To "wear the pants" in a family is an English idiom for acting as the head of the household. It comes from "pants", or trousers, being the most common clothing for men in places where modern English is spoken, and the claim in the Christian Greek Scriptures that the man is the head of an ideal household. (1 Corinthians 11:3) However, some people have twisted other scripture, primarily Deuteronomy 22:5, to make "wear the pants" more literal than God might have intended.
So on March 29, 2012, my brother (one of Jehovah's Witnesses) and I were enjoying sandwiches at a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant before our study of the Watch Tower Society publication What Does the Bible Really Teach?. But both of our sandwiches would have been unclean under the dietary provisions of the Mosaic Law observed by the ancient Hebrews, as set forth in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, due to the use of pork and the combination of meat and milk. Some scholars believe Jehovah, the god of the Jews and Christians, made these laws to protect the ancient Hebrews from diseases such as trichinosis. Yet by Jesus's time, hygiene had improved, and Jehovah told Peter that the prohibition on pork was no longer needed for his people, as pork and other meats are among "things God has cleansed."--Acts 10:9-16.
The Mosaic laws fell into several categories: laws describing what Jehovah hates, laws to protect the people's health, laws setting forth animal sacrifices for the atonement of sin, and laws to create a distinct Jewish culture. Once Jesus died, the ransom was paid and animal sacrifices were no longer needed. The Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 resolved the "Judaizer" controversy and brought the Nations into the congregation. (Acts 15; Galatians 2) After this, the distinct Jewish culture became less important to Christians, and the details of the hygiene laws became less important as the Nations' overall hygiene improved. But just as Jehovah does not change (Malachi 3:6), what he hates does not change. One can tell whether a Mosaic law describes something Jehovah hates because those are generally reiterated in the Greek Scriptures, such as the laws against fornication and against the misuse of blood.--Acts 15:28-29.
- A. "You must not wear mixed stuff of wool and linen together." (22:11)
- B. "You should make tassels for yourself on the four extremities of your clothing with which you cover yourself." (22:12)
- C. "You must not see the ass of your brother or his bull fall down on the road and deliberately withdraw from them. You should by all means help him raise them up." (22:4)
- D. Put a railing around the roof of your house so that people don't fall off. (22:8)
- E. "No garb of an able-bodied man should be put upon a woman, neither should an able-bodied man wear the mantle of a woman; for anybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah your God." (22:5)
- F. "No man should take his father’s wife, that he may not uncover the skirt of his father." (22:30)
My brother told me 22:11-12 were in the "Jewish identity" category. After walking behind him briefly to make a pun, I explained that 22:4 could extend to helping a brother fix a flat tire if one knows how. Likewise, 22:8 remains a sensible safety regulation in the modern times, and the Building Act of 1707 reiterated it in the law of London. Yet some fundamentalists interpret 22:5 to prohibit women from wearing obviously feminine-cut slacks or a man from wearing an obviously masculine kilt, a position nicknamed "trouser tyranny" by its opponents. I disagree with these fundies.
In the time the law was handed down, both men and women wore "dresses", so to speak, though the overall appearance of a man could still be clearly distinguished from that of a woman. The Hebrew word for such a "dress", כֻּתֹּנֶת kethoneth (Strong's H3801), refers to a shirt between knee and ankle length, such as Joseph's "long, striped shirtlike garment" or the "striped robe" on Tamar the daughter of David. (Genesis 37:3; 2 Samuel 13:18) This garment had a skirt, or undivided portion that hung below the waist, as seen in Deuteronomy 22:30 and Zechariah 8:23. The King James Version translates this word as "coat", but in the 1600s, the meaning of "coat" had not yet shifted to mean the outer garment to which it refers today. Thomas Nelson's New King James Version revises this to "tunic" in several cases.
The first appearance of this word in scripture is in Genesis 3:21 where "long garments of skin" were made for Adam and Eve. These provided a full covering in contrast to the narrow covering of the loincloths that Adam and Eve were making for themselves, showing that humanity's own acts of righteousness are as impure a soiled maxi-pad. (Isaiah 64:6) And because they were made of animal skins, some scholars have linked this to the very first animal sacrifice. (See commentaries under Genesis 3:21 on Bible Hub.)
The Bible mentions pants only in the context of the boxer shorts that the priests wore under their uniforms: "And make drawers of linen for them to cover the naked flesh. From the hips and to the thighs they are to extend." (Exodus 28:42) The Hebrew word is מִכְנָס miknas (Strong's H4370), also appearing in other verses referring to the full priestly uniform (Exodus 39:28, Leviticus 6:10, 16:4, Ezekiel 44:18) but nowhere else. So from this context, it's clear that Jehovah wasn't prescribing trousers for all men.
To understand why something is called "detestable" or "disgusting", or an "abomination" or "abhorrence" as some translations render the Hebrew תּוֹעֵבָה to`eva (Strong's H8441), one must look at the principle behind a law. Louis Entzminger wrote in 1936 that the prohibition on putting on the distinctive appearance of the other sex follows from the principle that God deliberately created humanity male and female. (Genesis 1:27) Yet Jason Young and others have pointed out that Moses, when describing the "long garments of skin" given to Adam and Eve, used the same word for both. Throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the distinction between men's and women's attire appears to have been one of detail, color, and the like, rather than one of gross form, not unlike the modern distinction between a kilt and a women's skirt, between a man's thawb and a women's dress, or between a man's trousers and a woman's. In fact, the skirted garments traditionally associated with some occupations are seen as so masculine that, for example, women justices on the U.S. Supreme Court see fit to add feminine details to their judicial robes.
