Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why is it Wrong for a Man to Wear Women’s Clothing? (Bible Questions and Answers #2)

A friend recently asked me:
Since there are many Old Testament laws that do not apply to Christians today, how do we know that Deuteronomy 22:5 still applies?

Deuteronomy 22:5 states:

A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.

Lots of people are thinking about these types of questions. The question as asked is complex. 

First, let’s notice that this command is written in such a way that it can be applied to many different cultures and times.  God did not say, “A woman shall not wear pants” or, “A man shall not wear a robe”.  The issue is wearing clothing which is recognizable in a given place and time as normally worn by the opposite sex.  So I have no problem with women wearing pants or a ladies style suit.  A clear violation of this command would be a man wearing high heels, a skirt, and women’s makeup and jewelry.  Now, on to the main issue . . .

My friend's question raises two interrelated issues:

1.  Is it wrong for a man to wear women’s clothing, and if so why? (Everything in this post also applies to women wearing men’s clothing.)

2.  In general, how do we know which commands from the Old Testament still apply to Christians today, and specifically how do we know if the commands in Deuteronomy 22:5 apply today?

I’ll look at these two issues and then discuss briefly some ideas of how we as Christians should respond to people involved in any type of cross dressing, transgenderism, and/or homosexuality.

Is it Wrong for a Man to Wear Women’s Clothing?

If Deuteronomy 22:5 applies today, that settles it.  Then, it is clearly wrong for a man to dress like a woman or a woman like a man.  We often think of sin too narrowly.  Our sinful nature means that our desires, thoughts, and feelings are often damaged by sin and involved in sin, as well as our actions.  Likewise, sin has worked its way into human institutions, activities, and relationships. So, before we consider Deuteronomy 22:5, I want to share why I believe cross dressing is wrong even if Deuteronomy 22:5 was not in the Bible. 

1.  Sometimes when a man wears women’s clothing it is related to homosexual desires and activities.  In a previous blog post, I explained that the Bible clearly teaches that all homosexual activities are sinful activities and all homosexual desires are sinful desires.  So, whenever cross dressing is related to homosexual desires, it is sinful.

2.  Sometimes a man wears women’s clothing because doing so is sexually exciting for him.  In these cases, wearing the clothes is often associated with fantasizing and sexual arousal.  Many Christians have studied what the Bible means by “sexual immorality”.  I have come to the same conclusion as many before me:  “sexual immorality” includes seeking sexual arousal, excitement, or pleasure in any form outside of a marriage approved by God between one man and one woman.  Based on this, I believe that all sexual fantasizing is sinful.  God really does care about our thoughts (Jeremiah 17:10, Hebrews 4:12-13).  This means a man wearing women’s clothing for the purpose of sexual fantasy and arousal is sinful.

3.  God created human beings as male and female (Genesis 1:27, Mark 10:6).  In terms of our need for salvation, God’s love for us and offer of salvation, and God’s promises of forgiveness and eternal life for those who accept Christ, there is no difference between men and women (Galatians 3:28-29).  However, in terms of our roles in families and in the church, there are differences between men and women.  These differences are commanded, maintained, and approved by God consistently throughout both the Old and New Testament.  Cross dressing is likely to cause confusion about these God ordained differences.  Cross dressing almost always (maybe always) involves some amount of rebellion against God’s created and commanded order.  Whenever our feelings and desires do not line up with God’s ways and will, we are called to submit to God’s ways rather than follow our own feelings and desires.

4.  Even if the individual involved is not homosexual, cross dressing is one form of “transgenderism” and is part of the broader LGBT movement.  This movement is celebrating and aggressively promoting many sins which God hates and which bring much suffering to those who commit them as well as others in society. 

5.  Sometimes transgenderism is associated with occult activity.  We saw clear examples of this while living in Indonesia.  There was a cult of transvestite “priests” who functioned like “witch doctors” called BissuPriests.  While explicit involvement in occult activities may rarely be a part of cross dressing in the West, I would warn that this aspect should not be dismissed or taken lightly.  All occult activity (the seeking of help, spiritual power, or guidance from spiritual sources other than the one true God) are sinful and strongly forbidden by God throughout the Bible.

6.  With the obvious exception of surgical and medical procedures to alter one’s sexual appearance, all the types of “LGBT” issues which exist now also existed in Bible times.  These are repeatedly condemned in the Bible and there is not one single positive example of “LGBT anything” from Genesis to Revelation.

7.  Like all sin, cross dressing bears bad fruit, including increased anxiety, guilt, shame, and often temptations to other sin.  It also produces bad fruit in society.  The most recent example is the “bathroom battles”.  While some men who feel and dress like women could use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms in such a way as to not endanger our wives, daughters, and children, this is not always the case.  It is practically impossible for a school, store, or any public location to tell the difference between a man dressed as a woman who is “safe”, and one who would use the situation to prey on our wives and daughters in places where women and girls should enjoy privacy and security (you can watch an excellent, short video on this topic here – this video is so important, this link to it may be the most important part of my blog post).

Now, Let’s Consider Deuteronomy 22:5

In light of what we’ve discussed so far, it’s not surprising that God said:

NIV  Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.

But, as mentioned, this raises a complex question.  How do we know which laws in the Old Testament apply today?

There are clearly some Old Testament laws which we are not required to obey today.  Here are two examples from the same chapter in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 22:
11 Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.
12 Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.

On the other hand, there are many commands in the Old Testament law which clearly apply today:

Deuteronomy 5:
17 "You shall not murder.
 18 "You shall not commit adultery.
 19 "You shall not steal.

