Some people have used Deut 22:5 to suggest that women can’t wear pants, because it is “men’s clothing”. Is that correct? Are they actually men’s clothing? Also, can Deut 22:5 even be applied to non-Jews outside of Israel? Should Gentiles also put tassels on their clothing to remember the law as Deut 22:12 says?
Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV) The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.
Deuteronomy 22:5 (NLT) “A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the Lord your God.
The first thing we must recognize is that some of the laws in the Torah were explicitly for the Jews. Any laws given under the conditions of living in the land of Israel (property laws and civil laws) or dealing with ritual purity (bodily fluids and illnesses) do not apply to any Gentiles at all. Only moral laws dealing with moral behavior like stealing, sexual sin, and murder apply to Gentiles. In that same chapter, one will find laws about how to build a house or how to plant crops.
Deut 22:8 (NLT) When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.
This law doesn’t apply in western cultures where roofs are slanted, therefore is unique to the culture of Isreal. Also in that same chapter, the Israelites were given specific rules about how to make clothes like not mixing fabrics (Deut 22:11) and adding tassels to them (Deut 22:12).
Deut 22:11 “You must not wear clothing made of wool and linen woven together.12 “You must put four tassels on the hem of the cloak with which you cover yourself—on the front, back, and sides.
The prohibitions on crossbreeding kinds, mixing of seeds in the vineyard, and the mixing of fabrics in clothing in Deut 22:9-11 (as well as Lev 19:19), are possibly connected to Canaanite pagan rituals where they mix animals, plants, and fabrics as a worship act towards their fertility gods. This is according to the book, “Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture” by Jonathan Morrow. The fabric mixing could also be a practical issue since cotton keeps one cool in the summer and wool is for keeping one warm in the winter. In Ezekiel 44:17-18, the priests are forbidden from wearing wool while serving in the temple because it will cause them to sweat. This lends to the idea that there may have been health concerns with mixing fabrics based on the climate conditions.
The tassels on the clothing were to remind them of the law. This is in an ancient society where the majority of people outside of one tribe (Levites) didn’t know how to read. So the Levites would read the Torah aloud and the tassels functioned as visual reminders to help them keep the law. We get more insight into what the tassels were for in Numbers 15:37-41.
Numbers 15:37 Then the Lord said to Moses, 38 “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. 39 When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do. 40 The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt that I might be your God. I am the Lord your God!”
Notice it says, “Throughout the generations to come”, meaning it applies to Israel’s generations, not any Gentile living outside of Israel. Some customs like celebrating Passover (Num 9:9-12) couldn’t even be practiced by Jews outside of Israel because they required cess to the Temple. Civil and land laws are specific to the Israelites living in Israel, and some laws require an active Temple/Tabernacle to be followed correctly. Remember, it’s only moral laws that non-Jews outside of Israel need to concern themselves with.
On the topic of Pants specifically:
Are there Egyptian hieroglyphs, or Greek vase paintings of people with pants? Not likely, especially if it is from the BC era in those regions. Men wore tunics/skirts just like women in the bible. The bible focuses on the Ancient Near East, Mediterranean Europe, and North Africa. People had to gird their loins by wrapping and tying their clothing up when trying to run, work, or fight. Pants weren’t worn in the Levant and Mediterranean in the BC era, so the Israelites didn’t use them. What people wore differed across different time periods, cultures, and continents. In some cultures, men wore tunics and women wore pants (to protect virginity). Most Islamic traditions prohibit women from showing their legs, and pants are common for women in the Islamic communities as well as the Sikh community for the same reason. Those ideals were grounded in the culture of the Middle East, Central, and Southeast Asia, even before Christianity, Islam, etc.
