The Wisdom of Impartiality

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:18).

Why does he include impartiality as a quality of wisdom? I believe one answer to that question is that all of these qualities get to the heart of what wisdom is, Biblically speaking. Often when we think of someone who is wise or possesses wisdom, we think philosophically about it. We think of someone who has a great deal of knowledge about life or a subject. A picture of a famous scientist or even an old guru sitting on a mountaintop may come to mind. But we must remember what Biblical wisdom is.

 

Imagine I stopped you on a sidewalk one day like a street reporter, with a microphone in hand and camera trained on you. I explained that I was interviewing people to see what they thought wisdom was. Then I asked you to give me a list of seven or eight qualities of wisdom. I wonder what you would say? Do you think you would have included “impartial” on your list? I’m not sure I would have on my own. But it is on James’ list.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere (James 3:18).

Why does he include impartiality as a quality of wisdom?

I believe one answer to that question is that all of these qualities get to the heart of what wisdom is, Biblically speaking. Often when we think of someone who is wise or possesses wisdom, we think philosophically about it. We think of someone who has a great deal of knowledge about life or a subject. A picture of a famous scientist or even an old guru sitting on a mountaintop may come to mind. But we must remember what Biblical wisdom is.

Previous to the verse quoted above, James had said about the wise person, “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). James’ word here reminds us that in the Bible wisdom is the practice of godliness. Wisdom affects and is demonstrated by your conduct. It defines your character and behavior toward people. That is why the book of wisdom, the Proverbs, is popping with examples of people’s behavior showing whether they are acting either wisely or foolishly.

With that in mind, we can look more closely at the particular word James uses (adiakritos/ἀδιάκριτος), which is a negation of the root word. Most of the popular versions translate this word “impartial” (ESV, NIV) or “without partiality” (NKJV, KJV). However, interestingly the New American Standard translates this Greek word as “unwavering.” Why the dissonance?

If we look at the use of the word in James, we find an explanation. For this word is used three other times in its non-negated form. Two of those are in James 1:6, which says “he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” This verse depicts the man without the faith to ask for wisdom from God as one doubting or wavering, like a piece of driftwood tossed about in the sea. To describe an inward, doubting faith, wavering is a good choice.

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