I think that most mature, godly Christians who believe the Bible is entirely true could probably do a pretty good job picking which commands apply today just using “Holy Spirit-given common sense”.  But, when we are debating issues like men wearing women’s clothes, we need something more objective to appeal to.

The complicating factor here is that Bible believing Christians do not all agree about how the Old Testament laws apply today.

Some Christians see the Old Testament Law divided into different categories such as “moral laws”, “civil laws”, and “ceremonial laws”.  They say that the civil laws were only intended for the ancient nation of Israel and the ceremonial laws were only in force until Christ came and fulfilled the images and symbols in the ceremonial laws.  Thus, the “moral laws” are the ones that still apply today.  This is a useful system, but it is not easy to apply because the Bible does not label the laws as “moral”, “civil”, or “ceremonial”, and in some cases it is debatable which category a law belongs in.  For the reasons I gave earlier in this blog post, I myself believe that Deuteronomy 22:5 should be considered a “moral law” which continues to be applicable.

Other Christians believe that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Law in such a way that the entire law is no longer directly applicable.  Only laws in the New Testament are binding, but laws in the Old Testament are useful to help us understand the background and more importantly, the meaning, of New Testament Laws.  All the Ten Commandments except one are clearly repeated in the New Testament (the exception is the command to keep the Sabbath).  But no one believes that just because a law is not explicitly repeated means it is automatically ok to disobey it.  Consider these Old Testament laws which are not repeated in the New Testament:

Leviticus 18
6 "'No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
 7 "'Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
 8 "'Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.

23 "'Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.

The New Testament does not explicitly prohibit incest and bestiality. That does not mean those activities are allowed!  They are covered by more general commands, such as:

NIV  Ephesians 5:3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.

Although the case of a man wearing women’s clothing is not as obvious as something like incest, I am convinced that it also is covered by general commands in the New Testament against homosexuality and all kinds of impurity and other commands also.

The two ways of understanding how Old Testament Laws apply today are not the only two ways.  The important point is that even without Deuteronomy 22:5, we have plenty of reasons to view a man wearing women’s clothing as sinful. I see Deuteronomy 22:5 as adding one more piece of evidence to an already convincing case that cross dressing is sinful.

So What Should We Do?

I don’t want to end this post without giving some pastoral advice about how to handle difficult situations and disagreements related to cross dressing and other LGBT issues.

1.  If a friend (whether a believer or not) confides in you that they are struggling with cross dressing or a related issue, take time to listen to as much of their story as they are willing to share.  Their story may be filled with pain and struggle.  Many people (but not all) who struggle with LGBT temptations were neglected or even abused as children.  This does not justify their actions if they give in to temptation, but it does help us to feel compassion for them.  Remember, Jesus feels compassion for all types of sinners, including you and me.  Also remember:

NIV  Proverbs 18:13 To answer before listening-- that is folly and shame.

2.  Treat LGBT related temptations and sins like other temptations and sin.  They can be forgiven.  The shame can be washed away.  There may be a long (sometimes, lifelong) struggle with temptation, but real victory in Christ is available.  And the pull of the temptation really can weaken over time as a person walks with Christ and their minds are transformed (Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

3.  Respond with both grace and truth.  Do not compromise God’s truth when the pressure is on.  Do not forget to be graceful in the midst of a heated battle.

4.  When confronted with angry people or sinful government laws, be prepared to suffer for righteousness and for the gospel.

5.  If you or someone you know is struggling with cross dressing or similar issues, get help.  Get help from Christian friends you trust, from pastors, and from good Christian counselors.  Don’t expect the battle to be easy, but also do not expect the battle to be hopeless.  Jesus is on the side of sinners who are trying their best to get free from sin.  With Jesus on your side, you’ll turn out alright!

Keep praying.  Keep loving.  Keep sharing God’s truth and love.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .


  1. So why is it wrong some two hundred years ago there was nothing called trousers Christ wore a toga Hawaiians wear comonos Scottish people wear kilts before that people wore loin clothes so why are skirts and dresses wrong for a man to wear

  2. Ace, what you are basically saying is that what is viewed as men's clothing and women's clothing changes over times and is different in various cultures. The Biblical principles explained in the post above only mean that a man should not wear clothes which are normally viewed as distinctively women's clothing in a particular culture at a particular time. The issue is not dresses vs. pants (or any other particulars) in and of itself, but rather a man dressing in a way which would make him appear to be a woman, or vice-versa.

  3. Well let's see where do I start you say that homosexuality causes shame boy are you way off base there and some several hundred years ago there were not trousers people wore so called robes and such Romans wore skirt like garments so what do you say to that? Jesus wore a komono people from Scotland wear kilts same as Ireland well what now? Oh hell that makes all of them breaking the law of God right.

    1. Ace, thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. In your second post I see two basic claims. I'll reply to them in reverse order:

      Your second claim is that Jesus and others broke the command of God by wearing things like robes which look like the clothes that women wear today. We know very little about what Jesus wore. However, it is reasonable to guess that He wore clothing typical for men of his day. That would include what we would call robes. The important point is that at the time Jesus wore those clothes, they were not clothes that would normally be identified as women's clothing.

      Your first point was to say that homosexuality does not cause shame. I never claimed that all people who are committing homosexual acts feel ashamed of those acts. I'm well aware that some are quite proud of their gay lifestyle. However, in general people often feel shame when they do something sinful. More to the point the Bible explicitly teaches that homosexual acts are shameful:

      NIV Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

      Now, it may be that you don't believe the Bible is right or trustworthy or authoritative. This particular blog post was written for people who do believe the Bible is true, although others are welcome to read it.

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