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