The Twelve (Thirteen) Disciples [Part 2]

The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020. For part one, click here.

7. Thomas

Thomas, most commonly known as “Doubting Thomas”, is one of the disciples with a speaking part in the Bible, and yet, he is barely mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 list him as one of the Twelve Disciples, but nothing is said about how he became an apostle and what came after. For that, we have to turn to the Gospel of John.

Thomas is believed to have come from Galilee and is listed as having two names. Thomas was his Aramaic name, and Didymus was his Greek name, both of which mean “twin”. Although there is no explanation for the choice of names, it is most likely Thomas was born a twin. In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, the author gives his name as Judas Thomas. 

The first time Thomas’ name appears in John’s Gospel is John 11:16: “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Jesus had learnt that his friend Lazarus was sick and had decided to visit him. The disciples were shocked by this decision. Lazarus lived in Judea, where the Jewish population had tried to stone Jesus. Yet, Jesus was adamant, and Thomas encouraged the disciples to go with him.  

Thomas next speaks in John 14:5: Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” Jesus had explained that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven and that one day they would join him there. Thomas spoke on behalf of the disciples, explaining that they did not know where that place was or how to get there. Jesus responded to this with one of the most famous sayings in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Of course, the most famous exchange between Thomas and Jesus took place after the resurrection. This scene forever branded him as “Doubting Thomas.” “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” (John 20:24) To prove he had risen from the dead, Jesus visited the disciples in a locked room where they were hiding from the Jewish leaders, but Thomas was not there. Unable to imagine someone coming back to life, Thomas doubted the disciples’ claim that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (20:25)

The following week, Jesus visited the disciples again. This time, Thomas was with them, and Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks and wound in his side. At once, Thomas believed, declaring, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Unfortunately, it was too late for Thomas to redeem himself. Thomas is still referred to as the doubter, giving his name to sceptics who refuse to believe without direct personal experience. “Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (20:29) 

Apart from these brief episodes in the Gospel of John, the Bible reveals nothing else about Thomas’ life. Scholars have turned to other literature to ascertain what happened to Thomas after Jesus was taken up into heaven. One belief is Thomas travelled to India in AD 52 to spread the Christian faith to the Jewish community that lived there at the time. Tradition claims he established seven churches while he was there and baptised many families. 

The theologian, Origen of Alexandria (184-253), stated Thomas was the apostle of the Parthians, a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340) recorded that Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. The Christian treatise Didascalia Apostolorum corroborates Thomas’ presence: “India and all countries considering it, even to the farthest seas… received the apostolic ordinances from Judas Thomas, who was a guide and ruler in the church which he built.”

Traditions of the Saint Thomas Church in India claim Thomas briefly visited China. The Office of St. Thomas for the Second Nocturn written by Gaza of the Church of St. Thomas of Malabar claims the following: 

1. Through St. Thomas the error of idolatry vanished from India.
2. Through St. Thomas the Chinese and Ethiopians were converted to the truth.
3. Through St. Thomas they accepted the sacrament of baptism and the adoption of sons.
4. Through St. Thomas they believed in and confessed to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
5. Through St. Thomas they preserved the accepted faith of the one God.
6. Through St. Thomas the life-giving splendours rose in all of India.
7. Through St. Thomas the Kingdom of Heaven took wing and ascended to China.

Regardless of whether Thomas visited China or not, it was in India where he was allegedly martyred. It is recorded that Thomas died in Chennai on a small hillock now known as St. Thomas Mount. Syrian Christian tradition believes his body was buried in Mylapore, and Ephram the Syrian (306-373) adds that Thomas’ relics were then taken to Edessa. The Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521), who served as an officer in India, recorded that Thomas’ tomb was maintained by a Muslim, and a lamp was always burning. Today, the San Thome Basilica sits on the site of Thomas’ tomb.

Saint Thomas has been made patron of a handful of things, including India and Sri Lanka. Other claims about Thomas include:

  • He was martyred by a spear
  • He was a builder by trade
  • Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary
  • Thomas met the biblical Magi on his way to India
  • Finger bones of Saint Thomas were discovered during restoration work at the Church of Saint Thomas in Modul, Iraq in 1964
  • He worked as a builder and architect for King Gondophares, the ruler of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom

8. Matthew

Matthew, later Saint Matthew, is another of the Galilean disciples. Traditionally, he is also the author of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four evangelists. Of all the disciples, he is one of the least likely candidates chosen by Jesus since he was Matthew the tax collector” (Matthew 10:30) and not liked by the public. 

Tax collectors or publicans, as they were also called, collected unpaid taxes for the Roman occupiers. It was not their job that caused people to dislike them but rather their fraudulent behaviour. Rather than collecting the amount owed, the tax collectors demanded more money, keeping the excess for themselves. Tax collectors were seen as both greedy and collaborators with the Romans.

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) Jesus came across Matthew after healing a paralysed man in Capernaum. Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a meal, an invitation that did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees. Always trying to find fault with Jesus, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:11) Before they could respond, Jesus answered them, explaining, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (9:12-13) 

Not much is recorded about Matthew’s early life other than his career, although one Bible verse mentions the name of his father. “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14) Matthew was also known by the name Levi. The Bible also records the father of the Apostle James the Less as Alphaeus, but there is no evidence they are the same person. A man of the same name is also said to be the father of Joseph/Joses, a potential brother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Saints Abercius and Helena also have a father called Alphaeus. 

Matthew’s call to discipleship is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but he is never mentioned in John. The final reference to the disciple is in Acts 1:10–14, where the apostles had withdrawn to a room after the Ascension of Jesus. To begin with, the disciples remained in the Jewish communities in Judea, preaching the Gospel before moving to other countries. Unfortunately, scholars have not been able to determine which countries Matthew visited. It is traditionally believed he died a martyr, but there is no evidence of this. Writers have suggested Hierapolis in Greece or Ethiopia as Matthew’s place of death.

The early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60–163) was the first person to propose Matthew the Apostle and Matthew the Evangelist were the same. The Gospel was written in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians before being translated into Greek. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been literate in Aramaic, Greek and his native tongue. To begin with, Matthew’s Gospel was known as Gospel according to the Hebrews and Gospel of the Apostles. An argument against Matthew’s authorship points out the text was written anonymously, and at no point does the author imply he was an eyewitness to the events. 

Matthew is supposedly buried in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. He is recognised as a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches, and his feast day is celebrated on 21st September. In art, Matthew is usually shown with a book, implying he wrote the Gospel, and an angel. Matthew is listed as the patron saint of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, perfumers, civil servants and Salerno, Italy.

9. James, son of Alpheus

James, son of Alpheus, not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee, is a disciple mentioned in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. He is also identified as James the Less, the Minor, or the Younger, depending on the translation. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40 NIV)

The word “less” does not imply James was less worthy than James the Greater. Instead, it may refer to his age or his height. Although there are very few mentions of James the Less in the Bible, his importance is equal to that of the other disciples. “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Like most of the other disciples, James came from Galilee, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. How he came to be Jesus’ disciple is missing from the Bible. There is also confusion about who James was since some scholars debate he may also have been Jesus’ brother, James the Just. The consensus is they were two separate people.

Very little is known about James. After King Herod killed James the Greater, Peter, who had been arrested, escaped and said to Mary, the mother of John, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this.” (Acts 12:17) Since James the Greater was dead, this James could either be James the Less or James the Just. Unfortunately, there is no clarification in the Bible.

James the Less’s death was recorded by the 2nd-century theologian Hippolytus. “And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.” James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is also believed to have died the same way, thus adding confusion about their identity. On the other hand, James the Less is traditionally thought to have preached at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt. Many people claim he was crucified there.

In Art, James is usually depicted with a fuller’s club, implying he may have worked in woollen clothmaking before becoming an apostle. Occasionally, he is portrayed with a carpenter’s saw, suggesting an alternative trade.

Saint James the Less is recorded as the patron saint of apothecaries, druggists, dying people and pharmacists, suggesting another potential career. He is also the patron saint of fullers, milliners, Frascati and Monterotondo in Italy, and Uruguay.

10. Jude

Jude, Judas Thaddaeus, Thaddeus, Jude of James, Lebbaeus, or whatever you wish to call him, was an apostle and martyr from 1st century Galilee. The use of multiple names in the Bible makes it difficult to determine whether they are one person or several. Cross-referencing the four Gospels, most scholars have agreed that the Thaddaeus in Matthew and Mark is the same person as Judas in Luke and John. Matthew also refers to the apostle as Lebbaeus and Judas the Zealot, whereas Luke and the Acts of the Apostles record him as Judas, son of James. One thing for sure is this disciple should not be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

Not including Judas Iscariot, the name Judas or Jude is mentioned six times in the Bible. In Luke, both Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot are recorded in a list of the twelve disciples. The same is recorded in Acts, minus the latter, of course. Similar lists in Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, state his name as Thaddeus. It has been suggested this may have been a nickname. Thaddeus means “courageous of heart”.

John makes an effort to differentiate between the similarly named disciples. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’” (John 14:22) In response to this, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (14:23-24, 27)

There is debate as to whether Judas was the brother of Jesus because Matthew 13:55 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” The same is said in the Gospel of Mark, but there is no clarification as to whether this Judas was also the disciple. Protestant churches tend to believe they were different people, whereas Catholics usually argue the opposite. 

The author of the Book of Jude is also widely debated. The book begins with the author’s introduction: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” (Jude 1:1) We know from Matthew that both Judas and James were brothers of Jesus, but is Jude the same person? Also, we know Judas was the name of a disciple of Jesus, therefore, he may identify himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” From this, it could be inferred that Judas/Thaddaeus, Judas the brother of Jesus and Jude the author are all one person, but no one has been able to find solid proof.

A collection of biographies compiled by Jacobus de Varagine in the 13th-century attempts to clarify the mixture of names used in the Gospels:

“This Judas was called by many names. He was said Judas James, for he was brother to James the Less, and he was called Thaddeus, which is as much to say as taking a prince; or Thadee is said of Thadea, that is a vesture, and of Deus, that is God, for he was vesture royal of God by ornament of virtues, by which he took Christ the prince. He is said also in the History Ecclesiastic, Lebbæus, which is as much to say as heart, or worshipper of heart. Or he is said Lebbæus of lebes, that is a vessel of heart by great hardiness, or a worshipper of heart by purity, a vessel by plenitude of grace, for he deserved to be a vessel of virtues and a caldron of grace.” 

Putting aside the confusion of names and identity, tradition tells us Jude the Disciple continued to spread the word of Christ after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jude preached the gospel firstly in Judea before travelling through Samaria, Edom, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Jude, along with Bartholomew, is also credited as the first people to bring Christianity to Armenia.

Jude’s life before becoming a disciple is unknown. Over time, theories and ideas suggest he may have been a farmer by trade. Growing up in Galilee, Jude would probably have spoken both Greek and Aramaic, which would have been beneficial when preaching to people of other areas. The 14th-century historian Nicephorus Callistus believed Jude was the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana recorded in the Gospel of John. This was the event that saw Jesus perform his first miracle.

Tradition states Jude was martyred around 65 AD in Beirut. Although Beirut is now the capital of Lebanon, it was then part of the Roman Province of Syria. Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon, recorded Jude’s death in the Acts of Simon and Jude, along with the death of a fellow disciple, Simon the Zealot. It is thought the pair were killed with an axe, possibly beheaded.  

