Do trousers or pants have reference to men, or to women? Does God care so much for who is putting on slacks or is his interest in us being modestly dressed?
It would be simple to brush away Deuteronomy 22:5 altogether, saying that it is part of the Law and therefore no longer relevant to modern Christians.
Deuteronomy 22:5. ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment for all who do so are an abomination unto the Lord your God.’
The question is does this scripture forbid a woman to wear slacks or a pant-suit?
A careful consideration of Deuteronomy, chapter 22, reveals a number of commands that are strange to the modern mind.
Of particular interest is verse 5. Given that in the large cisgender Christians, whose sex and gender are in alignment, no longer adhere to this prohibition either; women wear pants, men wear kilts, and clothing styles are more influenced by culture rather than religion. Instead of simply ignoring or dismissing the verse, it is more useful to try and understand what the verse means in the context of the culture in which it was written.
There is a lot of attention paid to a single verse in this chapter and many preachers frequently use this to shame women who wear trousers.
It is located in one of the books of the Law between a verse about helping a fallen ox and instruction on how to treat a mother bird and her young.
Let’s look at some of these verses. If a man discovered a bird sitting upon eggs, he could take the eggs but not the bird (Deut. 22:6-7). A man couldn’t plant different kinds of seeds in his vineyard (Deut. 22:9).
It is also in the same chapter that we read that, the Hebrew farmer wasn’t permitted to yoke an ox and donkey together for plowing (Deut. 22:10).
The Jews were also forbidden to wear garments that contained two types of cloth (e.g., wool and linen; Deut. 22:11).
Among these regulations, then, is the admonition that men were not permitted to wear feminine apparel and vice versa.
We certainly recognize that the Mosaic code as a legal system is not binding in the Christian age (Gal. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-17). Nonetheless as a present-day bible scholar I am curious to know the purpose underlying these regulations. I would like to understand the context and premise of these laws.
What application do they have today, if any?
The reasons behind some of these Old Testament laws are not stated explicitly. By virtue of time, they have become shrouded in obscurity.
So it is impossible to speak definitely and confidently about some of these laws.
However, these sacred Scriptures were divinely inspired. So we must assume that there were some religious, moral or practical reasons for the requirements, in response to the cultural context and time period in which these laws where set.
Some of these commands appear to have been given to instill the principle of neighborly concern.
For example, the Hebrew was to respect the property of others.
If a neighbor’s ox strayed and someone found the lost animal, he wasn’t to act as if: “It’s none of my business.” He was required to be helpful and make a legitimate attempt to return the animal to its owner.
This ordinance reinforces the concepts of property rights, respect for the welfare of animals and community benevolence. It is at variance with the modern notion: “Every man for himself.”
The prohibition against taking the mother bird with her eggs may be designed to help maintain the nature’s balance.
It was probably an ancient conservation measure to preserve the wildlife necessary for the welfare of society in those ancient days when men depended on the land and wildlife for their food.
Though modern environmentalists have adopted radical extremes regarding the environment, the principle of wise stewardship concerning God’s creation is valid.
Some of the commands may have been designed as visual teaching aids to reinforce the principle of separation (e.g., recognizing the distinction between the sacred and the secular).
They could have served as an educational and disciplinary function.
The several ordinances that forbid the mixing of heterogeneous objects (e.g., plowing the ox with the donkey, wearing garments of different substances) may have been directed to this end.
With reference to the clothing regulations, several ideas have been advanced by many Bible scholars with regards verse 5 of Deuteronomy. There are some who argue that verse 5 may be an indictment of paganism in which cross-dressing in certain heathen ceremonies was deemed to be a cure for infertility. As such this is why the law was given so as to dissuade the Jews from practicing paganism.
However, as I stated in the paragraph above indeed several arguments have been advanced in an attempt to explain this verse. Even among Jewish rabbis, there is no agreement as to what this verse means precisely; there is, however, general agreement that it does not refer to trousers or shorts being exclusively items of clothing pertaining to men.
The three predominant possible meanings of this verse have one commonality: wearing the clothing of the other sex with the intention to deceive. One interpretation proposes that the phrase “that which pertaineth to a man” refers to a sword or other pieces of his weaponry. In other words, a woman should not be given weapons and sent to war. It is also similarly suggested that this verse means that a man should not dress in the clothes of a woman to hide among women, particularly during a time when he should be soldiering or be at the war front.
The final two predominant arguments are in line with the general instruction found throughout the Jewish Law to keep things separate: types of seeds in a vineyard (Deuteronomy 22:9), an ox and a donkey when plowing (Deuteronomy 22:10), and wool and linen in clothing (Deuteronomy 22:11). Men and women in ancient Israel (and in some sects even today) were regularly segregated, thereby limiting their interaction. This argument is supported by the discourse on marriage and adultery that follows Deuteronomy 22:5 in Deuteronomy 22:13-30.
The intent of the law, in this last interpretation of the verse, is to prevent men and women from mixing by deceitful entry into the segregated space of the other sex with the intent of committing adultery. In the verse, adultery is what is called an abomination unto God.
Cross-dressing is not strictly and always forbidden in the Law; it was specifically permitted beginning in the 16th-century Code of Jewish Law that allowed men to dress as women and women as men for the Jewish feast of Purim for the purpose of celebration, as opposed to with the intent to deceive and commit adultery.
We should recall, however, that in biblical times, clothing for males and females was different only in style and detail, not in kind. Men did not wear trousers and women did not adorn themselves with skirts and blouses.
While it undoubtedly is true that God wants some sexual distinction apparent in men’s and women’s garments, it is not legitimate to say that all women’s pants are wrong or, for that matter, that Scottish kilts are sinful for the men of that culture.
A woman can be feminine in a modest pant-suit (cf. 1 Tim. 2:9-10) and men can still be masculine in a robe-like garment as in some Near Eastern countries today.
The focus and obsession on women not wearing trousers that has gripped some Christian preachers today is wrong because in most cultures today the difference in clothing is style and detail. There are male and female trousers that are modest.
This distinction, incidentally, is apparent in all cultures.
Bottomline is that the godly man or woman should dress modestly in a manner that does not solicit illicit sexual interest.