Mailbag

The Mailbag: May Christian Women Wear Pants?

 

What are your views on women wearing pants?

For readers who are a little confused by this question, you may not be aware that there are various churches that require women and girls to wear skirts or dresses rather than pants. The local churches I’m familiar with which carry this requirement are Pentecostal and Independent Baptist, though there may be others. (Some of these churches also require women to have long hair and abstain from wearing makeup.)

The initial basis for this requirement is Deuteronomy 22:5…

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

…along with the general desire to encourage God-given femininity for women and masculinity for men. Definitely a good idea these days.

But, since my opinion is of zero importance – it’s what God thinks that counts – let’s look at what the Bible says. Is it biblical for a church to make this requirement of Christian women, or, for a Christian woman to choose, on her own, not to wear pants?

Let’s tackle that last question first.

There’s nothing in the Bible that says women have to wear pants, so if you want to wear skirts and dresses all the time, you’re absolutely free to do that. What you may not do (biblically) is think, or say, that wearing skirts and dresses somehow makes you holier or more obedient to God than women who choose to wear pants- because there’s nothing about that in the Bible either.

But what about Deuteronomy 22:5?

Well, let’s take a look at that Scripture using good hermeneutical principles. We need to look at the context, culture, audience, and intent of this verse.

First we need to recognize that Deuteronomy is in the Old Testament. Right off the bat, we must keep in mind that, while there are many underlying, timeless principles in the Old Testament that still apply to Christians (usually because they are reiterated in the New Testament) the particular pronouncement of the Old Testament verse we’re reading may not apply.

Next, Deuteronomy 22 is smack dab in the middle of the Levitical law that was given as a part of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant was fulfilled in Christ, which means its laws are no longer binding on us as Christians. We are under the New Covenant of grace through Christ. This is why you’re not sinning if you build a house without a parapet around the roof (verse 8), sow your vineyard, if you have one, with two kinds of seed (verse 9), wear fabric that’s a wool-linen blend (verse 11), or go tassel-less (verse 12). If you think Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits women from wearing pants, a good question to ask yourself is: “Why would I feel required to obey verse 5 of Deuteronomy 22, but not verses 8-12?”

The next thing we need to look at is the actual wording of Deuteronomy 22. Does it say anything about pants or any other specific item of clothing? No. It says women are not to wear men’s clothes and men are not to wear women’s clothes. Now, keep in mind that the audience for this verse was Old Testament Israel, and that, at the time, in that culture, both men and women wore what we would technically describe today as a “dress.”

Were Moses and rest of the Israelite men – who were actually receiving this law from God at the time – sinning because they were wearing “dresses”? (And, let’s remember, Jesus dressed the same way.) Of course not. In our time and culture, they’re wearing dresses, and dresses are for women. In their time and culture, they’re wearing a garment designed for men. God has never said, “Pants are for men. Dresses are for women.” Pre-twentieth century western culture has said that. So if the men of the Bible weren’t sinning for wearing “dresses” designed for men, how could Christian women be sinning for wearing pants designed for women?

Deuteronomy 22:5 is not addressing the construction of specific garments. It’s addressing the intent of the heart. Since men and women of that culture both wore garments of similar construction (i.e. sleeves, an opening for the head, and a sheath for the torso and legs), there must have been differing accessories (veils, turbans, sashes, belts, cloaks, etc.) that clearly distinguished between male and female outfits. A woman could wear those male accessories and still be wearing a “dress,” but what would her motive for doing so have been? The only motive she could have had was to appear to others to be a man.

In other words, Deuteronomy 22:5 is not addressing American women wearing pants designed for women’s bodies, sold in the women’s department of the store, marketed to women, and purchased by women who have no intention of trying to impersonate, or appear to others to be, a man. It is addressing the sin of cross-dressing (transvestism).

And that is a prohibition that does carry over into the New Testament under the heading of sexual immorality. We are to respect and honor God’s perfect and holy decision to create us as women or men. We are not to alter our clothing, accessories, cosmetics, hair styles, gait, body language, speech patterns, lifestyles, or anatomy in order to appear to others, or ourselves, to be the opposite sex. To do so is to tell God that His decision to make you a woman or a man was wrong. That is rebellion.

