Did God Play Favorites in the Bible and Does He Today?

It’s essential to recognize that these truths are not ultimate favoritism but rather ultimate favor by a God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son to redeem people who were unlovable to a perfectly holy God.

Updated Apr 14, 2021
Did God Play Favorites in the Bible and Does He Today?

I learned a hard lesson about favoritism first-hand in high school. Just about every club, sport, and extracurricular group ran by it. If the person who headed the group decided they liked you, you made Varsity. You got the lead role in the musical. You got leadership positions. If they didn't like you, well, you warmed the bench. I didn't like the favoritism ... and the Bible seems to indicate that God doesn't like it either.

Favoritism, by definition, means giving unwarranted, preferential treatment to one person over another.

Seems legit, then, why God would make a stand against it. After all, he made us all in his image. 

But wait a second, Hope. Doesn't he play favorites? Didn't he choose the nation of Israel and have an inner circle of disciples? In this article, we'll dive into the seeming contradictions of God's favor and favoritism. We'll also discuss how the Bible speaks out against playing favorites—using some examples that ended in disastrous consequences in Scripture. Let's dive in!

Does God Play Favorites in the Bible?

Let's address the two main examples of seeming favoritism, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In this, we'll make a distinction between favor and favoritism.

Israel: God's Chosen Nation

Many people accuse the Bible of xenophobia and racism from this point alone. That God chose a nation specifically to be his people: Israel. Why did he do this? Why couldn't he make every nation "his" nation?

God did this for a number of reasons. First, by the time God called Abraham (Abram at the time) nations had already delved into darkness. Even after a global flood wiped out a good portion of the people on earth (Genesis 6), people had reverted back to their sinful ways. God wanted to consecrate a nation. To set them apart as an example of righteous living. This serves as a forerunner to Christianity, as we see the parallels between the Old and New Testament.

Secondly, the Bible makes it clear that Israel comes from lowly means (Deuteronomy 7). Had God chosen a powerful nation like Egypt or Babylon to become his peoples, they may have attributed their successes and merits based on their own power, rather than God's provision. But by God choosing the "least of these" among the nations, through their victories, he shows that he guides their steps and he has blessed them.

Thirdly, we need to understand that Israel alone is not God's chosen people forever.

God opens up the gates to the Gentiles after his sacrifice on the cross. He allows all people of all nations to be grafted into the family of God. We even see examples throughout the Old Testament of non-Israelites such as Rahab, Ruth, and others receiving God's favor.

Jesus' Inner Circle

OK, Hope, so maybe God opened up the doors to all people to receive his favor. But during Jesus' ministry, he had three favorite disciples who got special access to things like the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). What gives?

Great question. And honestly, one I questioned myself for a while until I realized why Jesus specifically chose Peter, John, and James to spend more time with them. It's the same reason why a pastor would spend more time with people whom he plans to pass off his ministry, as opposed to other workers in the church. These three would fill leadership roles in the early church. Peter was literally called the Rock in which the foundation of the church was set (Matthew 16). Many people who are Catholic assert that Peter was the first Pope.

James, although martyred early one, occupied a leadership role in an early fledgling church. And John wrote a great deal of the books we have in the New Testament and also served in leadership positions in the Early Church. This is not to say that the other disciples did not do so, but we have little record of what became of them after the Gospel accounts. We have to rely mostly on tradition.

Jesus did not spend time with the inner circle more because he loved them more. No, he loved all his followers equally. But he needed to spend extra time to prepare them for their next roles.

Doesn't the Bible Speak Against Favoritism?

The Bible makes a clear stance against favoritism. Not only in the verses below:

James 2:9: "But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors."

Leviticus 19:15: "You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor."

Romans 2:11: "For God shows no partiality."

Deuteronomy 10:17: "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."

But we see countless examples of shattered lives because of favoritism. All we have to do is look at the patriarchs. 

Because Abraham showed clear favoritism toward Isaac, since Sarah had given birth to Isaac as opposed to Hagar (a servant of Sarah) giving birth to Ishmael, the descendants of Ishmael and Israel have had intense tension between themselves for millennia. Because Isaac and Rebekah decided to choose favorites between Jacob and Esau, the two nations that came of these two brothers went to war. Because Jacob showed special favor to his son Joseph, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. Thankfully Joseph didn't hold this against them (Genesis 50:20). But we can only imagine the hurt Joseph went through in his time of slavery and imprisonment, all because Jacob had not learned the harsh lesson of favoritism his father had inflicted on him.

Favoritism divides nations, rips apart families, and causes rifts of hurt that only God can mend.

What Should Christians Know about Favoritism Today

So we get the picture. The Bible does not like favoritism. But how should we address this today?

First, we need to recognize where we play favorites in our own lives, especially within the body of the church. God has given each of us a purpose, no purpose more important than the other. Do we treat the facilities staff at our church the same as the head pastor? (My brother worked as a facilities manager, and let me tell you ... people do not). Do we glorify the authors, the celebrities, the sports stars, but make no room for those who are not displaying their talents on a national level? Do we praise missionaries and clergy, but look down upon those who do non-ministry-related jobs such as accounting or computer software engineering? 

Secondly, we need to recognize the fact that God plays no favorites. And no one can fall too far from grace.

Do you isolate yourself from people in the church who don't fit the mold? Maybe the goth teenager who sits by herself in the pew or a man who has been recently divorced from his wife? God doesn't play favorites, and neither should we. The Gospel is for everyone, and if we want to be the church of Christ, we need to show that in our actions.

For further reading:

What Is God’s Favor?

Why Did God Withhold from His Most Faithful in the Bible?

What Must I Do to Hear “Well Done My Good and Faithful Servant?”

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/farakos

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, book editor for hire, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids. Check out her editing profile at Reedsy.com to find out about hiring her for your next book project.


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