Pearls in the Bible

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Pearls, according to the Bible, play an integral role in the creation of a New Jerusalem for God's people. The twelve gates of the city are stated to be composed of margarites (Revelation 21:21). This Greek word (Strong's Concordance #G3135) is translated in lexicons as pearls. All ten versions of the Bible used in this series also translate this word as referring to this natural gemstone. Modern cultural references to the "pearly gates" of heaven are based on Revelation 21:21.

In the Bible, Job states that the gaining of wisdom is more precious than gabiysh (Strong's #H1378). This Hebrew word comes from an unused root that means, "to freeze" or "crystal" (from its resemblance to ice) which Strong's translates as "pearls."

Although the KJV Bible translates gabiysh as "pearls" in Job 28:18, many other translations render the word as "crystal." Interestingly, the natural gemstone still shows up in this quote, as several Bibles (ESV, HCSB and NASB) translate the Hebrew paniyn (Strong's #H6443), found at the end of the verse, as pearls.

18 No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal (Hebrew gabiysh); the price of wisdom is above pearls (Hebrew paniyn - Job 28:18, ESV).

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This stone is the second most referenced gemstone in the entire KJV Bible, primarily due to its use in the New Testament (see Matthew 7:6, 13:45 - 46 and our article about one of these parables). It is also one of the two major gems in Scripture that are produced organically (the other being coral) as opposed to inorganically.

Natural pearls, which are composed primarily of calcium carbonate, are created within the soft tissue of living shelled mollusks (usually clams). Anciently, because they were rare to find, many oysters had to be gathered and opened (thus killing them) in order to find one of these gems. One modern method for making these gemstones more available is producing them in farms that use human as well as natural processes to create them.


Tiara containing 212 natural pearls
Tiara containing 212 natural pearls

Pearls can be not only round but also pear, egg, and other shapes. While white is the most familiar coloration of this gemstone, they can also come in other colors such as light rose, black, blue, red, and violet. Their beauty and desirability goes back at least 4,000 years (Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones, page 42).

Folklore

Folklore surrounding pearls associates them with the moon and Monday, although they were also considered a talisman of Sunday (Curious Lore of Precious Stones, page 30, 332, 358). In dreams, this gemstone was believed to symbolize faithful friends. They were also considered, in some cultures, as the tears of the gods.

Additional Study Materials
How many parables did Jesus give?
How are pigs related to this gemstone?
Bible meaning of the color white
Should Christians observe New Moons?

Gemstones in the Bible

References
1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 1913 ed.
Diamonds, Pearls and Precious Stones, 1913 ed.
Gemstones in the Breastplate, 2008 ed.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
United States Geological Survey
Gemdat.org - Mindat.org - Wikipedia


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