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Colors in the Bible: Red

Portrait of a young girl
Crimson, Watercolor, Sara Joseph

The symbolic use of colors in the Bible is remarkably consistent and precise. Long before colorists vigorously expounded their pet theories about the expressive, emotional power of color, the Bible used them with deliberate precision and expertise. Sixty six books by forty authors were remarkably consistent in the words used to describe specific colors in its pages. It is details like these that fills me with awe for this Holy Book on which I have built my life! Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit was the true author!

Surrounded by our vibrant natural world, we associate particular colors with exclusive emotions. Perhaps it could be argued that we are culturally programmed that way. However, a more apt assessment would be that we are universally designed by God, our Creator, to respond to color in similar ways, whether we reside in Georgetown, Zambia or anywhere in between.

When approaching a study of colors in the Bible, I thought that it would be more fun to tie these explorations to either art, poetry, or both together.

Why don’t you participate by using these colors in your own work to evoke similar emotions and infuse your art with symbolism?


Colors in the Bible: Red


Red, scarlet and crimson are some of the more provocative colors in the Bible. While they are sometimes used in the same sentence in the Old Testament, I sense a subtle hierarchy. To our eyes they are the primary red and its shades in scarlet and crimson.

Red is common, earthy and ruddy. Red was the color used to describe Esau and David—both larger than life, carnal men, they were known for their impulsive appetites. These were costly sinful appetites common to humanity, for which we would desperately need the deliverance of a Savior.

Ram skins were dyed red and used as a covering for the tabernacle. (Ex 39:34.) It was a hint of the deliverance to come in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

A red heifer was required as a sacrifice for cleansing and purification. (Num 19:2)

Red, as a color in the Bible, represents the organic hue of this world—a color reflected in dusty earth and burning fires—literal ones and those that represent human passions. Every time we see red it is a reminder of the destructive fires of human sin, and the need for deliverance.


Colors in the Bible: Scarlet and Crimson


The other two colors for red in the Bible, scarlet and crimson, seem to hint at things of great cost. They were used to describe finer, expensive materials, like woven, embroidered linen and royal robes. Its deeper, richer hues are synonymous with luxury. These scarlet and crimson colors in the Bible described the sumptuously ornamented robes of the priesthood and the tabernacle hangings.

In the Bible scarlet and crimson seem to be used to describe objects of great labor, skill and cost.

When God refers to the cost of sin, scarlet and crimson are His colors of choice.


"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

Isaiah 1:18 KJV


How consistent that the costly loss of us our fellowship with the Father is expressed by scarlet and crimson! And Oh, how grateful we are for the crimson hues of the precious blood of Jesus, which redeemed us from the curse of the law, which separated us from our Father.

The human authors of the various books of the Bible (a few of which are referred to below), could not have fully comprehended the specific significance of color usage. Neither could they have grasped the unfolding plan of salvation. Yet they used the precise names of these colors in context with the exactitude of an expert artist. That is rather mind boggling, isn’t it? Unless, of course, another Author was the true mastermind!

Rahab’s cord was scarlet. (Joshua 2:18) It won her and her household salvation, despite her sinful, Gentile heritage.

The wise and confident woman of Proverbs 31 was unafraid of the change of seasons because her household was clothed in costly scarlet! It was a visual promise of her covenant with her God.

Genesis 38:25-30 describes the outcome of the despicable sinful relationship between Tamar and Judah. And yet, redemption is hinted at in the mention of the scarlet thread wrapped around the hand of the first born.

"And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb. And it came to pass, when she travailed, that [the one] put out [his] hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first. And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? [this] breach [be] upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez." Gen 38:27-29 KJV

This is the same Pharez mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3!

But most precious of all, is the color used in the verse below describing the price that Jesus paid for each of us!

“And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.” Mat 27:28

As artists, we are strive for the use of harmonious color. When we paint, we make conscious color choices, sensitive to every nuance and variance. While sometimes our choices are intuitive, skilled use often stems from years of training.

The writers of the various books of the Bible seem to demonstrate unusual knowledge of the subtleties of color. They were precise in how they used specific Hebrew words describing the variations of red, crimson or scarlet. Knowing the diversity of authorship, (some of the writers being as humble as shepherds and nomads) and the grand scope of time that elapsed between the lifetime of these authors, something becomes stunningly apparent.

The indelible imprint of a divine Author becomes undeniable by the clues left behind in the choice of colors in the Bible.

Like a master artist, the Holy Spirit repeats these colors in the Bible with precision, over thousands of years, never using all the reds haphazardly, or interchangeably. His meticulous artistry in word usage is apparent in this incredible book called the Bible, upon which we base our faith.

I became interested in the colors of the Bible a long time ago, especially red, scarlet and crimson. Red, the poem below is about Rahab, the harlot, who is listed in Jesus' genealogy! Her story begins in Joshua 2 and it is one of my favorites in the Bible.

She is a picture of the Gentile church, those of us who were not fortunate enough to be among the chosen people, but who were adopted into the family later.

Red Satin Fabric
Photo by Monty Lov, courtesy


Strident red in its flashy call

Blared her shameful life to all

Whore to drunks who knew her not

For Rahab of old, red was her lot

That ruby glint hung everywhere

Stubbornly staining its haze in the air

Heard red in voices raised in ire

Felt its painful sting by the night’s fire

Saw hateful red in glances askance

Lust that stripped to lay her bare

Red-tipped also the piercing lance

To dream of escape, she did not dare

But to her surprise, that red it drew

Some braves to her unlike those she knew

They spoke of a God who loved her still

Mightier than gods on the highest hill

Hope throbbed in her in joyous crimson

Though grimly uncertain the battle to win

“Hang a chord in your window in potent red

Gather those you love or they’ll soon be dead”

Her rescue was bound in that chord of red

No longer a hue of disgust or dread

Precious stain of the vibrancy of life

Soothed with peace in the chaos of strife

Had Rahab a clue that many years later

God planned a rescue that was so much greater?

Imagine her joy to discover the role

That red would play in redeeming the soul

Decades thence came flesh of her flesh

His blood it soaked the earth afresh

Restoring hope and erasing our sin

God’s color for redemption is crimson within

© Sara Joseph 2009

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