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 unto the Lord your God.

This scripture has been used by many legalistic churches, particularly the United Pentecostal Church, as proof to enforce their stand against women wearing pants. Although the scripture doesn’t state the word pants or skirts because this scripture was written many years before the western culture even began. This is a perfect example how the UPC will take a scripture out of context and it’s culture and twist it around to what they want it to mean, especially when in the days of Moses everybody wore gowns and robes.

So let’s start at the beginning, Genesis to be exact, this is the beginning of biblical clothing, the beginning of any clothing. Genesis 3:21 after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and hid from God because they were naked. God was upset by their disobedience and killed an animal and used its skin to make them tunics and dressed them.

He didn’t make a fuss over how he dressed them. It doesn’t say he covered them from neck to ankle or that the sleeves were a certain length, or whether Adam wore pants and Eve wore a skirt, no, he dressed them in tunics.

Now back to the book of Deuteronomy. After carefully studying this book that was written by Moses before the Israelites entered into Canaan, you find it full of a lot of commandments that seem 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 (wool and linen – 11), and so on and verse 5 was only mentioned one time in the middle of a group of miscellaneous commandments almost like an after thought that Moses had.

God told Moses to write down His commandments regarding the worship of the strange gods of the Canaanites several times and told the people of Israel to utterly destroy all implements of worship when they possessed the land of Canaan. (Deut. 6:14, 7:5, 12:4, 13:1-5 and 20:17-18)

When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12)

According to history of the culture and practices of paganism, Deuteronomy 22:5 is an indication of cross-dressing in certain heathen ceremonies that was deemed to be a cure for infertility. This was done by the Canaanites, which God strictly forbade the Israelites to participate in and ordered them to completely destroy them all (Mariottini).

You shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 20:17-18)

“I could cite several other passages in Deuteronomy where the word “abomination” is used as a reference to a religious practice that existed in the religion of the Canaanites and several other nations in the Ancient Near East.” (Mariottini) But let’s move on to another point to note is the order of the words: “the female is referred to first, then the male” ( Mariottini).  “This is the reason Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits Israelites from wearing garments of the opposite sex because these were the special garments female and male cultic prostitutes wore in the service of Asherah” (2 Kings 10:22; 23:7). ( Mariottini)

“Archaeology has shown that the exchange of roles in pagan cults, that is, where male acted as female and vice-versa, was common in the Ancient Near East.” (Mariottini). “Theodore Burgh, in his book Listening to the Artifacts: Music Culture in Palestine said (p. 69) that in ancient Mesopotamia, transvestites, men dressed like women, played and danced in the cult of Ishtar, performing erotic dances and pantomime.” (Mariottini)

“The Biblical text was not written in a vacuum. The Biblical text was written within a historical and cultural context. When the Biblical text is divorced of its cultural and historical contexts,” as some legalistic religions tend to do, “the text is made to say that which it never intended to say” (Mariottini).

Many countries today may practice the pants as male dress and the dress or skirt as the female dress. “But Deuteronomy was not addressing a cultural issue …in the twenty-first century or in any other century. Deuteronomy was addressed to Israel as it struggled with Canaanite culture. Deuteronomy was written to address the many religious problems that were plaguing the worship of God, problems that compromised Israel’s uniqueness as a chosen people and problems that undermined Israel’s mission to the nations.” (Mariottini)

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.

Also as a reminder, we are no longer bound to the commandments of the law, Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. ( Gal. 3:1-14, Eph. 2:14-18, Eph. 2:19-22 and Col.2:14-23).

A woman can be feminine in a modest pant-suit (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, and not in a manner that would solicit sexual interest.

“Deuteronomy 22:5 is not prohibiting women from wearing pants. In fact, the word “pants” does not even appear in the Bible. Well, that is not totally true. The word pants appears twice in the Bible: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1 NIV). But these are pants of another kind” (Mariottini).

Works Cited: Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminar