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Home Table of contents Introduction Section One Section Two Section Three Section Four Epilogue Appendix A Appendix B

S2 Intro
Genesis 1-2
Genesis 18-19
Deut. 22
Deut. 23
1 Cor. & 1 Tim.
Lev. 18 & 20
Romans 1


Deuteronomy 22:5
Abominable Fashion Statements

 

The debate: Is cross-dressing prohibited in the Bible, and does this verse have anything to say to transgender persons today?

Deuteronomy 22:5

A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the LORD your God. (NRSV)

The Point: This is a religious prohibition for the ancient Israelites, and it's probably tied to the fertility rituals of Israel's very tempting neighbors.



Deep Thoughts:
Is there something deep down wrong about cross-dressing? If yes, then what clothing can each gender wear--and from what time period? The fact is that clothing styles have evolved throughout history--and so has our sense of what is feminine and masculine. Therefore, the most one could argue from this verse is that honorable men and women are to wear clothing that reflects the gender expectations of their present day situation. Before making the case that Deuteronomy 22:5 doesn't apply to Christians, let's examine why it was written in the first place.

Two reasons: 1) To maintain the exalted status of men; 2) To combat the fertility religions of ancient Israel's neighbors. Regarding the exalted status of men in ancient Israel, it's essential to note that this verse was written in a society and time period in which men were important and women were not. So what was the value of anything deemed feminine in Israelite society, and/or the even worse status that most women held throughout the rest of the Roman Empire? Not much. Therefore, a man was seen to be degrading himself by wearing any clothing item that would make him seem effeminate (i.e., less than a man). Similarly, no woman should aspire to the greatness of a man--even by dressing like one. 

So if we are to apply this verse, its concern isn't about specific items of clothing but about maintaining the status of men over women. By enforcing gender rules, males--in most cultures--have dominated women for thousands of years. Even today, women on average don't make as much money as men. 

As for combating the appeal of her neighbor's fertility religions (e.g., nothing says "church growth" like temple prostitutes), this was an ongoing struggle that scholars believe to have been the driving force behind a number of Israel's religious laws. Specifically about cross-dressing rituals, archeologists have discovered evidence at multiple sites around the ancient Near East that rites of male-female clothing exchanges took place in the fertility religions of Israel's neighbors.  From this we learn what made Israel religiously distinct from, but not necessarily better than, her neighbors. Such distinctions had as much or more to do with religious nationalism (i.e., each country typically had its own gods and rituals), than an honest pursuit of truth. Religiously, Judaism chose to fight her sexy international competition, the fertility religions, by simply declaring the enticing rituals of her foes to be taboo.

Next, let's look at why this verse doesn't apply to Christians today. Skipping the fact that in today’s fashions most garments are non-gender specific, there are several different lines of attack we can take here—I’ll save my favorite for last. First, the literal scope of Deuteronomy 22:5 is limited to cross-dressing. It makes no comment on transgender individuals, only individuals who dress in opposition to their gender. Transgender persons have no problem here, for they do dress according to their gender when they embrace themselves as being transgender. Ironically, transgender persons would only be in violation of this verse when they dressed according to conservative Christian ethical standards.

"T" in GLBT

Second, since this verse is the extent of all the verses in the whole Bible that can be claimed to speak on the subject matter of transgender persons, this issue was likely of little concern to the Biblical writers. Theologians know that when an issue truly mattered to the Biblical writers it became a repeated theme found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the writer of this verse thought so little of this issue that he didn’t even attach a punishment to the act of cross-dressing.

Thirdly, Judaism’s Law doesn’t apply to Christians (note: a detailed discussion of this point will be made later in reviewing Leviticus 18 & 20). Most Christians realize this to some extent, but this concept is least understood by conservative Christian leaders—the lovers of selective literalism. To the conservative Christian leader, any verse that can be construed to bash a perceived enemy of this leader’s belief system becomes a good verse for the modern Christian to live by. Although such leaders think they’re the great protectors of God’s truth, that isn’t how religious indoctrination works, for indoctrination has little concern for true debate; rather, it mindlessly seeks the continuation of a set of unquestionable beliefs.

