I got the idea for this question from:

Have any biblical scholars investigated the question of why Luke was getting a better price on his sparrows than Matthew?—@browserdotsys on Twitter

The tweet included images of two parallel passages:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.—Matthew 10:29 (ESV)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.—Luke 12:6 (ESV)

So while the basic message is the same, they include slightly different prices per sparrow. (Matthew reports half a penny and Luke reports 2/5 a penny, which is slightly cheaper.) Presumably a buyer could find sparrow vendors who would offer a variety of prices, so the minor fluctuation in price isn't really a huge concern. More interesting is how they each quoted Jesus' words differently. If you accept Markan priority, this passage is probably from the presumed Q source.

Did Luke do market research to determine a more accurate sparrow price? Or is Matthew doing his thing were he prefers to talk about two things rather than 5 in this case?


There is no reason to believe that Jesus used the sparrow analogy exactly one time in his ministry. As a preacher who went from town to town, he likely repeated many of his messages and had no reason to keep the examples strictly identical to one another. In Matthew, the sparrow analogy is in the context of the sending of the 12 apostles. In Luke, the message was preached to crowds. The simplest explanation is that Jesus spoke different words on one occasion than another.

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    Another possible suggestion is the the disciples were sent in ministry pairs. The two sparrows worth a penny could correspond to the pair of apostles. In Luke, it's in the context of a crowd so there's no reason to focus on the number two – Ben Mordecai Mar 15 '18 at 4:23
  • Matthew also just loves the number two. – curiousdannii Mar 15 '18 at 14:19
  • While Luke and Mark were written by close companions of apostles, Matthew was an apostle, and I imagine that the fact of the apostles being paired up before being sent had a pretty important effect of him. Imagine if you were personally commissioned by the Messiah and given a partner to do that work. – Ben Mordecai Mar 15 '18 at 14:22
  • To clarify, this answer assumes that for this passage, Matthew and Luke weren't using a hypothetical common source? Or could they be using the same source and Matthew made sure to use the price that emphasizes that he's talking to pairs of disciples? – Jon Ericson Mar 15 '18 at 17:47
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    The answer doesn't depend on how you answer the sourcing questions. If Matthew and Luke did use a common source, there is nothing to say that this hypothetical source didn't have both accounts, neither account, or one or the other. Or perhaps Matthew wasn't drawing on a source but rather his own experiences. Regardless of the source question, I think there is an internal textual reason for Matthew's "two sparrows" based on the immediate context. My hermeneutic is that I don't want to look for outside for speculative knowledge when I have a more ready answer from the text itself. – Ben Mordecai Mar 15 '18 at 17:58

In Matthew's record of Jesus' words, sparrows are so cheap that you get two for a penny, not one. And if one of such insignificant items falls to the ground, the disciples' Father knows of it.

In Luke's record of Jesus' sayings there is a further bargain available. Buy two pennies' worth, instead of one, and you get a further sparrow thrown in for free. This indicates a further example of how cheap and insignificant these little creatures are in the world of commerce.

But the further example of cheapness draws an even greater example of care from God, the Creator. For not only when they fall to the ground do they draw the attention of the Father, but when they are still flying around, God does not forget them, at any time !

But, to answer the OP fully, I would add that Matthew and Luke are reporting the words spoken by Jesus of Nazareth and it would seem, from context, that they are reporting different occasions of speech in which Jesus gave slightly different emphases to the same topic.

  • Hmmmm... Are you suggesting that Luke purposely made sparrows cheaper relative to Matthew? I suppose that would amplify the message of God's care for them (and by extension us). But it also seems like a trivial change. Two for a penny is already pretty cheap. Do you have any evidence that Luke was using Matthew here rather than some common source? – Jon Ericson Mar 14 '18 at 17:13
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    The two are not contradictory. Two for a penny or five for two pennies is a common marketing principle. 'Buy one get one free' as it were. Or, in this case, buy two pennies' worth and get an extra one. I know nothing about sources, only that Matthew recorded what he did and that Luke recorded what he did and that the two do not contradict one another. – Nigel J Mar 14 '18 at 17:29
  • This is an inventive attempt to harmonize the two texts, but it reads as purely speculative. GLuke doesn't record a 'further bargain', because GLuke says nothing about an 'original bargain'. Can you show your work how you arrived at this explanation, whether it's an exegesis of the text or a citation of some academic work? – user2910 Mar 15 '18 at 3:20
  • @MarkEdward I have no idea what 'GLuke' means. And I do not know what 'work' to show you. I do not understand you. – Nigel J Mar 15 '18 at 3:49

When you but 2 sparrows it's one copper coin. But hey I have plenty... hence so if you buy 4 I'll give you the 5th for free. Just good business

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    Hi David! That does make sense: volume discount. That said, this site is looking for answers backed up by sources or evidence. Was this how the sparrow market worked in the first century AD? – Jon Ericson Mar 27 '20 at 21:49

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