Monday, September 22, 2014

Skirts Vs. Pants



     In this post, I will make note that I won't be covering much in modesty regarding skirts and pants. Everything covered in the post is applicable here. So for further study you can refer back to here.

     Next thing to mention is that these are not opinions as much as they are are the conclusions of deep Biblical and cultural study. Truth is truth and there is no way around the truth. People can defy the truth or follow it. Two opposing sides of an argument can’t both be right; one must be wrong. Please understand that anything I say does not intend to be disrespectful. Remember to humble yourself, your thoughts, your opinions and see what God’s Word says for itself.

     The thought behind the concept of women not wearing pants seems to derive from Deuteronomy.



Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.


     Many interpret this as “pants are for men, and skirts/dresses are for women.” Is this just a claim by blinded traditionalists? Or is this a truth that God designed from the beginning? Whenever studying scripture it’s important to compare scripture with scripture, the time period in which it was written, and contextualize that which is a moral issue and that which is a cultural issue.

     In the Bible men and women both wore robes of similar fashion. In fact, during some periods of time, the only differences were the undergarments men/women would wear. Now that we’ve read that Old Testament verse, let’s fast forward to the New Testament. Here, when Paul is talking about the proper clothes to wear, he uses the Greek word “katastole.” This word literally means “To let down or to lower/drape down”. This is referring to the type of garments they would wear that would drape over their body.



1 Timothy 2:9 "likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel (katastole), with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire..."

     Due to this word “katastole,” many believe this means that if it "drapes down" then it must mean women are to wear skirts/dresses. This is a slight misunderstanding of Greek nouns and how they work grammatically. Whenever reading the Bible, and especially when digging into the Greek, we must be careful to apply the cultural interpretation and understand how the Greek works linguistically. Every word referring to clothes or apparel in the Greek/Hebrew refers to “being let down” because that’s all the clothing did back then. Roman soldiers wore skirts, men wore flowing garbs, this is why our English translation says, apparel, and not, flowing garbs. This is why you need to be careful when digging into the Greek. As a man once said:

“A little bit of Greek is a dangerous thing”

     Cultural discernment is very important. The Greek language, like any language, is heavily saturated in its culture. So before you start digging into the Greek you must have a good understanding of Greek culture and customs. Seeing as everyone back then wore long flowing garbs it doesn’t prove anything one way or another. To say katastole means that women should wear skirts because the Greek meaning is "to let down" would be to totally overlook the context. Paul clearly brings the focus to modesty, not the katastole. Plus, the translation to English is "garments" or "apparel." The Bible translators already put cultural context into play. Hence the translation of God's Word we have today.

     However, if we dig deeper we see the word katastole is in the feminine tense. When some see this they believe that this means it’s referring to women only. This is simply a misunderstanding of the language and why it's important to understand Greek. Greek has masculine and feminine tenses for a number of different things. Often times nouns appear in feminine tense, other times in the masculine tense.

Note: this can be confusing to English speakers so I will do my best to explain...

     Aphesis is the Greek word for forgiveness and it's spoken in the feminine tense. Also, alétheia is the Greek word for truth and it's also in the feminine tense. Does this mean that forgiveness and truth are only for women? No...such a thought is ridiculous. It's also worth noting that the angel standing outside Jesus' tomb was in a "long white garment." (Mk. 16:5) This word for garment is stolé which is also in the feminine tense. Does this mean the angel was cross-dressing? Or that the angel was female? No, it does not. It a linguistic issue. So katastole being in the feminine tense has nothing to do with it commanding only women. It's all about the grammatical structure of that which is written.

     English doesn't change tenses (male to female) in the way many other languages do. This tripped me up when I used to study German because its tenses and words would change a lot depending on many factors (present, present perfect, simple past, etc.) Some languages change from "male/female/neuter tenses. There is only one English example of this and that is if we are referring to an object with endearment, we may refer to it in the feminine tense.

Example: "That Bentley over there? She's a beauty"

     Does this actually mean that his car is female? That the car should only relate to women? No, it's a common practice when referring to an object with endearment that we speak about it in feminine tense. Just like grammatically speaking in the English language, if you don't know the gender of an animal or baby, we resort to using masculine pronouns. These are simply the structures and rules of the English language. Just like Greek has its own rules and structures. So it's not enough to say "that word is in a feminine tense," because the rest of the surrounding context is what actually dictates if it's referring to a specific gender or not. In this case, the context is telling women to dress modestly. It is not referring to skirts/dresses at all.

(For more information about Greek and its noun usage click here)

     The problem is that if we view things from within our own culture, confusion can set in. If we say skirts are for women and pants are for men we are viewing things specifically from a Western cultural perspective. Let me break down the logical progression here. Today, if we say women wearing pants is a woman "wearing that which pertains to a man," then a man wearing a dress/drape today would be considered a "man wearing that which pertains to a woman." Yet, we know in the Bible men actually wore long flowing garments, as did women. In fact, Jesus wore a robe so long that a woman was able to grab the tail of it. (Matt. 9:20) Does this mean that by our Western mindset Jesus was wearing something that pertains to a woman? Cross-dressing? Don't be ridiculous. Has it ever occurred to you that the skirts and pants topic is more of a Western Cultural issue than a Biblical one?

