What Color was the robe of Christ?

The question was asked, “What Color was the robe of Christ?”. 

The reason this is an important question is that this is often used by people to question whether the Bible can be trusted or not. They are either just looking for a reason to not trust God, or are looking for validation that the Bible CAN be trusted.

Remember, the robe in question was not His. It was put on Jesus the Christ by Roman soldiers. They were mocking the fact that He claimed to be King of the Jews (see Mt 27:11). The robe would be the color that was considered to be royalty, or something close to it. It may have been the one Herod wore, or it may have been the robe of one of the Roman soldiers’ uniform. I think the latter is more likely.

In Matthew 27:28, the color is red, crimson, or scarlet (depending on translation). Mark 15:17 and John 19:2 mention purple as the color. Luke mentioned an elegant robe, without distinction of color. Why the difference? 

The fact is, the Gospels differ in the word used. One used red, another used purple, another did not mention color at all. There are a number of reasons the wording might be different.

1) It may be that more than one robe was put on Him. Personally, I do not think this is the case, but is possible. 

2) It may be that one robe of two colors was placed on Him, and one author focused on one color while two other authors focused on another color. Research shows the Roman soldier’s uniforms were white or dark red in color, with some having stripes (see http://www.legionsix.org/Uniform.htm http://www.larp.com/legioxx/tcolor.html http://books.google.com/books?id=Co4IB3zPAmYC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=roman+soldier+tunic+color&source=web&ots=d38qnJmy1X&sig=ddgU7OALnO5uZUZx9NP9Tofa7yo#PPA24,M1). Again, while this is a possibility, I doubt this was the case.

3)  It may be that the robe placed upon Christ was purple, then stained scarlet by His profuse bleeding. One account would have focused on the modified color, while the other accounts focused on the initial color. This is most definitely a distinct possibility, but I am not sure the timing of the sequence of events would agree with this explanation. 

4) Alternatively, it may be the difference in word choice is simply due to the fact that different people were relating the same story for different purposes. That is to say, the terminology used was intended to focus on different aspects of Christ. If the color were of importance for the overall message, Luke would have also mentioned a color. But he did not. So what was most important for Luke’s purposes was that the soldiers were mocking Christ by putting a robe that was supposed to indicate royalty upon Him. But for Matthew, Mark and John, their purposes required the usage of specific terms.

Describing color in the ancient world, like now, was not an exact science for the common person. Where one might use the term red, another might use purple. This is because different societies group colors differently, where one specific shade of color might be considered to be in the ‘red’ group for one society and another society would consider the same color to be in the ‘purple’ group. In fact, the Liddell and Scott Greek-English lexicon says the word porphureos  means darkgleaming, dark, and is used to describe the color of heaving and surging of the sea, gushing blood, bright red or flushing human complexion, as well as the color purple (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%2385838). The word porphura is the word used by Mark to descibe the color of the robe; this word describes the dye, as well as what was used to create the dye color (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%2385833). Porphurous is the word used by John; this is simply an alternate of phorphureos

To quote someone else, “In fact, the term does NOT refer, first of all to a precise COLOR, but rather to a rare DYE, made from the rare murex shells harvested of the coast of ancient Phoenicia. [Actually, the very name “Phoenicia” is a Greek invention MEANING “land of the purple dye”]. There were actually at least two distinct different types of shells, and different shades of dye produced from them. The color-S appear to have all been “blue-red” combinations, but NOT the nice even mixture of the two. That is, OUR definition of purple as “half-red and half-blue” does NOT describe the actual colors of the purple dye (and hence of the cloth named “purple” after the dye used for it). In some cases the balance was much more toward RED.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purp…” (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071215040527AATBoaR).

So what does this mean? It is evident to anyone who has ever discussed colors with someone else, two people do not always use the same description when they view the same color.  Recall that we see color on a continuum. For some people, purple has a specific meaning, a specific range of colors make up what they think of as purple. For others, the colors that make up that range would be different. If the set of colors that make up purple is different for different people within the same culture and time, it would certainly be different over time and in a different culture and language. When we think of purple, we often have a specific shade of purple come to mind. But purple, as a color, is a combination of blue and red (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_colors_and_amounts_do_you_use_to_make_purple). The same two colors make up crimson – blue and red (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_colors_do_you_mix_together_to_make_alizarin_crimson). What range of colors make up purple or crimson differ based on the person you ask. My wife calls something burgundy and I will use dark red or purple or wine to describe the same color (and then she looks at me as if to say, “Was that necessary? Why are you arguing with me when you know you are agreeing?”). The ordinary person today would probably use the word crimson or scarlet to describe the color of the robe put on Christ.

