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Greek Word Study - Partiality

It’s Greek to me! That's what we often say when a word has no meaning to us. In this article we will look at a real switch: a Greek word that was unintelligible to the Greeks!

The word is prosopolempsia (pros oh pol LAIMP see ah). To the average Greek without any Old Testament background, the word must have been a puzzle. He would have recognized the first seven letters as the word “face” and the last seven letters as the word “taking,” but what is face-taking? Using this literal definition he would have read Romans 2:11 and would have given it this literal interpretation: “For there is no face-taking with God.” What’s that supposed to mean?

Actually, what Paul was saying in this verse was a Hebrew concept expressed in Greek words: a judge must not take the face of a person on trial and base his decision on who that person is. God doesn’t do it (Deut. 10:17) and he demands that his people not do it (Deut 1:17).

By now the average Greek would be having even more trouble. Not only is the word strange—so is the concept! While the Greeks admired this quality of fair impartiality in human judges, they did not dream that their gods would be bound by this virtue. After all, can’t a god do anything he wants? It is well and good to idealize justice as blindfolded, holding a sword and a scales, but who’s going to blindfold a god?

But such is the uniqueness of God. He not only establishes the standards of impartial justice—he also submits to them. This fact finally dawned on Peter (Acts 10:34), was proclaimed by Paul (Gal. 2:6), and was put to work by James (James 2:1-9). God and his people don’t take faces!