Does the Bible really require us to wear gender-distinct clothing?
What God has to say about gender distinction in clothing is part of a much larger theology of the image of God in mankind. When God created Adam and Eve, He sovereignly chose to build gender distinctions into the sexual, biological, marital, family, and social structures of humanity. Men and women both bear God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).
However, they do not bear the same aspects of the divine image to the same degree. God designed women to be the primary image-bearers of his tenderness, compassion, and mothering love (Deut. 32:18; Isa. 42:13-14; 49:15; 66:12-13; Luke 13:34). Men, on the other hand, are the primary image-bearers of God’s power, authority, and fatherhood (Deut. 1:31; Psa. 10:16; Isa. 10:13; 42:13; Zeph. 3:17).
God’s choice to make females and males primary bearers of different aspects of His image provides a theological explanation for His concern that gender distinctions be maintained. When we blur God-designed gender distinctions, His image in us is blurred—whether it is in sex (contra-homosexuality; Lev. 20:13), in marital roles (1 Cor. 11:8-12; Eph. 5:22-32), in the church (1 Cor. 11:3-7; 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-14), in built-in physical characteristics (hair length; 1 Cor. 11:14-15), or in social conventions (dress distinctions, Deut. 22:5)—which brings us to your question.
Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only text in Scripture that directly addresses gender-distinct clothing. The NASB accurately captures its sense: “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”
First, note how serious God is about this. He calls it an abomination. An “abomination” is something that is particularly detestable. In addition to Deut. 22:5, God calls the following items or practices an abomination in Deuteronomy:
- graven images (7:25),
- idolatry (13:14),
- eating unclean animals (14:3),
- sacrificing blemished animals (17:1),
- child sacrifice, witchcraft, astrology, and spiritism (18:9, 12),
- giving to God money obtained through prostitution (23:18);
- remarrying a woman you divorced after she has been remarried (24:4),
- and dishonesty in business (25:16).
This list demonstrates that the term “abomination” is not limited to aberrant sexual behavior and idolatry. A survey of “abomination” in the rest of the Bible confirms this conclusion (cf. Prov. 6:16-19; 17:15; 28:9).
Second, note what this implies about loving God. The words “abomination” and “delight” are opposites in Scripture (cf. Prov. 11:1, 20). If God abominates people wearing opposite-gender clothing, then God delights in people wearing gender-distinct clothing. When we love God, we delight in what He delights in (Isa. 58:13-14), and we desire to please him in everything (2 Cor. 5:9). Obedience to Deut. 22:5 should be nothing less than the outflow of a heart that passionately desires to please God!
When we love God, we delight in what He delights in (Isa. 58:13-14), and we desire to please him in everything (2 Cor. 5:9). Obedience to Deut. 22:5 should be nothing less than the outflow of a heart that passionately desires to please God!
Third, note the generic language of this prohibition. Some commentators have claimed God was prohibiting specific kinds of cross-dressing, such as women wearing men’s armor, transvestite cross-dressing, or idolatrous Canaanite practices. However, there is nothing about the terms Moses used or the immediate and larger contexts that supports this assertion. Deut. 22:5 is teaching a universal principle that it is God’s will for men and women to wear gender-distinct clothing.
Deut. 22:5’s generic language, however, raises questions about proper application in contemporary culture. Since God chose not to specify how gender-distinctness should be manifested in clothing, one’s culture will be largely responsible for determines how clothing manifests gender distinctions.
We must evaluate three aspects of culture when considering the gender distinctions of its clothing styles:
- its communication,
- its direction, and
- its theological implications.
More on this next time.