Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Nobody Knows and “God is no respecter of persons”

Posted by BrianJ on September 17, 2008

I went to the Seattle screening of “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons” last night. First, let me say that this post is not review. Second, it was a very good film; not a documentary in the scholarly sense of relating history, facts, etc., but rather a presentation of different people’s experience with the Priesthood ban.

Now, what this post is about: One of the interviewees quoted the phrase, “God is no respecter of persons” as evidence for her that the Gospel—and specifically the Priesthood—should be accessible to all people. That got me wondering about how and where this phrase is used in scripture—and whether applying it to the Priesthood ban (more accurately, the lifting of the ban) was strictly correct.

Old Testament

The phrase is used 8 times in the Old Testament, where most are instructions on how to judge. Don’t take bribes, don’t treat rich people differently than poor people, etc.

Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. (Deut. 16: 19)

Interestingly, there’s one verse that condemns the people for not playing favorites:

The anger of the Lord hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders. (Lam. 4: 16)

Since the priesthood was representative of Jehovah, this verse essentially says, “I will not respect you because you did not respect me.” In other words, God was a respecter of persons: he respected (favored) the Israelites and expected them to respect him back (i.e., treat him better than other gods).

New Testament

The New Testament uses the phrase 6 times. Some carry on the theme of not playing favorites at church (think of the Zoramite poor being kicked out of their synagogues:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. (James 2:1; NIV (because the KJV is really terrible with this verse))

…while others remind us that God, as a just judge, will judge all of us without respect to our wealth or other earthly status:

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 (1 Pet. 1: 17)

So, up to now, there isn’t a direct application of the lifting of the Priesthood ban and the phrase “respecter of persons”; the phrase is used in the context of wealth but not race.

Exception: Peter

No direct application except for Peter’s, that is. You know the verse:

And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean…

And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:19-35)

I’m trying to think of a revelation resulting in a greater paradigm shift. I’m also trying to put myself in the room with Peter and Cornelius and the other there—all I can do is cry when I think of the joy they must have felt. I especially ponder on Cornelius’ position: an angelic visitor from heaven told him he was accepted in God’s sight, but how would he be received by men on earth?

LDS Scripture

As you might guess, use of the phrase in the Book of Mormon is a bit of a mix between OT and NT, with “open-access” seemingly extended well before Christ’s birth. The D&C sticks with the “God as judge; he doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor” theme.

Conclusion

If it weren’t for Peter—or, more accurately, for Cornelius!—the connection between lifting the Priesthood ban and “no respecter of persons” would be tenuous. Praise God for Peter and Cornelius! And praise God for Spencer W. Kimball and Darius Gray and all our other brothers and sisters who endured (and do still endure) until that glorious day in June!

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