When the devil has persuaded us to surrender one article of faith to him, he has won; in effect he has all of them, and Christ is already lost. He can at will unsettle and take all others, for they are all intertwined and linked together like a golden chain so that if one link is broken, the entire chain is broken and can be pulled apart. There is no article which the devil cannot overthrow once he has succeeded in having reason dabble in doctrine and speculate about it. Reason knows how to turn and twist Scripture in a masterly fashion into conformity with its views. This is very agreeable, like sweet poison.
This isn't a difficult issue. Deuteronomy 22:5 isn't hard to understand. It isn't even hard to apply in our culture. However, like many other issues, it becomes difficult because of the pressure of this world system in which we reside. What men have done to Deuteronomy 22:5 reminds me of what they also do with 1 Corinthians 11:3 among other verses. Theologians go back into history and etymology to define "head" as "source" instead of "authority over" (an article that deals with this issue, and another). They do this to support an egalitarian society without male headship, removing distinctions in role between men and women.
In the case of Deuteronomy 22:5 men use the same types of arguments . I think they're even worse. They simply speculate the intention of the biblical text. God prohibits women from putting on the male garment and men from putting on the female garment, but instead the intention was to avoid Canaanite worship rituals or to stop women from impersonating men for purposes of seduction, or if those don't work, to keep women from attempting to join the military. All of those read into the text something that isn't there.
I believe that the intention of the text of Deuteronomy 22:5 is interesting. However, what we're guessing was the intention could not be the intention if it changes the plain meaning of the words and syntax of the verse itself. You can't start getting into intention until you understand what the verse is saying. Nothing in the surrounding context of the verse will help us understand the intent. Explaining a probable intention after understanding the meaning of the verse could help someone who doesn't wish to obey the verse. It could help someone comprehend why God would say someone is an abomination. However, we shouldn't allow possible intent to alter the clear meaning of the verse. I believe what men are doing is what Jesus warned the Pharisees about in Mark 7:13:
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.The Pharisees didn't just teach for doctrines the commandments of men (Mk 7:7). They also made the Word of God of none effect. Many professing Christians want to make Deuteronomy 22:5 of none effect. They don't like the law. It embarrasses them before the world. So they nullify it with all sorts of strained hermeneutical ploys. Know what? You can chop the verse up however you want to. You're still responsible to keep it. And don't tell me you love God if you won't.
How Men Have Understood Deuteronomy 22:5
Here are some commentators and their understanding of this plain verse.
Barnes' Notes were published in 1884-1885, and it states,
[D]istinctions between sexes is natural and divinely established, and cannot be neglected without indecorum and consequent danger to purity (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3-15).
Keil and Delitzsch, foremost Hebrew scholars, wrote:
As the property of a neighbor was to be sacred in the estimation of an Israelite, so also the divine distinction of the sexes, which was kept sacred in civil life by the clothes peculiar to each sex, was to be not less but even more sacredly observed. There shall not be man's things upon a woman, and a man shall not put on a woman's clothes.
Pulpit Commentary states,
[T]his is an ethical regulation in the interest of morality. . . . Whatever tends to obliterate the distinction between sexes tends to licentiousness, and that the one sex should assume the dress of the other has always been regarded as unnatural and indecent.
Lange's Commentary reads,
The distinction between the sexes is natural and established by God in their creation, and any neglect or violation of that distinction, even in the externals, not only leads to impurity, but involve (sic) the infraction of the law of God.
Louis Entzminger wrote in 1936,
Notice v. 5 (Deuteronomy 22), forbidding women to wear male attire. This law was given to preserve the distinction of the sexes which was established at the creation of male and female.
Joseph Excell wrote in 1849, as recorded in The Biblical Illustrator: Deuteronomy:
God thought womanly attire of enough importance to have it discussed in the Bible. Just in proportion as the morals of a country or an age are depressed is that law defied. Show me the fashion-plates of any century from the time of the Deluge to this, and I will tell you the exact state of public morals. Ever and anon we have imported from France, or perhaps invented on this side of the sea, a style that proposes as far as possible to make women dress like men. The costumes of the countries are different, and in the same country may change, but there is a divinely ordered dissimilarity which must be forever observed. . . . In my text, as by a parable, it is made evident that Moses, the inspired writer, as vehemently as ourselves, reprehends the effeminate man and the masculine woman.
