When I chose to use only the NIV Bible for The Importance of Colours in the Bibleseries, I did not realise how helpful it would be in terms of reducing the amount of Bible verses to sort through. Combining all versions of the Bible, there are almost ninety mentions of the colour green, however, 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. So, hats off to the NIV scholars for making this article a little easier for me!
The colour green is between yellow and blue on the visible spectrum. It is a secondary colour that can be 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, the colour green was associated with regeneration and rebirth; however, 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, a green earthy pigment was often used in their artworks. By the second century AD, the Romans had at least ten different words for varieties of greens.
Green can be 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. It has been adopted by organisations, such as Greenpeace and the Green Party, as a result of this. Bins specifically for garden waste are green and areas in cities designated as a garden or park are often referred to as green areas.
In China, green is associated with the east and sunrise as well as life and growth. In Thailand, however, 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 are 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, however, are less positive, for example, jealousy and envy. It is believed that William Shakespeare was the first person to use the term “green-eyed monster” in his play Othello in reference to jealousy.
Other phrases that include the word green are:
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 also 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 shown 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 used mostly to describe the colour of grass, trees or plants.
The greenness of nature is seen as 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 pastureand 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 upand 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, however, it is concerning 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 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 instance, 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 result of punishments for their sins.
And that ends the examples of the word green in the NIV. There are of course many more in other versions of the Bible, however, they tend to refer to the colour of plants, grass or fields rather than anything of more significance.
To finish, just for fun, let’s think of as many things that are green in today’s world, not including those already mentioned. I will start you off:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon