If a king judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever.
— Proverbs 29:14
The Old Testament provides an excellent, though rather disturbing, example of the distinction between equity and equality.
It is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28, which records the account of two mothers, both of whom are prostitutes (v. 16), who petitioned King Solomon to settle a dispute between the two of them involving two infants: one dead, one living.
As the scenario unfolds, it becomes apparent that the two discordant women, both of whom are demanding justice from the king, possess vastly contrasting paradigms of what justice is. One viewed justice in terms of outcome (equality), whereas the other viewed it in terms of truth (equity). In the end, King Solomon judged with equity not equality, a decision that subsequently garnered him great acclaim throughout the nation of Israel (v. 28).
King Solomon chose equity over equality, fully realizing that his decision would mean that one of the two maternal petitioners would depart from his presence childless. He understood that his primary responsibility was to God and, as such, that he should judge his people—the small and the great—on the basis of the objective truth of God and not on subjective outcomes (Deuteronomy 1:17; 1 Kings 3:9).
And yet interestingly, if not ironically, therein lies the rub for many social justice equalitarians today, namely, that equity is no guarantee of outcome; and for social justice equalitarians outcome is everything—everything.
“It is a wretched plight for a nation to be in when its justices know no justice, and its judges are devoid of judgment.” — Charles Haddon Spurgeon
The first occurrence of the word equity in Scripture is in Psalm 9:8, where the psalmist, speaking of God, declares: “And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.”
The word equity in Psalm 9:8 is the Hebrew noun meyshar (מֵישָׁר).
The word meyshar is an architectural term that denotes straightness, levelness, and evenness in measurement. The word carries with it the concept of judging a situation with a perfectly straight line, one that is devoid of ethical or moral defects, irregularities, or deformities such as partiality, prejudice, or bias. As John Calvin states in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
“In all laws we must bear these two things in mind: what the law prescribes, and how equitable it is, for it is on equity that the law’s prescription rests. Since equity is natural it is inevitably the same for all peoples. Thus all the laws on earth, whatever their particular concern, should be about equity. As for the law’s regulations or prescriptions, because they are conditioned by circumstances on which they partly depend, there is no reason why they should not be different, provided they are all directed to the goal of equity. Now as God’s law, which we call moral, essentially bears witness to the natural law and to conscience which our Lord has imprinted on the hearts of all men—Romans 1:19—there is no doubt that the equity of which we now speak is wholly revealed in natural law. That is why equity must be the goal, the rule, and the finality of all laws.”
There are professing Christians today, particularly in America, who, under the guise of “justice” are proffering a “social gospel” of equality over and above a biblical gospel of equity. That reality has become increasingly apparent in light of the current milieu in our nation wherein equality, not equity, is considered the highest measure of societal probity and virtue. But for King Solomon to have applied that kind of erroneous hermeneutic to an already acrimonious situation by premeditatedly judging the case in such a way as to achieve a desired outcome, rather than seeking the truth, would have been to distort the justice of God (Deuteronomy 16:19-20).
“In a crooked mind even the right thing becomes crooked.” — Arsenie Boca
In God’s economy, biblical equality means that each of God’s image-bearers is judged with a bias toward truth, not outcome. Partiality inherently involves prejudice, and God has expressly and unambiguously commanded in His Word that His people are to not harbor such sinful bias in their hearts (James 2:9).
Equity seeks first to discern what is objectively and impartially true and, subsequently, to render a ruling or verdict solely on that basis. Equality, on the other hand, emphasizes pursuing a desired or preferred outcome without regard to what is objectively true. In the situation in which King Solomon found himself, equality would have mandated that he take his sword and divide the disputed child in two, thereby leaving each of the women with half the body of a dead infant.
In any discussion about equity versus equality, it is important to keep in mind the clear teachings of Scripture concerning God’s sovereign providence over all outcomes and decisions that come to pass in this world (Proverbs 16:33). So even when the outcome of a disputed matter is not what you or I may have desired it to be, as believers in an altogether holy, just, and righteous God, we must remain grounded in the hope that the injustices that occur in this sinful world will one day be made right—just as God, who cannot lie, has promised (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:19; Colossians 3:25; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 5:24; Revelation 7:16-17).
“Let my judgment come forth from Your presence; let your eyes look with equity.” — Psalm 17:2 (NASB)
Biblical justice is first and foremost a matter of equity, not equality (Proverbs 2:9). There is a distinction to be made between the two and it is not an insignificant one.
Any concept of justice that is not firmly rooted in the objective pursuit of equity can never be regarded as equality. When the latter is grounded in the former, there is justice. Conversely, when the former is disregarded in pursuit of the latter, there is injustice.
Equity is the objective and impartial application of God’s laws and precepts to each of His image-bearers without regard to bias, prejudice, or outcome (Leviticus 19:15).
Followers of Jesus Christ are to judge with truth in mind, not outcome. That principle is emphasized by Jesus Himself in John 7:24, where He says, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
King Solomon applied that precept in his dealings with the two women in 1 Kings 3.
His righteous judgment was rendered not on the basis of emotional pleadings or subjective presuppositions, but on the objective and impartial truth—even though it meant that for one of the two women who entreated him the outcome would be other than what she desired.
Believers in Jesus Christ are to judge with equity and leave any and all consequences of those judgments to an omniscient and omnipotent God who alone is sovereign over all outcomes.
Soli Deo Gloria!