Can men wear women's clothes? What does Deuteronomy 22:5 mean?
Deuteronomy 22:5 has two prohibitions wrapped into one verse. The purpose of this Q&A is to determine the meaning of this verse.
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. Deuteronomy 22:5 (NASB)
Women Shall Not Wear Men’s Clothing
The first part of the verse prohibits women from wearing men’s clothing and from using a wide variety of items normally associated with men. Unfortunately, the English translations of the verse are inadequate. Notice that the Hebrew word that is translated as “clothing” in the first part of Deuteronomy 22:5 is כְלִי־ or keli. This Hebrew word means more than just clothing (see Exodus 22:7; Leviticus 11:32; 13:49). Keli includes utensils such as for the temple (Exodus 30:28), armor (Judges 9:54), weapons (1 Samuel 21:8), pottery (2 Samuel 17:28) and other things relative to men.[2, 3] When the word is translated as clothing, it is translated as male clothing. That is, God is prohibiting women from wearing men’s clothing and appearing as men. For example, women cannot wear men’s clothes, wear men’s hairdos or wear men’s watches, medallions or other male artifacts. God is referring to a habitual pattern of life.
Men Shall Not Wear Women’s Clothing
The second part of the verse prohibits men from wearing women’s clothing too! But the Hebrew word for clothing in the second part of the verse is שִׂמְלַ֣ת or simla. The word is different from the word translated as “clothing” in the first part of the verse. Simla refers to women’s clothing explicitly. This means that men cannot wear women’s clothing! The meaning of the word is narrower than keli.
Abomination to the LORD Your God
The last part of the verse is a warning that “whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.” This statement helps us understand that this command from the Lord our God seeks to maintain the sanctity of the distinction between the sexes which was established by the creation of man and woman (Genesis 1:27).
Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits men from dressing like women and women from dressing like men. God warns us to maintain the distinctions of the sexes that He created. This means that men must not wear long hair and women must not wear short hair like a man (Is it wrong for Christians to cut their hair?). Women are to dress like women and men are to dress like men. This does not mean that man cannot wear some article of clothing temporarily, such as wearing a woman’s coat to stay warm or vice versa. This does not mean that it is wrong for a woman to be bald if she loses her hair due to chemotherapy.
What God is prohibiting is an intentional blurring of the difference between men and women. Men are not to be transvestites or dress as woman for comical reasons. Men are to look like men and women are to look like women.
1. Keil and Delitzch. Commentary On The Old Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. 2006. vol. 1, p. 945.
2. Peter Craigie. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans Publishing. 1976. p. 287. Note, Peter Craig adds that keli includes not only clothing, but ornaments, weapons, etc., normally associated with men. In the second clause, women’s clothing is specified explicitly.
3. Sarna and Potok. Deuteronomy. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. 1996. p. 200.
4. Ibid. Peter Craigie.
5. Ibid. Keil and Delitzch. Note: Keil and Delitzch state, “The immediate design of this prohibition was not to prevent licentiousness, or to oppose idolatrous practices . . . but to maintain the sanctity of that distinction of the sexes which was established by the creation of man and woman . . .”
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