The symbolic meaning of colors in the Bible

The colors mentioned in the Bible not only represent the color of a certain object, but the colors often also refer to another reality. People are sensitive to colors. The colors in the Bible have a symbolic meaning. For example, the color white represents cleanliness and light. It is a festive color. Purple is often used in the Bible to represent the royalty of something or someone. Each color has its own meaning. Some colors are often mentioned in the Bible, other colors less so.

The deeper meaning of colors in religion

The colors mentioned in the Bible often, but not always, refer to a different reality. Colors then have a religious meaning. Colors are part of God’s creation. He gave everything its own color. Take for example the flowers that look beautiful and often have beautiful colors. Jesus says: ‘Look at the lilies, look how they grow in the field. They do not work and do not weave. I tell you, even Solomon in all his splendor was not clothed like one of these” (Matthew 6:29-29).

The Rainbow

When it comes to colors in the Bible, the rainbow is a beautiful example of all the colors that God has created. The seven most striking colors of the rainbow are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (light purple) and violet (dark purple). The rainbow refers to God’s promise never to let another flood come and destroy everything and everyone. After Noah and his followers come out of the ark, God shows the rainbow and says: ‘When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant with you and with every living thing, and never again will the water swell into a flood that destroys everything and everyone. When I see the bow appearing in the clouds, I will remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living thing on earth” (Genesis 9:14-16). While looking at the rainbow you can marvel at the beautiful display of colors: ‘Look at the rainbow and praise its maker, it is so graceful in its brightness’ (Sirach 43:11). For many, the rainbow is a sign of hope and diversity. Just as all colors belong in the rainbow, so do all people regardless of race, appearance or orientation.

The color white in the Bible

White is the color of purity in the Bible. In Biblical times, priests often wore white clothing as a sign of purity and holiness. White represents freedom from guilt and sin. In Psalm 51, David prays to God: ‘Take away my sins with marjoram, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow’ (Psalm 51:9). It is also written about Jesus that his clothes turned white at the transfiguration on the mountain: ‘Six days later Jesus took Peter, James and John with him into a high mountain, where they were all alone. Before their eyes he was transfigured, and his clothes shone bright white, as white as any wool-washer on earth could make” (Mark 9:3).

Day of Atonement

During the Feast of the Day of Atonement, the high priest wears a white linen robe. In Leviticus 16 verse 4 it says about the high priest: ‘He must put on a holy linen tunic and wear linen breeches. He must tie a linen belt around his waist and cover his head with a linen turban. That is sacred clothing’ . Linen was naturally beige-white in color. In Biblical times, dyeing was generally not practiced, because people did not yet have the correct techniques to dye the fabric. However, linen could be bleached to make it brighter white. They would certainly have done this for the high priest’s clothes.

White and Easter

During Easter the color in the church is white. It is the color of new beginnings, the color of light, a festive color. The white color also appears in the Easter story in the Bible. When the women went to Jesus’ tomb early Easter morning, they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in white sitting on the right. They were terribly shocked. But he said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus, the man from Nazareth who was crucified. He has been raised from the dead, he is not here” (Mark 16:5-6).

White in Revelation

The color white is common in the last book of Revelation. In Revelation this color is connected with victory.
John writes in Revelation: ‘I saw this: a white horse with a rider carrying a bow. He received a wreath of victory and went up victorious to victory” (Revelation 6:2). “After this I saw this: an immense multitude that could not be numbered, from every nation and people, from every tribe and language. Dressed in white, and with palm branches in their hands, they stood before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Jesus is the conqueror seen by John: ,I saw the heavens opened, and this is what I saw: a white horse with a rider called ‘Faithful and Trustworthy’, who judges justly and fights a righteous battle., (Revelation 19:11). “The heavenly host, clothed in pure white linen, followed him on white horses ” (Revelation 19:14). John is told how they obtained those white garments: ‘They washed their garments white in the blood of the lamb’ (Revelation 7:14). The whitewashing with the blood of a lamb represents faith in the grace of Jesus, who has achieved reconciliation with God through his death on the cross, his shed blood.

