There are a number of verses in the Bible that say that God is "not partial" (Deuteronomy 10:17) or that he "shows no partiality" (Romans 2:11, ESV). How do Calvinists square such verses with their doctrine of predestination, in which God specifically chooses some people to be saved but not others?

Related question, but not specific to challenges based on these passages: According to Calvinism, why does God give mercy to some and not to others?


2 Answers 2


Summary: Calvinists interpret these passages as referring to God's righteousness and justice — that he is a fair judge, consistently judging sin as wrong, whether committed by rich or poor, strong or weak, native or foreigner. They do not indicate that God's gracious gifts – wealth, strength, and even salvation – are distributed equally to all.

Calvinists argue that the context of Deuteronomy 10:17–18 makes it clear that "partiality" here refers to God being a just judge, like many other similar passages in the Old Testament:

17 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. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (ESV)

John Calvin says that here "God distinguishes Himself from men, who are carried away by outward appearance, to hold the rich in honor, and the poor in contempt; to favor the beautiful or the eloquent, and to despise the unseemly."1 Obviously the phrasing "not partial" here cannot mean that "God's justice requires that everyone have identical gifts," since these very verses presume the existence of the weak, poor, and foreign. Rather, God "does not regard persons," as older English translations put it: he does not give weight to the outward appearance and station of men.

John Frame2 points out that, a few chapters earlier (Deuteronomy 7), we see this principle applied to the election of Israel:

7 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, 8 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. (ESV)

God's election here follows the same principle: he does not show "partiality" by choosing a powerful people. Neither is his choice based on Israel's merit (Deuteronomy 9:4, 6), but rather it is simply an act of grace (Deuteronomy 10:15, Ezekiel 16:1–14).2 The ultimate reason for electing some and not others is a mystery to us (Romans 9:15–21, Exodus 33:19),3 but we know it is not "partiality." (For more on this mystery, see: According to Calvinism, why does God give mercy to some and not to others?)

Other passages refer God's lack of partiality in the context of Jew vs. Gentile, like Acts 10:34–35 and, quoted below, Romans 2:9–11:

9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (ESV)

Here, Calvin says, we see that God regards "purity of heart or inward integrity," not "kindred, country, dignity, wealth, and similar things," and that on this basis Jews and Gentiles "are both without any distinction exposed to eternal death." He then proceeds to rebut what he elsewhere calls the Pelagian objection:

But if any hence objects and says, "That then there is no such thing as the gratuitous election of God;" it may be answered, That there is a twofold acceptation of men before God; the first, when he chooses and calls us from nothing through gratuitous goodness, as there is nothing in our nature which can be approved by him; the second, when after having regenerated us, he confers on us his gifts, and shows favor to the image of his Son which he recognizes in us."4

That is to say: God shows no partiality in his judgment, nor does he base election on something in a particular man's nature. Instead, he chooses and blesses the elect out of grace alone.

  1. Calvin, Harmony of the Law, Volume 3, Eighth Commandment
  2. Frame, Systematic Theology (2013), ISBN: 9781596382176, p210
  3. Frame, p223–24
  4. Calvin, Commentary on Romans. The "Pelagian" language is found in his Commentary on Acts 10:34.

If God “shows no partiality,” how do Calvinists defend predestination?

The application of "predestination" would by definition be "before".

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Since there is much we do not know, some interesting possibilities emerge. Consider that God gave predestination to all he had planned to create (those he foreknew). It may be that the lost comprise a group that God had not intended to create.

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

Matthew 3:12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Romans 9:2223 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

Matthew 13:24-30 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

It may be that election (predestination) was intended to be universal, but the introduction of sin with its attendant sexual profligacy resulted in a parallel population that was not foreknown. While this population has its sins paid for by Jesus and the offer of salvation is extended to it, without the intervention of the Father, there will be no interest in Jesus.

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

The Father may not be withholding salvation but be restricted to those he "foreknew". There is so much we do not know and perhaps cannot know, that we need to be careful not to confuse surmise for doctrine.

  • 3
    This is pretty shocking to me: "It may be that the lost comprise a group that God had not intended to create." Who holds this view? Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 18:20
  • 3
    Looks to me like this is a wrong answer, but that it attempts to answer the question from a Calvinist perspective. Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 3:58
  • 1
    As others have noted, this is is a demonstrably incorrect answer. This is simply wrong in its attempt to represent Calvinist theology.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 7:30

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