The Color Purple

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Meaning of Colors in the Bible
Black    -    Blue    -    Brown
Crimson    -    Gray    -    Green    -    Red
Scarlet    -    Vermilion    -    White    -    Yellow
What is the meaning of purple in God's word? Why was this color highly coveted in the ancient world?

The rarity of purple in nature and the expense of creating its dye gave it a great deal of prestige. It was the most expensive dye known to the ancient Israelites in the Bible. It was the pigment of choice for those of noble or royal birth or those who were high-level officials. Roman Emperors wore clothing colored purple and Catholic Bishops have, for many years, worn it as well.

Phrases containing the name of the color sometimes referred to those of a royal lineage. Constantine VII, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire (b. 905, d. 959 A.D.), was given the title of Porphyrogenitus, which means 'born of the purple room.'

In ancient times, the cities of Tyre and Sidon were well-known producers of this pigment and possessed a thriving dyeing industry. Surprisingly, the prophet Ezekiel mentions the Tyrians obtaining it from the islands of Elishah (Ezekiel 27:7) and through the Syrians (verse 16).

Christ Clothed in Imperial Purple
Christ Clothed in Imperial Purple
Byzantine Mosaic, 540s A.D.

Anciently, the production of this type of dye was a long and laborious task. The liquid used to create it came from a tiny Mediterranean Sea snail gland. Each snail produced only a single drop of the needed fluid. To produce one pound of dye, during ancient Roman Empire times, took the acquiring of four million mollusks.

Even though it has a long history of association with kings and rulers, purple is rarely in modern national flags. Only one country, Dominica, uses it in their flag.

Appearances of the Color Purple

In the King James translation, the word purple occurs forty-eight times, of which nine are in the New Testament. The Hebrew Old Testament word translated as this color is argaman (Strong's Concordance #H713).

The three Greek New Testament words used for this color are porphura (#G4209), which refers to the animal from which the pigment is extracted, porphurous (#G4210), which is the color's literal name and porphuropolis (#G4211), which is a reference to a female trader of the dye.

Purple can represent royalty, majesty and high officials (Judges 8:26, Esther 8:15) as well as conveying the meaning of wealth, prosperity and luxury (Exodus 28:5, Ezekiel 27:7, Proverbs 31:22, Song of Solomon 3:10, 7:5, Luke 16:19, Acts 16:14, Revelation 17:4, 18:12, 16).

It was an integral part of the temple and its services (Exodus 25:4, 26:1, 36, 27:16, Numbers 4:13, etc.). It was used in curtains (veils) and carpets found in the tabernacle (along with blue, scarlet and white), as well as the garments worn by the High Priest. Working with it was such an important skill that King Solomon requested from Tyre's King Hiram a man specializing in dyeing with it to supervise building the temple.

Now, therefore, send me a man skillful to work in gold, and in silver, and in bronze, and in iron, and in purple, and crimson, and blue, and one who is skillful to engrave with the skillful men who are with me in Judah and in Jerusalem, whom David my father provided (2Chronicles 2:7, HBFV).

The Gospels of Mark and John state that the robe Pontius Pilate's soldiers placed on Jesus, in order to mock him, was purple.

And they put a purple robe on Him; and after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; And they began to salute Him, and kept on saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" . . .

And when they had finished mocking Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him; and they led Him out to crucify Him (Mark 15:17 - 18, 20, HBFV, see also John 19:2, 5).

The book of Matthew says, however, that the robe was scarlet colored (Matthew 27:28).

More Info on Biblical Meaning of Purple

During his second missionary journey the Apostle Paul finds himself in Philippi, being guided to preach the gospel in Europe by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:9 - 10). On the Sabbath he meets a businesswoman named Lydia, a seller of dyes whose hometown was Thyatira.

And a certain woman who worshiped God was listening; she was named Lydia and was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira; whose heart the Lord opened to receive the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14, HBFV).

The city of Thyatira was well known for its ability to dye cloth. Such skills made it a prosperous trading town. Lydia almost certainly was financially well off due to her trade, as she owned a home both in Thyatira and Philippi.

According to the Bible, Lydia and her entire household, after listening to the Apostle Paul preach the gospel, became Christians. Her Philippian home, made prosperous through purple, quickly becomes a gather place for fellow believers (verse 40) and the focal point for spreading the gospel in the city.

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