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Red in the Bible, A Look at Color Symbolism in Scripture
One of my favorite things to do is to study symbolism in the Bible. In past posts, we’ve looked at the significance of birds in the Bible, hands in the Bible and even open and closed doors. I thought it would be enlightening (and perhaps even, fun) to explore, in a series of posts, the symbolism of color in the Bible. (For an overview of colors in the Bible, see this post).
Colors are used throughout the Bible to reflect meanings or spiritual truths. They have a symbolic significance and can remind us of God and his plan for our salvation.
(In another post, we will look at number significance in the Bible and just like with numbers, colors can represent the attributes of salvation and Jesus as well as His works.)
Looking at symbolism in the Bible is a part of Hebrew hermeneutics. “Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. It is part of the broader field of hermeneutics which involves the study of principles of interpretation for all forms of communication, nonverbal and verbal.
This approach also includes “remez.” A remez is a hint of a hidden message or a deeper meaning that is below the surface or behind the words. Numbers and colors are both remezes.(A remez is a hint—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth or a deep allegoric – hidden or symbolic meaning).
By studying colors we are studying a form of non-verbal communication by God. He uses colors as a visual sign to represent His promises, plan for our salvation and much more.
I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth…. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:13, 16)
For our first examination, let’s take a look at the symbolism of red in the Bible as well as related colors including scarlet and crimson.
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Exploring the Symbolism of the Color Red in the Bible:
Arguably, the most important color symbol in the Bible is red. As you know, red is the color of blood. In the New Testament, Jesus’s sacrifice, often employs the imagery of blood (John 6:55, for example). Red symbolizes atonement, sacrifice, life, death, and flesh.
In the King James Version Bible, the word ‘red’ appears fifty-three times, six of which are in the New Testament. There are several Hebrew Old Testament words translated as this red or scarlet.
The most frequently used words are adom , which is the color’s name (see more variations below), chakliy, which literally means ‘dark’ or a person influenced by wine, suph, which means ‘a reed’ and is used to refer to the Red Sea, and adam, which means to show blood or something that is reddish.
In the New Testament, the Greek words used are purrhazo, which refers to the color’s name, eruthros, which is used to refer to the Red Sea, and purrhos,, which references something that is the color of fire or flame.
In the Old Testament, oudem is translated “red clay.” Oudem is the root word indicating mankind. Thus, red represents humanity. But, red really symbolizes the love of God represented through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Red is an official “church” color representing the Church itself. Red cloths are used during special festivals celebrating saints, Holy Week, and Pentecost, especially in certain denominations.
In Hebrew, we see several variations for the word ‘red’:
reddish (of the hair or the complexion); red, ruddy
red, same as ‘adam
to become glowing, grow red, be red
having the colour of fire, red
So, essentially, the color red in the Bible represents blood. The life of man is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11) and Christ’s blood was the atonement necessary for the redemption of man. Jesus’ blood paid the penalty for our sins and by His blood, we are washed clean.
Revelation 1:5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.
1 Peter 1:18-19 For as much as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But [redeemed] with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Col 1:20-21 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
and in Revelation, the red horse symbolizing war and bloodshed, appears when one of the prophetic end time seals is opened.
6 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”
3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.
Other References to Red in The Bible
In addition to blood, there are many other references to the color red throughout the Scriptures. (Note that I’m not including any references to the Red Sea). I won’t link to each of them. You can read more by finding the corresponding passages in your Bible, but red has been used in the Bible countless times to describe an item in relation to atonement, war, sin and more.
skin color – Genesis 25:25
stew – Genesis 25:30
wine – Proverbs 23:31
sores or plague – Leviticus 13:19;49 etc. (numerous references in Leviticus)
bloodied water – II Kings 3:22
clothing – Isaiah 63:2
shields of mighty men – Nahum 2:3
horses – Zechariah 1:8; 6:2
the sky – Matthew 16:2-3
the great dragon (Satan) – Revelation 12:3
war – II Kings 3:22; Nahum 2:3
vengeance – Isaiah 63:2 (read whole chapter)
temptation of sin – Genesis 25:30, Proverbs 23:31
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Other Variations or Shades of Red in the Bible
A darker shade of red is scarlet, as mentioned above. It is a color used (as well as blue and purple in the Tabernacle), to represent earthiness. The Hebrew word for scarlet has the same root meaning of the Hebrew word for earth. Adam was created of the dust of the earth– he was earthy, and, In the story of the birth of Esau, it is told that Esau was born “red all over” and so “they called his name Esau” (Genesis 25:25), which means red or earthy. Remember that Esau became a pretty rotten guy. A man who cared more about earthly things than spiritual things. Also from the root word of scarlet comes the word for worm.
The psalmist (who scholars do not agree on for the writing of this Psalm) referred to himself as a worm (Psalm 22:6), Isaiah described Jacob as a worm (Isaiah 41:14), and Jesus referred to sinful man as a worm (Mark 9:44-48). Without God, that is exactly what we are, too.
Joshua 2:18 “unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home.”
This is part of the story of Rahab, the prostitute. In exchange for helping the Israelite spies, she was promised safety. To spare her and her family, she was instructed to put a scarlet cord out of her window to show which home should be protected. Ironically, although scripture uses red or scarlet to represent sin, it also is a symbol that represents saving or redemption (as in the blood of Christ as we discussed above).
Isn’t the symbolism of color in the Bible amazing? Red in the Bible, particularly so. Praise God for saving us through the blood of His Son, Jesus, that we may be redeemed!
Did you learn anything new in this study of red in the Bible? If so, tell me below. If you have something to add, I’d love to hear it!
While I haven’t found many resources on color symbolism in the Bible, the below recommendation is a terrific resource (and inexpensive, too!) for Bible symbolism, including a section on color.
Because He Lives,