Anyone proficient in the arts or psychology will confirm that colors hold special meaning. Whether in literature, art, film, music, interior design, or many other mediums, color can be used to evoke emotion, convey meaning, or provide a visual cue to a particular concept. Most colors remain consistent in their assigned meanings, but Scripture also assigns specific meanings to colors that only apply when considered with God in view.
Here are 11 colors that are repeatedly found in Scripture, along with the meanings that are commonly associated with them.
Red was originally a word that related to mankind. The Hebrew word oudem can be translated “red clay,” and it sounds very similar to Adam, who was the first human being created out of the dust of the earth. It can also be derived into Edom, which was another name for Esau; Esau was one of Isaac’s sons who was known for his red and hairy skin.
More commonly, however, red is a color of sin or of atonement. Red is always associated with blood, which was used in ritual sacrifices that cleansed people from their sins. Red blood was smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrew’s houses during the final plague inflicted upon Egypt.
Later, red became indelibly linked to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the atonement for our sins. The correlation was so strong that many printed Bibles featured Jesus’ words in red ink.
The color blue carries some connection to the heavens, or to God Himself. Since the sky was held to be the gateway to heaven, or known as the “first heaven,” it represents God’s truth and His grace. Blue is the color of the sky, and lighter shades of blue are often used in depicting key biblical figures like Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Blue was also a royal color used in official garments; though it was not as costly as violet or purple, blue dye was nonetheless a valuable resource. Blue was one of the colors of thread used to weave the tent and the tabernacle, as well as the priestly garments. (Blue, in fact, can be an alternate translation of violet or purple, which lends to its value in the eyes of the merchants of the day as well as interpreters of Scripture today).
Gold and yellow may be considered together since they are so closely linked in the Bible.
Gold was the most precious metal known during the time of the Bible, and it was always used in the holiest articles and was considered the most valuable form of currency. Great quantities of gold were often sent in tribute or as a payment for protection to a powerful nation.
Pure gold, or gold that had been refined to near-perfection, was considered a symbol of personal purity and often symbolized the refining and sanctification of God’s chosen people.
It often points to God’s deity and holiness, since most articles made of gold were set apart solely for use in the service of God. For example, the walls of Solomon’s Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and most items used in the Tabernacle were overlaid with pure gold, often hammered out of a single piece for each article or utensil.
Most famously, the streets of heaven will be paved with gold, a sign that heaven is a holy place due to the presence of Almighty God.
Green is often associated with plants and nature, which leads to it symbolism of life, restoration, and renewal. Many prophecies spoke of growth and life in plants and trees as a metaphor for God’s living presence in the human heart. By contrast, dead or dying vegetation was a sign that God’s favor and love had departed from the land, and the decay was closely tied to a consequent loss of life.
For example, evergreen trees never lose their foliage no matter what time of year it is, and they later came to be associated not just as a symbol of the celebration of Christmas, but as a symbol of God’s everlasting life.
Amber can take different shades and hues and is usually associated with a clear resin found in tree sap or a rich gemstone. However, when used in Scripture it represents God’s glory and judgment. It is often used in prophecies that deal with visions of heaven or of God’s glory; it is used as one of the gemstones or materials that make up the city of God, or His throne or judgment seat.
Purple, or violet, was considered the most valuable dyeing agent of ancient cultures. It was reserved only for royalty or for the priesthood due to its value and rarity. Those that wore garments made from purple thread were revered and honored; they were usually very wealthy, or worthy of some special merit or favor by the people.
Most specific examples of the use of violet or purple thread in the Bible revolve around the priesthood. Aaron, who was the first high priest of Israel, wore garments made primarily from purple yarn interwoven with blue and scarlet, as well as threads of hammered gold. These valuable robes were only to be worn by the high priest in conjunction with service before God on behalf of the people.
Other uses of purple or violet yarn were for kings or the richest members of society.
White is always used to symbolize purity, holiness, or righteousness. A garment that was white was considered to be the cleanest possible, and certain prophecies refer to God or Jesus as having an appearance whiter than any human effort could produce.
White is also used to describe the condition of the human heart after we are cleansed from sin. When Jesus’ sacrificial blood washes us clean from the stains of our sinful nature, it is said that our sins are washed white as snow.
It is used in the modern church to signify days of special holiness, such as Easter and Christmas. That is also one reason why brides wear white, to signify their purity before entering into a sanctified marriage relationship.
Black is always used to symbolize evil and death. The darkness of a heart given over to sin creates a dirty stain that is black and irredeemable under our own power. It also signifies the darkness of death, where we will be eternally separated from the light of God if we do not repent of our sins and accept His free gift of salvation.
Black is also used to represent judgment or mourning. A black day, or a night with no stars or heavenly light, is used as a visual figure of times when God’s favor has been removed from His people, or a day that involves great mourning or sorrow.
Silver was another precious metal frequently used in biblical settings. Though not as valuable or costly as gold, it still held tremendous value and was used as currency or for special instruments or weapons.
It is often used in the context of God’s refining. Silver is said to be refined to remove any impurities, as a symbol of how God will refine our hearts to make them fully devoted to Him and useful for His purposes.
Scarlet has two different meanings in Scripture, depending on the context.
Scarlet can be paired with red in its interpretation as sin or impurity. Our sins are often referred to as scarlet, but they can be washed white by the atoning blood of Christ.
Scarlet can also refer to a condition of royalty or holiness. Scarlet yarn was also used in the fabrication of the Tabernacle and Aaron’s priestly garments and was also used in royal garments.
Bronze was used in implements that required strength, like shields and weapons. It is a durable metal that was used for something that had to endure through heavy and frequent use. It was used to describe Jesus’ feet in the book of Revelation and was used for some of the strongest weapons and defensive implements in the Old Testament.
The next time you open your Bible, pay special attention to the colors that are used. They are rich with meaning and are intended to convey something important from God to mankind.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.