Purple, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament pronounced ar-gaw-mawn, and in the Greek of the New Testament pronounced por-foo-rah, was known to the ancient people of Bible History as a very high-priced dye that the Phoenicians (and others) manufactured from a small gland found in the neck of the mollusk marine mulex trunculus. The shellfish were opened, and the glands were removed and crushed, producing a liquid that turned purple when exposed to the air. Because of its high cost, purple-dyed clothing was worn at first only by the wealthy and rulers. It was later (as it still is to the present day) also worn by various Christian-professing religious officials, perhaps in imitation of Aaron's God-specified priestly garments (see verse below).
Purple In Bible History
The Israelites had access to substantial quantities of purple during the Wilderness Journey, either plundered from the Egyptians at the Exodus (i.e. Exodus 12:36), or purchased from traders with money plundered from the Egyptians at the Exodus, or simply supplied by God. They used it extensively in The Tabernacle In The Wilderness, and in Aaron's priestly garments:
"Moreover you shall make the Tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff; with cherubim skilfully worked shall you make them." (Exodus 26:1 RSV)
"And you shall set the two stones upon the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before The Lord upon his two shoulders for remembrance. And you shall make settings of gold filigree, and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings. And you shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work; like the work of the ephod you shall make it; of gold, blue and purple and scarlet stuff, and fine twined linen shall you make it." (Exodus 28:12-15 RSV) (see also Urim And Thummim)
During Bible history, purple was worn by the rich and powerful, some righteous, some not:
"warriors clothed in purple, governors and commanders" (Ezekiel 23:6 RSV)
"Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor." (Esther 8:15-16 RSV) (see Haman)
"Then Belshazzar [see The Writing On The Wall] commanded, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put about his neck, and proclamation was made concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom." (Daniel 5:29 RSV)
"There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table" (Luke 16:19-21 RSV) (see Lazarus And The Rich Man)
Although there is no record of the apostles or church leaders wearing purple, or even of Jesus Christ himself (with one exception, see Fact Finder question below, see also What Did Jesus Look Like?), at least one righteous Christian was a dealer in valuable purple goods:
"One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And when she was baptized [see Baptism], with her household, she besought us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to The Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us." (Acts 16:14-15 RSV)
Fact Finder: As part of their mocking of Jesus Christ, did the soldiers who crucified Him dress Him in a "royal purple" cloak, because He claimed to be the king of the Jews?