Nepotism is the act of showing favoritism, especially as it relates to employment opportunities, based on kinship. If a boss passes over several qualified applicants in order to hire his less-qualified nephew for a job, that is nepotism. Most government agencies and public employers have anti-nepotism policies that prevent bias based on relationship. Nepotism is not necessarily wrong, but it can lead to unfair discrimination and workplace injustice.
Exceptions to the anti-nepotism mindset are family-owned and operated businesses. “Jones and Sons Plumbing” implies that a man named Jones created a plumbing business and brought in his sons to help when they were old enough. That is not nepotism in the strictest sense. However, if Jones was elected mayor and wanted to hire his sons as assistants, anti-nepotism laws would protect the city from unfair favoritism toward the Jones family.
The Bible records several instances of nepotism, although in ancient times nepotism was an acceptable practice. When Joseph was second in power to Pharaoh, his family came seeking grain during the famine. With Pharaoh’s blessing, Joseph invited them to stay in Egypt and make it their home. “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed” (Genesis 47:11). Because of their relationship to Joseph, Jacob and his sons and their families received the royal treatment. In those days, government officials could do just about anything they wanted, so giving Joseph’s family a huge chunk of land was within Pharaoh’s power to do. He did not give other worthy foreigners the same opportunity. Today we would call that nepotism.
During Saul’s reign as king of Israel, nepotism was evident in his royal court: “The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle” (1 Samuel 14:50). Saul appointed his cousin Abner as commander of his army. It’s easy to understand why nepotism was a beneficial practice in a time when assassination plots were common and war was a regular occurrence. Kings needed an inner circle they could trust, and who better to trust than a relative you’d grown up with? King David did the same thing. His nephew Joab, son of his sister Zeruiah, was appointed the commander of his army (2 Samuel 8:16; cf. 1 Chronicles 2:13–16).
When Nehemiah had finished overseeing the building of the wall around Jerusalem, he appointed his brother Hanani as governor of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 7:2). Today such a move would provoke a massive outcry of “Nepotism!” But in those days, Nehemiah was respected because of his perseverance in rebuilding the city, so his choice of leadership went without question.
Nepotism is wrong when it usurps due process and shows favoritism that negatively affects innocent people. When someone is given more advantages simply because he or she is related to the one in charge, that is wrong. Romans 2:11 tells us that “God shows no partiality”; as His followers, we must be careful to govern our lives the same way. Acts 10:34–35 records Peter’s revelation that God no longer limited His salvation to Israel but welcomed all people equally. Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
It is tempting to bypass strangers and show preference for someone we know well. But giving preferential treatment to someone based on wealth or relationship is renounced in James 2:1–9. The Golden Rule alone should be enough to convict us when we are tempted to engage in nepotism (Luke 6:31). All of Scripture prompts us to view every human being as created in God’s image and worthy of fair treatment (James 3:9; Leviticus 19:36; Luke 6:27).