Deuteronomy 22:5 — A Positive Interpretation

In the comments of my recent post on the women-wearing-pants controversy, I was challenged to basically prove my position is a legitimate positive interpretation rather than a mere reaction. To boil down the issue, fundamentalists often use Deut. 22:5 to teach that it is wrong for women today to wear pants. My position is that the text teaches that there is to be a designed gender distinction in the way we dress, but that today there are female-designed pants perfectly suitable for women to wear in most situations. (I do think women should wear dresses from time to time, as they are so expressly and beautifully feminine.)

In responding to that charge, I came across the following excellent treatment of the issue from Elmer L. Towns (former Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University) in the King James Bible Commentary (edited by Edward Hindson, Woodrow Kroll & Jerry Falwell; Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1983).

Verse 5 has caused divisions and confusion among sincere Christian brethren. Some have used this verse to maintain that women should not wear slacks. The word “pertaineth unto” (Heb keli) in the original language is used elsewhere not only of clothes, but also of decorations or utensils used by the opposite sex. The intent of this law was to maintain the distinction between the sexes. Today, it would apply to any unisex clothing that would cloud the distinction between men and women. The New Testament recognizes such a distinction (1 Cor. 11:3) and maintains that long hair on women was a sign of that distinction (1 Cor. 11:6-14). During the days of Moses, garments (Heb simlah) worn by men and women were similar (robes), so this command was designed to keep a woman from appearing as a man for purposes of licentiousness (to deceive the man). The major difference between male and female robes was their decoration or ornamentation, and not their cut. The principle taught by this passage is that the proper distinction between men and women in all cultures should be maintained. The passage does not teach against slacks per se (or hats, shoes, gloves, etc.–all worn by both sexes), but against men or women wearing any item specifically ornamented for the opposite sex (e.g., a man wearing female slacks, lipstick, etc.). The wearing of slacks by ladies today is not an attempt to deceive men, although some may be immodest and improper in certain situations. The final crieteria are that women look like females, that they are modest (1 Tim 2:9-10), and that their outward appearance reflects their inner character (1 Pet 3:3). ¹

 ¹ Pg. 168. Words in quotation marks are bolded in the original.

I also want to mention another good article on this issue that I came across: “Is It a Sin for a Woman to Wear Pants?” by Craig Hostetler.

  1. Ahhh… This is my favorite example of proof-text theology at its finest. Some people love to stick a Bible in your face and point you to a specific spot to show you exactly what you’re doing wrong, or some “sin” you have in your life, regardless of what that spot is actually saying in the context of the passage.

    Next time a brother has a problem with the pants my wife is wearing, I’ll suggest that if he wants to come back wearing the same outfit, I’ll consider discussing it further with him.

  2. Readmore77,

    What you ask in your second paragraph is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility. I attended a service once where this was the topic, and the speaker came out to preach this message wearing a skirt! At the end of the message he asked if we could see that what he was wearing was so obviously wrong, why couldn’t we see that women wearing pants was an equal abomination. Needless to say, I won’t forget that message, even if I didn’t take away from it what the speaker intended.

  3. I’m sure. It had no tartan pattern, was solid navy blue, and it was of the long, straight variety that came to about mid-calf. He was obviously trying to make a point, and kilt would not have done that. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take when he came out on the platform. A couple of the women giggled out loud, but most of us were too shell-shocked to say anything at all. He compared what he was doing to the prophet who was supposed to be an example to Israel by rolling around naked in the dirt. He certainly made an impression.

  4. If he said it was a male skirt, why would you question it? The article can be the same article. It must simply be called male or female and then allow a person to tell the difference. Those are the arguments I’ve heard. The giggling from the women and the shell-shock says to me that everyone knew he was still a man. If you can tell the difference, why should it make any difference?

    My wife conversed with a man in a skirt last week. She asked him why he wore it, and he said it was more comfortable. I was confused when I heard that answer, because I had heard that pants were more comfortable and that’s why women wore them.

    I applaud your argument Readmore77. It’s as good as I’ve heard on this issue.

