Monday, May 09, 2011

John MacArthur on Deuteronomy 22:5

John MacArthur, the Southern California, evangelical pastor, popular radio teacher, and favorite of many fundamentalists, on sheer interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:5 says that it means the same thing that I say it does. I include this here for those who treat what I have written like it is some kind of weird, corn-pone, back-of-the-turnip-truck, type of interpretation. Here's what he says in at least one location (in 1977):

It is an abomination to God for someone to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. It is abominable to God; but I wanna show you something very interesting here. "That which pertaineth to a man," and the term garments, as I looked those up in the Hebrew, I found some most interesting things. "That which pertaineth" is more than clothes in the Hebrew. The word means anything pertaining to the opposite sex, and the lexicon says such as clothes, implements, tools, weapons, utensils, ornaments, or jewelry. How interesting.

In other words, anything that tends to obliterate or rub out the distinction that is in the design of God is an abomination to Him. . . . God wants to keep a very visible, obvious distinction; because He knows that Satan will try to undo that distinction, because it's a part of abominating God. You see, when God made humanity, He made male and female. He created them and said, "They two are to become one flesh." And Satan will forever try to rub out the uniqueness of man and woman.

He's saying that it means the same thing that I do. He's saying that it is saying the same thing as commentators and preachers have said in the history of Christianity. He doesn't deny that it says what it says.

I left out the section where he says that it is acceptable for women to wear pants, because that wasn't my point. I don't agree with his argumentation for that application of Deuteronomy 22:5. His argumentation there, I believe, is poor. It shows the pressure in our society that he has to even bring in pants at that point in the argument in order to justify them for women. Here's the argument that he uses for that application, and it is an application, not the interpretation:

Now this is not trying to teach that women shouldn't wear pants...Women should wear pants meant for women...People say, "Well, women should never wear pants." No, no, you see, in this time, when this verse was written, the men wore skirts...That argument doesn't make it. The point here is, if you're gonna wear pants, wear women's pants. If you're gonna wear pants as a man, wear men's; and if you're gonna be a...if you're a man, then be a man in every way you manifest yourself; and if you're a woman, then be a woman, even to the point that you don't use the utensils, the implements, the tools, and the weapons, and the ornaments that pertain to a man.

His avoidance of the application to pants is weak. It's the single most obvious, the primary way that Deuteronomy 22:5 is actually obeyed. That distinction, the pant-skirt one, is the way our culture has applied Deuteronomy 22:5, and it never did change that distinction based upon any kind of biblical basis. When it did change, it was based upon disobedience to the distinction. But here's the problem with his application. First, anyone can make the argument that a particular item of clothing or an implement is made for men or women---"these earrings are men's earrings," "this necklace is a male necklace." At West Point (where my son is), they have military uniforms that are designed for women, that look just like men's camouflage, but men couldn't get them on---they are shaped different in the hips and the buttocks. A man couldn't wear a woman's camouflage---they are women's. There is no movement among professing Christian pant-wearers to enforce some standard of women's pants. No marks have been designed to make that distinction. The pants themselves were the distinction---they themselves were the male dress---not some item about pants that caused men's and women's pants to differ from one another. This is still the case.

Second, men didn't wear skirts at the time Deuteronomy 22:5 was written. They both wore robes, but saying that men wore skirts is a misrepresentation. I just wag my head on that one. And their robes had designed differences---the robes were not an attempt to erase distinction, like pants obviously did and have done. It was how they made clothing at that time---the robe was the extent of clothing making. However, only men would gird up their robes. God commanded Job on two different occasions (Job 38:3; 40:7) to gird up his loins "like a man." Only men gird their garments, not women. Pants permanently gird a garment. God designated only men to gird their garments. Women wearing girded garments are wearing male garments. This is not a cultural argument.

Third, he doesn't tell us what women's pants are. If this is such an important issue, that makes someone an abomination to God, if he or she were to violate the teaching, then we should hear what the distinction or distinctions are that make pants uniquely women's pants. The reason there are none is because they were never intended for distinction, but for sameness. And then when you get into the utensils and implements, why not be a help by telling people what are female ones and what are male ones. MacArthur says very boldly that Satan would want to use this, to blur the distinctions. And MacArthur doesn't help clear up how this is done, which would seem to continue to aid Satan in his endeavor.

I can appreciate that MacArthur is honest with the text. He tells what it really means. He doesn't try to explain it away or ignore it like so many preachers. I do think this is something MacArthur wouldn't touch on today. Doing it in 1977 was a lot safer, more acceptable. I don't imagine him broaching it today. However, he misses the application and then he is very ambiguous and vague. That is unhelpful. Someone can explain his way out of about anything as it relates to how MacArthur applies Deuteronomy 22:5.

In the end, again, however, MacArthur says Deuteronomy 22:5 means the same thing we say it does.


Gary Webb said...

Pastor Brandenburg,
I find it interesting that Pastor MacArthur agrees in interpretation with the antichrist authorities in our community but disagrees in application. The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill did not allow women to wear pants to class before the 1960s. Even their women's basketball team wore some type of kilt. In Carrboro the "Center For Peace Education" put out a list of definitions for words that had to do with sexual perversion such as dyke, gay, etc. In their definition for "transvestite" they said that women today wore men's clothing but that this had become acceptable to our society. Do you suppose they were referring to women wearing pants?

Anonymous said...

