“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 (Deuteronomy 22:5, ESV).
Andrew Rappaport really likes to stir the pot when it comes to Pride month. He keeps posting truth on Facebook that gets me in trouble with former coworkers, former peers in youth group, former school mates, and etc. when I share his posts. His current post is the verse above with his own commendation, “If you do not like it bring it up with God not me. I did not make the rule.”
This post led to almost immediate comments from my peanut gallery of the usual suspects who like to challenge me. One asked what to do about girls who wear their boyfriend’s sweaters. Another asked two questions: 1. What do we still follow from the Old Testament and not still follow? 2. What do we do when two scholars disagree on linguistic analysis of texts that deal with homosexuality? My answer to all of those questions is when we interpret any passage of scripture, we need to ask ourselves what circumstances led to the author putting this in his passage? To answer this we need to look at the literary context and historical context behind this passage. Then we need to see if there is a timeless principle we can draw from this passage we can apply today. That is what we are going to do with Deuteronomy 22:5.
At first glance the immediate context shows various, unrelated laws. The first few verses refer to returning an ox or a donkey to one’s neighbor after it gets lost or fallen (vv. 1 – 4). The following verses refer to not killing a mother bird with her young, putting up railing on a roof, not making an ox plow with a donkey, not planting two kinds of seed, not wearing mixed garments, and wearing garments with tassels (vv. 6 – 12). None of these prohibitions or commandments are sexual in nature. So it leaves one to wonder why Moses would place a sexual verse in the midst of this seemingly various list of non-sexual laws.
All of these laws do have one thing in common though. They all involve mixtures and death. One scholar points out,
In fact, anyone who so blurs these divinely ordered distinctions is a tôʿăbat the Lord, “an abomination of the Lord,” one who can expect most serious consequences for his deeds. Another linkage between the verse and its context is the chiasm connecting vv. 5–8 with 9–12: dress (v. 5), animals (vv. 6–7), house (v. 8), field (v. 9), animals (v. 10), dress (vv. 11–12). There is thus a strong tie-in between death and mixtures, that is, between the expositions of the sixth and seventh commandments. The sin in improper mixtures is brought out in the laws of purity that follow (22:9–23:18).
This makes sense in light of the context of Deuteronomy. Israel wandered in the wilderness because they rebelled against the Lord (Deuteronomy 1:19-46). The people of the Lord kept rousing the Lord’s anger when they tried to mix their religion with the surrounding religion of the Moabites and Egyptian fertility religion (Deuteronomy 9:13-29). This section also does precede a section concerning sexual immorality and what to do with it. God is very clear in this section that marriage is supposed to be between a husband and wife joined in holy matrimony, starting with them both being virgins, and not being next of kin (22:13-30). There is serious consequences for breaking this with various punishments up to death for adultery.
Yet, there is even more to the story than just the immediate context provides. The historical context brings much more to light. Why would men wearing women’s garments and women wearing men’s garments be a problem for the Israelites? Maybe it has something to do with the theology of the surrounding cultures?
It all boils down to Mythology. Many people accuse the Bible of being Mythology, like a fairytale. However, that is a drastic misunderstanding of what mythology is. Mythology is a religion that tries to describe everything through natural processes. The Bible on the other hand claims to be divine revelation given through appointed prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ. That is a drastic difference.
There are also certain qualities of mythology which are drastically different from the Bible. The Bible teaches God is ultimate reality, He determines reality in the universe, He is not affected by the universe, and he determines time. The Bible also teaches the universe has a linear time with a beginning and an end.
Mythology on the other hand believes reality has an infinite past and infinite future. There is also continuity among the gods, nature, and humans. Dr. John Oswalt puts it best:
This is the idea that all things exist are a part of each other. Thus, there are no fundamental differences between the three realms: humanity, nature, and the divine. … So gods are humans and natural forces; nature is divine and divinity has human-like characteristics; humanity is divine and is one with nature. There is no distinction in nature among the three, only one in roles.
Since there is no distinction between any of those, they did not believe in distinctions between men and women, humans and animals, and objects and gods. This played out in their sexual lives as well. Since people were gods and nature, they were able to control the gods and nature through ritual acts, namely magic and sex. In order to get a certain god or goddess to do what they wanted, like water your crops and bring fertility to your land, they had to act out what they wanted them to do. So one would go to what represented a god or goddess, human or animal, and have sex with it. It did not matter what that person actually was. If a man dressed as a woman, he was a goddess and vice versa.
With this context in mind. God is condemning false realities, namely mythology. There are distinctions between humanity, God, and nature. Mankind is only in charge of his own action. God is in control of everything. He has determined a man is a man and a woman is a woman. There is no mixing between the two. When one tries to go against God’s reality, he or she commits idolatry and mocks God as the ultimate reality. This also explains why God did not want people to mix their seed, garments, etc. God is condemning the symbols the mythologists used to promote their idolatry and sexual immorality.
So back to Deuteronomy 22:5. What is the big takeaway here? God determines what a man is and what a woman is. God realizes men and women dress differently to promote their sex. God wants his people to reflect He controls their reality by dressing according to what He assigned them.
Are these principles timeless? Well, we see correlations in the New Testament with these ideas in the fact that men and women are supposed to live according to their roles in society and marriage (1 Timothy 2:9 – 3:13, Ephesians 5-6:9, Titus 2:1-10). We also see Jesus making distinctions between men and women while upholding the importance of unique sanctity in marriage (Matthew 19:4-5). So yes, these principles are timeless and apply to all people today.
Is transvestism condemned in the Bible? Yes. Are women supposed to not wear their boyfriends’ sweaters? Depends. Are these women trying to pretend to be men? No. Then as long as they’re not wearing their boyfriends’ sweaters because they fornicated with them, I would say maybe. If they are wearing their boyfriend’s sweater to pretend to be boys, then they need to repent. Even though this is from the Old Testament and the Old Testament has been fulfilled by Jesus, it still applies because it presents a timeless principle to be followed regardless of time or culture. What happens when scholars disagree on whether homosexuality is a sin? One needs to read the texts in their literal historical-grammatical contexts to determine if it is a sin. The short answer is yes, the Bible condemns homosexuality and transvestism as a sin.
 John N. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2009), 48.
 Ibid., 51.