What Does The Color Purple Signify In The Bible?

It should come as no surprise that the text of the Bible is full of symbolism. Of course, how much of it is symbolic and how much of it is straightforward and intended to be taken literally is a matter of who is doing the reading and interpreting. Nevertheless, several bits of the text of the ancient document are clearly and unambiguously imbued with symbolic meaning. For example, numbers play a huge role in the narrative with three, 40, and 12 coming up with surprising regularity. There were the Twelve Tribes of Israel and Twelve Apostles, for example; Jesus spent 40 days fasting before beginning his ministry, while millennia earlier, the Jews had spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

Color also plays an important role in Biblical symbolism. For example, a shade of blue that used a dye made from crustaceans that live in the region around Palestine appears frequently in the narrative, according to writer I. Irving Ziderman. Similarly, in one particular case, the matter of color and who was wearing it, and in what context, involved Jesus himself.

Purple was reserved for royalty

According to Bible Study, in Biblical times the color purple was reserved for royalty, the wealthy, and clerics. The process to manufacture and dye a purple garment was so prohibitively expensive that only the very wealthy — which would include royalty — could afford to wear it. Indeed, in nearly every case in both the Old and the New Testaments in which the color is mentioned, it's in the context of wealth, royalty, or clergy, and as such, signifies power and authority.

This became the basis for a rather striking visual metaphor when Jesus was put to death. As Patheos notes, the narrative in Mark 15 includes the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus by dressing him in purple robes before beating and crucifying him. As author Michael Krauszer notes, it was at once an act of mockery and recognition, even if the soldiers themselves didn't know it. "They were clearly doing this as a mockery (since he was considered the king of the Jews), it's also a bit ironic since Jesus was, in fact, royalty," he wrote.