    • Confused? I believe it. If people—Biblical scholars included—were as informed on clothing and gender as they are about geography, people on both coasts would not know that another major ocean exists. Kurt, is it that you don’t know that men are built with external parts, not women? Pants have a loop of fabric called an inseam that goes all the way up to the crotch. Pants which aren’t tight in that area while standing, often become tight when seated—the fabric draws up. Skirts make more sense for men than for women, also as to breeziness, science has shown that fertility increases with slightly cooler temperatures. Kurt, did you not know that 95% of the causation for pants is as a horseback riding garment? Can you be a man, even though you use no horse to get about? Theodosius I exiled men in pants from Rome in AD393 because men in pants were political subversives–Rome suffered a major defeat in AD378 at Adrianople, at the hands of trousered cavalrymen. Moving way up to AD 867, the Bulgarians sent an emissary to the Pope to ask if they could be Christians, even though they wore pants! Moving forward to 1550, “pants” comes from the name of an Italian Clown, Pantalone. Sewing different symbols on attire/placing buttons on the right/left side, are all purely arbitrary notions, and have no innate basis in gender specificity! Did Jesus comprehend Deut 22:5? If a skirt on a man is abomination, why would Jesus in Luke 7 say the centurion had the greatest faith? If women in pants were abomination, would not there be a prophecy in Revelation that in the last days, most women would choose this “path to hell?” Most people are reading scripture through the eyes of historical events and social forces they have no knowledge of and which took place way after the last of the New Testament was written! This shows the hopeless error of relying only on the Bible as an information source for info on which to evaluate our views! The Great Masculine Renunciation caused by the Reign of Terror in the awful French Revolution was a huge attack on the idea that men could wear fancy clothes; usually only nobles could afford fancy clothes, and the nobles were blamed for political repression—so; fancy clothes on men was equated with political repression, NOT with femininity! In England, the Puritans decided that everything had to be black, brown or gray; all else was “of the devil,” notwithstanding that God placed vivid colors in opals and rainbow light dispersion in diamonds; then came the Industrial Revolution, accompanying a centuries long trend of men shifting to pants due to equestrianism, and the skirt and fancy clothes age for men ended, leaving only relics we see today in British Beefeater guards; Scots Black Watch guards; Greek Evzone soldiers in skirts; and others in Asia and the South Seas. Judicial robes, graduation gowns and choir robes are remnants of the skirt age for men, and until just after 1900, Christian parents dressed sons in skirts, petticoats and dresses—while today raising sons without choices, but daughters WITH choices. Women could not wear pants today except the World War 2 factory work sent 17 million USA women into pants; city ordinances had to be revoked forbidding pants on women! Social forces and learned behavior have us where we are today—women with choices, men without. If a man wants to look like a man, he should stop shaving. How truly uninformed the church is! The long hair/short hair sex division, another false division, traces to early medieval European military regulations mandating short hair on soldiers. Head lice was a problem; troops could not afford distractions; the issue was easier to control with short hair. Facial hair on men was always the standard of sexual differentiation, now people are hung up on saying “clothing styles.” Note that this lengthy list of alleged sex differences is only used to restrict choice if men wish it for themselves! The tropical fish look is not just for women. All this and much more is an open secret, waiting for discovery. That kilts are male and other skirts female, is arbitrary, and stems from the fact that people don’t resist ideas new to their thinking, and that they want to forbid innovation. All that is tradition now, was once innovation. Forbidding change is wrong. Gender distinction in the way we dress? Men in the South Seas wear floral prints and present as men. As long as the gender of the wearer is clear, that dogma merely begs for repression of individuality. We promote all appearance forms to women, including blue jeans and T shirts, men we corral into a collective with range of “choice” as narrow as the blade of a razor. “Solomon in all his glory” was a reference to what he wore—it wasn’t a suit and tie, designed by Beau Brummel, the London alcoholic who died in 1840 of gluttony at a French insane asylum.

      • Whoops! Where I said “people don’t resist ideas new to their thinking, and that they want to forbid innovation” I surely intended to say, “people resist ideas new to their thinking,” there was the case of the African tribal leader who, upon returning from overseas, was denounced and beaten by his people due to his new idea about public nudity—he was against it. We have got to realize that clothing cannot confer gender on people; that many heterosexual women by nature prefer wearing plain clothes and slacks; and furthermore, that some men are by nature “peacocks,” and would wear fancy clothes, while presenting as men, if they could expect to do so without electrified denunciations for so doing.

