|Vol. 16 No. 10 October 2014||
Does the Bible Forbid Pants
or Trousers on Women?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Lately, we have received several inquiries in person and through email asking whether the Bible permits women to wear pants or trousers. Usually in western society, if this question arises, it is from senior folks who look with disdain on more youthful generations that have modified the norm for dress from what it was in former eras; seldom does anyone in the western world, such as in the USA, question pants on women today. A couple of religious groups, though, do apply Deuteronomy 22:5 to their women, forbidding them to wear pants. More often in our day, inquiries about whether women are prohibited by the Bible to wear pants or trousers come from mostly rural areas in nations where cultural norms in the countryside have not yet been transformed by cultural drifts more evident in urbanized areas. Still, some countries characteristically resist western dress in favor of ancestral garb, though western clothing styles make inroads there, too.
My wife and I are careful to observe cultural customs respecting expected attire as we travel from region to region in the United States as well as from country to country. We attempt to dress ourselves in such a way that we are unlikely to offend anyone unnecessarily. Often, that means that Bonnie will refrain from wearing trousers in public in Asia and South America, as well as for worship assemblies and Bible classes in the USA. She does wear pants in North American casual settings and for air travel (to reduce the likelihood of being patted down in airports to ensure that she carries neither weapons nor contraband – which she wouldn’t, of course).
However, the question at hand asks whether the Bible prohibits women to wear pants or trousers. The singular biblical passage out of which this question arises is Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God” (NKJV).
First, the question is too broad, because the Bible contains information and instructions regarding three different general covenants between God and humanity at different times in human history: Patriarchy, Judaism and Christianity. While some information and instructions remained constant between all three covenants (e.g., do not commit murder), details differ between the covenants in other areas (e.g., Sabbath or Saturday worship under Judaism and first day of the week or Sunday on contemporary calendars).
Everyone now living or who shall ever live lives under Christianity’s information and instructions contained in the New Testament. The New Testament has replaced the Old Testament (in which one reads about Patriarchy and Judaism), and the New Testament alone is the law of God now binding (Romans 7:6-7; 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14).
Therefore, the Bible does not prohibit women from wearing pants or trousers today since the passage under consideration from which some interpret such a prohibition is in the Old Testament and not in the New Testament, which is the law of God binding upon mankind now. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 22:5 does not mention pants or trousers; neither men nor women wore that type of clothing anciently. From whence, then, does one somehow arrive at the conclusion, first, that pants or trousers are masculine attire, and secondly, that women must not wear pants? Not from the Bible, in either testament!
By the way, we do need to be careful that when we think that we have proved something from the Bible that we haven’t proved too much – more than we intended and more than we could imagine that applies today. For instance, six verses after Deuteronomy 22:5 – in Deuteronomy 22:11 one finds a divine prohibition to wear clothing made from more than one type of material. “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” Is that something that applies today under Christianity? If Deuteronomy 22:5 applies today and means that women cannot wear pants or trousers, then God does not permit anyone today to wear clothes made from a combination of differing fibers. Of course, there are numerous divine instructions under Judaism about which one can read throughout the Old Testament that are not repeated in the New Testament, and which no one imagines are applicable today under Christianity.
Yet, there are principles involved in Deuteronomy 22:5 that have a bearing on how one should conduct himself or herself today. Though the specifics of Deuteronomy 22:5 are not duplicated in the New Testament (i.e., the clothes worn by men and women), similar principles do appear in New Testament Scriptures.
In Deuteronomy 22:5, “wear anything that pertains to a man” refers to armor or weapons, especially since the word “man” here means “a valiant man or warrior.” Both the “anything” and the “man” refer to a soldier, and together they particularly reinforce the same imaginary. The principle, though, taught in that verse is that God demands that gender distinctions between men and women remain clearly defined.
