The Captivating Spiritual Significance of Purple in the Bible

The color purple has held a special meaning in Christianity and the Bible for thousands of years. Though not extensively mentioned, its rare appearances carry rich symbolism and spiritual importance. We can unlock the captivating secrets behind purple’s biblical significance.

In scripture, purple represents wealth, royalty, and luxury. It is also deeply associated with priesthood and divinity. Exodus and Chronicles describe purple garments worn by priests, temple furnishings, and the veil of the tabernacle. These connotations continue in the New Testament, with purple signifying Christ’s sacrifice and kingship.

The Significance of the Color Purple in the Bible

In ancient times, purple dye was extremely rare and expensive to produce, making purple clothing a status symbol afforded only by the wealthiest and most powerful. The rarity of the color in nature imbued it with mystical properties.

This elite exclusivity of purple gave it special meaning in the Bible. Purple fabrics were closely associated with royalty and divine authority. As the most valued dye, purple was used in the garments and textiles of priests, kings, and nobles to signify their spiritual status and closeness to God.

Purple Garments for Priests and Temple Furnishings

Exodus 28 describes the sacred garments worn by priests serving in the tabernacle, which included purple threads:

“Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor. Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” – Exodus 28:2-3

The ephod, breastpiece, robe, tunic, sash, and other vestments of the high priest contained purple and blue yarns “skillfully worked into the fabric” (Exodus 28:6-8). These rare dyes emphasized the sacred status of priestly garb.

Likewise, purple textiles featured heavily in the construction of the wilderness tabernacle described in Exodus 26. Curtains, veils, and roof coverings included blue, purple, and scarlet yarn in their embroidered cherubim designs.

Kings and Nobles Wore Purple

Outside of its priestly and temple usages, purple clothing indicated royalty and wealth. In the book of Esther, Mordecai emerged from the king’s palace “wearing royal garments of blue and purple” to be paraded through the city after saving the king’s life (Esther 8:15).

Similarly, in Acts 16:14, the trader Lydia who aided the apostles is identified by her purple cloth trade. Her wealth from selling the prized purple fabrics enabled her to host Paul and others.

Judges 8:26 states that King Gideon took from the treasure of royal purple spoils and made an ephod to place in his city, linking the purple material to kingship.

Proverbs 31 praises an excellent wife whose clothing contains purple linens, denoting her nobility, wisdom, and industriousness in weaving such rare fabrics.

Purple’s Association with Wealth and Royalty in Biblical Times

What made purple so valuable in ancient societies? The rarity of the dye and difficulty in producing it added to its prestige.

Purple fabric was enormously labor-intensive to create, requiring over 250,000 mollusks to yield just one ounce of Tyrian purple dye! This extremely limited supply meant only the wealthiest elites could afford purple clothes and textiles.

Difficulty in Producing Purple Dye

Here is an overview of how ancient Phoenicians created the famous Tyrian purple dye:

  • Collected thousands of small sea snails called Murex from coastal waters
  • Removed shellfish glands that secreted purple fluid
  • Soaked glands in urine for fermentation to extract dye
  • Simmered solution for sunlight to turn liquid bright purple
  • Dyed wool, linen, or silk fabrics by dipping in diluted dye

This labor-intensive process resulted in the exorbitantly high cost of purple fabrics and garments, restricting them to royal and high priest usage.

Rarity Increased Purple’s Prestige

The difficulty in extracting purple dye naturally limited its supply. Purple’s absence in nature also added to its mystique and allure.

Few colored pigments were available in the ancient world. But rarely would anyone encounter bright purple flowers, minerals, or animals. This rarity increased purple’s value and spiritual symbolism.

Emperors and kings explicitly forbade common people from wearing purple as a protective measure. Regional sumptuary laws codified purple and gold fabrics as reserved for the highest nobility.

Purple Garments and Textiles as Symbols of Spiritual Status

Beyond material worth, purple carried divine connotations in the Bible. Its use in temple furnishings and priestly vestments stemmed from purple’s symbolism of sanctity, wisdom, and closeness with God.

Symbol of Sanctification and Righteousness

In ancient Jewish thought, purple represented sanctification, righteousness, and atonement. The color carried implications of purification, virtue, and cleansing from sin.

As such, the purple vestments of priests and tabernacle fabrics visually reinforced the priests’ sanctified position as intermediaries between God and the Hebrew people.

Purple’s Association with Wisdom and Judgment

The cultural elite status of purple attuned it with knowledge and wisdom. Purple dyes came from coastal regions, imbuing the color with worldly experience and learned judgment.

Royal figures dressed in purple were considered exceptionally wise. As advisors to kings, priests similarly wore purple garments to visually represent wisdom and discernment.

Symbol of Closeness to Divinity

Purple’s inherent rarity and difficulty to obtain meant the color was “set apart” from common materials. This uniqueness and exclusivity paralleled the separation of divine things from earthly concerns.

Priests’ purple vestments visibly displayed their special proximity to God as intercessors for the people. The purple veil of the tabernacle demarcated sacred space. Royalty also invoked divine approval to justify their right to rule.

The Color Purple as a Representation of Christ’s Sacrifice and Atonement

In the New Testament, purple retains its traditional symbolism from the Hebrew scriptures. The color becomes strongly associated with Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, suffering, and resurrection.

Purple Robe and Crown of Thorns at Christ’s Crucifixion

The Gospels describe Jesus wrapped in purple robes and crowned with twisted thorn branches during his trial and crucifixion (Mark 15:17, John 19:2-5).

The soldier’s robe and “crown” mock Jesus’ authority. But the purple color ironically acknowledges Christ’s kingship and spiritual elevation as the Messiah. The Purple robe echoes Jesus’ blood poured out for humanity’s redemption.

Purple Symbolizes Christ’s Royalty

In the book of Revelation, Christ returns as conqueror, robed in purple like other biblical kings and rulers (Revelation 19:13). This purple raiment visually displays Jesus’ supreme kingship.

Elsewhere in Revelation, harlots dressed in purple and scarlet exemplify decadence and corruption of earthly authority, contrasting with divine purification through Christ (Revelation 17:4).

The New Testament draws direct parallels between Christ’s spilled blood and the purple dye used for priestly vestments and tabernacle cloths in the Old Testament.

Jesus’ sacrificial blood atones for humanity’s sins, spiritually “dyeing” those who accept his salvation purple – robed in righteousness rather than sin.

Through this lens, purple clothing in scripture ultimately represents cleansing and purification through Christ’s sacrifice, granting believers sanctification and access to God’s presence in the tabernacle.