An article printed in Adventist Review caught my attention. It was entitled Wearing Clothes of the Opposite Sex, Does Deuteronomy 22:5 Forbid Women to Wear Slacks? 1 The author is responding to the questions that arose at the emergence of the pant suit in fashion at the time. I discovered that there are great differences of opinion on what this text means and how it is applied in our time.
A literal translation from the Hebrew reads:” There shall not be the thing of a man on a woman, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment. For whoever does these things is an abomination to Jehovah your God.” 2
Notice that this scripture is very clear that a man was not to put on woman's clothes. But God is not as specific with His instructions to women. “Thing of a man” could include garments, armor, or weapons. God's guidelines for women are stated in terms which encompass a broader scope than garments alone. However, a principle is clearly presented: There must be a distinction between the sexes.
We do not know what manner of dress distinguished men and women in Bible times, but we do know that God considered the person, who reversed His order, an abomination. There must have been a distinction in the dress of men and women. In order for men to obey the command they must have known what were the characteristics of women's dress. The Scripture indicates that slacks were not common dress for men. We know that David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe and what David's men were greatly ashamed when their garments were cut in the middle. We recall that a young lady has healed when she touched the border of Christ's garments. 3
Breeches, or linen pants were introduced by God to be worn as holy garments by the priests. This protected the priest from the potential exposure of nakedness while ministering for the people in the temple service. These pants were not worn outside of a holy ministry. 4
Was there an example in Israel's history, when God's people transgressed this Deuteronomy 22:5 command? Yes, in fact Moses and David reminded later generations about the apostasy of Baal-Peor. 5
Balaam continued to seek the favor of Balak after the Holy Spirit stopped prophesying through him. He disclosed to Balak a plan for Israel's downfall. The Midianites were distant relatives to the Jews through the lineage of Terah. Using the garb of friendship, the Midianite women began to mingle with the Israelites. They purposed to draw the attention of God's people to the heathen rites and customs of Baal-Peor. After some people accepted a few less offensive practices of heathen worship, Balaam invited them to a “religious meeting.” He was still regarded as a prophet, so the guardians of the people did not perceive his true motive. 6
How did this religious meeting transgress Deuteronomy 22:5? “In ceremonies priests [the priesthood being solely masculine] assumed both parts of wearing women's clothing…Men wore women's garments and women wore men's garments and brandished weapons.” 7
Baal-peor was the deity of this heathen system of worship. One dictionary defined Baal-Peor this way: “A Moabite deity; so called from Mount Peor, the seat of worship. A double-sexed deity of the generative and productive powers. Primitive man saw the universe as a conjunction of man and woman; he worshipped androgynous symbols of life, the bearded Aphrodite, Baal-Peor.” 8
This story is found in Numbers 25. “And Israel lived in Shittim and the people began to fornicate with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods. And the people ate and bowed themselves to their gods. And Israel was joined to Baal-Peor, and the anger of Jehovah burned against Israel.”
Baal-Peor was a god of sexual fertility, which explains why the Israelite's fornication with the Midianites was part of their worship. God was angry to see adultery, idolatry, and a blatant disobedience to his (Deuteronomy 22:5) instructions regarding distinction between the sexes. So when this apostasy came into the camp, God brought a plague of judgment upon tens of thousands of Baal-Peor worshipers. Phinehas stopped this plague by stabbing a couple in the very act of Baal-Peor relations.
This religion attempted to “bridge the gap” between the masculine and feminine through the avenue of dress. Baal-Peor means in Hebrew, “Lord (Master) of the Gap.” It is more than a coincidence that there is a store which manufactures and sells unisex clothing called, “The Gap.”
Balaam initiated a sexual revolution for the purpose of bringing the curse of God upon the Israelites, so he could get the reward promised by Balak. We are experiencing a sexual revolution today. The designers of women's clothing intentionally choose styles which blur the distinction between men and women. Ellen White predicted that crime and confusion would result. We see this fulfilled in the rise of sexual crimes and homosexuality. 9
Ellen White wrote many pages about dress reform. She was primarily concerned with the health and salvation of women. She appealed to the women in her day to remove the constrictive corsets, and to lift the skirt length from dragging the streets. The fashionable dress for women at the time was unhealthful and ornate. Therefore she wrote most often about simplicity, and warned against pride in dress. She saw that the woman's heart is often drawn away from Christ through the avenue of dress.
