colors in the Bible

also known as: colours —spelled “colour” in the King James Bible

The subject of colors holds an important place in the Scriptures. White, purple, blue, and scarlet were used in the textures of the tabernacle curtains (Exodus 26:1, 31, 36), and also in the high priest’s ephod, girdle, and breastplate (Exodus 28:5-6, 8, 15). Scarlet thread is mentioned in connection with the rites of cleansing the leper (Leviticus 14:4, 6, 51) and of burning the red heifer (Numbers 19:6). It was a crimson thread that Rahab was to bind on her window as a sign that she was to be saved alive (Joshua 2:18; 6:25) when the city of Jericho was taken.


Scarlet or Crimson

Scarlet robes were worn by the rich and luxurious (2 Samuel 1:24; Proverbs 31:21; Jeremiah 4:30; Rev. 17:4). It was also the hue of the warrior’s dress (Nahum 2:3; Isaiah 9:5).

The Phoenicians excelled in the art of crimson dyeing (2 Chronicles 2:7). The small parasitic insects from which this dye was obtained somewhat resembled the cochineal which is found in Eastern countries. It is called by naturalists Coccus ilics. The dye was procured from the female grub alone.

In Isaiah 1:18, a Hebrew word is used which denotes the worm or grub from which this dye was procured.

“…Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.” —Isaiah 1:18 NKJV

The only natural object to which this color is applied in Scripture is the lips, which are likened to a scarlet thread (Song of Songs 4:3).

In Genesis 38:28-30, the word translated as “scarlet” means “to shine,” and expresses the brilliancy of the color.

The “Great Harlot” of the Great Tribulation is dressed in scarlet and purple (circumdata purpura et coccino) and rides a scarlet beast (besteam coccineam) (Revelation 17:1-6).

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Fresco found on house wall in Pompeii
Fresco in an ancient Pompeii house. The vermilion pigment was made from ground cinnabar.

a brick red; compared to scarlet, this color is slightly more orange

Vermilion was used for drawing the figures of idols on the walls of heathen temples (Ezek. 23:14), and for decorating the walls and beams of houses (Jeremiah 22:14).

color source: ground cinnabar (bright red mineral consisting of mercury sulfide)


a color obtained from the secretion of a species of shell-fish (the Murex trunculus) which was found in the Mediterranean, and particularly on the coasts of Phoenicia and Asia Minor

The coloring matter in each separate shell-fish amounted to only a single drop, and hence the great value of this dye.

Robes of this color were worn by kings (Judges 8:26) and high officers (Esther 8:15). They were also worn by the wealthy and luxurious (Jeremiah 10:9; Ezek. 27:7; Luke 16:19; Rev. 17:4). With this color was associated the idea of royalty and majesty (Judges 8:26; Song of Songs 3:10; 7:5; Dan. 5:7, 16, 29).


This color was emblematic of the sky, the deep dark hue of the Eastern sky. This color was used in the same way as purple.

The ribbon and fringe of the Hebrew dress were of this color (Numbers 15:38). The loops of the curtains (Exodus 26:4), the lace of the high priest’s breastplate, the robe of the ephod, and the lace on his mitre, were blue (Exodus 28:28, 31, 37).

This color was procured from a species of shellfish, the chelzon of the Hebrews, and the Helix ianthina of modern naturalists.

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“White” occurs in Scripture as the translation of various Hebrew words.

White was an emblem of purity and innocence (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Rev. 19:8, 14), of joy (Eccl. 9:8), and also of victory (Zechariah 6:3; Rev. 6:2). The hangings of the tabernacle court (Exodus 27:9; 38:9), the coats, mitres, bonnets, and breeches of the priests (Exodus 39:27-28), and the dress of the high priest on the day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:4, 32), were white.

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Black was the emblem of mourning, affliction, and calamity (Jeremiah 14:2; Lam. 4:8; 5:10).

The word translated “brown” in Genesis 30:32 (Revised King James Version, “black”) means properly “scorched,” i.e., the color produced by the influence of the sun’s rays.

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Article Version: March 28, 2024