Even if this law about clothing doesn’t apply to the church in the same way it applied to Israel, there are spiritual principles behind it that are important to us (2 Tim 3:16-17). …To begin with, this law doesn’t focus only on clothing. Literally it says, “There shall not be man’s things upon a woman, and a man shall not put on a woman’s clothes.” The phrase “man’s things” could refer to anything that was commonly associated with men in that culture, including clothing, tools, and weapons. …Moses was reminding the people that there is a distinction between the sexes, established by God from the very beginning, and that God wants us to maintain this distinction. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:27). By divine wisdom, man and woman were made for each other but were made to be different from each other. …The principle behind the law is that of separation from the world and recognition of God’s order for men and women. It’s a principle that helps us honor God and avoid confusion and sin. To say that we have to obey the letter of this law today is to miss the point. Does this also mean we can’t wear garments with mixed fibers (Deut 22:11) or that we must sew tassels on our clothing? (v. 12; see Num 15:37-40; Matt 23:5) (Wiersbe)
In addition, to limit the understanding of Deuteronomy 22:5 to daily clothing and bodily adornment choices is so naïve for another reason, too. Anciently and even today in parts of the world that persist in wearing biblical era clothing, there is little difference between the clothing and jewelry (e.g., earrings) worn by both men and women. Beginning in the Garden of Eden after the first pair sinned, God was the first Tailor, and He made the same clothing for both sexes as far as the biblical text reveals. “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics [“coats” KJV] of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). The student of the Bible must be ever vigilant not to look through contemporary cultural spectacles to view Bible things thousands of years since transpired in distant places around the globe by antique cultures. “It certainly cannot mean a simple change in dress, whereby the men might pass for women, and vice versa. This would have been impossible in those countries where the dress of the sexes had but little to distinguish it…” (Clarke).
The principle that we need to remember from Deuteronomy 22:5 is to maintain a distinction between the sexes with their accompanying distinctive God-ordained roles. We know that this principle lives on in our time because the same principle appears within the pages of the New Testament.
In addition, the Old Testament requirement to maintain a distinction between the things of a man and the things of a woman pertained to God’s intense hatred for the sin of homosexuality (Bible Knowledge Commentary). God hates all sins, but for some sins God harbors an even greater hatred, considering them “abominations” (Proverbs 6:16). Homosexuality is one of the sins that God considers an abomination (Leviticus 20:13). “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
God expects those who trust him to keep the distinctions between maleness and femaleness, both outwardly and inwardly, clear and unequivocal. Deliberate effeminacy in men and masculinity in women has always been an abomination to God. Israelite men were not to wear women’s clothing, nor were women to wear men’s clothing (Deut. 22: 5). Homosexual behavior was a sin punishable by death in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18). Effeminacy is prohibited in the New Testament (I Cor. 6:9-10) along with homosexuality by either male or female (Rom. 1:24-27). (Butler 207)
Meacham observed of Deuteronomy 22:5 that God was against “…the transgender cross-dresser” (492).
In conclusion, while the specifics of Deuteronomy 22:5 do not apply today, the principle of that verse respecting keeping a clear eye on the difference between men and women is in the New Testament. Consider the same principle taught in 1 Corinthians 11:4-15 under the consideration of the length of hair worn by men versus women to distinguish the sexes. “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15).
“In both Testaments God has taught that there must be a distinction maintained between the sexes. (Deut. 22:5; I Cor. 11:14, 15; I Tim. 2:12-15). And, anything that tends to destroy the distinction between male and female and erase masculinity and femininity must be looked upon with alarm and reproof by children of God” (Winkler 15). No, the Bible does not forbid women from wearing pants or trousers today, chiefly because we who live today turn to the New Testament for our instruction in religion and Christian living, rather than to the Old Testament. However, a principle that appears in Deuteronomy 22:5 is taught also in the New Testament.
The attire of men and women as well as the relative length or styling of their hair ought to distinguish males from females. In addition, males ought not to make themselves look like females, and women ought not to disguise themselves as men. Further, God views homosexuality as an abominable sin.