The color black

In the Bible, the color black refers to suffering and death. Black is the color of mourning. Job, who lost his wife and children, says, “I wander about in black, destitute of light, I stand up in the congregation and cry for help” (Job 30:28). Or as it says in Psalm 35:14: ‘I walked about as if I were friends, brothers; I was dressed in black and bowed down as one who mourns for his mother’ . For the prophet Jeremiah, black is also the color of mourning: ‘Therefore wrap yourself in black, wail, and burst into lamentations’ (Jeremiah 4:8). For the apostle John, black is the absence of light: ‘I saw when the sixth seal was broken, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became red as blood” (Revelation 6:12).

The colour Red

Esau’s cry to his brother Jacob when he returns hungry from the hunt is well known: ‘Quick, give me some of the red meat you have cooked there, I am exhausted’ (Genesis 25:30). That is why Esau is also called Edom – Red. Red is also often associated with blood. “The sword of the LORD is red with blood” (Isaiah 24:6).

The red man and the red earth

In the Naardense Bible Translation, which tries to stay close to the original language, red makes a connection between the earth and humans. God makes man from the dust of the earth, Adam from Adama . Both words come from the root adam , ‘to be red’. Genesis 1:26 and 27 are then translated as follows: ‘Then God says: We make – red – humanity in our image and after our likeness,- […] God creates – red – humanity in his image, in the image of God created him him’ . And further: ‘All the shrubs of the field are not yet grown in the field, and every shrub of the field does not yet spring up, for the Lord God has not yet caused it to rain on the land, and there is no – red – humanity around it. to serve the red ground” (Genesis 2:5). The similarity between Adam and Adama shows a connection between man and the earth; being red. The earth (in Palestine) is red and the life principle of man is red. By that life principle is meant the blood ( dam ) of man. Man and earth are similar and are bound to each other.

Red in the tent of meeting

The tent where the Israelites gathered to serve God, the Tabernacle was an important and sacred place where colors played an important role. Moses is instructed by God to make that tent: ‘Make for this tent a covering of rams’ skins dyed red’ (Exodus 26:14). In Biblical times, vegetable dyes were used for dyeing. Madder ( Rubia tinctorum ) was used for the color red. Red dye could also be made from the bodies of the female scale insect.

The color purple – purple

Purple, purple, is the royal color in the Bible. The Song of Songs states: “The pillars are of silver, the canopy of gold, the seat of purple” (Song of Songs 3:10). Purple is a dye extracted from sea snails in Biblical times. Because many purple snails had to be dug up from the sea to get just a little dye, purple was expensive. Only very rich and often powerful people could afford this color. “Who is this that comes from Edom, from Bozrah, clothed in purple, adorned with splendor, exalting himself in greatness and mightiness?” (Isaiah 63:1). When Jesus was captured, the Roman soldiers mocked him as king of the Jews: “They put a purple robe on him, and plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on him” (Mark 15:17).

The color blue

Blue is the color of sky. This color does not appear very often in the Bible and not even explicitly for heaven: ‘After this Moses went up into the mountain, with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of the people, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement of sapphire, bright as the sky itself” (Exodus 24:10). Sapphire is a precious blue stone.

The color green

“From his city prosperity will spring up like greenery on the earth” (Psalm 72:16). Green is the color of nature, prosperity and ordinary life. The green of life contrasts with the aridity of the desert. “Even the brook of Nimrim becomes a dry swale: the grass withers, the grass is dried up, and nothing grows there” (Isaiah 15:9). One who believes is like a tree: ‘He is like a tree planted by the water, whose roots reach down to the river. It does not regard the coming of the heat, its leaves remain ever green” (Jeremiah 17:8).

read more

  • The meaning of liturgical colors of the church year
  • The symbolic meaning of numbers in the Bible
  • The symbolic meaning of letters and alphabet in the Bible

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