If a Christian woman wears pants is she violating the Bible’s command that “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man…” (Deuteronomy 22:5)? Are Christian woman essentially cross-dressing if they wear trousers? In this article we will seek to answer the question of the morality of women wearing pants.
The Bible is clear that God want’s women to dress like women and men to dress like men.
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” – Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV)
This is something that the vast majority of Christians would agree about. But where the disagreement comes in is what is masculine dress and what is feminine dress?
Before we dive into this I just want to share a little personal history here. I grew up in Independent Baptist churches for most of my life(and still attend one today). Back in the 80’s and still well into the 90’s it was very common for Baptist preachers to preach against women wearing pants. While they are fewer in number today – there are still some conservative churches and Christians that believe it is immoral for a woman to wear pants.
Did God command all men to wear pants in Exodus 28:41-43?
Some Christians contend that the following passage from Exodus 28:41-43 shows that God wants men to wear pants:
“41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
42 And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach:
43 And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him.” – Exodus 28:41-43 (KJV)
In Exodus 28:41-43 we see the first mention of “breeches” in the Bible. This English word was chosen to translate the Hebrew word “Miknac” which means:
“underwear, drawers, trousers
a priestly undergarment of linen”
When we look at this passage in context God is telling priests that they had to wear breeches when they came near to the altar. These were commanded to be worn ONLY during their priestly duties around the altar.
There is nothing in the passage indicating that God meant for men to wear breeches outside of this very particular situation.
Who does the Bible mention wearing skirts?
While the Bible never commands all men to wear breeches it actually does mention the skirts of men:
“A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt.” Deuteronomy 22:30 (KJV)
“And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.” 1 Samuel 24:5 (KJV)
The fact is that while there are some ancient examples of men wearing pants for the most part men did not wear breeches or pants as we call them throughout the entire Biblical time period except in limited instances where priests wore them in their priestly duties and some warriors may have worn some ancient forms of trousers when riding on horseback.
Most men and women wore tunics. Were the male and female tunics made in different styles? Yes. But both of them were continuous pieces of cloth that were sometimes worn with some type of belt – there were no pants involved. Sometimes men would wear a robe over their tunic as well.
Did God command women to always wear dresses in I Timothy 2:9?
Some Christians contend that this passage from I Timothy 2:9 commands that women should always wear dresses and it forbids them from wearing pants:
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;” – I Timothy 2:9 (KJV)
The word “modest” here in I Timothy 2:9 is an English translation of the Greek word Kosmios, which means “seemly” or “appropriate”. In modern English, most people think of a woman dressing modest as a woman dressing in a non-sexual manner. But this was not the meaning of the original word used by the Apostle Paul. Can sexually revealing clothing be “unseemly” or “inappropriate” on a woman in certain situations? Yes. But the Greek word Kosmios is not specific to sexually revealing clothing.
The word “apparel” here in I Timothy 2:9 is an English translation of the Greek word Katastole, which comes from two Greek words, Kata and Stole. This literally refers to a “complete stola”. A stola in New Testament times was a one piece robe with holes for the head and arms. Often times a strap would be worn around the middle below the breasts to give the stola some form around the body. Sometimes a stola had sleeves, other times it was sleeveless.
The roman stola was a long flowing gown as pictured below in several varieties and was worn by women exclusively.
Men on the other hand wore togas or tunics which sometimes had an outer robe. A typical tunic that a roman man would wear is seen below.
The roman male version of the female formal stola would have been the toga as picture below.
The stola was typically worn by women for formal events such as weddings and other special occasions. But during their day to day work women typically wore tunics called peplos like men with the difference that a woman’s tunic typically went down to her feet where a man’s tunic might go to his knees at the most.
As we can see here from these pictures a Roman stola looks nothing like a modern dress that women might wear today. Likewise men don’t wear togas anymore. Paul was not saying that we had to have our clothing fashions frozen to Roman era dress. But the Apostle Paul was giving us three Biblical principles here regarding a woman’s dress:
Women are to wear clothing that is appropriate to the occasion
As we previously mentioned Paul by using the Greek word Kosmios is telling women they are to wear clothing appropriate to the occasion.