Men and women may wear similar attire (e.g., Garden of Eden, under Patriarchy and Judaism) as long as they neither bring about confusion regarding the sexes nor confound gender roles, and as long as their attire does not represent the sin of homosexuality. Yet, the child of God will wisely consider doubtful minds and consequently avoid unnecessarily offending the consciences of brethren or presenting himself or herself in an unflattering way before the non-Christian community (Romans 14:1-23).
Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 2000.
Butler, Paul T. Studies in First Corinthians. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P., 1992.
Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Meacham, Paul, Jr. “Honesty in Proverbs.” The Sayings of Solomon. B.J. Clarke, ed., CD-ROM. Southaven: Southaven Church of Christ, 2003, 481-495.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 2004.
Winkler, Wendell. “Should We Take Advantage of the Jesus Movement?” Spiritual Sword Oct. 1972, 13-18.
When Did the Church Begin?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
(1) Did the church (kingdom of God) exist before the Pentecost day? (2) If no, what about those whom were baptized before the Pentecost day; what were they added to?
God has always ruled the universe that He created. Mankind has always been obligated to obey his Creator God, beginning in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve under Patriarchy. Later, God continued to rule humans through Judaism, and now He governs under Christianity.
Prior to the establishment of the Jewish kingdom, beginning with King Saul, God was the King of His people under a theocracy. Hundreds of years after the commencement of Judaism, God permitted the beginning of a physical kingdom of God. “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’” (1 Samuel 8:7 NKJV).
Yet, the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament promised the establishment of a spiritual kingdom of God (Isaiah 2:2-3; Daniel 2:31-45; Joel 2:28-3:2; Matthew 16:18-19; John 18:36-37; Acts 1:6). “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here’” (John 18:36).
Jesus Christ promised to build the church or kingdom (He used the terms interchangeably in the same conversation, Matthew 16:18-19). The eleven apostles recognized that immediately preceding the Ascension of our Lord that the spiritual kingdom or church had not yet been established; “Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6). Acts 2:47 is the first reference to the Lord’s church or spiritual kingdom after its beginning.
Preceding the establishment of the church or spiritual kingdom, John the Baptist prepared the way for the ministry of our Lord. This, too, was fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 40:3-5). “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight’” (Matthew 3:1-3).
The preparatory ministry of John the Baptist included repentance and baptism for the remission of sins in anticipation of the establishment of the church or spiritual kingdom by Jesus Christ. “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). However, that baptism and remission of sins associated with it looked forward to the establishment of the church or spiritual kingdom; John’s baptism was no longer a valid baptism to be administered after the Lord’s church came into being.
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John's baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:1-5)
The effectiveness of John’s baptism, when administered before the establishment of the Lord’s church or kingdom, was dependent upon the death, burial, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, as well as upon the Holy Spirit assisted (Joel 2:28-3:2; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4) beginning of the church in Acts 2. Likewise, the faithful and obedient children of God under Patriarchy and Judaism depended for their redemption on the successful ministry of the Son of God and the founding of His church or spiritual kingdom. The blood of Jesus Christ not only purchased the church (Acts 20:28) and continues to save souls to which that blood is (symbolically) applied (Ephesians 1:7), but the blood of Christ goes backward to the times of Patriarchy and Judaism to save the faithful under those dispensations (Romans 3:25). For instance, atonement achieved with animal blood was a stand in for and was replaced essentially with the blood of Jesus Christ, providing instead of atonement true redemption in its place. Atonement did not cleanse the conscience of sin (Hebrews 10:1-4).
In summary, “righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:35) and all of the faithful under Patriarchy and Judaism, along with the faithful who received John’s baptism when it was valid to administer it, are now in the spiritual kingdom of God or the church. They had not received actual redemption until the successful ministry of our Lord occurred, and they were not in the spiritual kingdom or the church until the Pentecost following the Ascension of Jesus Christ when the Lord established His church or spiritual kingdom. All of the faithful children of God, including those baptized in John’s baptism, essentially had divinely issued promissory notes, which now have been paid in full.