     So if it’s not Biblical, why is it an issue? Well, most traditional thinking refers back to the Women Liberation Movement of the 1960’s. Oddly enough, that's not true. In fact, women started wearing pants in the early 1900's. Women wearing pants only came in vogue during the this movement as a move to level the gender gap. However, this movement was more about eliminating the objectification of women, civil rights, ethnic empowerment, increasing employment opportunities for women, redefining women as more than just wife/mothers, along with many other things.

      Girls, those of you who were raised to believe that this time was evidence of rebellion, let me ask you this: do you like voting? What about having a career? Better paying jobs? Equal rights and opportunity? All this was made possible during movements like this. Women weren't even able to vote until 1920. African-Americans couldn't vote until 1956. These type of movements were vital in creating a country with equal rights and freedoms. Not everything was negative; of course there were extremists, but we must acknowledge that all the rights women enjoy today were made possible because of that movement. Now women have equal rights and opportunities. Many of the rights women enjoy today are because of those women who took a stand and said "enough."

     Let’s push that movement aside and look further back in history. Were skirts/dresses always worn by women in the world? The answer is no. That was only prominent in European cultures. Take China for example. Women wore both pants and dresses depending on their duties. Women on farms would wear pants. Native American Indian women also wore pants. Many cultures had both men and women wearing pants. Other cultures, to this day, have men wearing flowing garbs. Why? Because there is a large amount of cultural application to be considered here.

     I live in Michigan (Born and raised.) Recently, we had one of the coldest winters of all time (coldest in over 100 years) and it was freezing. 
It was so cold that if you were outside for more than three minutes, with any exposed skin, it would cause frostbite. If my wife had only worn skirts, she would’ve had frostbite from her shins to her thighs.  The very thought of my wife having to endure that is insane. God is not unfair, nor does He set unrealistic expectations. Some people say "Just wear pants under the skirt when it's cold." This is still wearing pants. If pants are that which pertains to a man, wouldn't you be forbidden from wearing them at all? Otherwise, we're saying it's okay as long as other people can't see it. 

Matthew 5:37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.


     As a pastor, I've seen girls wear skirts all the time, even in winter. All these poor girls received were strange looks, laughs, and scoffs. When these girls would try to talk to new members of the youth group -a girl from public schools let's say- they were treated with odd disdain. This wasn't right, but it says something about how that presents yourself. People in in whim we are ministering have to feel like they can relate to you. Yes, we are to be separate from the world, but not to run from it. Present yourself in a modest way, but in a way where someone can feel comfortable sitting next to you without thinking, "Why on earth are they wearing that?" or, "What kind of cult is this?" and I promise you that's what they are thinking. Is it right? No. But will this kind of thinking continue? Yes. So be mindful of how you're presenting yourself.

     I firmly believe that both pants and skirts can be either modest or immodest. Many have disagreed with me on this. Let me inform you, as a man I am visually attracted to a woman (as all men are). I will tell you now and true that there are many times women should just wear pants when doing certain activities.

     My first Bible college I ever attended was in Indiana. During the winter, ice started building up. I was walking up to the college for my early morning classes. Two lady friends of mine were walking in front of me and they slipped on the ice. I dove forward trying to catch them, but I was a bit too slow. (My ninja skills were not on par that day.) When they fell, their skirts came all the way up and I saw more of my two friends than I ever wanted to. Later, they expressed how hard it was to navigate the ice in skirts due to the lack of mobility. So let me tell you: skirts are not always modest/appropriate.

     I have seen culottes fly up in girls' sports, dresses fly up in the wind, skirts fly up while on the ice, and don’t get me started about women wearing skirts/dresses while riding a bike (who ever thought that was a good idea?) I’ve seen a lot of girls who are going the “extra mile” to be more modest by wearing skirts, but end up revealing more of themselves because of it.

     Even in Bible college, I'd hear guys talking about how they love seeing girls in skirts all the time. Mind you it was not because it was more modest. They would talk abut how the skirts made girls' butts look rounder, or when the wind would blow it could force the skirts to blow up or against the body, revealing more than a pair of pants ever would, or even how a skirt was 'easy access.' I want to stress this point here: men can be attracted as much, if not more so, to a woman in a skirt. I am not talking about those little skanky skirts...I am talking about those "Bible College Approved" skirts.

     Now, I am not discrediting skirts in any way. I am simply stating that men can be attracted to a woman in skirts or in pants. This is not because men are perverted...this is because men tend to be visually stimulated. I can promise you that no matter what you wear, a man can find a reason to look. It's not right. Men should have more decency, but the bottom line is this: just dress modestly and let God do the rest. Doesn't mean you have to wear a potato sack every day either.

