Matthew 10:29 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.

This verse is often used to prooftext God controlling all things on Earth, no matter how minute. Calvin writes:

For God never can rest; he sustains the world by his energy, he governs everything however minute, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his decree. (Matthew 10:29.)
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Complete Bible Commentaries (With Active Table of Contents in Biblical Order) (Kindle Locations 266455-266457). . Kindle Edition.

Neil Short challenges this reading:

This verse in Matthew has a parallel in Luke:

Luke 12:6 (NRSV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.

The point in Luke is more clear that God is paying undivided attention. Luke also mentions an example of ravens. God cares for them.

Luke 12:24 (NRSV)
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

The point of the sparrows example in Matthew is that God is keenly aware when believers are being persecuted and they are never going through it alone. The old spiritual has it right: “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.”

I am motivated to put a little sharper of a point on this reading of Matthew 10:29. A very common interpretation of the verse is that sparrows die only by God’s permission. Insisting on that really alternative translation and meaning forces the passage to lose coherence. The meaning becomes something like, “None of you will suffer a violent martyr’s death without the Father’s permission and providence.” The better and more obvious meaning, especially in light of the parallel passage in Luke 12:6, is that the Father cares for sparrows even when they fall. Your souls are safe with the Father if you “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).

The “divine control” interpretation of this verse requires such translations as the NKJ or the ESV. Other versions match the Luke parallel meaning. The New Testament for Everyone renders this verse:

Matthew 10:29 How much would you get for a couple of sparrows? A single copper coin if you’re lucky? And not one of them falls to the ground without your father knowing about it.

The contextual meaning of Matthew 10:28 could easily be about God’s eternal care. God is watching. God knows what is happening. And God will set things right.

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