What does the Bible say about women wearing pants?

The first thing that we must understand when asking this question is that no one in the Bible wore pants. They did not exist back then—at least not in the form we have them today. Because of this, the Bible never dealt with the subject of women wearing pants. [Note: I have added an article on what the Israelites did wear when they were in Egypt and during the Exodus.] The Mosaic Law does, however, deal with the subject of cross-dressing. The Mosaic Law says, "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" (Deut. 22:5 NASB). The argument against women wearing pants that I always heard when I was in the UPC was this:

  1. Deut. 22:5 applies to us today. Even though we are not under the Mosaic Law anymore, something that is an abomination to God is always an abomination. (This is based off of Rev. 21:27, which says that "no one who practices abomination" (KJV) will enter into the New Jerusalem.)
  2. Since pants are men’s apparel, and dresses are women’s apparel, it is an abomination for a woman to wear pants or for a man to wear dresses.

Notice that I said that this is the argument that I heard during my time in the UPC. It is only fair to say that the official position paper of the UPC uses a different line of reasoning. They say, "[W]e should avoid…slacks on women because they immodestly reveal the feminine contours of upper leg, thigh, and hip1."

In this article I am going to take a look at both views, and then I’ll wrap up with an important point about hypocrisy.

Edit (1/2/07): I found another position paper from the UPCI on men and women’s apparel. In this other paper they do use a modified form of the Deut. 22:5 argument.

Are Slacks Automatically Immodest?

I think that it is ridiculous to say that slacks are inherently more immodest than dresses. Slacks and dresses can be immodest. It is possible that pants on a woman would have been considered immodest 200 years ago in many Western societies, but that’s pure conjecture. Either way, I know of no man in Western culture who is automatically thrown into temptation because a woman wears pants. What we have to deal with is what is modest today, not what was modest 200 years ago or 2,000 years ago. The Bible never defined modesty, it only told us to be modest.

Are Pants "Men’s Apparel"?

I do not think that pants can be thought of as only men’s apparel in modern Western culture. Cultures and dress codes change over time. They always have. When Deut. 22:5 was written men were probably wearing linen kilts and women were probably wearing "full-length, light weight, loose-fitting dresses2." In the mid-19th century men were wearing breeches and women were wearing dresses that did not show even their ankles. Yet now the dress code laid by the UPC is that women have to wear dresses but they can come up to the knee3. Why did they choose this style of apparel and not the style that was worn when Deut. 22:5 was written, or the style that was worn in the 19th century? The reason is that cultures and styles change, and the UPC apparently picked the style of apparel that happened to be in fashion when their doctrines started to develop.

There is no biblical excuse for taking a girl who is a third-generation wearer of pants and telling her that she has to only wear dresses. At some point we have to admit that culture has changed. Again, we’re concerned with what culture is now, not what it was in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Hypocrisy? The Pants Issue Can Be One Way or the Other, It Can’t Be Both

Let me talk to the preachers and teachers for a moment.

Many preachers and teachers in the UPC feel that Deut. 22:5 still applies to us today. I don’t take that view, but I’m not going to debate the point. What I will say is that if you are going to apply Deut. 22:5 to the pants vs. skirts debate then you have to apply it to everything. If you believe that it is an abomination for a woman to wear pants (because you feel that pants are men’s apparel) then you must be willing to make a complete prohibition against women wearing men’s apparel. For instance, many women in the UPC wear pajama pants but they will not wear pants in public. If pants are men’s apparel, and if it’s a sin for women to wear men’s apparel, then that means no pajama pants. It also means that a girl can’t put on her boyfriend’s jacket or her husband’s shirt, or any other article of clothing that is designed for a man.

It can be one way or the other, it can’t be both. It must be a complete prohibition or no prohibition at all. To preach against women wearing pants, and then allow your wife to wear pajama pants, is nothing less than total hypocrisy. If you do preach a complete prohibition against women wearing any men’s apparel then I will respect your view, even though I will continue to disagree with it. If you will not do that then I view your teaching as hypocritical in the extreme.

Conclusion

It is not safe to end this subject without pointing out that cross-dressing is almost definitely displeasing to God. When I say "cross-dressing" this is the usage that I am referring to:

Nearly every society throughout history has had a set of norms, views, guidelines, or laws regarding the wearing of clothing and what is appropriate for each gender. Cross-dressing is a behavior which runs counter to those norms4.

I do think that we can extrapolate from Scripture that God would be displeased with someone deliberately dressing in a manner that identifies them with the opposite gender. However, I do not think that a woman wearing pants should be considered cross-dressing. As I said before, women wearing pants is part of the accepted norm in modern Western culture.

References:

  1. United Pentecostal Church International, Position Paper on Modesty, Accessed 2006-12-30 21:10:16 []
  2. Nelson’s Bible Manners & Customs: How the People of the Bible Really Lived, "5.2 The People of God Wandering In the Wilderness", ed. Howard F. Vos []
  3. United Pentecostal Church International, Position Paper on Modesty, Accessed 2006-12-30 21:10:16 []
  4. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Cross-dressing, Accessed 2006-12-30 23:20:05 []

241 thoughts on “What does the Bible say about women wearing pants?

  1. roy lewis

    you can say what ever you want . but you have to agree on one thing! the bible states obey them that have the rule over you who faith follow , now keep in mind there is also a devil who is after each and ever one of us and his time is short. follow your paster god will take care of him if he is off track!!! causeing confuseing is of the devil . if you stiil beleave there is a devil and he hates the true chruch . you just might be his tool to cause trouble..

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

    1. Josh (Site Admin) Post author

      Roy,

      It’s true that the Bible says to obey those who have the rule over us. However, it also says that those who do not teach the same gospel that Paul taught are under a curse (Gal. 1:8). Someone who is under a curse does not have the rule over me.

      I love those in the UPC dearly but the gospel they teach is not the gospel that Paul taught. It doesn’t make them bad people. It doesn’t even mean that they’re not saved. But it DOES mean that they don’t have the rule over me.

      Just because a person claims to have the rule over me doesn’t make it true.

      In Christ,
      Josh

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  2. Timothy M.

    Esp 2:8 <—- this is the only way to the kingdom!! Amen and thank you Jesus!!! The body of Christ is one. Their is many members to the body but the head of that body is Christ. Lets serve one another in love and not debate. God would be more pleased for God is love. Bless you all!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

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