Is God Partial? (Romans Chapter 9)
Romans chapter 9 presents a difficulty in that it can appear in some ways to show partiality on God’s part and even support predestination which would certainly reflect poorly on God’s character. Would God arbitrarily choose some to be saved and some to be lost? Is that fair? Paul advised Timothy against partiality; against showing favor to some to the disadvantage of others:
“I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” (1 Tim 5:21)
James says that in heaven’s system (“from above”) there is no partiality shown:
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
One of the more-difficult verses in Romans 9 is:
“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Rom 9:15)
This is quoted from:
“And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Exo 33:19)
We need to understand who God is willing to show mercy to. The following verses show God’s attitude as far as His mercy and willingness to save:
“And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,” (Exo 34:6)
“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psa 86:5)
“For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” (Psa 100:5)
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.” (Micah 7:18)
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4)
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
Since “God is not willing that any should perish,” His choice must be to have mercy and compassion on everyone. And He does – if they will accept it, they will receive it. Thus, God is not showing partiality at all. This version of Romans 9:15 is consistent with what else is revealed in scripture about God’s mercy and His partiality (or lack thereof):
“For he says to Moses, “I choose to be merciful to all humanity, and I will have compassion on the entire human race.” (Rom 9:15, The Remedy NT)
So the ever-merciful God of heaven who delights in mercy has plenty of mercy for everyone. The question is: will they call upon him to receive it?
Another verse in Romans 9 that could be seen as partiality on God’s part is:
“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Rom 9:17)
Many people will read this and think that God caused Pharaoh to harden his heart and refuse to let Israel go so that God could work all the miracles He did to get the attention of the whole world at that time. Was it God’s goal to have the whole world fear Him because of the manifestation of His power in destroying the country of Egypt and drowning the whole Egyptian army? Is that consistent with God’s character of mercy and willingness that all be saved as expressed in the verses quoted earlier? Is it consistent with One Who does not want to give us the spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7)? Or is there another way to understand these events that is consistent with a God of mercy?
The “in thee” of verse 17 could be translated “through thee.” That is really the meaning here and in other uses by Paul such as:
“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal 3:8)
But, notice, the verse did not say that God destroyed Pharaoh in order that His name might be known but that God “raised thee up” that His name (really, His character) might be made known through Pharaoh. What if God’s will and plan and desire was that Pharaoh would accept Him and make Him known? Pharaoh was in a position to spread the knowledge of God far and wide. Pharaoh could have accepted God’s attempts to reach his heart. God loved Pharaoh and the Egyptians and wanted to save them as much as He wanted to save Israel.
This idea is not so strange. It is consistent with God’s attempt to reach the Assyrian kingdom. In that case, with Jonah taking a message to Nineveh, it was successful.
“For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:6)
Is God partial? No, there is no evidence in Romans chapter 9 or in the story of Pharaoh that He was acting that way. There is such a strong tendency, because of the way we have been taught, to see God in a certain way. With careful reading and reasoning and always starting from the understanding of His character as revealed in the life of His Son, God can be seen in a much better light.
He will always act towards us with mercy and willingness that we be saved.