The color purple in the Bible holds a variety of meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. Some associate it with royalty and honor, while others view it as indicative of great suffering and mourning. Nevertheless, whatever its interpretation, it is clear that the color purple has been assigned a special place in scripture.
Purple has its origins in the Latin verb purpurare, which means “to dye purple,” according to former professor of piety and church history, Bill Creasy. This is probably due to its strength and depth, which has been largely unparalleled in many other colors. The color was also seen as one of the earliest European status symbols and was regularly used to color the robes of kings, nobles, and those of influence. Used since Phoenician times, purple was a dye so deeply valued that it was once worth its weight in gold.
The use of purple in the Bible most likely derives from a practice started by the Phoenicians. In attendance of the King Solomon’s court, the Phoenicians brought with them purple fabric for use in trade. The hue’s recognition of importance is shown in its substantial presence in the book of Revelation. In the 21st chapter of the book, various colors of jasper, gold and purple are described as the exact shade of eternity.
The color purple is mentioned over 25 times in the Bible, appearing in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In Hebrew, the word for purple is argaman and the word for wool dyed in a purple color is argamantin. In Mark 15:17, Jesus is wearing a purple robe, which is likely a garment of royalty, and an indicator of His superior authority. Also in the book of Esther, King Ahasuerus presents to the Jewish people a robe of purple and white as a symbol of honor and power.
In other books of the Bible, purple has been used to depict a state of mourning, such as in Joel 1:8, “Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the bridegroom of her youth.” This phrase is believed to reference purple and black clothing typically worn by virgins during times of grief-filled mourning. Similarly, Nehemiah 3:14 states, “the Tekoites repaired their portion next unto them and the people of Jericho made the valley of acacia trees as far as the entrance of the fish gate and set up the gates,” which references an object of purple or blue color and is considered indicative of joy.
Regardless of the interpretation, the color purple in the Bible is significant and holds a long history of importance. From symbolizing kingship and power to representing mourning for the deceased, it is clear that whatever its meaning, the color purple remains a significant part of scripture.
Purple in the Old Testament
The Old Testament mentions the color purple most in the books Esther and Kings, which reflect its importance to royalty, power and wealth. In Esther 8:15, the king Ahasuerus is said to wear a robe of “fine purple” which speaks to his greatness and authority. Also, the use of purple constitutes a luxury in the New Testament, as the dye was available to a privileged class of people. In Kings 5: 11-12, it is documented that the cost of a tunic of purple wool cost over 100 pieces of gold. This costliness indicates the color’s importance and its use as a symbol of wealth and influence.
Purple in the New Testament
The New Testament records the use of purple to depict religious significance. In Mark 15:17, Jesus is crowned with a crown of thorns and presented with a purple robe, identifying Him as King of the Jews. The purple in these passages is believed to reference a deep sense of spirituality and the ultimate figure of authority. As a symbol of God’s sovereignty