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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 have 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 biblical meaning of red as well as related colors including scarlet.
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 also symbolizes atonement, sacrifice, life, death, and flesh.
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. However, 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 (see below for more on this) 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.
“…and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,” – Revelation 1:5
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” –
1 Peter 1:18-19
“and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” – Colossians 1:20
In addition, in Revelation, we learn about the red horse symbolizing war and bloodshed, appears when one of the prophetic end time seals is opened. (more on the red horse in the Bible below)
“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!” 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.” – Revelation 6:1-2
Red Animals in the Bible
The Red Heifer
Several times in scripture, we find a reference to a red heifer. For example, God commanded Israel to use the ashes of a red heifer for the ceremonial cleansing of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 19:3-6).
In Numbers, God gives instructions to Moses and Aaron about the ceremony and how it is to be performed,
“This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.” – Numbers 19:2
The red heifer was to be burned completely by fire and its ashes collected and stored, “for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin” (Numbers 19:9). The ashes of the red heifer were then placed in a container where running water was put on them (Numbers 9:17) before being used by a priest.
In Revelation, 6, we read about the appearance of the red horse. On the horse is a rider with a sword. The red horse in this scripture refers to war and bloodshed, slaughter. The horse appears when one of the prophetic end time seals is opened.
”When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 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. “- Revelation 6:3-4
Revelation shows us another red “animal” in scripture. In Revelation 12, we learn of the appearance of the great red dragon. This red dragon represents the power of Satan and his commitment to bring bloodshed and death. It signals the beginning of the worst time in humanity.
This is also referenced in the New Testament in Matthew 24:21:
“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”
“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” – Revelation 12:3
Red in the Bible: Nature
It is interesting to note that the actual phrase “red moon” does not appear at all in the Bible. We do, however, find three passages in scripture where the moon is described as blood or turned to blood.
The moon of course, doesn’t actually turn to blood, but when the sun’s rays are blocked from reaching the moon (such as during an eclipse), the moon’s surface reflects the earth’s shadow. That shadow is created from the atmosphere and contains a variety of particles including those of ash, dust and more and can appear red, like blood.
“The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” – Joel 2:31
“The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” – Acts 2:20
“I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,” – Revelation 6:12
Yes, we are talking about weather, or at least part of this focused passage is, but I love this meaning of red in the Bible upon closer look.
Even in biblical times, people studied the weather and learned by certain observations what to expect. They looked for changing of leaves and the color of the sky.
But why would the sky turn red and what does this mean? Stephen Wickstrom, on his blog, Spwickstrom, explains it this way:
“When clouds glow red in the pre-sunrise (instead of orange or yellow), we know that rain is on the way. First, at sunrise the sun must be below the cloud deck. In other words, the clouds cannot be blocking the sunrise. Second, there must be a lot of moisture in the atmosphere to absorb and scatter the red wavelength. In its gaseous state, water molecules form as invisible vapor. It is this vapor that both absorbs and scatters the red wavelength. When these two conditions occur, the clouds become red at sunrise. A storm is on its way. But the problem is this: you must be awake to see the red sky at dawn. If you are not paying attention, you will not see the red sky, you will completely miss it.”
In Matthew 16:2-3, Jesus said:
“He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
Here, He is telling us that while we pay attention to the weather, we are oblivious to when a storm is approaching in our life, mainly you growing away from God or letting earthly things come before Him.
Before this post, I hadn’t paid much attention to this verse, but I love the reminder that it brings and plan to post it on my desk as a prompt to keep Him in my focus, at all times.
One of the most familiar uses of red in the Bible is, of course, the Red Sea, Yam Suph, in Hebrew is located on the African continent (modern Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti) and the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia and Yemen). Interestingly enough, no rivers flow into it.
The Hebrew word “suph” is translated as a “wooly type of seaweed”. It can seem red when washed up on the shores. The name Red Sea may also have come from the red coral found in it or the red-appearing mountains that surround it.
There are quite a few biblical references to the Red Sea, but, most famously, we read about the Egyptian army chasing the Israelites into it when God parted the sea, allowing the Israelites to escape but swallowing up the Egyptian attackers.
“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.” – Exodus 15:4
and one of my favorites:
“but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:15
Red Clothing in the Bible
Red or Scarlet has symbolized wealth and power, since biblical times. It is heavily used to represent power in both politics and religion. Basically, the wearing of red in the Bible was a status symbol.
Officers in the Roman army wore cloaks of red and beginning in the 13th century, Roman Catholic Cardinals wore red as a representation of their status in the church.
Red clothing in biblical times was created in different ways. The Egyptians used a type of shellfish to dye clothing red, while the Hebrews extracted the dye from an insect found in oak trees.
The color did not fade or wash out quickly and became a status of wealth and prestige.
“When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.” – Proverbs 31:21
“The shields of the soldiers are red;
the warriors are clad in scarlet.
The metal on the chariots flashes
on the day they are made ready;
the spears of juniper are brandished.” – Nahum 2:3
Red letters in the Bible
Most every Christian is aware of the red scripture in the Bible. Most recognize it to reflect words actually spoken by Jesus.
But it wasn’t always that way. The very first red-letter New Testament was published in 1899, and the first red-letter full Bible (Old and New Testament) followed two years later, in 1901.
The idea of printing Jesus words in red was the brainchild of Dr. Lous Klopsch, who was the editor of Christian Herald magazine.
The story goes that one day Dr. Klopsch was reading Luke 22:20, and he read the words, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood….” The passage gave him the idea of printing the Words of Christ in red in the Holy Bible. He didn’t do the work himself, but rather gathered a group of biblical scholars to work complete the project.
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” – Luke 22:20
Other References to Red in The Bible
In addition to blood, there are many other references to the color red throughout the Scriptures. 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 and more
Bloodied water – 2 Kings 3:22
Shields of mighty men – Nahum 2:3
Scarlet 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 (whom 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.
“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.” – Joshua 2:18
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).
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 recommendations are terrific resources (and inexpensive, too!) for Bible symbolism, including a section on color.
Because He Lives,