To see this more clearly, we will look at the definitions of crimson, scarlet, and purple. Let us begin with the definition  from WordNet of crimson (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/crimson):

1.  of a color at the end of the color spectrum (next to orange); resembling the color of blood or cherries or tomatoes or rubies 

Now we will look at the meaning from WordNet of scarlet (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scarlet) :

1.  of a color at the end of the color spectrum (next to orange); resembling the color of blood or cherries or tomatoes or rubies 

Notice, this particular dictionary uses the same definition for the initial definition of scarlet and crimon.

Finally, we will look at the meaning from WordNet of purple (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/purple):

1.  of a color intermediate between red and blue 

This shows purple as being a range of shades of colors.

Now I will show the defintions of these three colors using The American Heritage Dictionary, using the links above.

scarlet (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scarlet):
A strong to vivid red or reddish orange. 

Note: scarlet is a range of shades of red.

crimson (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/crimson):
A deep to vivid purplish red to vivid red.

Note: crimson is a range from vivid purplish red to vivid red – again, this is a range of color shades of red.

purple (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/purple):
Any of a group of colors with a hue between that of violet and red. 

Note: purple is a range of color shades between violet and red.

Color specialists today could probably delineate  what makes up various shades of color, based on the medium they are using. However, even today, this is not the case for most people. Some would use scarlet where others would use crimson, and others would use purple. Although most people agree that purple is more purple than red or crimson or scarlet, to many people, the colors are essentially the same (depending on the shade of the color in question), unless they see examples side by side.

In fact, the relationship between these words is more easily seen when we look at an expanded definition in the American Heritage Dictionary defintion for purple (from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/purple – the same link as above).

pur·ple noun.


1. any color having components of both red and blue, such as lavender, esp. one deep in tone.
2. cloth or clothing of this hue, esp. as formerly worn distinctively by persons of imperial, royal, or other high rank.
3. the rank or office of a cardinal.
4. the office of a bishop.
5. imperial, regal, or princely rank or position.
6. deep red; crimson.

Notice, that crimson and scarlet have essentially the same meaning. Also note that purple is defined as a deep red, crimson. This actually makes sense, when we remember that purple was used in the ancient world to describe the color of blood.

Different people use the same term in different ways, and use different terms to describe the same thing. So the difference in purple (used by Mark and John) and scarlet (used by Matthew) is simply one of word choice. The color is the same – the color of blood – what we call crimson (or scarlet) today. The color of the robe is the same in all the accounts, only the word used to describe the color differed, and the audience, who were familiar with the color of the robes of the occupying Roman soldiers, would have had no difficulty with the word choices.  What was important is the fact it was an elegant robe made to humiliate Jesus.

The reason in the difference in word choice is the different purposes of the authors in question. Mark and John were focusing the reader’s attention on the Kingly nature of Christ, and the soldiers were mocking this, thus they used the term purple. But Matthew was being more specific to the nature of the clothe/dye being used and so was able to focus his readers’ attention to the blood sacrifice being made. The word choice was made because of different purposes of the authors.  

So there is no discrepancy. The color is the same, the difference was word choice for the purpose of the author.

In summary, any of the four responses of how to reconcile the different words used to describe the color of the robe put upon Christ might be used to address an objection that there is a discrepancy. There is no discrepancy. Personally, I favor #4 as the best possible answer to this question.

People can choose to find ways to reconcile what God wrote that might appear confusing, or they can choose to call it wrong. Basically, people can choose to believe that God is powerful enough to write what He wanted written, or not. They can choose to believe the Bible or not.

However, I agree that If someone finds an actual error in one place in the Bible, then it is intellectually dishonest to say it can be trusted somewhere else without having concrete evidence that THAT particular place in the Bible is trustworthy.

If you can not trust God, who can you trust?


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