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.
Charles Hodge writes:
The Scriptures in various ways teach that God foreordains whatever comes to pass.
1. They teach that God works all things according to the counsel of his will. There is nothing to limit the words “all things,” and therefore they must be taken in the fullest extent.
2. It is expressly declared that fortuitous events, that is, events which depend on causes so subtle and so rapid in their operation as to elude our observation, are predetermined; as the falling of the lot, the flight of an arrow, the falling of a sparrow, the number of the hairs of our heads.
The NJKV and ESV supply the word “will” (e.g. apart from your Father’s will). This addition makes it seem like God is choosing the exact death date of each sparrow, but the wording in Matthew 10:29 is better rendered by the KJV:
Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
Contextually, this passage is about God’s knowledge:
Mat 10:32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.
Mat 10:33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.
The idea is that God watches everything that happens. Those who suffer for His sake will be rewarded, and those that deny God will be punished. The evidence that God watches sparrows encourages Christians to know that God is watching them. They will be given their just reward. Although people can kill Christians (v28) God can save the soul.
Luke 12:6 has a parallel concept:
Luk 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!
Luk 12:6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God.
Luk 12:7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luk 12:8 “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.
Luk 12:9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
Neil Short comments:
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 supplied words found in translations such 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.