Yet my favorite reason this verse doesn’t apply to anyone—perhaps ever—comes from an examination of the verse’s context. To a reader of books, context is everything. So if you’ve got the time, grab a Bible and read a chapter or two on each side of Deuteronomy 22:5 in order to get a quick sense of its immediate context. As you’re reading, try taking note of all the verses that are absolutely absurd by any standard—if you still believe in inerrancy, the horror of finding such stupid verses in the Bible will pretty much kill you. Okay, here’s a quick list of some of my favorites:

bullet20:16-18: When conquering the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, the Israelites were allegedly told to absolutely slaughter them—men, women, children, and livestock. I’m sorry, but today we call that genocide (very comparable to Hitler, folks).
bullet21:18-21: Disobedient sons can be stoned to death. Can you say child abuse?
bullet22:6: If you happen upon a nest of birds while you are out walking, then only eat the baby birds and let the mother go free. Perhaps eating the mother bird would be the sin of gluttony or maybe one can only eat one generation of birds at a time.
bullet22:9: If you’ve got a vineyard, you can only plant one type of seed or else! Damn unions.
bullet22:11: Never wear clothing of more than one fiber. For being the Creator of the Universe, God doesn’t seem to be very fashion conscious.
bullet22:12: Don’t forget to attach tassels to your cloak. I’m good on that one.
bullet22:28-29: If a rapist of a virgin girl is caught in the act, he must pay the girl’s father 50 shekels of silver and take the girl as his wife—whom he can never divorce "since he has exploited her" (NAB). Okay, so one way to get a wife is to rape her--with the door open so you get caught, then pay her father 50 shekels of silver. And God’s inerrant Word to women on this matter is what—stand by your rapist???
bullet23:2: If you’ve got crushed testicles or your penis got chopped off somehow, then don’t even think about trying to be admitted to "the assembly of Yahweh." God is gay!
bullet23:13-15: All bowel movements must happen outside of your campsite, for God sometimes likes to walk around one’s campsite—and make sure you cover it with dirt or God will abandon you (excrement really bugs him). This one I actually agree with.

There’s lots more, but I’m getting upset. This crap isn’t God’s Word to anyone! The really sad thing is that conservative Biblical scholars have to try and talk their way around hundreds of equally absurd verses in the Bible just to blindly maintain a view of Scripture that makes God out to be worthy of hell. As I’ve said before, the Bible becomes the Word of God when the Spirit shows us how to walk through all these minefields of BS in order to find the pebbles of truth on the other side. Unfortunately, reading Deuteronomy is a lot like eating a badly filleted fish—it’s hardly worth the effort.

As for how the Church today might overcome its failed history and begin to open its heart to transgender persons, Jesus’ instruction would be disarmingly simple: love them into your hearts with your best quality love. To love like that we would have to be intentional—both as churches and individuals. Perhaps more to the point, to love like that most of us would have to learn anew how to love. Therefore, as churches and individuals, let’s each begin where we’re at, for we know we’ll get nowhere without first responding to Jesus’ call to love—and it’s awfully hard to love others when we hate ourselves.

The bottom line: Jesus welcomes everyone into his family—even people who come to realize their gender doesn’t match their genitalia. As we have seen, there are many reasons why Deuteronomy 22:5 isn’t a valid teaching for Christians. While some will respond to my attacks by defending the absolute perfection of Scripture, I believe it is much more important to defend the absolute perfection of God. The bottom line is that the writer of Deuteronomy has presented us with a portrait of God that is utterly blasphemous—a god that is absolutely unworthy of our worship. From the example of Old Testament heroes like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego—who courageously risked their lives by refusing to worship false gods—let us gain the courage to increasingly confront the false god(s) of conservative Christianity.

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©2001 Chris D. Kramer