Fashions have obviously changed since then, more rapidly in some parts of the world than in others. But even centuries later, skirted garments are still not limited exclusively to women. Consider the following examples:
- Before Twitter, there was writing on your nightshirt with washable marker every morning.
- Modesty for a furry may include hiding your tail.
- Obviously a boy's hat.
- It's hard for non-scholars to tell, but this is also a boy's hat.
- Call this women's clothing and you're likely to get "kilt".
- The Duster: Like a jacket, but longer, thicker, and manlier.
- Obviously men's thawbs.
- Four thousand years' worth of men can't all be wrong.
- Despite the "nice legs", you can still tell it's a man in those flip-flops.
An article by Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen cites several sources claiming that Deuteronomy 22:5 was supposed to mean that one must not deceptively dress up as the opposite sex to do something that is itself detestable, such as looking at naked people in the bathroom or groping people. Or it might have been related to pagan fertility rituals.
Tilsen and John Gill notice a distinction between 'ish', the ordinary Hebrew word for a man seen in Deuteronomy 22:13, and 'gever' (Strong's H1397), the word in 22:5 translated "able-bodied man" in NWT, or more loosely "soldier". Compare 'el gibbor', "mighty god". In fact, 'kli gever' ("garb of an able-bodied man" in NWT) likely referred to a weapon or armor, especially when contrasted with 'simlat isha' ("mantle of a woman" in NWT). Adam Clarke's commentary agrees with the interpretation as armor, citing a false worship practice in which women appeared in armor before Venus, which resembled the Canaanite cult of Astarte. Under this theory, one could loosely translate the verse as "Women shouldn't dress or act as soldiers nor vice versa; Jehovah hates when you do that." That would give new meaning to the old insult "your mother wears combat boots" and help explain why women in modern Israel are exempt from the country's military draft.
An analysis by Elisabeth Anne Kellogg mentions that Deuteronomy 22:5 is one of several verses that mention gender roles. But what are these passages from Paul's letters supposed to mean? Some may think Paul wrote against women publishing the Kingdom message: "As in all the congregations of the holy ones, let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation." (1 Corinthians 14:33b-38) "I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence." (1 Timothy 2:12) Some churches take this to completely forbid a woman to speak during a Sunday meeting. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, forbid a woman only to "teach", such as to give an original sermon; women can certainly spread others' teachings. These passages do not, for example, rule out calling on a woman during the study of the weekly devotional article in The Watchtower.
Finally, some trouser tyrants may fall back on "You can't wear Scottish Highlander clothes unless you're a Scottish Highlander," citing Zephaniah 1:8: "And it must occur on the day of Jehovah’s sacrifice that I will give attention to the princes, and to the sons of the king, and to all those wearing foreign attire." Yet the Watch Tower Society depicts men wearing the attire of various nationalities in illustrations of the Paradise to come throughout Teach and other WTS publications, such as page 179 of God's Word for Us Through Jeremiah [jr]. This illustration shows people in the WTS's reconstruction of ancient Hebrew traditional clothes alongside people in what appear to be modern Euroamerican clothes. I don't know what this is supposed to imply, possibly that many resurrected people will choose to wear what was popular when they lived, but it at least rules out the possibility of tunics being unacceptable. The "foreign attire" receiving negative "attention" in this prophetic passage most likely refers to sinful foreign mannerisms, not literal clothes borrowed from another culture.
- Kent Brandenburg. "History and Deuteronomy 22:5 (part one)". 2009-07-06. Accessed 2012-04-27.
- Jason Young. "Does the Bible Say It's a Sin for Women to Wear Pants? The Truth About Deuteronomy 22:5". Acts Eighteen. Accessed 2012-04-27.
- Transgender Issues. GayChristian101. Accessed 2012-04-27.
- Charlotte Allen. "Undermining the faith". Los Angeles Times, 2010-05-02. Accessed 2013-02-08.
- Psalm 147:10 in more literal translations such as ESV and NWT might be misinterpreted in such a way to "leave readers chuckling." Mark Strauss. "Why the English Standard Version (ESV) should not become the Standard English Version: Oops translations". Accessed 2012-04-27.
- Jon-Jay Tilsen. "Cross Dressing and Deuteronomy 22:5". Accessed 2012-05-03.
- Author. "Gemma Barker, Girl Who Dressed As Boy, Created Identities 'To Grope Friends'". The Huffington Post. 2012-01-18. Accessed 2012-05-03.
- John Gill. Exposition of the Entire Bible. 1763. Via sacred-texts.com, accessed 2012-05-03.
- Adam Clarke. Commentary on the Bible. 1831. Via sacred-texts.com, accessed 2012-05-03.
- Elisabeth Anne Kellogg. "Transvestism, Transgenderism, and Deuteronomy 22:5". 1998. Accessed 2012-05-03.