The oldest known pair of pants was found in Turpan, Xinjiang in western China going back to the 13th and 10th centuries BC. Some archeologists suggest there were pants in ancient Siberia even before that. Pants have also been found among ancient Nomadic tribes in European up to 3,000 years ago. It was believed that they were primarily for horseback riding. The Greeks scoffed at pants worn by Persians, Armenians, and others as being ridiculous, using the word “thulakos” or “sack”, as a slang term for the loose trousers of Persians and other people of the East. Even the ancient Romans thought of them as barbaric compared to tunics and togas. In western culture, pants weren’t adopted until around the 3rd century AD, in the Late Antiquity period of Ancient Rome. Meanwhile in the far east and northernmost parts of Europe men and women, wore pants long before the rest of Europe caught on. Then in the middle ages, European men adopted pants gull, and women were expected to keep wearing dresses. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and later that women would wear pants.
Some groups, including the Amish, Hutterites, some Mennonites, some Baptists, a few Church of Christ groups, and most Orthodox Jews, believe that women should not wear trousers. The bible didn’t say anything about pants, so Deut 22:5 is based on whatever men wore vs women wore and the purpose of that clothing. Men in ancient Israel didn’t wear pants, they were wearing tunics and such. Interestingly enough, men wore women’s clothing in Europe in the early middle ages when doing theatre because back women weren’t allowed to perform on stage. So men could dress as mother Mary in a play about the crucifixion, but women couldn’t were pants? Do you see the hypocrisy in this? I believe the context of the verse is based on intentions to sexually deceive and commit sexual sin. This principle rejects men that dress like women in order to have sex with a man as if he is a woman, and vice versa (transsexuality). This is would be sinful especially if the intentions are to seduce or deceive because same-sex intercourse is forbidden (Lev 18:22, Lev 20:13). Paul also mentions the length of men’s hair being limited to short lengths in 1 Cor 11:14-15. This too has to be taken into cultural and historical context. Corinth was a city known for sexual sin, that is why Paul wrote 3 chapters in 1 Corthinians on it (1 Cor 5-7). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul has a vice list and on the list, it mentions effeminate men. This implies there were men who dressed as women in order to seduce men for same-sex intercourse which is an illicit sex practice in the bible. Therefore if a man has long hair for the purpose of seducing men it would be sinful. This reason would be why men and women are told not to crossdress in Deut 22:5, it was not about wearing specific kinds of clothing like pants but rather about the intent behind why you are wearing a specific outfit. Outside of that clothes are clothes.
Definitions of modesty are actually more culturally based than people realize. The new testament focuses on modesty in a spiritual framework, rather than an absolutely focusing on specific attire. Both Paul (1 Timothy 2:9-10) and Peter (1 Peter 3:3) say that women should apply the concept of modesty to their motivations, and focus on inner beauty, rather than drawing attention by being too flashy in their dress. In other words, if a woman is wearing clothes to seduce men, or to shame poorer women, then she is in sin. Otherwise, clothes are clothes as long they are covering naked body parts. Common sense should tell people what is and isn’t appropriate.
Some argue that “girding up the loins” represents pants and was something that only men did, so women shouldn’t were pants because they never “girded their loins”. Girding one’s loins was done when someone needed to do physically intense labor, run from danger, etc. The implication is that only men would have needed to gird their loins, however, this is historically false and biblically doesn’t work. Proverbs 31 talks about the virtuous woman, and mentions that she “girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms”. Other translates say she “throws herself into her work”, this implies that women did do laborious tasks that required girding, and a virtuous woman is a hard worker. In Luke 12:35, Jesus (talking to everyone) says to be like servants awaiting their master and have your “loins girded” in preparation for his return. This was more of an analogy but the reference it to a physical action that they were all familiar with and capable of. Likewise, Ephesians 6:14 uses a reference to military armor as an analogy for spiritual attributes that believers have, and says to have “your loins girt about with truth”. 1 Peter 1:13, says to “gird the loins” of your mind, as a reference to mental focus on a task.
An article on the subject:
“If a woman is not to have an article of clothing made for her to wear that was originally made for men, such as pants, then that should pertain to ALL clothing. This should then apply to t-shirts, which were originally made for GIs in WWII, and even more so if you are to take that this scripture is making specific references to garments of war. This rule should also apply to other articles of clothing originally made for men such as baseball caps, team jerseys, work boots, and certain styles of coats and jackets.”