Many years after his death, Jude’s bones were brought to Rome and buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. His resting place became a popular destination for pilgrims, giving him the title, “The Saint for the Hopeless and the Despaired”. He is also known as “The Patron Saint of the Impossible.” Shrines and churches have been erected all over the world in Jude’s honour, such as in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cuba, India, Iran, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Lebanon. The most recent shrine is the National Shrine of Saint Jude in Faversham, Kent, built in 1955.

The Feast of St Jude is traditionally celebrated on 28th October. He is the patron saint of several places and people, including Armenia; St Petersburg in Florida, Lucena, Quezon, Sibalom, Antique, Trece Mártires, and Cavite in the Philippines; Sinajana in Guam; Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, a sports club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Chicago Police Department; lost causes; desperate situations; and hospitals.

11. Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite/Cananaean is possibly the most obscure disciple. Although his name appears on a list of the disciples mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and the Book of Acts, he does not play a named role elsewhere.

To distinguish Simon from Simon Peter, Matthew and Mark use the term “Simon the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 KJV). Luke and Acts, on the other hand, call him “Simon Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 KJV) or “Simon the Zealot” (NIV), depending on the translation. The term “Canaanite” has led people to assume Simon was from Canaan or Cana, but the Hebrew text proves this to be a mistranslation. In Hebrew, Simon was referred to as “qanai”, which means “zealous”. The reason for the Canaanite confusion is easy to forgive since the term stems from the same Hebrew word. Unfortunately, no one knows why Simon was singled out as being zealous. Although, in contemporary English zealous means enthusiastic or to have a strong passion, in Greek, it was also a synonym for “jealous”. 

Catholic scholars have attempted to identify Simon the Zealot with both Simon the brother of Jesus and Simeon of Jerusalem, despite no evidence in the Bible for either claim. The names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Simeon of Jerusalem or Saint Simeon does not appear in the Bible.  

According to tradition, Saint Simeon was the second Bishop of Jerusalem, appointed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. He is also said to be the son of Clopas and, therefore, potentially a cousin of Jesus. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) 

As mentioned above, the “Judas” mentioned in Mark 6:3 may have been the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, and the “James” was potentially James the Less. So, it is possible, as it says in the Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), “Simon the Cananaean and Judas Thaddeus were brethren of James the Less and sons of Mary Cleophas, which was married to Alpheus.” The names Clopas and Cleophas refer to the same person depending on the Bible translation.

The Bible does not record how Simon was called to be a disciple, but a book of the Apocrypha, if it is to be believed, may shed some light on this. The Syriac Infancy Gospel, which supposedly records the childhood of Jesus, contains a story about a boy named Simon who was bitten by a snake. Jesus, who was only a child himself, healed the boy and said, “you shall be my disciple.” The story is concluded with “this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel.”

There are various speculations about Simon’s actions after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some say he visited the Middle East and Africa. Another tradition claims he visited Roman Britain during the Boadicea rebellion in 60 AD. Likewise, there is more than one version of his death. Stories tell of Simon being crucified in Samaria, sawn in half in Persia, martyred in Iberia, crucified in Lincolnshire and dying peacefully in Edessa. In art, Simon is portrayed with a saw, suggesting he was sawn in half.

Simon the Zealot, like all the apostles, is regarded as a saint. He shares a feast day with Saint Jude on 28th October. He is the patron saint of curriers, sawyers and tanners, perhaps alluding to his profession.

12. Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot, the most infamous of the Twelve Disciples, betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane, which led to Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Due to this notorious role, Judas is a controversial figure in the Bible. On the one hand, he betrayed Jesus, and on the other, he set in motion the events that led to the resurrection, which was necessary to bring salvation to humanity.

The name Judas was a Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah and, therefore, was popular in Biblical times. We have already looked at the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus. To distinguish between the two disciples, the Gospel writers used epithets, such as “Judas, son of James” for Jude, and “Iscariot” for Judas. It is not certain what ‘Iscariot’ meant, but some scholars have linked it to a Hebrew phrase meaning “the man from Kerioth.” Other suggestions are “liar”, “red colour”, and “to deliver”. There is also the theory Judas was connected with the Sicarii group, who carried daggers under their cloaks, but there is no evidence they were around during Judas’ lifetime.

“Kerioth Hezron (that is, Hazor)” (Joshua 15:25) was a town in the south of Judea. Judas may have been born there, but there is no direct reference to this in the Bible. All we know about Judas’ life before he met Jesus is his father’s name. Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.” (John 6:71) 

Judas Iscariot features in all four Gospels, although not always named. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and gave them authority over impure spirits. Other than the twelve, most of Jesus’ disciples had been unable to accept his teachings, which is why they are not named in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasised that he had chosen the Twelve deliberately because Jesus knew he could rely on them. Yet, he also shocked them by saying, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70) The “devil” refers to Judas Iscariot. 

Despite Jesus knowing Judas would eventually betray him, he promised all the disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) This suggests Judas was chosen specifically for the role he would play in the crucifixion and resurrection, and God would not punish him.

Judas’ act of betrayal is portrayed from different angles in each Gospel. In Matthew, we are told that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15) The priests gave Judas thirty pieces of silver. The Gospel of Mark also says the chief priests promised to give Judas money for handing over Jesus, but Mark does not indicate how much. After the Last Supper, Judas found the opportunity to hand Jesus to the chief priests. Whilst Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with a large, armed crowd and said, “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matthew 26:48) 

The Gospel of Luke provides a similar account to Matthew and Mark but includes further detail. Luke suggests Judas did not go to see the chief priests of his own free will but says, “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3)

The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not state Judas betrayed Jesus in return for money. Nonetheless, it is implied Judas was greedy and a thief, so it is likely Judas would have asked the priests for something in return for delivering Jesus to them. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6) 

John also directly indicates that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. In the Gospel of John, it is more obvious who this disciple is: “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:26-27)

Jesus then told Judas to go and do what he had to do quickly, but the other disciples were unaware of what this meant. “Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.” (John 13:29) 

Judas’ betrayal is mentioned in all four Gospels. The other eleven disciples are either involved with events recorded in a couple of the Gospels, or they are barely mentioned at all. The New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman (b.1955) states this is evidence that Judas’ actions truly happened. Whilst Christians believe everything in the Gospels is fact, it is strange not every Gospel writer thought certain events were worth recording.