Women are to wear feminine clothing
Paul is remaining consistent with Deuteronomy 22:5 in admonishing women to wear clothing that pertains to women. While the roman stola may have been different than the clothing worn in Moses time he was enforcing the concept that whatever is considered feminine dress in our culture – that is what women should be wearing.
Women are to be fully covered for the occasion of worship
The context here of I Timothy 2:9 is referring to how women are to dress when they come to worship in the assembly. Paul is literally saying here in I Timothy 2:9 that women are not to look at the Church as a fashion show but in the same way they should not wear their normal work clothes to church. Rather they should wear a stola (clearly feminine clothing meant for special occasions) and make sure it is a complete stola or fully covering them when coming to worship in the Church.
Does I Timothy 2:9 apply to women in all occasions?
Some Christians have argued that Paul’s commands here regarding the “appropriate complete stola” which is literally what “modest apparel” is translating here applies to how Christian women should dress in ALL occasions.
The general principle that women should wear clothing that is appropriate to the occasion is a principle that women should apply to all areas of their life. The general principle that women should always wear clothing that pertains to a woman as stolas specifically pertained to women in Paul’s time should apply to all areas of a woman’s life.
But do women have to wear their best clothing – the modern equivalent of the stola every day of their lives? I don’t think this is what the Apostle Paul was saying and I will explain why.
Women typically did NOT wear stolas every day but rather they wore them only for special occasions like weddings or other more formal gatherings. Instead they wore much simpler “tunic like” peplos during their day to day lives as they went about their work.
A person reading this when Paul wrote this would have understood that Paul did not mean that women had to wear their complete stola every day but rather that they should wear it for the assembly as this was a special occasion.
Both the command for men to wear breeches in their duties as priests and for women to wear complete stolas when coming to the assembly for worship were clothing commands regarding SPECIFIC and special occasions.
Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible say that men must wear pants at all times or that women must wear dresses at all times nor does it say for a woman to wear pants is a sin in and of itself.
The only way it is sin for a woman to wear pants is if her father or her husband forbids her to wear them or if she wears pants to her church when her Pastor has made it clear that female church members are to wear dresses for church services and activities.
But if a woman’s father, husband or pastor allows her to wear pants then there is no sin in her doing this as long as the pants she wears pertains to a woman and not to a man.
Where do I stand on this as a Christian husband and father? I have no problem with my wife or daughter wearing pants for their day to day activities. But when we go to Church or any other formal type of gathering I have them wear dresses. When my wife and I go out to a nice restaurant for a date I like her to wear a dress. If my wife does wear jeans for other occasions I like her to wear jeans the accentuate her figure and I don’t like baggy pants on her.
Was there a time in our culture when it would have been wrong for women to wear pants? Yes. When they were viewed as only male clothing. But as the decades have passed clothing styles have changed and pants have been designed in very feminine ways for women.
A Christian woman can definitely find pants that do indeed “pertain to a woman” that a man would not be caught dead in. For men who claim that no pants can look feminine on a woman I would bet you would never want to wear a pair of women’s slacks or skinny jeans because you know that they “pertain to a woman”.
In my previous post “7 Biblical Principles for how to dress as a Christian woman” I listed these principles for how Christian women should dress:
Principle #1 – Your physical beauty is symbolic of the spiritual beauty of the Church
Principle #2 – You should dress appropriately for the occasion
Principle #3 – You should dress in feminine clothing
Principle #4 – You should dress to please your husband
Principle #5 – Don’t be lazy with your appearance
Principle #6 – What others think does and does not matter
Principle #7 – Do not hide your beauty from other men for fear of causing lust
I encourage you to read that post where I explain each of these principles in more detail.
Also for a larger discussion on I Timothy 2:9 please see my post “What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9?”
Roman Toga Source:
By Klaus-Dieter Keller, Germany – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=721508