So, if a church today really wants to correctly handle and apply Deuteronomy 22:5, it will do so in light of the New Testament passages on sexual immorality. The church should teach that God always makes the right decision to create someone male or female, and that to rebel against God’s perfect design by altering one’s appearance to impersonate the opposite sex is sin which needs to be repented of and forgiven by the shed blood of Christ.

Deuteronomy 22:5 is not about 21st century American women wearing pants designed for women. So, when a church prohibits women from wearing pants – even when done with the best of intentions to honor God – what they are doing is mishandling Scripture and making a law where none exists. Jesus wasn’t too happy when “church leaders” of His time did that, and our churches today shouldn’t be doing it either.

All of that being said, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and, on occasion, worshiping with some dear saints in an IFB church which required skirts for women. These folks truly loved the Lord and honored His word. Any time I attended one of their activities, I wore a skirt so as not to be a stumbling block or draw attention to myself. Churches which carry the requirement of skirts for women but are otherwise doctrinally sound should not be regarded as apostate.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

10 thoughts on “The Mailbag: May Christian Women Wear Pants?”

  1. Not to be negative, but this is exactly why I no longer attend the Institutional Church. How stifling for women to be told by men that we can’t wear pants among all the other things we are told just because we are female. I left the IC 1.5 years ago and I felt great freedom to follow Christ and who He called me to be. Rules and legalism like these remind me of the Pharisees always following what they thought were laws of holiness but Jesus came and ruined their ideas. The Bible says “come follow me” not “come follow a bunch of men with seminary degrees”. What appalled me while in church is the women who just went along and never questioned this kind of stuff. I realize not all churches behave this way but enough of them do.

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    1. Elle- Actually it’s a very small number of churches that believe this way. I understand what it’s like to be in a church that disappoints or hurts you, but God instructs Christians to be joined to a local body of believers (a doctrinally sound church- Hebrews 10:24-25). Most churches do not require women to wear dresses, so there are plenty to choose from. If you are truly a born again believer, and you refuse to be part of a local church, you’re living in sin and rebellion. I would encourage you to repent and be obedient to God’s word by finding a doctrinally sound local church.

      If you need help finding a good church in your area, click here.

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      1. That’s one way to look at it considering that is what is preached at most churches these days. I didn’t leave the church because of hurt feelings. I left because I knew there was more the loving Christ than meeting in a building with people who may or may not be Christians (that’s always assumed–that the people in the church are actually real Christians–not true). Who says I’m not meeting with other Christians? I am just not in a church building. That verse in Hebrews you quoted is taken out of context–it says not to forsake the assembly, but what is that exactly? The church today is nothing like it was in the days of the disciples. It has turned into a fan or social club led by men with expensive seminary degrees who run their churches more like businesses than how Christ has called leaders to really act–as servants. Christ didn’t come to earth touting a title and getting paid. He actually served others and was hated! Pastors today and churches are trying to get members and be liked in the process and very little of what they do is actually Christ like. The dress vs. pants debate is one of thousands of rules a church might put on another person and although only few operate that extremely, most churches today put burdens on their members that aren’t biblical. I find your assumption that church attendance = living in sin basically a flawed argument, but not a surprise as that’s what most people seem to like to throw at me instead of actually thinking through what that verse really means. The church is not a building. It’s God’s people. And churches aren’t any more Christian than any other event I might attend with people there. There are a few real Christians and a whole lot of predators, manipulators, and those looking to take advantage of others inside the walls of the church. Many climb the ladder up to leadership and influence the church leaders too. When I left the church, I was sad because like you, I thought I was sinning and would fall away from Christ. Nothing could be futher from the truth. I’m free and the happiest I’ve ever been and Christ still loves me. I can’t lose my salvation just because I don’t attend an instutional church. That would assume that Christ can’t keep me and guess what? He can and He has. We are called to go into the world and preach the gospel, yet every Sunday, churches fill up with people who are just sitting there being casual observers. I guess from where I stand, it seems to me that those who do that are actually the rebellious ones.

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      2. Elle- I notice you didn’t provide any Scriptures that support your opinion that you don’t need church or that it’s OK for you to reject church. If you’re truly a believer, Scripture is your authority, not your own opinions. Could you provide some in context Scripture to support what you’re saying?