  5. Bob, it’s nice to see you going so eclectic with your favorable articles, Liberty University and a Charismatic (that you linked to). It would have been nicer if Towns had actually dealt with the text, but in Liberty, Sword of the Lord style, he comments from the seat of his pants. We read from Towns that Deut. 22:5 says: “The final crieteria (sic) are that women look like females.”

    Liberty gladly gives him thanks for this position that allows for them to keep their enrollment up to pay for the next big building that Rick Warren will be on campus to dedicate.

  6. Hey brother I’m glad I found your site my wife went to Fairhaven and it almost ruined her life, my by the attitude of the staff and the staff pets namely preacher boys. Deut. 22:5 if we examine it, it simply says to not to be a cross dresser, do not wear garment to make your self appear to be a man if your a women and vice versa. The reason I stopped going to a fundemental baptist church is because for the most part there is no charity, in your face christians would rather tell you your not saved because you saved using an NIV, or tell you what heathen you are because a women is wearing pants, rather than telling about the love of Christ. But they turn off more people with their militant attitude.

  7. Pastor Brandenburg,

    He didn’t say it was a “male skirt.” In fact, his point was that women wearing pants was an abomination just as his wearing a skirt was, NOT that as it was OK for women to wear pants it was OK for him to wear a skirt, although I guess you could see that as a kind of logical extension.

  8. Paul,

    There are many exceptions to the rule. Many many IFB churches are wonderful. I need to say that.

    Also, Fairhaven has improved (by many accounts) in the last 10 years. And even then, different people may have different experiences there. Mine was mostly positive. And the whole “in crowd” versus the “out crowd” is a difficulty many institutions face. Often it is unintentional. I was “in” since I was an MK and a good student. Others were “out” and I did feel for them. But often those on the “outside” contributed in some way towards being “out”, but I won’t delve into all this further.

    I don’t recommend for everyone to leave the IFB movement altogether. It is not the fix for everyone. Rather, I hope people study Scripture for themselves and follow God’s leading.

    Don’t give up on Christ and faith altogether just because someone mistreated you, too. Far too many people do that.

    I just wanted to clarify where I’m coming from with this blog. I sincerely hope you are loving and serving Christ where He has you now. I also hope my blog can help you sort through issues and that I may point you in a good direction. If I can be of any help just email me: bob hayton @ gmail . com (remove spaces).

    Blessings in Christ,

    Bob Hayton

  9. P. Brandenburg,

    Thanks for judging Liberty’s and Town’s motives. Lovely.

    I shared the quote because he essentially shares my position and seems to be against women wearing men’s pants. You asked for that.

    Obviously the King James Bible Commentary (a 1-volume work), is not going to go into the nitty gritty and provide exhaustive exegetical work for each verse. You don’t know that Town’s didn’t do that work however, in preparation for his comments.

  10. The whole idea that slacks are fine on women because women aren’t trying to deceive men by wearing them isn’t even in the text. That is sheer invention.

    They both wore robes, but who or what says the robes were similar? The point of the verse is that they are different. Why argue that they are similar, unless you want similarity? The point of the verse was difference.

    What is unisex clothing?

  11. Sorry, Liberty’s only, I guess. Perhaps an implication from your comment is that Liberty would want to get someone to have their position so that they can keep the buildings going up, and so they got Towns to do it.

  12. Basically everyone I’ve read on the topic says the robes were similar. Manner’s and Customs books, Bible Dictionaries — all agree.

    They were similar, but obviously different too. The text says nothing about how different they ought to be. It assumes they are different, but it doesn’t specifically rule out similarity.

    Fact is, differently designed robes do not allow for as great a distinction in appearance as do pants vs. skirts.

    I do think unisex styles exist. Obviously unisex socks aren’t a big deal, but there is a masculinizing of women’s clothes and a feminizing of men’s clothes and some styles intentionally blurring the line.

    (By the way, I forgot to mention that the “sic” was my typo.)

