Question from LLC on 04-14-2001:

Our (Little Rock) Bible study group has researched the following and need some expert help: (1) re. the garment/ tunic/robe/cloak that the Roman soldiers put on Christ when they mocked him. We have compared notes in several (at least nine) translations of the Bible but cannot figure this out.

Matthew 27;28 varies from "scarlet robe" to red gown" to "a general's short crimson cloak" among several different versions.

Mark 15;17 has fewer variations but the colors purple, crimson, and red were all found in different versions.

John 19;2 mentions a "purple garment" or a "purple robe" or a "crimson cloak" or a "red gown" between the various versions.

One of our problems is that (a) purple was the color of royalty and one of our members believes that a Bible that she owns states that it was a purple robe that had belonged to Herod. (b) scarlet was the color of the Roman army. (c) therefore it seems that it may be important to ascertain the color of the garment.

(2) The seamless tunic/coat/body-coat for which the soldiers cast lots. Was this an outer garment such as a modern day poncho or an inner garment more like a modern day slip which is worn close to the body? We know that the fact that it was in "one piece" has rich symbolism in the one-ness of the Church among other important symbols. Does the question of whether or not it was an inner or outer garment have any symbolism?

Thank you for your kind attention.

Answer by Fr. John Echert on 04-21-2001:

The Gospels record that the Roman soldiers placed a robe of sorts upon our Lord as part of the mockery they inflicted on Him in the course of the scourging prior to the crucifixion. As we read in the various Gospels:

27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 27:28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 27:29 and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 27:30 And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 27:31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him. (Matthew)

15:15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. 15:16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium); and they called together the whole battalion. 15:17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him. 15:18 And they began to salute him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 15:19 And they struck his head with a reed, and spat upon him, and they knelt down in homage to him. 15:20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. (Mark)

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. 19:2 And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; 19:3 they came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands. 19:4 Pilate went out again, and said to them, "See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him." 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!" (John)

St. Matthew uses two Greek words to describe the garment placed upon Jesus which appears to indicate a scarlet/red type robe or tunic worn by Roman soldiers. Both St. Mark and St. John indicate that some sort of purple garment was placed upon the Lord. St. Augustine comments upon this seeming discrepancy, suggesting that either the color of the garment was a sort of red/purple or else that there was some purple trim on the robe. It would seem most likely that since the soldiers were those making sport of the Lord, it was one of their own garments which had been placed upon Him. Thus, even though the robe may have been principally scarlet/red, it was intended to represent the purple robe worn by royalty of the ancient world.

Thanks, LLC, and I am so backlogged on responses that I ask you to submit another post with regards to the seamless tunic.

Father Echert