The first part of the question (the question about trousers) comes straight from Deuteronomy. 22:5, while the second part of the question – the part about scarves comes from Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians. 11.
We’ll take the issue of trousers first.
This is what Deuteronomy. 22:5 says: “A woman must not wear a man’s clothing, nor a man wear a woman’s clothing. This kind of thing is an abomination to God, your God.”
In the pedantic treatment of this verse of scripture it is generally assumed that trousers are “men’s clothing,” hence the issue with women wearing trousers. But that’s a huge and fallacious assumption that does not take into cognizance cultural variations. In some cultures trousers are actually women’s clothing! And in some other cultures men tie wrapper and wear dresses and skirts. In India for example the women wear trousers. And in Scotland the men wear kilts – essentially skirts. In Indonesia and some cultures in Nigeria the men tie wrappers. And in the same Nigeria some other regions consider wrappers women’s attire. In Ancient Rome and in the days of Jesus the men wore what would today be considered dresses. They didn’t wear trousers. Check out all those films about Jesus. Therefore what constitutes men’s and women’s clothing is dependent on historical relativism, region and culture. With all these cultural differences we must assume that God didn’t intend to cause confusion through this commandment, after all God is not the author of confusion. (1 Corinthians. 14:33)
Culture is dynamic. Now women wear pant suits. It’s corporate wear. And there are female shirts, not just male shirts. There were no pantsuits in the days of Jesus by the way, maybe because they didn’t have IBM, Shell, First Bank, GE and AT&T. Okay, that’s a joke but you get the point – culture is dynamic. And anyway Moses didn’t specify trousers! Why are we then so fixated and particular about women and trousers?
But even if we take this commandment at face value the fact remains Christians are not under the Law. Which is the point Paul was making in the Book of Galatians: “All who depend on the Law (who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals) are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide by ALL the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them.” (Galatians. 3:10, Deuteronomy. 27:26 AMP) Those who insist on taking that commandment at face value must themselves be willing to obey the remaining 610 commandments under the Law. The Law is not Ten Commandments. That’s the title of a film! The Law is 611 commandments. And one of those commandments is found in Deuteronomy. 22:11: “You shall not wear a garment of mingled stuff, wool and linen together.” In other words, all those materials we wear that are say 55% cotton and 45% rayon…they’re banned under the Law. You can’t pick and choose which commandment you like under the Law like you select groceries in a supermarket. You must obey all. And it’s impossible to obey all. It’s why Paul told us that the purpose of the law was “to disclose and expose to men their guilt because of transgressions and to make men more conscious of the sinfulness of sin.” (Galatians. 3:19 AMP) Funnily enough the Law had a time-lapse provision: “It was intended to be in effect until the Seed (the Descendant, the Heir (Christ)) should come.” (Galatians. 3:19 AMP) With the advent of Christ the Law ceased to be legally binding. Those who want to please God through the Law are dealing with expired product.
But the truth is, this commandment has a historical context. Among Bible scholars there are five general interpretations as to the purpose of the verse banning cross-dressing:
- That it is a reference to a pagan religious ceremony and idolatrous practice. In the worship of Venus for example, women appeared in armour while the men wore women’s clothes.
- That it prohibits deviant sexual practices rampant in Canaan in that period.
- That it is intended to maintain a proper distinction between the sexes.
- That it is a prohibition against women assuming the role of warrior.
- That the passage was written against transvestism and sexual inversion, and to prevent effeminacy in men.
And some opine we really don’t know what lay behind the law. Whatever it is, the bottom line is that this passage cannot be the basis upon which Christian women should not wear trousers, period. And when we lack scriptural basis for a doctrinal stand what we have is prejudice or ignorance or both.
