QUESTION: Is Deut 22:5 prohibition on cross dressing no longer a law for Christians since Jesus came and fulfilled the law?
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. NIVDeuteronomy 22:5
RESPONSE: You correctly understand that the ceremonial Law of Moses is no longer binding on God’s people. In fact, the cross lifts all the duties of the Law as a means to be made right with God. The moral duties, however, remain as a guide for Christian discipleship. The question for this passage then is, does it fall completely within the ceremonial law which has been abrogated by Jesus work, or is there some moral content which remains that aids Christian maturing?
To find out let’s remember that all the Law is about “being holy as I the Lord am Holy” – and “holy” has a sense of separation as well as moral purity. So very often, the ceremonial restrictions of the law are about maintaining separateness while there seems to be no moral content to the command itself. But because a LACK of separation would LEAD to impurity, the two are tied together.
For example, the Israelites were not to shave their heads above the ears (Lev 19:27). There is no moral content in this command – it’s about hair! This is ceremonial law with no ongoing responsibility for the Christian believer. Ah, but if we know the context of ancient Canaanite pagan worship, we see God doesn’t give the command without any moral concern whatsoever.
In Canaan, many of local priests would shave their heads in devotion to Baal. So the hair command is about maintaining strict separateness so that Israel will not be like those who worship false gods. And when we think about all the moral issues that went along with that worship (adultery, family breakdown, disease, prostitution, infanticide), suddenly the weirdly restrictive rules are given a moral imperative.
It’s the same with Deuteronomy 22:5. A little bit of research reveals that almost every pagan culture has practiced some form of cross-dressing in worship rituals. Theodore Burgh, in his book “Listening to the Artifacts” said that in ancient Mesopotamia, transvestites, men dressed like women, played and danced in the cult of Ishtar, performing erotic dances and pantomime.
In Canaan religion, their god Baal had a consort, the goddess wife Asherah and worshipers would engage in ritual prostitution with male and female cult prostitutes at hillside shines. This was to encourage these gods to mate and make the earth fertile. The Bible indicates that these cult prostitutes has specific dress (2 Kings 10:22; 23:7) for such ceremonies, as they played out the orgies of the gods.
So, the command against cross dressing likely had this in mind. It was meant to keep Israel away from all practices that had anything to do with pagan worship – which, as mentioned above, led to every kind of evil that destroys people, children and society.
Since we don’t live in Canaan where such pagan rituals thrive, what is there to take from such a command? First, this command confirms that there is male and female dress codes in all cultures and all times. Second, this gender dress-coding is independent of the actual styles or modes of dress. Which is to say that what exactly constitutes male and female dress is a culturally bound thing, but having differences in male/female dress is universal.
For example, we can’t just think of pants as male, and dresses as female (as my grandma used to think). Ancient peoples wore robes, both men and women, which to us all look like dresses or skirts, but somehow they knew the difference between male and female robes. Dress codes change constantly, but everyone in all cultures knows when someone is trying to dress like the opposite gender.
Now, if we don’t follow the dietary restrictions of the Law, should Christians ignore this concern for gender distinction in clothing?
When it comes to sex and gender Jesus taught us that the lasting moral designs of God are embedded in the creation account… which supersede Mosaic restrictions and permissions (Deut 24:1). There we see God’s sexual design infused into the duality of human gender, male and female. He makes us distinctly bifurcated into two and yet both are made in his Image. So the difference is as sacred as the Image itself. When Eve is made from Adam, we see God in their diversity – but then this very diversity is blended into a communal oneness of marriage when the “two become one flesh”.
All of this is holy.
- The Image,
- The separating of the Image into Two,
- The blending of the diverse image bearers into marital oneness again.
This all is holy because it is like God. God is a unity of diversity. So any world where one or all of these three things are diminished or denied is a world of weakened human flourishing. Because it’s a world where the beauty of God’s unity-in-diversity design is marred.
Ironically, the modern doctrine of gender fluidity destroys the beautiful complementarity between the genders, while at the same time invoking the sacredness of gender to do so!! How? Well, the message today is that you can pick your gender. But when you express a different gender than the one assigned to you at birth, everyone knows exactly the mold you must fit into in order to be that gender!
If a man wishes to be a woman, he mustn’t simply declare it. He knows instinctively what he needs to do to express that gender: soften his skin, surgically shave his brow and chin, acquire breasts, wear softer, more colorful clothing, soften his voice, grow his hair long and paint his nails and face. In other words he must conform himself to instinctual patterns of femininity. “Gender is a social construct,” we hear, therefore the line between male and female must be very blurry indeed. But if we wish to cross that line embrace this ancient gender archetype!
Well, Christians believe that these gender archetypes are so enduring and inescapable precisely because they relate to our spiritual makeup. Thus masculinity and femininity are sacred because they both, in complementary ways, express the Image of God. That’s why Christians treat them as inviolable and resist transgenderism (even if we readily acknowledge and have compassion for that real and troubling psychological condition). God speaks through Nature and human nature is clearly built on male and female, therefore we Christians don’t presume to challenge that or erase what is inerasable.
But it’s not surprising that when cultures suppress this truth, sex starts to become a free for all (see Romans 1). Ideas have consequences, and if a society carries the idea that sex is not designed and carries no implicit higher meaning, then whatever makes you feel good sexually becomes our only guiding principle. In such a world, unlimited sexual experimentation would not only be allowed, it would be encouraged because we are now the gods who get to invent meaning. We get to take this accidental outcome of Nature (sex) and express it however we want (even while we bow to these inbuilt gender archetypes!).
So, we may not live where priests cross-dress to incite sexual intercourse that spills the bounds of committed, monogamous, heterosexual love – but given our current doctrines on gender, perhaps we do live in Canaan after all! To this extent, Deut 22:5 may not be binding on believers, yet it hints strongly at the beauty and inviolable duality of human gender from Creation.
Now let me be clear: this doesn’t mean Moses should be used to dictate any particular modes of dress for male or female Christians today. Styles are very culturally relative and similar modes can have male and female versions. Even so we affirm gender distinction, expressed in our clothing, built on the sacred masculine and sacred feminine and the dance of Oneness between them. This duality reflects God back to us so beautifully, Christians cannot go along with any way of thinking or dressing that intentionally tries to blur it.