        The Scripture I provided, Hebrews 10:25, is not out of context, because the entirety of the New Testament assumes that Christians will be joined to a local body of believers. You will search long and hard to find any Scripture that supports the idea of Christians divorcing themselves from the church, and you will not find it. The Holy Spirit (the author of Scripture) never allows for the idea that a true Christian would reject the bride of Christ. Church membership is a given for Christians.

        It’s true that you don’t have to meet in a church building. Many churches meet in homes, schools, theaters and other types of buildings. But those churches do have to have a biblical ecclesiological structure: pastor, elders/deacons, ordinances (baptism, communion), etc. If not, it isn’t a church.

        I am not saying that missing church will cause a genuinely regenerated Christian to lose her salvation. I am saying that if you rebelliously reject the church, you probably were never saved in the first place, no matter what you proclaim (Matthew 15:8), feel, or think (Matthew 7:21-23). First John 2:19 makes this abundantly clear:

        “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

        It’s Providential timing that this article popped up in my Twitter feed yesterday: Barna’s Mythical Creature: The Church-Rejecting Jesus-Lover. I would encourage you to read it and to examine yourself against Scripture (the book of 1 John is a great evaluative tool for doing so) to discover whether or not you’re actually in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Because, to put it bluntly, rejection of Christ’s bride, and rebellion against His Word, is a fruit of someone who’s not saved, not a fruit of someone who is.

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      3. In the last sentences of your argument, you mention the casual observers in the church. Have you ever considered that the “casual observers” may have been brought to the church to hear the Gospel?

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  2. The one time when trousers, or “breeches” in KJV, are discussed, thecreason priests were required to wear them so that “their nakedness” would not be visible to others. This sounds to me like a very good reason for wearing some sort of “seat covers”, as my dearvold Daddy used to call them. Regardless of the wearer’s gender, it is a good idea to have clothing that conceals ome’s nakedness. If I climb a tree to pick fruit or rescue a kitten or a flyaway parrot (yes, I have done tbose things) decency requires some sort of “nakedness-cover”. Pants work.

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    1. I have been long attending an independent baptist church (not a Bible Baptist/KJV- only type); they just decided they could not remain in the organization they were a part of. The pastor at some point came to the conclusion that women should not wear pants (based on the Deut passage), not just at church, but all the time. I don’t agree with the principle, but it is consistent that it should not only apply to church attendance. (If it is wrong to do something like this in church, I think it is wrong, period.) He came to this conviction based on a sincere (yet misguided, imo) desire to be true to God’s Word. Sometimes modesty is used as reason for this; I would agree with Jo Murch that girls playing games, climbing etc in dresses could be extremely immodest (Of course, girls could just be excluded from those activities) I disagreed with him, but I must say that he rarely mentioned this from the pulpit (he also believed women should cover their heads in church and have long hair), and he was one of the most gentle, kind, and non-dictatorial pastors (or non-pastors) I have ever met. He believed in letting the Holy Spirit tell people what to do with what he taught from the Scriptures.
      Thank you Michelle for your excellent points on this issue.

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  3. There is a similar thread going on right now that deals with this subject by another blogger (won’t reveal who it is in case it breaks your moderation terms and conditions)

    Suffice it to say that it has degenerated to the point where they believe that any woman who wears pants is sinning against God

    Such ignorance and stupidity is caused because they have totally failed to see
    1: the awesome points about the Old Testament Law being done away with in Christ that you made here and…..
    2: the key word “pertaineth” in Deut 22:5 It means that a woman can’t wear any clothing that is EXCLUSIVELY worn by men….pants are not exclusively masculine, they are neutral!

    Look I’ll be honest here, I can’t stand women who wear trousers, and men’s type business pants, but I love seeing jeans on a woman, they are extremely flattering (sorry I’m a guy lol)…. BUT I don’t include jeans as being in the same category as trousers/pants because they ARE not exclusively worn by males, as being an exclusive masculine bit of clothing

    For e.g wearing a tie is exclusively a male item of clothing, so women shouldn’t wear ties….Is it a sin if she does?….hard to say exactly but it certainly doesn’t look attractive on them

    I hope all this helps

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    1. If i may add. I agree with kryptonian regarding pertaineth. I agree that pants are neutral, and have a practical purpose while there is no reason for men to wear dresses. On the other hand I don’t like to see women’s underwear that mimics men’s briefs, and that type of thing. As far as the law being done away with in Christ, it could argued that it is on par with other sexual immoralities that still apply such as homosexuality.

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