As to the issue of “head covering” in church, here’s the passage in question. (To contextualize and clear the cobweb of linguistic confusion pretty fast, let’s quote the Message translation): “In a marriage relationship, there’s authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of the husband is the authority of God. Any man who speaks with God or about God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of Christ dishonours Christ. In the same way a wife who speaks with God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of her husband, dishonours her husband. Worse, she dishonours herself – an ugly sight, like a woman with her head shaved. This is basically the origin of these customs we have of women wearing head coverings in worship, while men take their hats off. By these symbolic acts, men and women, who far too often butt heads with each other, submit their “heads” to the Head: God. (1 Corinthians. 11: 3-9)
You know it’s amazing how we major in minors and minor in majors. This passage is not about scarves and head coverings. It is about the governmental structure of a marriage. The issue of scarves or head coverings is only a cultural symbolism of the position of the wife relative to the husband in a governmental context. The whole thing is about the respect a woman ought to have for her husband in the presence of God. Paul is saying that God doesn’t expect a wife to disparage her husband when talking to Him. He was trying to resolve the issue of headbutting between husbands and wives over headship, which problem apparently spilt over into the church services. It’s why Paul wrote specifically about head-butting between husbands and wives. The Corinthian women were a very liberated lot. Ancient Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city. It was one of the largest and most important cities of Greece. In fact Hellenic myth was that it was founded by Corinthos, a woman, alternatively by the goddess Ephyra the daughter of the Titan Oceanus. So one can understand the cultural exposure of the Corinthian women. It’s why Paul balances things by saying that men are not independent of women, just as the women are not independent of men. (1 Corinthians. 11:11) The Message translation says, “neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority…. Let’s quit going through these ‘who’s first’ routines”. (1 Corinthians. 11:12) Today, some would probably say that these Corinthian women were feminists, or women’s lib advocates. Those were the issues the church was grappling with – how do you balance modernism with governmental structure of marriage. It’s still an issue today. And Paul reinforces the fact that this is all about authority structure when he mentioned the fact that angels were watching. (1 Corinthians. 11:10) Angels were the first beings to grapple with the twin issues of government and rebellion. Lucifer led the first insurrection against constitutional authority. Paul was saying that the women would be setting a good example for the angels by respecting authority structure.
The head covering was apparently a derived cultural expression. Paul himself called it a custom. And he implies that it had not always been but that it emerged. And obviously in the days of Paul a skin headed lady was considered an ugly sight. Just as it was considered disgraceful for a man to have long hair apparently. (1 Corinthians. 11:14) In other words we’re dealing with cultural relativism as well as historical relativism. A woman with close-cropped hair or low cut is obviously not considered an ugly sight today. The issue in the passage is governmental authority in the home, not scarves. How did we ever get into the legalism of a one foot by one foot piece of textile material? How can a scarf be a channel of spirituality, or the basis of answered prayer?!
Let’s apply the rule of absurdity. Imagine a Christian woman in a plane about to crash. Obviously she’ll call out to her God to save her. Can she pray to God in that emergency situation with her head uncovered? Would God refuse to save her because she has no yardage of material on her head? Or should she be looking for a scarf first before she starts praying? Some will say that’s an emergency and therefore an exception, but Paul didn’t lay down any exceptions. If we want to be legalistic we must apply the principle intoto. No situational man-made exceptions.
But even if we concede for the sake of argument that scarves are absolutely necessary for Christian women, I submit that the commandment is not binding on all Christian women. It is clear from the passage that the law about scarves only relates to a marital situation. And so the issue of scarf or head covering should only affect married women, not single women! It is not generic to all females. We should therefore never compel single women to tie scarves in church. Ideally therefore, we should ask new visitors in church if they’re single or married. The answer to that question should then inform whether they should tie scarf in church or not. When we ignore the SUBSTANCE of the word of God we soon arrive at the doorstep of absurdity and arrant legalism. The issue Paul was addressing has NOTHING to do with scarves as a channel of spirituality but the governmental relationship between a husband and his wife relative to God within a cultural context. It’s amazing how the devil has kept Christians preoccupied with inanities for centuries over a material the size of a mere handkerchief! You can pray and worship God without scarf or hat!
If you will like to give your life to Christ, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
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