Does the Bible Forbid a Woman to Wear Slacks or a Pant-Suit?

By Wayne Jackson

“Would you explain 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.’ Does this passage 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. For example, if a man discovered a bird sitting upon eggs, he might take the eggs but not the bird (22:6-7). Different kinds of seeds could not be planted in one’s vineyard (9). The Hebrew farmer was not to yoke together an ox and a donkey for plowing (10). A Jew was forbidden to wear a garment containing two types of cloth (e.g., wool and linen – 11), and so on.

Among these regulations, then, is the admonition that men should not wear feminine apparel and vice versa. The present-day student is curious to know the purpose underlying these regulations. What application do they have today, if any? We certainly recognize that the Mosaic code, as a legal system, is not binding in this age (Gal. 3:24-25; Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-17).

The reasons behind some of these Old Testament laws are not stated explicitly, and, by virtue of passing time, are shrouded in obscurity. It is, therefore, impossible to speak definitely and confidently with reference to these matters. However, acknowledging the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures, one must assume that there was some religious, moral, or practical basis for the requirements. We offer the following suggestions for reflection.

  1. Some of the commands of this section 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 one comes upon the lost animal, he is not to act as if – “It’s none of my business.” He must make a legitimate attempt to restore 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: “Finder’s keepers; loser’s weepers.”
  2. The prohibition against taking the mother bird, along with her eggs, may be designed to help maintain the balance of nature, and thus a measure to preserve the wildlife necessary for the welfare of society in those ancient days, when men depended upon such creatures for their food. Though modern environmentalists have adopted radical extremes regarding the resources of nature, the principle of wise stewardship concerning God’s creation is, in fact, valid.
  3. 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, therefore, 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, etc.) may have been directed to this end.
  4. With reference to the dressing regulations, several ideas have been advanced by careful Bible students. Verse 5 may be an indictment of paganism in which cross-dressing in certain heathen ceremonies was deemed to be a cure for infertility.

    In later history, both Lucian of Samosata and Eusebius speak of transvestism in the worship of Astarte (J.A. Thompson, Deuteronomy, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1974, p. 234). Professor Earl Kalland also thinks there may be a warning here against the sort of dress that accommodates homosexual activity (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, Vol. 3, p. 137).

One must remember, however, that in biblical times, clothing for males and females was different only in styles and details, 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).

Two principles should be borne in mind. First, the Christian should dress appropriate to his gender. This distinction, incidentally, is apparent in all cultures. Second, the godly man or woman should dress modestly, i.e., in a manner that does not solicit illicit sexual interest.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.