Beyond Bias

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Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

In 1 Timothy 5:21, Paul writes, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.” This verse sings a common refrain to Christians: we are to do what God asks, making no exceptions, even for certain people.

The word for bias in verse 21 is prokrima, a neuter noun meaning “an opinion formed before the facts are known” or “a prejudgment, a prejudice.” In the entire Bible, it is only used in this verse. The King James Version (KJV) translates it, “preferring one before another.” The word for partiality is the related word, prosklisis, meaning “an inclination or proclivity of mind, a joining the party of one, partiality.” It too is only used once: in this same verse.

The principles Paul entreats us to maintain without bias or a spirit of partiality are probably contained in the previous verses of this section, seventeen to twenty:

17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.

These principles should be applied equally to all elders and sinners.

As the Bible puts it, “You shall not show partiality” or “respect of persons.” Deuteronomy 1:17 elaborates on the first phrase: “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s.” This small verse packs in two precepts while further defining partiality: we are to treat humble and great people equally. Since we’re simply enforcing God’s judgement, we’re not to stray from it because of a person’s influence or lack thereof.

Enforcing God’s judgement is not judgmentalism, as those who are judged by God sometimes accuse others of being. Judgmentalism is making a judgment that isn’t God’s.  James 4:11-12 says, 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”

Four times in the Bible, “respect of persons” is translated as one word, prosopolempsia, meaning partiality: “the fault of one who when called on to give judgment has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high born, or powerful, to another who does not have these qualities.” Once the phrase is translated as the related word prosopolempteo. Aprosopolemptos is also used in 1 Peter 1:17 with the same clear meaning. I like the KJV translation of this verse and the next two on

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

God does not show partiality or respect of persons. Neither should we. And while we’re on earth, we should never forget that we are only redeemed by the blood of Christ–applied equally to all believers, no matter who they are.

Greek translations and lexicon from the KJV (King James Version) of The Blue Letter Bible

NASB Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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