Throwback Thursday ~ The Mailbag: May Christian Women Wear Pants?

Originally published April 3, 2017


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.