It is generally believed Judas was overcome by remorse after the arrest of Jesus and committed suicide. The Gospel of Matthew records Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:3) The chief priests would not accept the coins, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)

The chief priests could not accept the money because it was “blood money.” Therefore, they used the money to buy a plot of land where foreigners (non-Jews) could be buried. “That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:8) This supposedly fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” (Matthew 27:9-10) Yet, there is no such prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah, although there is in Zechariah. 

The Book of Acts, on the other hand, claims Judas bought the field with the money. “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19) In this verse, there is no suggestion that Judas was remorseful, and his death could have been an accident rather than suicide.  

The two differing accounts of Judas’ death have caused consternation amongst scholars. St. Augustine of Hippo suggested the account in Acts was a continuation of Matthew. The field bought by the chief priests with Judas’ money may have been the same field in which Judas hanged himself. The rope may have eventually broken, causing his body to burst open on impact with the ground. Other writers have suggested the version in Acts was metaphorical rather than factual. “Falling prostrate” represented Judas in anguish, and the “bursting out of the bowels” is pouring out emotion.

A couple of Apocryphal books add more to the account of Judas’ death. The Gospel of Nicodemus, written in the 4th century AD, relates that Judas went home to his wife and told her he was going to kill himself because he knew Jesus would punish him after the resurrection. His wife laughed and said Jesus is as unlikely to rise from the dead as the chicken carcass she was preparing for dinner. At that very moment, the chicken was restored to life. The Gospel of Judas reveals Judas’ worries that the other disciples would persecute him, so he preferred to commit suicide than face that fate.

Just as the term “Doubting Thomas” has entered the common language, the name “Judas” has come to mean “betrayer” or “traitor”. In Spain, Judas is usually depicted with red hair, which during the renaissance era was regarded as a negative trait. As a result, red hair, alongside greed, became a way of portraying Jewish people in literature. In traditional art, Judas is often portrayed with a dark-coloured halo, which contrasts with the lighter colour of the other disciples.

Unlike the other disciples, Judas was not made a saint. Saint Matthias quickly filled his place among the twelve disciples. Nevertheless, Judas will not be forgotten. His betrayal is remembered annually in churches across the world.

13. Matthias

According to the Acts of the Apostle, written between 80 and 90 AD, the Apostles chose someone to replace Judas Iscariot. Matthias is different from the other disciples in that Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, did not choose him.

In Acts 1, Peter announced to the other disciples, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” (1:21-22) Two men were nominated: Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Lots were drawn, and Matthias was added to the eleven apostles.

Nothing else about Matthias features in the canonical New Testament, but it can be inferred that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus for the past few years. Nonetheless, non-canonical documents report that Matthias, like the other disciples, travelled from place to place, preaching the Gospel. Traditionally, Matthias is associated with the arrival of Christianity in Cappadocia and the countries bordering the Caspian Sea.

According to the 14th-century Greek ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, Matthias began preaching in his home region of Judea before travelling to modern-day Georgia, where he was stoned to death. A marker within the ruins of a Roman fortress claims Matthias was buried there.

Other sources record Matthias preaching in Ethiopia. The Coptic book Acts of Andrew and Matthias claims the disciples were “in the city of the cannibals in Aethiopia.” The Synopsis of Dorotheus corroborates this, saying, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbour of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Sebastopolis is in modern-day Turkey, which means this statement goes against the theory that Matthias died in Georgia. 

A third theory suggests Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem, perhaps taking on Judas’ punishment, and then beheaded. On the other hand, Hippolytus of Rome believed Matthias died of old age.

Fragments of the apocryphal Gospel of Matthias survive, which suggests Matthias believed in a life of abstinence. “We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” 

Similar to the other disciples, minus Judas, Matthias was venerated by the Roman Church in the 11th Century. He was given the 24th February as his feast day (25th in Leap Years), but this was later changed to 14th May, so that it would not coincide with Lent. Legend claims Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, brought Matthias’ remains to Italy, where they were interred in the Abbey of Santa Giustina, Padua, with some sent to the Abbey of Matthias in Germany. Again, this goes against the claim that Matthias is buried in Georgia.

Following his death, Saint Matthias became the patron saint of alcoholics, carpenters, tailors, smallpox, hope and perseverance. He is also listed as the patron saint of the United States town Gary in Indiana and Great Falls-Billings in Montana.


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Bible By Colour – Part One

Two years ago, the former minister of Gants Hill United Reformed Church asked me to write a series of articles about the importance of certain colours in the Christian Bible. How often are colours mentioned, and do they have a particular meaning in scripture? We know that a rainbow of colours was symbolic. In Genesis 9:13, a rainbow symbolised God’s promise that he would never flood the earth again. In Ezekiel 1:27, a rainbow represented the glory of God. Revelation 4:3 records John’s witness of the same rainbow as Ezekiel, but he also saw one above the head of a “mighty angel” who carried a book about the events to occur at the end of time.

The modern understanding of a rainbow was established by Isaac Newton (1643-1727), who divided up the visible wavelengths of light (colours) into seven groups. These are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Yet, there is a continuum of colours that fall between these categories.

Red

Red is one of the three primary colours (the others are yellow and blue) and appears on 75% of national flags. In contemporary times, red is associated with several things; for example, when seen on a traffic light or road sign, it means “stop”. Red is one of the colours used to describe fire, which can have both positive and negative connotations. Fire brings warmth and a means of cooking, but on the other hand, it can also signify danger.

