Is it wrong for Christian women to wear pants?

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”

http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/miknac.html

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.

RomanToga

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.

Conclusion

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

7 Biblical Principles for how to dress as a Christian woman

Beautiful summery girl

Does God care about how you as a Christian women dress? Does the Bible provide guidelines for how a Christian woman should dress?

If you are looking for an exact dress code, down to lengths of clothing and what parts of your body must be covered when and where you will find no such thing in the Bible. However, if you are looking for Biblical principles that can guide you as Christian a woman in how to dress the Bible does give these principles.

Here are some Biblical principles for women’s dress that should guide you as you select your clothing, whether it is when you purchase it, or when you are choosing when to wear it.

Principle #1 – Your physical beauty is symbolic of the spiritual beauty of the Church

Your beauty is symbolic of the beauty of the church.

Psalm 45 which is a messianic prophecy of Christ and the Church says this:

“So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him…The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework…” -Psalm 45:13-14(KJV)

In Ephesians 5, where Paul talks about marriage being symbolic of the relationship of Christ to his Church he writes:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” – Ephesians 5:25-27(KJV)

Just as God wants his Church to be glorious, without spot or wrinkle, and without blemish, so too a woman should keep up her appearance, not only for her husband if she is married, but also out of respect for the symbolism for which God designed her.

So when you as a woman dress, you should accentuate your beauty knowing that your physical beauty, is symbolic of the spiritual beauty of Christ’s Bride, the Church. You dress first and foremost to please God and to show the beauty of his creation – which is you!

Principle #2 – You should dress appropriately for the occasion

Contrary to the modern meaning of modesty, the Biblical meaning of a woman dressing modestly means that women are to dress “appropriately”. Modesty is such a huge subject, and especially the interpretation of passages such as I Timothy 2:9 that I needed to write an entire separate post on the topic. You can find it here at What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9.

In summary though, dressing modestly Biblically speaking does not specifically mean “not dressing in a sexual way”. It means to dress appropriately for the occasion. So while it may be perfectly acceptable for you to wear a bikini to the beach, it would not be appropriate for you to wear a bikini to a job (unless you are a life guard or a model) or to a church service.

Principle #3 – You should dress in feminine clothing

Someone should be able to look at your clothes wherever you go, and just by your clothing they should be able to tell you are a woman. Yes clothing styles change, but a woman should always look like a woman in her culture (whatever women wear) and a man should look like a man (whatever men wear).

“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 passage from Deuteronomy does not forbid a woman from wearing pants (yes there are some Christians who still teach this). There was a time in our culture and history where pants were strictly the purview of men, and at those times it may have been wrong for a woman to wear pants, especially when there were no pants designed especially for women. But fashions and styles do change, and women have pants now that are made and cut especially for them, and these pants are pants a man would not be caught dead in.

In Roman society, before 200 BC, men and women both wore togas. After 200 BC women began to wear stolas and only prostitutes still wore togas like men. Before 200 BC, when men and women both wore togas, the only difference may have been a colorful belt or the color of the material that would have separated a man from a woman. Even after 200 BC, peasant men and women still both wore tunics for their daily work. Only color variations or belts may have separated them.

This would be exactly the same as men and women both wearing pants today – there is no issue with this as long as the woman’s pants communicate a feminine style as we understand it in our culture.

Nice woman in a pink dress

Principle #4 – You should dress to please your husband

Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” – Ephesians 5:24 (KJV)

God wants women to submit to their husbands in everything.  Everything includes how you dress and how you manage your appearance as well as many other things.

When you are married, you should dress to please your husband. Find out what colors he likes on you, find out what styles he likes and try to wear those types of clothes.

This also means you should dress sexy for your husband in the appropriate circumstances. If you know your husband will be taking you out for a night on the town, why not go pick up some sexy dress to wear for him? If you doubt whether this is right or wrong, I invite you read my post I referred to earlier What does Modesty mean in I Timothy 2:9.

