Problem: Jesus' robe is purple or scarlet
Verses: Matthew 27:28, John 19:2; Status: Unsure

A robe Jesus wears is variously described as scarlet or purple. Here are Matthew 27:28 and John 19:2 respectively:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him (ESV)
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. (ESV)

You might also see Mark 15:17 mentioned, though Mark seems to use the word "cloak" rather than "robe". The contradiction is sharper between Matthew and John. Here are scarlet and purple, at least as defined by Wikipedia:


They certainly seem like different colours. However, definitions change over time, and differ from place to place. There are cultures where green is considered a type of blue, for example. So, it's hard to be sure that the words 2,000 years ago really meant the same as our words. Thus, it's conceivable the two words referred to roughly the same colour.

However, Rational Christianity helpfully notes that in other passages, especially in Revelation, these words for purple and scarlet are definitely used to describe different colours. This is Revelation 17:4:

The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. (ESV)

So here, "purple" and "scarlet" are different enough to be mentioned seperately. This renders the above explanation problematic, though I suppose you can imagine a colour roughly between scarlet and purple that might be described with either word. A reader of this site suggests Tyrian purple as such a colour.

Alternatively, the Apologetics Press suggests the robe was an old discarded piece, faded and therefore of ambiguous colour. However, Luke 23:11 describes some "splendid clothing" that is put on Jesus, though I'm not entirely clear if this is the same incident. Another suggestion is that Jesus was actually given twodifferent pieces of clothing, or a striped robe. None of the gospel writers say anything like this, of course.

I can't bring myself to classify the problem since I'm so unclear about what the words would actually mean to an ancient Greek.

Updated: 2009-07-22

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