In astronomy, Mars is known as the Red Planet, and on Jupiter, there is a Great Red Spot. There are stars known as red giants, red supergiants and red dwarfs. The sky occasionally turns red during sunset or sunrise. This has led to the saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.” It was believed a red sky signified an approaching storm. The original phrase, however, comes from the Gospel of Matthew:

“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.” (Matthew 16:2-3, NIV)

Red is one of the autumnal colours that appear on leaves during the lead up to winter. This associates the colour with the end of life; however, it can also represent new life with its appearance in fruit, such as cranberries, apples, cherries and raspberries. Elsewhere in nature, the colour red appears on many woodland creatures, for example, red foxes, red squirrels, robins, grouse, redwings and red setters. 

Human blood is red, which symbolises both life (i.e. we need blood to live) and death (in terms of blood being spilt). Two per cent of the world’s population has naturally red hair. The term redhead, or redd hede as it was originally spelt, has been in use since around 1510.

In human and animal behaviour, red sometimes indicates dominance. Wearing red has been linked with success and enhanced performance, especially in sport. Although a more controlled test of this theory suggests this is not entirely true.

Other meanings that the colour red connotes are love (i.e. red roses on Valentine’s day), celebration and ceremony (red carpet), Christmas (Santa Claus), anger (“seeing red”), seduction (red lipstick) and sexuality (red-light district). 

In the New International Version of the Bible, the word “red” appears at least fifty times, although some translations use “red” more broadly. There is a wide spectrum of colours, and red is only one small section. Either side of red are similar colours, such as scarlet and crimson, which have separate mentions and meanings in the Bible – at least in the NIV.

On more than one occasion, the colour red is used symbolically to indicate sin or sinfulness. When Israel attacked the wicked Moabites, the “water looked red – like blood.” (2 Kings 3:22) When the city of Nineveh fell, Nahum tells us, “The shields of the soldiers are red.” (Nahum 2:3). 

The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a prostitute, a sinner who lusted after a group of men of whom a sketch was drawn on a wall in red. “But she carried her prostitution still further. She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red.” (Ezekiel 23:14) An interesting thing to note here is the colour red was the first pigment to be used in art. In this instance, it may be a coincidence that the drawing was in the same colour as one representative of sin.

In Zechariah 1, the prophet heard the Lord was very angry with his ancestors. Later on that day, Zechariah had a vision: “During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown and white horses.” (Zechariah 1:8) The prophet recorded another vision of red horses in Zechariah 6:2. 

Another red horse is mentioned in Revelation 6:4 as a sign of war, bloodshed and the end times: “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.”

A red dragon is used as a similar symbol but also represents Satan’s power and determination to bring about destruction: “Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” (Revelation 12:13)

Other mentions of red in relation to the end times are:

  1. Revelation 6:12: 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.
  2. Revelation 9:17: The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulphur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulphur.

Proverbs 23:31 says, “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!” This is a warning about the temptation of sin. It may look good but it will have its repercussions. In the book of Job, the colour red is a sign of sorrow, grief and distress. “My face is red with weeping, dark shadows ring my eyes.” (Job 16:16)

Red is also a symbol of death. The Red Sea, which lies between Africa and Asia on the edge of the Indian Ocean, has claimed many people’s lives. Today, the Red Sea is bordered by Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is approximately 1400 miles in length and about 220 miles wide.

The most famous Bible passage involving the Red Sea takes place in the book of Exodus. Moses rescued the Israelites from Egypt by parting the waters of the Red Sea. When Pharaoh and his army tried to cross, God caused the waters to return to normal, drowning the entire army.

  1. Exodus 13:18: So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
  2. Exodus 15:4: Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

The Red Sea is also mentioned in the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 Kings, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Acts and Hebrews. 

On a couple of occasions, Biblical characters are given names that mean “red”. “The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.” (Genesis 25:25) “He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)” (Genesis 25:30)

At least three verses of the Bible mention items being dyed or decorated red. The significance of this, if there is one, is uncertain.

  1. Exodus 25:5: ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather; acacia wood.
  2. Exodus 26:14: Make for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of the other durable leather.
  3. Jeremiah 22:14: He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the colour red is associated with the fire of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. It has also been the colour worn by the Cardinals since 1295. In general, red is the colour of Christ’s blood and, therefore, a symbol of his crucifixion. At Christmas, red tape or ribbon is used during Christingle services to represent the blood. The flags of some historically Christian nations still bear a red cross. 

Crimson and Scarlet

The New International Version of the Bible frequently uses the words “crimson” and “scarlet” when other newer versions may use “red”. In the original Hebrew text, there were several other ways to describe a reddish hue. Three of these words are now translated as “crimson”. They are karmity, which means deep red; tola, the maggot from which the dye is derived; and shaniy. The term “scarlet” is a translation of the Greek word Kokkinos, which refers to the shape of the insect from which the dye is extracted.

Crimson is a strong red colour that slightly inclines towards purple on the colour wheel. The colour was originally produced using the dried bodies of the kermes insect found in Mediterranean countries.

In Polish, crimson or Karmazyn is another name for a nobleman. People of high nobility often wore crimson robes. Poland is also one of two countries that have the colour crimson on their national flags – the other country is Nepal. In Denmark, the Grand Hussar Regiment wears a crimson jacket as part of its ceremonial uniform. The King’s Royal Hussars in the British Army still wear crimson trousers, giving themselves the nickname “Cherrypickers”. Likewise, in the USA crimson is the colour of the Ordnance Corps.

The plant rhubarb is poetically referred to as “crimson stalks” for obvious reasons. The crimson sunbird is the national bird of Singapore. In Australia, there is a species of parrot known as the crimson rosella. Occasionally, in places such as Mexico and Florida, a crimson tide occurs when certain algae turn the water red.

