What Color is the Horse!? (Revelation 6:8)

horseAlmost every Christian of a certain age is used to the KJV’s wording in Rev 6:8:

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth (Revelation 6:8).

But, is the horse actually pale? William Tyndale, the genius Greek and Hebrew scholar from the 16th century, the man who gave us the first English translation of the New Testament from the original Koine Greek, rendered it as, “And I looked and behold a green horse.”

Green isn’t pale! What on earth is happening? Alas, the plot thickens even more:

  • NKJV: pale horse
  • NASB: ashen horse
  • ESV: pale horse
  • NET: pale green horse
  • ISV: pale green horse
  • RSV: pale horse
  • LEB: pale green horse
  • NRSV: pale green horse

What saith the Greek? Here it is: καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἵππος χλωρός. This is not a textual issue; the Textus Receptus, Robinson & Pierpont’s Byzantine Text, and the UBS-5 all have the same text here. This is a translation issue. It’s also not a simple matter of right and wrong; translation is not that simple here. My translation is, “and I looked, and along came a pale green horse!” The key word here is χλωρός. Most of the standard Greek lexicons agree this word means something like “pale green.” The issue is whether the word should be taken literally or figuratively:

  • BDAG defines it as pale, greenish gray (s.v. “7938 χλωρός,” 2).
  • Friberg goes for green, pale green, yellowish green. He classifies the use here as figurative, so he opts for a sickly sense and gives the gloss “pale,” (s.v. “28653 χλωρός”).
  • Gingrich also opts for the figurative sense, and prefers “pale,” to convey the picture of a sickly person (s.v. “6893 χλωρός,” 2).
  • Louw-Nida keep the sense of pale, greenish grey, “evidently regarded as typical of a corpse,” (79.35 χλωρός).

As you already saw, the English translations are evenly split. How is the word used elsewhere in the New Testament? Here, it’s pretty clear that the color of light, pale green is the idea. For example, Jesus had the crowd sit in groups upon the green grass (Mk 6:39). The Book of Revelation speaks of the grass being burnt up (Rev 8:7).

What does the context say? Here is the story of the fourth seal:

Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth (Revelation 6:7-8).

The fourth horseman was named Death, and the Grave followed after him. Together, God will give them power to kill 25% of the world’s population during the coming Great Tribulation (Jeremiah 30:7; Mt 24:21-22) by way of war, famine, disease and wild animals. This is bad news. The overriding sense is that this fourth horseman represents death and the cold grave which awaits the wicked.

By this point, it seems clear that the pale green sense is conveying the idea of a decaying, bloated and rotting corpse. The colors of these horsemen of the seven seals mean something. The horseman is not merely pale and sickly. He’s pale green to represent the rotting corpses of the wicked who will experience God’s terrifying judgment, wrought at the hands of unwitting and fiendish men.

The horse is pale green.

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