What Does the Color Red Mean in the Bible?

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The color red has varied and extensive appearances in the Bible, and verses mention it in both the Jewish Bible, also known as the Tanakh or Old Testament, as well as in the New Testament. The pure color red is consistently associated with blood throughout the Scriptures, while derivations of it, such as scarlet or crimson, often pertain to sin. Additionally, crimson and scarlet sometimes invoke fine fabrics or textiles.

While red in the Bible often invokes blood, there are a host of other associations. For example, in Genesis 25:25, it denotes skin color; in Matthew 16:2-3, it denotes the color of the sky. In the Book of Revelations, red takes on more ominous overtones, indicating the Great Dragon, also understood to be Satan, as well as one of the four horses carrying the riders of the Apocalypse, specifically, the rider that ultimately brings terror via warfare. Additionally, red is understood as invoking war in II Kings 3:22, vengeance in Isaiah 63:2 and temptation in Proverbs 23:31.

While references to crimson and scarlet are often found in contexts concerning sin or fine fabrics, there is often overlap between them and the theme of blood more explicitly associated with red. In several passages from Isaiah, for example, crimson indicates sin of an especially violent nature, particularly brutal instances of murder. Frequently, red and similar colors also indicate a need for people to be purified of sin through the actual shedding of blood itself, a process which ultimately results in a moral cleanliness that brings such persons closer to God. In many of these cases, purification is connected to or represented by the color white.