In some religions, such as the Bahá’í Faith, crimson stands for tests and sacrifice. But where does it appear in the Bible?

The Second Book of Chronicles, chapter two, tells us about King Solomon’s plans to build a temple in Jerusalem. He requested the help of King Hiram of Tyre, with whom he wished to continue the friendly relationship King David had established. The people of Tyre were known for their dyeing industry, particularly for using crimson and purple dyes. Solomon requested Hiram to send him a man who could assist with the decoration of the temple.

  1. 2 Chronicles 2:7: Send me, therefore, a man skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, and in purple, crimson and blue yarn, and experienced in the art of engraving, to work in Judah and Jerusalem with my skilled workers, whom my father David provided.
  2. 2 Chronicles 2:14: whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre. He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him. He will work with your skilled workers and with those of my lord, David your father.
  3. 2 Chronicles 3:14: He made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it.

Thus, the colour crimson is associated with the Temple and praising God.

There are only two other mentions of the word “crimson” in the NIV Bible, and they are both found in the book of Isaiah. In chapter 63, Isaiah writes about God’s day of vengeance and redemption. The first verse says: “Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendour, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save.’” In this verse, crimson is a sign of splendour and victory, but in an earlier chapter, crimson means something entirely different. It is also an example that distinguishes crimson and scarlet as two separate colours:

Isaiah 1:18 (NIV): “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

In this example, both crimson and scarlet represent sin. It may not be the colours themselves that denote sin but rather the fact they have obscured the purity of the original whiteness of the snow and wool. 

Scarlet lies somewhere between red and orange on the colour wheel, making it weaker than crimson. Nonetheless, the same insects originally produced the scarlet dye. Synthetic scarlet is often called cadmium red and was the standard red of many artists during the 19th and 20th centuries.

In the 20th century, scarlet became associated with revolution. It appeared on revolutionary emblems as a symbol of the blood of martyrs in the French Revolution. It also became the colour of communism, used on the Soviet Union’s flag and is still used on the Chinese flag. In China, red is also a symbol of happiness.

Scarlet is the colour of the traditional academic dress of doctorate students in the United Kingdom. The Foot Guards and Life Guards also wear scarlet for ceremonial purposes. Army regiments across the world use the colour scarlet on their uniforms too. The countries that do this include Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, Kenya, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Brazil and the USA. 

In the Roman Catholic Church, scarlet symbolises the blood of Christ and Christian martyrs. In Lutheran tradition, scarlet decorations are displayed from Palm Sunday until Maundy Thursday. Other Christians often associate scarlet with prostitution. This is partly due to the description of an adulterous woman in the Book of Revelations, sometimes referred to as the Great Scarlet Whore.

Revelation 17:3-4: Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

As a result, cities in which prostitutes work are named “red-light districts”, and sex worker organisations have titles such as the Scarlet Alliance. The scandalous novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) uses the colour to denote adultery. 

Other negative connotations of scarlet in the book of Revelation include:

  1. Revelation 18:12: cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble.
  2. Revelation 18:16: and cry out: “Woe! Woe to you, great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!”

The first time the word “scarlet” is used in the NIV is in Genesis 38 when Tamar gave birth to twins. A scarlet thread was tied around the wrist of the eldest so that they could differentiate between the two.

  1. Genesis 38:28 (NIV): As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.”
  2. Genesis 38:30 (NIV): Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.

The colour is most frequently used in the book of Exodus concerning the construction of the Tabernacle. This connects scarlet with God, giving it an entirely different meaning in comparison to the final book of the New Testament. Between Exodus 25 and Exodus 39, the colour scarlet is mentioned over 25 times. Examples include:

  1. Exodus 26:1: Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them by a skilled worker.
  2. Exodus 26:31: Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker.
  3. Exodus 28:15: Fashion a breastpiece for making decisions—the work of skilled hands. Make it like the ephod: of gold, and of blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen.
  4. Exodus 35:25: Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun—blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen.

Leviticus 14 mentions scarlet yarn at least five times in the instructions for the cleansing of defiling skin diseases:

  1. Leviticus 14:4: the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed.
  2. Leviticus 14:6: He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water.
  3. Leviticus 14:49: To purify the house he is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop.
  4. Leviticus 14:51: Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times.
  5. Leviticus 14:52: He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn.

Twice, scarlet is mentioned in the book of Numbers:

  1. Numbers 4:8: They are to spread a scarlet cloth over them, cover that with the durable leather and put the poles in place.
  2. Numbers 19:6: The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.

The second of these is also referenced in Hebrews 9:19. “When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.”

Potentially the most famous mention of scarlet in the Bible occurs during the story of Rahab and the Spies. This is found in the second chapter of the book of Joshua. Rahab was a prostitute but in this story, the colour scarlet is not a reflection of her occupation. Rahab helped Joshua’s spies escape, and in return, they told her to tie a scarlet cord in her window so that when Joshua’s soldiers attack the city, she would be spared.

  1. Joshua 2:18: unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.
  2. Joshua 2:2: “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

Other mentions of the colour scarlet in the Bible are:

  1. 2 Samuel 1:24: “Daughters of Israel,weep for Saul,who clothed you in scarlet and finery,who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.”
  2. Proverbs 31:21: When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
  3. Song of Songs 4:3: Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; our mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.
  4. Jeremiah 4:30: What are you doing, you devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why highlight your eyes with makeup? You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they want to kill you.
  5. Nahum 2:3: 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.

Generally, scarlet is a colour associated with wealth and opulence. This meaning is supported with the only mention of the colour in the Gospels. “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him.”(Matthew 27:28) The “him” in this verse is Jesus, and the soldiers in the Praetorium are mocking him. They dressed him in a scarlet robe to make him look like a king. As we all know, the soldiers then crowned him with a crown of thorns and put a staff in his right hand whilst jeering, “Hail, king of the Jews!”

