This question was asked by a brother from Zambia:
“Is it good for women to put on trousers in the church service? Deuteronomy 22:5 forbids it. What can we tell those who put on trousers? – e.g. Joyce Meyer, and Darlene Zshech of Hillsong Church. These people are even pastors.”
Let us look at the issue more closely. The subject of clothing is a big one – it is mentioned from early Genesis to Revelation. We don’t have space here to go into it fully, even if I was able to. The first time clothing is mentioned, it says that God made coats of skin and clothed (literally “wrapped”) them.
Let us begin in the Christian era. In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul writes: In like manner also that the women in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion… In my bible the footnote to “deportment and dress” reads “The whole deportment; the way in which a woman presents herself, of which dress is a sign.” Notice that the keywords above are “decent”, “modesty” and “discretion”. I take the word “dress” to mean clothing. We also notice that there is no reference to what form that clothing should take, whether robes, togas, shawls, trousers, saris, sarongs, kilts or dresses. I believe this is due to the fact that Christianity is workable for every nation under heaven. Remember that the law was given to one nation in one language. I therefore have no problem if a Chinese sister in the typical baggy Mao suit comes into a meeting of believers; nor an Indian sister in a sari that includes long pants; nor an Indian brother in a dhoti, nor a brother from Samoa with a lavalava - the generic name is sarong - the equivalent of a kilt. Now if trousers have become accepted as suitable for women, and are properly worn, and are “decent, modest, discreet”, is that a problem? Many a woman’s dress does not pass that test in these times. I need not elaborate on that! Pants may be more comely or suitable in some environments such as working, exercising and travelling. Nor does the scripture differentiate between the style of clothing worn to a place of worship and everyday living.
This does not mean that God has changed his thoughts on men and women having the role he has chosen for them. We will discuss that below.
What does Deuteronomy 22 verse 5 mean?
It provides vital moral teaching. Before starting on that verse, let us look at verse 10 of that same chapter – Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together. The apostle Paul uses this in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to show that a believer should not be unequally linked with an unbeliever. That is, the teaching in Deut. 22:10 shows us that an unequal yoke is wrong. This is what we mean by the “moral teaching” for us. This gives background to what follows and shows that we are not just making up some fable.
In Deuteronomy 22:11, Thou shalt not wear a garment of mixed material, [woven] of wool and linen together. Do you have any problem with wearing a polyester/cotton garment? or a blend of wool/polyester? Is that evil? If I am free to do what verse 11 prohibits, why do I take verse 5 literally? While we are at this point, let us examine how verse 11 applies to us. I believe it means that our lives are not to be governed by two principles, by mixed motives. Jonathan loved David, but he also loved his place in the court of his father King Saul. He knew that God was with David, but he chose the world rather than to be with David in rejection. He was therefore judged with the world. He was a man wearing a garment of mixed materials. So was Lot. Peter tells us that he was righteous (2 Peter 2:7,8) but he was in the ruling body of the city of Sodom. He had become a citizen of this world, rather than a pilgrim like Abraham. Lot’s history was a sad one. Peter himself failed by denying his Lord. But that was not characteristic. He was “taken in a fault”. He was not a man wearing a garment of mixed materials. Clothing is scripture often means far more than just some external material. It may imply the character of the person as externally seen. Adam and Eve were clothed by God. They were at that point “redeemed”. I believe they were repentant - the lives of animals had been given up to provide the clothing of skins. This looked on to the sacrifice of Christ. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins”.
To return to Deut. 22:5: what is a man’s clothing on a woman, and why is it so abhorrent to God? I believe it is a woman adopting a role that God has assigned to man. Examples are: women “in the pulpit”; women who dominate their husbands; women who pray in public where men are present. [See 1 Timothy 2:8, I will therefore that the men pray in every place… It is men as opposed to women whose role is explained in verse 9 and onwards.] These are examples of women in men’s clothing. “A man putting on a woman’s clothing” – a man not taking up his responsibilities and leaving a vacuum. If a man does not take up responsibilities in the Lord’s things, or does not take up his role as head of his house, then it takes godliness in a wife to encourage him and assist him to do it, without taking over his role. In Judges 4, Deborah the prophetess gave Barak a word from the Lord, to go and defeat an opposing army. When he was afraid to go, she supported him by going with him, but she did not take charge. See also the recent article “Women in the Church”. Let us not blame women alone. I believe that failure begins with men, as it did with Adam. He tried to blame his wife, but his excuse was his very condemnation. God used his own words to judge him: “Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife…”. The Lord refers in Matthew 13:25 to the field with the wheat and the tares. The problem occurred “while men slept”.
Blessing is found in filling out our roles as men and women, as God has ordered. Men fulfilling men’s roles, and women theirs.
MM June 2007