  13. Everyone in the world wore robes, so this wasn’t some kind of fashion fad. Despite that fact, there was a male robe and a female robe. And then there were pants and skirts. We went from male robe and female robe to pants and skirts. Women didn’t wear pants because they were a male item. Then women started wearing pants out of rebellion (whether it was comfort motivated or convenience motivated or whatever). Christians protested, then capitulated, and now support. The male article was given up and it hasn’t been replaced. No one has replaced it with male pants. No one. That’s exactly what I’m looking for, is for someone to show me that someone replaced the male article. No one can show me, and, sadly, they don’t care. Of course, they can’t show me, because it hasn’t been done. Instead of replacing the article, they have replaced the arguments. They scurry to come up with new arguments that will allow the verse not to be obeyed.

    It’s not like this is the only Scriptural practice that is going down the tubes. It’s fine for women not to be keepers at home now, because that’s also inconvenient or sexist. Homosexuality is up for grabs in the emergent church.

    My wife and I talk about every evening over a hot beverage. She sees it as worldly. The big reason people don’t want to keep the distinction is because they will stick out. For others, it’s just inconvient.

  14. Hmm….personally, I have to say that the intensity of debate over this topic mystifies me a bit. I have to agree that the man coming out with the skirt on to make the point indeed goes too far. Having said that, I think that we have “bigger fish to fry” in the church of Jesus Christ these days, sartorially speaking (such as women wearing tight, short, low-cut clothing at service). I also agree that one sex shouldn’t be going out of their way to look so much like the other that there’s confusion about what they are. To me, the bottom line is that when a desire to please God (and the common sense He gave us) are present in one’s life, this type of issue shouldn’t be turning into such an “800 pound gorilla.”

  15. Someone was mean to me today because of something I said regarding a guy friend putting on a skirt for a joke. He said it was an abomination because thats what men wore back in the day because they were homosexual. His, as someone above put it, “militant attitude” offended me that he would judge me for this. So I did some research and found this site as well as a couple of others. None of which say anything about homosexuality only that to “cross-dress” to decieve the opposite sex for sexual immorality was the reason for this verse. I promise you there was absolutely no gender confusion, just a guy wearing a skirt because it was funny which I found out that the festival of Purim in which men and women cross-dressed for the purpose of gaity and it was allowed. I was offended by his comments towards me that had so much disgust and hatred in them. This isn’t the first time that he has chastised me about my choices and I find it very unchristian. I am a spiritual person. I refuse to mourn my religion. I sought the truth and am glad I did.

  16. i am very confused about this issue of whether or not a woman should wear a skirt or not. is it b/c the pants were invented that there is now that distinction with the skirt.

    i heard that women shouldn’t wear pants b/c it shows the croch and butt. yet it does the same for guys.

  17. Hollie,

    Remember in Bible times both men and women wore robes. I’m not arguing that all pants are equally modest on women (or men). But there are plenty of modestly fitting pants which should be acceptable for Christian women to wear, as far as I’m concerned.

    I do think women should wear skirts from time to time only to preserve their femininity. But tasteful pants can also be very feminine.

    Hope this helps some, feel free to read some of my other posts here on the topic.

    Blessings in Christ,


  18. So out of all of Deuteronomy 22 we focus on pants versus skirts? Who among you wears blended fabric(22-11)? Who among you has a parapet on their roof(22-8)? If a woman wears slacks and still looks like a woman no biggie. For that matter the guy in the skirt still looked like a guy and though ridiculous still no biggie. The law was written because the people who inhabited the land(Philstines, Amorites etc) Crossdressed to decieve others in temple ceremonies and engaged in homosexual acts. NT. Christianity is more about the heart than the action. Why do you think we are not enslaved to the law today. Salvation by Grace through FAITH. Christ condemned the pharisees as whitewashed tombs because of their legalistic attitudes. They kept the rules outwardly but their hearts were evil. This is the kind of thing that is a useless argument and does more harm to the church than it does good. What is behind wearing pants? Is it a rebellious attitude or is it a matter of style comfort and fashion? Transsexuals, homosexuals liars thieves adulterers and fornicators will have their part in the lake of fire not a chick in pants or even a dude ina dress as long as they aren’t trying to fool someone. The Mosaic law only binds those who are not saved not those who are. The unsaved will be judged by the law. The saved will be given righteousness through the blood of Christ. If ii were a girl and I was given an option on a cold winters day I would wear slacks and not lose any sleep over it concerning my eternity