Despite the unfortunate connection to prostitution, both crimson and scarlet represent wealth and power, both politically and religiously. Even the verses in Revelation refer to this. By the end times, people were worshipping their wealth and power rather than God.

According to surveys across Europe and the UK, scarlet is also associated with courage, force, passion and joy. Combining this with Biblical meaning, it is ascertained that scarlet is a powerful and positive colour – crimson, too.

Yellow

There is no mention of the word orange in the Bible. The closest the Bible comes to mentioning the colour in the NIV is Revelation 21:20, which states: “the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.” According to the AUV Bible (An Understandable Bible), [sard]onyx is “an orange-coloured stone similar to chalcedony”. 

Yellow is the second of the primary colours. It is the colour of canaries, daffodils, lemons, egg yolks, buttercups and bananas. There are yellowtail fish, yellow-fever mosquitos, yellowjackets (wasps), yellow birches and yellow poplars.

The history of the colour yellow is rather intriguing. In Ancient Egypt, yellow was associated with gold, thus considered eternal and indestructible. The skin of gods was believed to be yellow, so the Egyptians used the colour yellow extensively in their tomb paintings. The ancient Romans followed suit, using yellow to represent gold and skin tone.

Yellow Star Badge

The meaning of yellow in artwork changed sometime in the centuries following the crucifixion of Jesus. In paintings of Jesus’ disciples, Judas Iscariot often wears yellow, thus the colour has become associated with betrayal, envy, jealousy and greed. From this, the tradition of depicting Jews or other non-Christians in yellow began. Whilst this practice fell out of use, it was briefly reinstated during the 20th-century when Jews living in German-occupied countries were required to wear a yellow badge featuring the Star of David.

In China, the colour yellow represents happiness and wisdom. The first Chinese emperor was known as the Yellow Emperor, and all subsequent emperors were considered a child of heaven. Only the emperor was allowed to wear yellow and, instead of a red carpet, distinguished guests were honoured with a yellow carpet.

In politics, yellow represents liberalism. In the UK, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and SNP all use yellow in their campaign materials. In the US, the Libertarian Party is recognised by the colour yellow. In Chinese history, a Daoist sect was known as the Yellow Turbans; they staged a rebellion against the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD).

Yellow has been and continues to be used to represent optimism and pleasure. It is a colour that attracts attention. Yellow is the most visible colour from a distance, and many countries have used the colour on their emergency vehicles. The RAF rescue helicopter is yellow, as are the vehicles used by the Royal Danish Air Force. The colour is frequently used as a warning; for instance, yellow (amber) traffic lights mean slow down, and a yellow card in football is a caution but not expulsion.

The colour yellow is prevalent on national flags across the world. The flags of three of the five most populous countries feature yellow: China, India and Brazil. Other countries include Germany, Bhutan, Ukraine, Belgium, Lithuania, Spain, Colombia, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mozambique, Romania, Sweden, the Vatican, the Philippines, Chad and the European Union.

Buddhist and Hindu monks usually wear yellow or saffron robes. The Hindu divinity Krishna was often portrayed in yellow, as is Lord Ganesha. In Islam, yellow is a symbol of wisdom. In the various religions of the islands of Polynesia, yellow is a sacred colour associated with the food of the gods.

In Christianity, yellow is both positive and negative. The latter relates to Judas Iscariot and the former concerns wealth and gold. Similarly, there are both negative and positive connotations of the colour yellow in the Bible. Yellow is used to describe two things; one is gold or something valuable, the other is leprosy.

In Leviticus 13, God gave Moses and Aaron regulations about diagnosing skin diseases, i.e. leprosy. This was the job of the priest, in this case, Aaron, who had to examine all suspected cases of the disease and determine whether the sufferers were unclean.

  1. Leviticus 13:30: the priest is to examine the sore, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it is yellow and thin, the priest shall pronounce them unclean; it is a defiling skin disease on the head or chin.
  2. Leviticus 13:32: On the seventh day the priest is to examine the sore, and if it has not spread and there is no yellow hair in it and it does not appear to be more than skin deep.
  3. Leviticus 13:36: the priest is to examine them, and if he finds that the sore has spread in the skin, he does not need to look for yellow hair; they are unclean.

For examples of yellow representing gold or valuable objects, you have to compare the NIV with other versions of the Bible. Take Psalm 68:13, for instance. the NIV says: “Even while you sleep among the sheep pens, the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold.” The King James Version, on the other hand, says: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”

Often, the word yellow is not cited. Instead, yellow objects or items are named. Frankincense is an off-yellow colour and is mentioned approximately 25 times in the Bible. In Matthew 2:11, one of the gifts Jesus received from the magi was Frankincense.

Many precious jewels are referenced throughout scripture. Chrysolite, a yellow gemstone, is mentioned ten times. In Revelation, chapter 21 tells us about the New Jerusalem. The city’s walls are made of jasper and the city itself from pure gold. There are to be twelve foundations, each one a different gemstone. It is here that chrysolite gets mentioned for the tenth and final time. “The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.” (Revelation 21:19-20, NIV)

The book of Revelation also contains one mention (in the NIV) of the word yellow. This occurs in chapter nine, in which John writes about the riders of the apocalypse. Verse seventeen describes the breastplates of the riders, which were “fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulphur”.

Sulphur is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, although without the colour yellow attached. As well as Revelation, the yellow chemical element appears in the books of Job, Isaiah and Luke. In each of these cases, sulphur is an indication of destruction, thus giving the colour yellow another negative connotation.

Yellow is a difficult colour to attach meaning to due to its connection with both positive and negative things. In terms of emotion, yellow is generally considered a happy, optimistic colour. Chris Martin, the lead singer from the band Coldplay, said the band wrote the song “Yellow” to reflect “the mood of the band. Brightness and hope and devotion.”  