     The problem is that we Christians seem to think that in order to live modestly/conservatively, we have to hold on to traditional things when we don’t. In fact, we are instructed to cast aside traditions of man in order to seek the truth.

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.


While in Indiana a friend of mine said:
“William, look at it this way: if a woman is seen always wearing a skirt it allows her to show people openly that she is a Christian before they even talk to her. It’s great for testimonial purposes.”

     At first, I thought that he may have a point. Women can show they are Christians before people even talk to them. Then reality hit me: women, both believers and nonbelievers, will wear skirts. So that doesn’t help any more than a man wearing a tie every day. How many men wear ties? Plenty! It’s not just a Christian thing and neither is wearing skirts or dresses. The argument falls apart before it even starts.

One time, my sister came by to pick me up from high school. This was back when my she was peer-pressured into wearing skirts all the time. Well, the second time my sister came to pick me up someone blurted out:

“Why does your sister always wear skirts? Is she like Amish or something?”


     I defended her as any brother would, but I could tell that the awkward stares bothered her. People could tell she was different, but not in a positive way. Everyone thought my sister was a freak or part of a cult. This deeply bothered me. Shouldn’t we Christians leave a positive testimony? Should we leave a “bad taste” in someone’s mouth? No. The sad part is that this is not even a biblical topic to begin with. God is not the author of confusion and He gives clear and concise commands in His Book. The command to women is: be modest.

     Remember, people do judge us by our appearance, not our heart. No one can see your heart or personality from across the room.

I Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.


     It's important that we are presenting ourselves in a way that honors Christ and also welcomes others to us. If we entirely alienate ourselves from other over a tradition we are going to seriously hinder our effectiveness for Christ. 

     When in Indiana, I had the privilege to talk to two young men about Christ. They were shocked when I told them I attended Fairhaven. They said, “Wow, you’re a normal guy! I thought only crazies went to that cult...”


I want to address two things here.

1. They considered me normal because I dressed like them and talked to them like anybody else. Like they were my equals. Not making it awkward to talk to them about God, but to simply get to know them. Find out their struggles, personality, passions, and then find a way to introduce God to them. Our biggest failure in evangelism is that we go up to people and just hand them a tract, or go right into the Gospel message without building any personal relationship. Jesus first built relationships and so should we.

2. They referred to the Bible College as a “cult.” This was the term I heard widely when I was down there. Even good Christian people I met would refer to them as a cult. That tells me something about the presentation of the people, church, and Gospel being done there. This isn’t to put down anyone because there are some great people at that school. However, it proved that their outward testimony had been destroyed due to more concern on rules, regulations, and traditions rather than that of truth.

     We have to be careful not to allow our Western culture to influence our view of the Bible. We should look through the Bible with the screen of truth. Not looking at it from lenses of bias or traditions. There is no Biblical support that women can’t wear pants. We are only instructed one thing:

Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman shall not wear a man's garment, nor shall a man put on a woman's cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.


(Even this command was given to specifically to Israel. However, similar morals are brought up in the New Testament.)

     This verse simply means not to be cross-dressing. You know, there is a huge difference between women’s pants and men’s pants. If a man put on a women’s pare of pants you would notice. Paul only emphasized modesty. No more no less. Let’s not put lines where God never has.

     Due to such pressure from their church, friends, family, ministers etc., I have seen grown women with children still emotionally, mentally, and spiritually hurt from the treatment they received for wearing pants. I have seen a girl disowned from her family due to that. This is not biblical in any way nor does it honor God, whom we claim to love. That is not Christianity, that is legalism. (Legalism: Excessive adherence to law or formula.) Because of this mentality, I have seen girls leave the church and go off the deep end because they were set to an unfair/ridiculous standard. Churches should encourage women, not push them away. Ought to build them up, not tear them down.

     Let me challenge you, reader, to look into the truth of this as I have. Read the Bible from a non-biased perspective. Humble your heart and mind to seek that which is the truth in the Bible. Women, if you want to wear dresses and skirts that is fine! There is nothing wrong with that. If you even prefer them, that’s great! But we have to stop pressuring, guilting, and requiring other women to conform to this unbiblical standard. Both pants and skirts can be immodest. Both can also be modest. So let’s keep the focus where God keeps the focus: modesty.


Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.


2 comments:

  1. While Editing my blog I accidently deleted this comment from Jeff Sumner. Sorry about that.

    "William...Years ago, I sorted through this issue. I came out of the Pilgrim Holiness Church who teaches women must wear certain types of clothing. When I really dug into the issue from Deuteronomy, I found the passage was referring to military dress. It was a way of saying that a man's responsibility was to fight. Also, it is a dangerous thing to single one verse out for us to follow. If we follow that principle, we have to follow them all."

    -Jeff

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  2. Thank you!!!! I'm so tired of this issue causing so much division. I can't believe you came out of Fairhaven and know how to actually look at the Bible in its context and culture before making application. You don't find many who can do that in the IFB. Great article.

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