Does Ellen White comment at all on Deuteronomy 22:5? Yes! 10
“In this style of dress God's order has been reversed, and His special directions disregarded. Deuteronomy 22:5 (she quotes the text). God would not have his people adopt this style of dress. It is not modest apparel, and is not at all fitting for modest, humble women who profess to be Christ's followers. God's prohibitions are lightly regarded by all who advocate doing away with the distinction of dress between males and females .” 11
What was the style which was coming into vogue at that time? The American Costume was introduced by Dr. Harriet Austin of Danville, New York. It was a modification of the bloomer dress promoted by feminists Amelia Jenks Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ellen White objected to both the bloomer and the American Costume. She pronounced them to be immodest and a reversal of God's instructions in Deuteronomy 22:5. The American Costume combined a short skirt which reached about half way from the hip to the knee, with mannish-looking trousers, coat and vest. 12
Ellen White was shown vision that this style was not to be adopted by Seventh-day Adventist women for three reasons. First, it reversed God's order and directions given in Deuteronomy 22:5. Second, it was mannish, immodest, and unbecoming of women professing godliness. Third, those who advocated the American Costume were feminists and spiritualists. She expressed her concern upon the third point in strong terms:
“Those who feel called out to joint the movement in favor of women's rights and the so-called dress reform might as well sever all connection with the third angel's message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other.” 13
Why am I equating the American Costume with the modern slacks? Pants and unisex clothing are still promoted by the Feminist movement.
“Even though some very real and present abuses for woman-kind have been squarely dealt with by the feminist movement of the past, ‘equality' has always meant much more than simply the elimination of a few yards of excess material from the dress pattern. That something extra could probably not be better described than in the words of feminist Mary Tillotson, when she stated, ‘Pants are allied to power.'” 14
It is true that pants are more convenient, more comfortable, and lends more freedom. This is why the feminist movements then and now have introduced the pants into female dress. Back in the mid-nineteenth century Satan introduced a style which violated God's command. He used the extreme long dress of the day saying it would be more healthful to wear pants. But it never really took hold. In the seventies, he used the other extreme—the mini skirt. This time he said it would be more modest. This time pants became popular.
But this freedom, comfort, and convenience have had a demoralizing affect upon women. “Boldness and levity” displaced a sacred reserve, a meek and quiet spirit. The submissive role that God designed to edify His church has been confused.
For a short time, Ellen White recommended a pattern which was known as the Reform Dress or Battle Creek Dress. She made a statement about the original purpose for the reform dress, and the unfortunate result of disobedience to the Bible standard.
God designed the reform dress as a barrier to prevent the hearts of our sisters from becoming alienated from Him by following the fashions of the world. Those who removed that barrier did not take upon themselves the burden to avert the dangers which must follow. Some in responsible positions have exerted an influence in favor of worldly customs and entirely at variance with the Bible standard. They have done their part in bringing about the present state of worldliness and backsliding. God has been testing His people. He allowed the testimony concerning dress to become silent, that our sisters might follow their own inclination and thus develop the real pride existing in their hearts. It was to prevent the present state of worldliness that the reform dress was recommended. Many scorned the idea that this dress was necessary to preserve them from following the fashions; but the Lord has permitted them to prove that pride was cherished in their hearts, and that this was just what they would do. It is now shown that they needed the restriction which the reform dress imposed. 15
God is looking for women who will obey His clear guidelines regarding distinction between the sexes. We have learned from studying Baal-Peor that uni-sex clothing does not please God. When we studied about the American Costume, we discovered that pants are immodest and reverse God's order and role for women. Since the introduction of the American Costume, more and more of the sacred reserve has been lost. The skirt, which covered the pants in the American Costume, has been taken away. Modern pants are even more masculine and immodest than in Ellen White's day.
Women should prayerfully study the thoughts of God toward dress and act upon a fixed belief based on the Scriptures. Women should be governed by an internalized conviction. When women wear pants at times of recreation they reveal to the world that obeying God's laws are merely a preference. A woman who consistently wears dresses expresses God's ideal most clearly to the world, and gives an example of virtue to the glory of God.
1 Neufeld, Don Adventist Review , “Wearing Clothes of the Opposite Sex”, April 26, 1979, p.17
2 Green, Jay The Interlinear Hebrew-Aramaic Old Testament , Vol. Gen-Ruth, p. 518 Deut. 22:5.
3 1 Samuel 24:4,5; 2 Samuel 10:4; Luke 8:43,44
4 Exodus 20:26; 28:42,43; Leviticus 6:10,11; 16:4
5 Psalm 106:28; Deuteronomy 4:3
6 White, Ellen G. Patriarchs and Prophets , p. 454
7 Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols , p. 94, 167
8 Ibid , p. 94,167
9 White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1 , p. 460
10 White, Ellen G. Ibid . Chapter 11, and Selected Messages, Volume 2 Chapter 6
11 White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church, Volume 2 , p. 459,460
12 Ibid , pp. 717,718 Appendix, Comments on pages 421 and 456.
13 Ibid , pp. 457,458.
14 Penner, Doug, Sword of the Lord , Unpublished Manuscript, p. 18
Tillotson, Mary American Beauty , p. 96
15 White, Ellen G. Testimonies of the Church, Volume 4 , pp. 639-640