“assarion.” The Roman as or the Greek assarion (#787 ἀσσάριον). It was worth 1/16 of a denarius (or drachma), which was a day’s wage for a day laborer or soldier. If a day laborer makes $8 per hour, or $64 per day, then an assarion would be worth about $4.
“apart from your father.” This phrase means “apart from your Father’s knowledge and care.” The phrase contains the figure of speech ellipsis (Cp. Bullinger; Figures of Speech Used in the Bible); it is constructed in the Greek by the preposition aneu (#427 ἄνευ), which means “without” or “apart from,” and then the words for “your father” (patros humōn) functioning as the genitive of possession—the object of the father’s possession is elided. Literally, it would read, “apart from of your father,” with the involvement on God’s part omitted for emphasis. We have left the figure of speech in the translation, rather than supply the omitted word.
Many commentators who are zealous to bolster the position of divine sovereignty (that God is in control of everything that happens), have interpreted this verse to mean God has a specific will for the death of even every sparrow (cp. NIV, NET), and also that no sparrow can fall without God’s will and consent (cp. HCSB, CJB). But this is importing meaning into the text, because it goes beyond what the text says. The Greek simply reads “without your Father” (“without” is the Greek word aneu, #427 ἄνευ), which leaves open exactly how the Father is connected with the sparrow. Without His will (NET)? Without His consent (HCSB)? Without His knowledge (NAB, NLT)? Without His care (TNIV)? The text does not precisely tell us “without what,” which is why there are so many variations between the translations. The Greek text simply leaves the impression that the Father is present and caring in his relation to the bird.
To understand this passage properly we must interpret it in light of clear meaning that is given to us from other scriptures. As Louw and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon) write, “The particular manner or mode of involvement by God must depend upon the broader context and not upon the meaning of ἄνευ.” In this case we have a parallel account in Luke 12:6 that helps us understand what Jesus meant. In the account in Luke, Jesus does fill out the meaning for us, saying, “not one of them [sparrows] is forgotten before God.” The Greek word translated “forgotten” is epilanthanomai (#1950 ἐπιλανθάνομαι), which can have the meaning of “neglect,” “overlook,” or “care nothing about” (BDAG). More evidence that this verse is about care and concern rather than “God’s will” is supplied by the next verse in Matthew, which declares that, “the hairs of your head have been counted,” i.e. God knows how many there are. The verse about our hair is not about the will of God, as if it was somehow God’s will every time a hair of our head fell out, but rather it is about God’s love and concern for us.
Matthew 10:29 is not speaking of divine sovereignty, but rather divine benevolence and care. From reading Matthew in the greater context of the parallel account, then, we see that this passage teaches that God knows and cares even about sparrows. He has not forgotten about the sparrow, and its fall is not something overlooked or uncared for.
What a comfort this is, that God would have such care even for sparrows, and emphasizes how much He must care for us! What a greater comfort this biblical teaching is than the idea that no sparrow falls without God’s specific will and consent. If not even one sparrow can die without the will and consent of God, how are we to understand a cat torturing and killing a sparrow? Is that the will of a loving God? And if God wills that, does He really care if we are hurting? On the other hand, if the fallen state of the world is due to Adam and Eve’s freewill decision to sin, and the world is now under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19), and God is fighting for us in all situations (Rom. 8:28 REV; NIV), then it is a comfort to know that even though God cannot simply stop pain and problems, He knows and cares about what is going on and is willing to bless and help as He can, without overstepping things such as people’s freewill decisions.
We conclude along with Robertson (Word Pictures in the New Testament), “There is comfort in this thought for us all. Our father who knows about the sparrows knows and cares about us.”