There is nothing wrong with you looking sexy for your husband in the appropriate circumstances, whether that is wearing lingerie for him at home, or wearing a sexy dress for a night on the town, or wearing a sexy bathing suit for a trip to beach. Your body is work of art that God has graciously gifted to your husband, and you should not be hiding your beauty.

Principle #5 – Don’t be lazy with your appearance

Yes big tee shirts and sweats are more comfortable than wearing attractive clothing. But as a Christian woman your appearance is important to God (see principle #1). If you are married, God has given you to your husband and your appearance should be (and most likely will be) important to him (see principle #4).

As believers, and specifically as a Christian woman, God wants you to do everything you can to the best of your ability. It is one thing if you are sick, or if you are doing some work around the house then your clothing might not be as attractive. But besides those limited times, a woman has duty to keep up her appearance, not only for God but also for her husband.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord”

Colossians 3:23(NIV)

Modern Christian women today mock the women of the 1950’s who prided themselves in making themselves pretty before their husbands came home from work – what was wrong with that? This is what God wants from Godly Christian women.

Does this mean you have to have a dress and nylons on each day and go to the beauty salon before your husband gets home? Of course not. But what it means is making sure you have showered, that you have done your hair and maybe you have an attractive pair of jeans on with a nice shirt when you husband gets home.

You should not view this as some dreary task, but it should be looked at as a privilege and honor that is given you by God, your ability to make yourself beautiful!

Principle #6 – What others think does and does not matter

This is a very important principle for you as a Christian woman to understand.

In some cases it does matter what others think of how you are dressed. If you as a Christian woman wear the wrong clothing for the wrong occasion, it might offend others and also bring shame on Christ if they know you are a Christian.

You can wear a bikini to the beach, but if you wore it to Church others would be offended, and they would be right in being offended, because that is inappropriate attire for Church (see I Timothy 2:9).

But let’s turn the bikini situation around when you go to the beach. If you and your husband are going to the beach and you happen to be wearing a bikini, and there happens to be a family there from church they need to leave that between you and the Lord. The only exception I would say to this is if you were specifically going to the beach with a family whom you knew were opposed to bikinis, then temporarily out of respect you might not wear one in that instance.

You should not be picking dresses out for a night on the town with your husband, with the thought in your mind of “what would this person think or that person from church think if they saw me wearing this with him” – your thoughts should only be of two people, God and your husband.

God is not ashamed of your beauty, your husband is not ashamed of your beauty, and neither should you be ashamed of your beauty.

Principle #7 – Do not hide your beauty from other men for fear of causing lust

Many Christian women have since the early days of the church dressed with this idea in mind – that they cannot wear nice things for their husband or show their figure as they may cause other men to lust in doing so.  If you believe that Church tradition trumps Biblical theology, then I can’t help you. But if you understand that well-meaning men and women (even some Church fathers who came after the Apostles) added a lot of tradition to God’s Word then I can help you.

I invite you to read my post on What does the Bible say about Lust to fully understand the issue of lust from a Biblical perspective. A summary of what I said in that post is that Lust is not the same as sexual arousal.

There is no shame in a woman displaying her beauty, and there is no shame in men appreciating that beauty or even being sexually aroused by that beauty. Before you reject that premise, please read the post I just mentioned. Sin comes with how men handle their sexual arousal, or appreciation of the female form.

If he begins to think of how he can actually get you to go to bed with him (and you are not married) then those have become lustful thoughts, sexually covetous thoughts. But as a Christian woman you don’t have to go around at all time with a sheet over your entire body from head to toe as to not cause men to lust after you.

No scripture ever teaches this concept, it is completely added by the traditions of men.

Conclusion

I hope as a Christian woman you will search the Scriptures. Then discuss this respectfully with your husband. If you need to make changes, then make them. Know that God wants your best in all areas of your life, and dressing in beautiful ways appropriate to the occasion is what God has called you to. Do not hide the beautiful work of art that God has made, but display it in ways that please both God and your husband.