Bible words and expressions denoting color do not use the scores of precise terms found in modern color charts. Bible writers conveyed ideas of color by drawing on the subject under consideration, or by comparing unfamiliar objects with well-known things. (Ex 16:31; Re 1:14) The appearance of such common things as blood, snow, certain birds, fire, precious stones, and so forth, were used as color references. (2Ki 3:22; Ps 51:7; Ca 5:11; Mt 16:2, 3; Re 9:17) Colors were also employed with figurative meaning, and definite ideas were sometimes associated with specific colors.
Black is mentioned in describing hair (Le 13:31; Mt 5:36), horses (Zec 6:2, 6), skin (Job 30:30), and the sun (Re 6:12). At Revelation 6:5, 6, the black horse represents famine. The Scriptures also mention “black marble” and “black paint.”
Blue describes dyed materials in various forms, such as thread, string, cloth, and apparel. (Ex 26:4, 31, 36; 39:22; Nu 4:7) A blue string was to be put above the fringed edges of every Israelite’s garment. (Nu 15:38, 39) Hyacinth blue is one of the beautiful colors decorating the breastplates mentioned at Revelation 9:17.
Green is frequently found in the Scriptures, but seldom refers strictly to color. Rather, it brings to mind the freshness and vigor of growing vegetation, or it denotes a healthy and prosperous condition of things. (Ge 1:30; 9:3; Ex 10:15; 2Ki 19:26; Re 8:7) Yellowish green is used with reference to the color of such things as leprous spots in cloth and in stone-and-mortar houses or in describing refined gold.
Purple and reddish purple are often referred to in the Scriptures, although there are no distinctions drawn between the many varieties of purple shades produced by the different dyes or dye methods used. (Ex 25:4; Nu 4:13; Eze 27:7, 16; Da 5:7, 29; Mr 15:17, 20; Lu 16:19; Re 17:4) Because of its costliness, this color often was associated with or symbolized riches, honor, and royal majesty.
Red, fire red, and yellowish red are terms used to describe various articles, such as hair (Ge 25:25), dyed ram skins (Ex 25:5), animals (Nu 19:2; Jg 5:10; Zec 1:8), clothing (Isa 63:2), and the evening sky (Mt 16:2, 3). The Hebrew word for “red” (ʼa·dhomʹ) comes from dam, meaning “blood.”
Scarlet, a red of brilliant hue, is found in references to cord or thread, cloth and apparel; also to sin. (Ge 38:28, 30; Nu 4:8; Jos 2:18; Jer 4:30; Mt 27:28; Isa 1:18) “The wild beast” described at Revelation 17 is scarlet colored (vs 3), distinguishing it from “the wild beast” of chapter 13. The harlot sitting on the scarlet-colored beast is arrayed in purple and scarlet. (Re 17:3-5) The vision thus pictorially symbolizes the royal claims of the “beast” and the luxury and royalty enjoyed by the woman riding it.
Vermilion (Jer 22:14; Eze 23:14) has reference to a reddish type of paint made from oxides of iron or of lead. It seems to have been first introduced by the Phoenicians, who imported it from natural deposits found in North Africa. At a later time similar deposits in the Middle East were developed.
White is the color most often mentioned in the Scriptures. Besides its descriptive use, it also serves as a symbol of righteousness and spiritual cleanness. (Re 3:4; 7:9, 13, 14) The white horse, as portrayed at Revelation 6:2 and 19:11, symbolizes clean, righteous warfare under Jesus Christ’s direction.
White garments were worn by the poor and also by those of superior rank. Where their attire is mentioned, angels are usually depicted as being clothed in white. (Mr 16:5; Joh 20:12; Re 19:14) A few of the other things described as white are hair (Le 13:3; Mt 5:36), flesh (Le 13:16), fields of grain ready for harvest (Joh 4:35), and God’s throne of righteous judgment (Re 20:11). Jesus likened the scribes and Pharisees to whitewashed graves. (Mt 23:27) He drew this illustration from the custom of whitewashing the graves in the vicinity of Jerusalem before the Passover to protect people who were coming to celebrate the Passover from becoming unclean by touching them. Degrees of whiteness are distinguished in the Bible, as, for example, reddish white (Le 13:19, 24) and dull white.
Mixed colors. Besides the more specific colors, there are a number of expressions in the Bible that describe objects having rather indefinite colors or having a mixture of colors
Christ’s Cloak. The color of the cloak with which Jesus Christ was clothed on the day of his execution has caused some persons to argue that a discrepancy exists in the Bible record with reference to this garment. Matthew said that the soldiers “draped him with a scarlet cloak” (Mt 27:28), while Mark and John say that it was purple. (Mr 15:17; Joh 19:2) However, instead of being a discrepancy, such a variation in describing the garment’s color merely gives evidence of the individuality of the Gospel writers and the fact that they were not in collusion. Matthew described the cloak as it appeared to him, that is, according to his evaluation of color, and he emphasized the garment’s red hue. John and Mark subdued the red tint, calling it purple. “Purple” can be applied to any color having components of both blue and red. So, Mark and John agree with Matthew that the garment was red to some extent. Of course, background and light reflection could have given it different casts. A body of water varies in color at different times, depending upon the particular color of the sky and the reflection of light at a given time. So, when such factors are considered, it is seen that the Gospel writers were not in conflict in describing the color of the cloak that mocking Roman soldiers clothed Christ with on the last day of his human life.