  19. Pingback: The Bible on Hair Care « Fundamentally Reformed

  20. As of right now, I am facing the issue of what I will do myself and what I will teach others to do. The Dt. 22:5 passage of Scripture came up in my research and I have read many commentaries on it. The Hebrew texts help to understand this issue much better. The main concept or principle is that women and men have specific gender oriented roles that God has given us. The issue of clothes is a part of those roles. Our American equality can hardly fathom that because the feminist movement has fought so much to have equality in everything. But look at procreation, a man cannot have a baby because it is specifically a role that God has called women to do b/c of our physical endowments. It works the same way in other places, such as pastors being men and men being the leaders of the family (it is b/c men fail to do their duty that God can use women in these roles though he wouldn’t prefer to). These roles are transcultural and are not questionable. Yet, there are things that history has horribly construed to a certain gender that shouldn’t have been such, just look at the woman in Proverbs 31 who bought land and had her own sales business compared to the woman’s role in these same situations in the 1800s and even the early 1900s.

    When in Corinthians it talks about the Greek and the Jew, the free and the slave, and male and female being the same it isn’t refering to roles. It is specifically refering to the salvation experience. Everyone and anyone who wants to accept Jesus Christ can. The principal of Dt. 22:5 doesn’t fit here.

    Concerning my own experience, I grew up wearing pants and wore pants under my dresses in the dead of winter when it was freezing outside. As to comfort, both pants and skirts can be at certain times. Am I going to condemn a woman who wears pants when I’m more and more desiring to wear skirts. NO!!! Women in my family don’t have the same convictions as I do, nor do my best friends. Yet, when a woman and man begin to dress so much alike that I cannot tell them apart, then I have a problem with that. Our culture is going incredibly unisex oriented (and not even wearing clothes oriented) and that makes me want to be very feminie but please hold most of the lace and the frills. lol!

    As concerning pants pointing to the butt and the crotch of both men and women, it does. The thing is though that guys are much more incredibly stimulated towards sexual thoughts than women are. Christ says that we aren’t supposed to be a stumbling block to others. Yet, if we wear something that we know can cause others to fall then that is on our hands. So, what the matter really comes down to isaccountability modesty. How accountable to others and modest are we willing to be? And by the way, our world now is getting farther away from God and so standards will fall because people see standards as relative while God sees them as absolute. Maybe we should all start wearing robes again!!! lol!!!

  21. What if a guy wears panties simply for comfort? He doesn’t want to be a woman nor has he ever. He just finds cotton panties more comfortable than men’s underwear?

  22. A man wearing panties? Well, sir, that discussion must be prefaced by a clarification of “granny” or “thong” panty style. Because, in a sense, that’s what the basis for this whole “women’s pants” or “men’s skirts” blog has been about. Are they “men’s panties” or “women’s panties” ? Surely that would determine the wearer’s intention behind wearing them, and thusly their Christian attitude…(LOTS OF SARCASM INSERTED HERE).

    And then we’re back at square one…so here we go! LOL.

    • People obsess over differences of terminology as it relates to the sexes. They fixate on arbitrary socially constructed differences between the sexes—as to appearance. Notice however this agenda is only active insofar as it seeks to restrict men and what they wear. Females are raised as individuals with personal choices, which they are not being demanded to give account of to the local Mental Health Association; whereas males are raised as members of a collective with essentially a uniform and no real choice. This uniform is split into 2 categories—white collar (suits)/blue collar (blue jeans and casual pants, sometimes shorts). This is all learned behavior—we do it because we were raised to do it, and mass hypnosis makes it so intimidating to be different. I am of the view that the sexes, regardless of what they wear, are expected by the Divine, to present as the gender they are. However, the rigidity I see about sex typing of attire (again, only to restrict men—women used to be restricted also) is stunning. We want to call an upper body garment worn by females a blouse; and that worn by men, a shirt; we want to call crotch garments panties if worn by women, and underwear if worn by men (or briefs). However, if a woman says she wears shirts and briefs, no eyebrows are raised. What makes panties, panties? I submit the only thing could be the way they’re tailored NOT the choice of fabric. Smooth soft fabric is scarcely used in men’s briefs; yet, we can more justify the use of it than women. Anyone who asks me why will regret it, but my case is on sound logic. Not to promote any particular religious faction, but for example, see the Cardinals and Pope in Rome. What are they wearing? Pants? Possibly, under they’re cassocks (“dresses/gowns”) yet all present as men. Legally, people are required to furnish their true identity to authorities, as there’s a need for precise identification; and God expects us to present as the sex we are. For men, this historically (and rationally) means sporting some facial hair, and in fact requires no twin tube leg styles.

