is that God does not show partiality to any person based on race, rank (Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:8-9), or riches. He will not give a pass to anyone based on any of these criteria.

The only conclusion we can draw is that “God does not show partiality,” has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of divine election.


2 Responses to “God is Not a Respecter of Persons”

  1. August 27, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    But Randy – How could a loving God (made up in my imagination, of course) not give everybody (except those evil people that give me the creeps) the chance to go to heaven (which is nothing like how I imagine it, but that’s not the point!)?

    Excellent post, my brother.

  2. August 27, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    You have hit the nail on the head. Their god is imaginary, fashioned according to their sentimental desires, and vanishing if he fails to match their expectations. I am adding this post as a chapter in “A Faulty Compass.” I am also working on a conclusion. Thanks of your comment.

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