“Look at the stars/Look how they shine for you/And everything you do/Yeah they were all yellow.”

Green

Combining all versions of the Bible, there are almost ninety mentions of the colour green, but only half of them appear in the NIV. The translator of the NIV decided that the word “pasture” was as good as “green field”, and it was not necessary to write “green trees” when “trees” would suffice.

The colour green is between yellow and blue on the visible spectrum. It is a secondary colour produced by mixing two primary colours – blue and yellow. The word “green” comes from the old English word grene, which has the same root as the words “grass” and “grow”. The majority of green we see in the world comes from nature, such as grass, trees, vegetation and so forth. 

Green is common in plants because they contain a chemical called chlorophyll, which gives them this colour. Many fish, birds and reptiles are also green and use the chlorophyll green of their surrounding environment as a means of camouflage. Green creatures include frogs, parrots, snakes and the green huntsman spider.

In Ancient Egypt, green was associated with regeneration and rebirth, but it was rarely used in their artworks. The Romans, on the other hand, connected the colour green with Venus, the goddess of gardens, vegetables and vineyards, amongst other things. As a result, green, earthy pigments featured in their artworks. By the second century AD, the Romans had at least ten different words for varieties of greens.

Van Eyck – Arnolfini Portrait

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, colour determined people’s rank and profession. Red was reserved for nobility and browns for peasants. Green was used for merchants, bankers, gentry and their family. For this reason, Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) Mona Lisa wears green in her famous portrait, as does the woman in the Arnolfini portrait by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441).

Green is used as a symbol for a variety of things. In terms of traffic and safety, green grants permission and announces that it is safe to proceed. In most countries, the colour is also associated with nature, health, life, springtime, freshness and hope. Due to this, it has been adopted by organisations, such as Greenpeace and the Green Party. Bins specifically for garden waste are green, and areas in cities designated as a garden or park are referred to as green areas.

In China, green is associated with the east, sunrise, life and growth. In Thailand, they connect the colour with something a little more obscure: a child born on a Wednesday. Many places relate green with youth; for instance, an inexperienced person may be called “green”. Underripe fruit is usually green.

Surveys undertaken around the world reveal that people mostly think of calmness, nature and freshness when confronted with the word green. Other suggestions are less positive, for example, jealousy and envy. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was the first to use the term “green-eyed monster” in his play, Othello, about jealousy. 

Other phrases that include the word green are:

  • Having a green thumb – being good at gardening
  • Greenhorn – an inexperienced person
  • Greenroom – a room in a theatre where actors can rest when not on stage. This term originated from the colour of this room at the Theatre Royal in London.
  • Green around the gills – someone who is looking a little ill
  • Going green – a company or person who is participating in activities to preserve the environment, i.e. recycling

The colour green has a few significances in religion. According to Islamic tradition, the robes and banner of Muhammad were green. Al-Khidr, who supposedly met and travelled with Moses, was known as “The Green One”.

In Christianity, clergy may wear green during “ordinary time”, i.e. a Sunday that does not fall within a particular holiday or festival season. In Eastern Catholic Churches, green is usually the colour of Pentecost. Many associate green with Christmas, for instance, Christmas trees and holly leaves. Interestingly, in Scotland and Ireland, green is used to represent Catholics. This is how Catholics are symbolised on the Irish flag, with orange representing Protestants.

In the Bible, there does not appear to be any particular meaning connected to the use of the word “green”. It is mostly used to describe the colour of grass, trees or plants.

  1. Genesis 1:30: “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
  2. Genesis 9:3: Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
  3. Psalm 23:2: He makes me lie down in green pastures,he leads me beside quiet waters
  4. Psalm 105:35: they ate up every green thing in their land, ate up the produce of their soil.
  5. Joel 2:22: Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
  6. Mark 6:39: Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

The greenness of nature is a positive thing, but many verses in the Bible talk about the lack of green. Exodus 10:15 talks about the result of the plague of locusts sent by God to the land of Egypt: “They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.”

In Job 39:8, God speaks to Job about the animals he created. God tells him he gave the donkey the salt flats as its natural habit where “It ranges the hills for its pasture and searches for any green thing.” Isaiah 15 records a prophecy against Moab. As a punishment, the land will be ruined, destroyed overnight. Verse 6 states, “The waters of Nimrim are dried up and the grass is withered; the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left.”

God reminds Ezekiel of His powers in Ezekiel 17:24: “All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.” Later, in chapter 20, God speaks via Ezekiel, revealing a prophecy against the South. Verse 47 says, “Say to the southern forest: Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it.”

Of course, the best place to find verses about destruction is in the book of Revelation. In the NIV, the word green only appears once in the book. It concerns the end of the world, thus a distinct lack of green. Revelation 8:7: “The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.”

In the Gospel of Luke, there is one example of a positive connotation of the colour green, yet used in a negative context. This occurs shortly before the crucifixion of Jesus when he tells the “Daughters of Jerusalem” not to weep for him but their children, predicting devastating times in the future. He ends this short speech with the line: “For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31) The green tree in this riddle refers to Jesus himself, the Son of God, the one who came to Earth to save. If people are doing wicked things while he is alive, what will they do once he is dead?

Green plants are often used as an analogy in the Bible. Most commonly, it describes people or entire societies. In some instances, the metaphor talks about people flourishing or bouncing back after a disaster. On the other hand, some refer to the destruction of communities as a punishment for their sins.

  1. 2 Kings 19:26: Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up.
  2. Psalm 92:14: They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green
  3. Proverbs 11:28: Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.
  4. Isaiah 37:27: Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorchedbefore it grows up.
  5. Jeremiah 17:8: They will be like a tree planted by the waterthat sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
  6. Psalm 37:2: for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.
  7. Psalm 58:9: Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.

There are, of course, many more instances of the colour green in other versions of the Bible, but they tend to refer to plants, grass or fields rather than anything of significance.

To be continued …


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