What I have trouble wrapping my head around is this - why is wearing pants such a big deal for the women who want to wear pants, and the men who will go to such lengths to defend them on it?

Seriously, what is the big deal about wearing pants instead of dresses, skirts, etc?

Has it not occurred to these Christian women and men that the whole basis for it is indeed rebelliousness? That when a Christian woman wears pants, she is doing so because she is, knowingly or not, following the world in its rebellion against traditional standards that our society had that were based on obedience to the Bible?

Why will folks like the SI crowd, for instance, get so worked up about someone using Deut. 22:5 to say that women shouldn't wear pants? Why will these folks expend so much time and energy trying to engineer some sort of way to make Deut. 22:5 not say that women shouldn't wearing pants, yet they will not show the same diligence in defending other biblical doctrines from attack?

If nothing else, the "pro-pants" people definitely have their priorities way out of whack.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Very interesting on women now wearing men's clothing. Of course, they have nothing to lose. I say, yes, they mean pants. Maybe you could ask them.


I was thinking the same thing as you. If there is nothing to pants being the application, then why would he spend so much effort attempting to say it wasn't the application. Is it because women would know that it was the application? If it isn't the application, then you don't need to spend time on something that isn't the application. I believe he doesn't spend time on telling us what the application is, is just ambiguous, so that there is always deniability. No one will ever be able to judge, because no one knows. This is the normal fear that seems to exist in even conservative evangelicalism. Controlled by fear, not by faith. By the way, the passage doesn't say everyone wears skirts, and evangelicals usually have a big problem with going beyond scripture, saying something that scripture doesn't say.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little lost by the remarks about West Point. Are you saying that the women's uniforms are right or wrong? Good or bad? I'm just not understanding what point you are making. I know you said that they are cut differently, but so are civilian women's pants. Yet, the camo design is probably the same for both men and women (I'm assuming). In civvy clothes, the design is sometimes different between men's and women's pants. For example, a guy usually does not want to wear pink silky pants with lace. I'm probably just dense today, but could you elaborate on the part about West Point? Thanks

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous,

I wish that Anonymous folks would just say their name. I don't know what they're so afraid of.

What do I mean with my reference to the girls at West Point? The big argument that I always, always hear on pants is that men wouldn't wear women's pants (usually followed by laughter). And the point is that they are different size and shape. MacArthur's point is that there are women's pants and men's pants. It's true. They are different size and shape. That's it. Or is there something more? He doesn't say. He says they all wore skirts in Bible times. What's the point of that? The point was difference, not sameness.

You are saying that women's pants are pink and silky. Is that the design difference that makes women's pants, well, women's? OK, so if women wear blue jeans are they an abomination to God? I'll await that answer. And then move on with my comments.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the cut of men's and women's garments are different, owing to differences in physiques. And the design of some women's garments are different from men's: the pink silky example. The design of the cloth in other examples seems to be the same: for example I've seen both men and women's slacks in a navy blue pin stripe. I see both wearing blue jeans. In most cases, it seemed as if the cut was different, but the fabric design was the same.

However, my question dealt with the women's uniforms at West Point. I simply did not catch your attitude toward them. Do you approve of the women's uniforms? Why or why not? Thanks!

Kent Brandenburg said...


Women wore smaller robes too. Do you think that was the distinction for Deut 22:5? They wore the same garment, identical, except men are bigger than women? That's where we're at today with dress. Men and women wear the same garment and there is no designed distinction. Sure, women will sometimes have some color and accessory differences, but there is no rule for this in the culture any more. And most professing Christians don't care. And you wouldn't answer my question about women wearing blue jeans.

Of course I think that the women wearing the identical garments of the men make them an abomination to God. Yes. Why? Deuteronomy 22:5. But the argument against that is that they wear different sizes and cuts. That's why I brought in that point.

Thomas Ross said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Could you elaborate on your statement that pants are permanently girded robes (if I understood you correctly)? Pants aren't tucked in, although they do allow for faster movement. I like the conclusion from the argument, but I want to be sure I follow it. Thanks.

Joshua said...

While we're at discussing the difference between the cut of men and women's pants, let's not be avoiding the elephant in that room. Here it is:

The major, primary, foremost and most common distinction that defines the difference between man's pants and "women's" pants is that the cloth made for women is far more form fitting, and thus revealing far more of the shape of the body than pants made for men. Immodesty is actually the primary distinction between man's pants and ladies.

Why is it that in this form of rebellion using clothes, that the more modest a woman's pants are the more baggy, long and "man like" her pants become? To be modest in this rebellion, she must blur the gender identity. To conform to the world and yet be feminine, her clothing is invariably form fitting, revealing the shape of her groin, thighs and buttocks.

There is no godly way for a lady to wear pants. Either she will be immodest and feminine in them, or she will be modest and manly. Neither bring God glory.

Anonymous said...

I think that this may be a more timeless view of the women in pants issue:

i.e.: ...perhaps a better translation of this verse would be as follows:

“The woman shall not put on [the weapons/armor of a warrior], neither shall a [warrior] put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”

Anonymous said...

How do we differentiate between men clothes from that of women?For example,how do i know that this particular
T-shirt,facing cap,socks,wristwatch etc are ment for men or women.While do we single out pants alone?

KJB1611 said...

The web address for the sermon on Deut 22:5 has changed; it is now here:

in the section here: