Q. We are going to be teaching Vacation Bible classes on Joseph’s “coat of many colors”. What were the colors and what does the color purple mean?
A. It turns out that the phrase coat of many colors is not a literal translation of the Hebrew in Genesis 37:3. Some translations use the phrase “richly ornamented” but that’s not literal either.
The Hebrew words literally mean a tunic that reaches to the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, in other words a full length undergarment. Tunics of this kind were often seamless and so expensive to make that they were usually worn only by royalty.
John 19:23-24 says that Jesus wore a tunic like this and that’s why the soldiers cast lots for it instead of splitting it up among them. In so doing, they were unknowingly fulfilling Psalm 22:18.
As for the color purple, it was made from a very rare sea snail and therefore used only to make expensive cloth. For that reason purple was known as the color of royalty. Lydia, the woman from Thyatira who helped carry the gospel into Europe was a dealer in purple cloth. (Acts 16:14)