Writing on the topic of the Pentagon’s recent decision to allow women in combat, Doug Wilson offers some helpful thoughts, particularly a specific scriptural directive from Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (KJV)
This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is ‘keli geber,’ and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.
Another scriptural argument that should be noted is this. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Dt. 14:21b). Just as Paul noted that the law about not muzzling oxen was not simply about oxen, so this passage is not just about baby goats. The principle latent in this law is that we must not take that which was intended for the giving of life and transform it into an instrument of death. The milk was intended by God for sustenance, and so it should not be turned into death. Women were created and exquisitely fashioned by God to be life-imparters, and so they must not be transformed into death-dealers.
This was the first time I’ve encountered that particular interpretive slant for Deut. 22:5, so I consulted some other translations and commentaries to see whether Wilson’s contention has merit.
Starting with the lexicon definitions, the Hebrew word k?liy, translated “that which pertaineth” in the KJV, is given the following definitions:
- article, vessel, implement, utensil
- article, object (general)
- utensil, implement, apparatus, vessel
- implement (of hunting or war)
- implement (of music)
- implement, tool (of labour)
- equipment, yoke (of oxen)
- utensils, furniture
- vessel, receptacle (general)
- vessels (boats) of paper-reed
Elsewhere in the KJV, the same word is translated “vessel,” “instrument,” “weapon,” and “armour” among a few other words.
The Hebrew word geber, translated “unto a man” in the KJV, is one of a number of Hebrew words for “man.” This particular word is defined as a “strong man” or a “warrior,” emphasizing his strength or ability to fight.
Commentator Adam Clarke translates keli geber as “the instruments or arms of a man,” and says that “as the word geber is here used, which properly signifies a strong man or man of war, it is very probable that armor is here intended.”
Spence and Exell’s The Pulpit Commentary says of keli geber, “literally, the apparatus of a man, including, not dress merely, but implements, tools, weapons, and utensils.”
So, although most of the modern translations only refer to clothing, it appears that Wilson is correct. This verse isn’t just about cross-dressing, it’s about cross-gender shoe-filling in general. And the shoes of a warrior are shoes that are intended to be filled by the feet of men.
Opposition to women in combat can be based on pragmatic concerns that stem from the physical, emotional, and psychological differences between men and women. There are valid arguments to be made from these concerns. It is also valid to appeal to chivalry and the man’s role as protector. But who defines chivalry? Protection from what? Protection to what end? What if the woman doesn’t want to be protected? What if she is capable of protecting herself? Christians cannot allow gender roles to be defined by the culture around us. We can appeal to all sorts of arguments, but our first and last appeal must be to Scripture.
Some objects, roles, and behaviors are gender-neutral, freely used/acted/exhibited by both men and women. But there are certain things that are designed to be used by men for manly purposes. There are plenty of other passages supporting distinct roles for men and women. Deuteronomy 22:5 seems to be telling us that the weapons of a warrior are inherently associated with the role of a man.