  23. “Specifically ornamented for the opposite sex” is nonsense. Someone’s intentions do not confer innate nature on something. Lipstick is mentioned—a cosmetic. Apaches painted their faces (“cosmetic”) and were manly in their culture. I guarantee any of these intensely parochial minded biblical “scholars” have no overview of history or basic rationality going for them. I can trip up just about all of them so easily and demonstrate their prattling as nonsensical fraud, regardless of how sincerely correct they deeply believe themselves to be. For instance—I could lay out a pair of shoes worn today by British Beefeater guards, and one of their pleated neck ruffs, or a Greek soldier’s embroidered vest, or a full circular skirt worn by male Dervishes in Egypt, complete with small light emitting diodes to make it fancier, and all of these wearers of dark, somber, expression negative, undertaker’s clothes, suit and tie wearers in theological “cemeteries” upon seeing these accoutrements, would say “AHA” I see FEMALE garments (or garments “intended” for females). WRONG! These trace to Tudor England when Henry VIII kicked the Pope’s priests out of the country. These fancy clothes were worn by a special class of royal guards and executioners. The conventions of the ancient Hebrews do not rate any more highly for analysis than those of any other culture. “Scholars” are interpreting practices through the eyes of influences controlling them of which they have no inkling, because all they’ve studied is ancient biblical history. Puritanism (“if it’s colorful or fancy it’s of the devil”) and the Great Masculine Renunciation (“decorative clothes on men are politically repressive”) are coloring their conclusions. As long as it’s apparent that a man is a male, he can wear anything; however, if he presents as a male and wears a bra, this is at best nonsense. To the contrary of the clothing cultists, God’s means of sex differentiation are primarily as follows—facial hair on men; differences of tone/pitch of voice; differences of hips; differences of shoulder width; differences of the chest. Clothing designed to show breast cleavage is innately female and a man has no sound basis for wearing it. Suggesting that because there are two sexes and therefore they should be segregated into distinct styles is a tragic policy! It ignores that differentiation is accomplished by the more basic means stated, and tramples rights of individual preference of members of one sex to garments arbitrarily assigned to the other sex. Some women by nature prefer pants, some men by nature prefer skirts; I am speaking of heterosexuals. However, when mere style differences are sex typed, other errors occur. For instance, by their design skirts are more comfortable than trousers for men, because a better case can be made for males needing additional space exactly where skirts make it available. Splitting the legs into twin tubes is a remnant of equestrianism and has no link to masculinity per se.

  24. I saw this Deut 22:5 trouser/skirt uproar hashed out at a Catholic message board. Here was one woman’s remarks—

    “This is all just daft.
    As if women had been wearing skirts for millennia for any loftier reason than “It’s what all the other women are wearing”!
    And, as if they didn’t wear trousers for any loftier reason than “Other women don’t wear them!”
    Men wore flowing garb for ages too. Did they need to justify their decision to wear more practical clothes? Look what St Joseph wore to do his carpentry!”

    So friends, please use your noggins—convention, custom, tradition, culture, habit and association, are all transcended by intrinsic rationality—wear what you like because you find it comfortable, and/or you enjoy the appearance it conveys; but take care that others can ID you as male or female as the case may be. I am not of the theological school which holds that male legs have to be separated into two tubes of fabric else they be doomed reprobates. “Solomon in all his glory” by context was a reference to his clothes, not his palace. Now go look up Solomon on Google images. Come again with the pants/suits and ties theology when you find confirmation that Solomon wore such rags.