In a sermon entitled, "The Sinfulness of Strange Apparel," Puritan preacher Vincent Alsop said in the mid 17th Century:
Nothing can justly pretend to be lawful ornament, which takes away the distinction which God has put between the two sexes.—That law, Deut xxii. 5, is of moral equity and perpetual obligation: . . . That which pertaineth, keli—The word signifies any "vessel, instrument, utensil, garment, or ornament," military or civil, used for the discrimination of the sex: so Ainsworth (In Pentateuchum). . . . God therefore will have the distinction between the sexes inviolably observed in the outward apparel. . . . What particular form of apparel shall distinguish the one sex from the other, must be determined by the custom of particular countries; provided that those customs do not thwart some general law of God, the rule of decency, the ends of the apparel, or the directions of scripture.
Matthew Poole wrote in 1560,
Now this (a woman wearing a man's garment) is forbidden, partly for decency's sake, that men might not confound nor seem to confound those sexes which God hath distinguished, that all appearance of evil might be avoided, such change of garments carrying a manifest umbrage or sign of softeness and effeminacy in a man, of arrogance and impudency in the woman, of lightness and petulancy in both, and partly to cut off all suspicions and occasions of evil, which this practice opens wide door unto.
Jewish scholar Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in 1966:
It seems to us that it is clear that, according to this way of taking the prohibition, is not so much disguising one's sex by dressing in female clothes as forbidding each sex that which is more specifically pertaining to the nature of the opposite one. A man is just as little to get himself up with powder and paint and lipstick, etc.; which is all quite in order for women to do, and is in accordance with feminine nature, as a woman is to appear in a profession which belongs to the nature of men.
The Jewish Publication Society Commentary: Deuteronomy, states,
"Put on a man's apparel," Literally, "a man's keli may not be on a woman." The translation "apparel" makes this clause synonymous with the second part of the verse; it is based on the fact that the plural of keli means "clothing" in rabbinic Hebrew. . . . The halakhah combines both views: women may not wear armor or clothing, hairdos, or other adornments that are characteristic of men, not may men wear what is characteristic of women (what is characteristic of each sex is defined by local practice).
Walter C. Kaiser, who has a tremendous handle of the Old Testament law, writes concerning Deuteronomy 22:5,
The maintenance of the sanctity of the sexes established by God in the created order is the foundation for this legislation, and not opposition to idolatrous practices of the heathen. The tendency to obliterate all sexual distinctions often leads to licentiousness and promotes unnaturalness opposed to God's created order. Such a problem can arise in contemporary culture when unisex fashions are aimed at producing the bland person in a progressive desexualization of men and women. Thus, this provision aims mainly at one's clothes as an indication of one's sex.
Baptist Commentary says,
The text teaches that Israel was to maintain a clear-cut distinction between the sexes. It was, thus, necessary that clothing, as well as other things, which pertained to one, must not be utilized by the other.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says,
It is this fundamental principle which underlies the opening requirement of this section (i.e., of Deut. 22) that the distinction between man and woman should not be blurred by the one's appropriating the characteristic articles of the other (Deut. 22:5).
Davis' Dictionary of the Bible reads,
By the Mosaic law a man was forbidden to wear a garment that pertains to a woman, and a woman to wear that belonging to a man (Deut. Xxii.5; cp. 1 Cor. Xi. 6, 14).
J. Ridderbos in the Bible Student's Commentary: Deuteronomy, states,
The wearing of clothes of the opposite sex is forbidden.
Fred H. Wright in Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, writes,
The law of Moses forbade a man to wear a woman's clothing and a woman to wear a man's clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5).
Merrill Unger says,
While the costume of men and women was very similar, there was an easily recognizable distinction between the male and female attire of the Israelites, and accordingly Mosaic law forbids men to wear women's clothes, and vice versa (Deuteronomy 22:5).
Jack S. Deere on "Deuteronomy" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes,
The same Hebrew word translated "detests" (toebah, lit., "a detestable thing;" KJV, "an abomination") is used to describe God's view of homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). . . . Since this law was related to the divine order of Creation and since God detests anyone who does this, believers today ought to heed this command.
For those who try to make "intention" guide the actual meaning of the verse, we have these commentators.
Jewish rabbi, Rabbi Tilson, reports what the Jewish literature says about this position:
Some commentators have noted, however, that this understanding as explained by Rashi and the Shulhan Arukh does not seem to be based on the language of the verse. If the Torah had wanted to prohibit men from going out among women in women's dress it could have said that. This context of social mixing of men and women is imposed on the verse.
Earl S. Kalland writes in the Expositor's Bible Commentary:
The prohibition against a woman wearing the habiliments of a man and of a man wearing the clothing of woman can scarcely refer to transvestism . . . evidence for religious transvestism in ancient Canaanite religion is not conclusive.
For more information on this topic, read the study here.
More to Come. I'll be showing that this is the historic application of Deuteronomy 22:5.