Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This question pertains to this article regarding transgenderism. Transgender people are sometimes quoted Deuteronomy 22:5, which states:

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)

However, the linked article turns this on its head, writing:

Going back to the Hebrew, the literal translation of Deuteronomy 22:5 is: “Never cause or force a warriors weapon to be used by a woman or weak person; neither dress warriors armor on a woman or weak person for to Yahweh, God of Host, disgusting is such that do so.” Note the word used in Hebrew tow`ebah, for “disgusting”, is the same one used for eating pork and shell fish.

As you can see, this is crucially different to KJV version, but it seems like it might be a case of wishful thinking.

So my question is: how accurate is this statement?

share|improve this question

migrated from christianity.stackexchange.com Jan 23 at 13:58

This question came from our site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more.

2 Answers 2

No, it isn't an accurate translation. At a number of points it strains or simply falsifies the meaning of the Hebrew text. I'll take it phrase by phrase, but first, here's a key for the layout I'll use -- I hope it's clear.

MT: The Masoretic text (Hebrew)
Translit.: and its transliteration

LXX: the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation)
Translit.: and its transliteration
Trans.: and its translation (using the 1851 Lancelot C. L. Brenton version)

GT: The "Gender Tree" translation (OP's question)
TNK: The Tanakh translation

Commentary: my notes

For convenience, in running text, here is the LXX and Tanak:
- LXX The apparel of a man shall not be on a woman, neither shall a man put on a woman’s dress; for every one that does these things is an abomination to the Lord thy God.
- Tanak A woman must not put on man's apparel, nor shall a man wear woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.


MT: לֹא־יִהְיֶה
Translit.: lōʾ yihye

LXX: Οὐκ ἔσται
Translit.: ouk estai
Trans.: shall not be

GT: Never cause or force ... to be used
TNK: must not put on

Commentary: The Hebrew is literally "There shall not be", i.e., a negative command or prohibition. The form with "lōʾ" conveys a blanket prohibition, like the Ten Commandments, rather than an immediate or temporary, "don't!" ("Don't touch the stove!"). There is no nuance, hint, or tendency to causation for "forcing" anything or anyone, so this is at least tendentious, and even misleading. The Hebrew is simply a statement of what must never be. The Tanak translation smooths this in English (the context is "apparel") to make it more colloquial, without distorting the meaning. And where "to be used (by)" comes from is anyone's guess. It's not in the Hebrew.


MT: כְלִי־גֶבֶר עַל־אִשָּׁה
Translit.: kĕlî-geber ʿal-ʾiššâ

LXX: σκεύη ἀνδρὸς ἐπὶ γυναικί
Translit.: skeuē andros epi gunaiki
Trans.: The apparel of a man ... on a woman

GT: a warriors weapon ... by a woman or weak person
TNK: A woman ... man's apparel

Commentary: The GT translation indulges in two unwarranted moves here. (1) kĕlî-geber as "a warrior's weapon" is a possible translation, in that the English given provides legitimate glosses on the Hebrew words. However, context determines meaning, and we'll seen in a moment that this (otherwise acceptable) translation is not suitable for the context. The Hebrew word "kĕlî" has a very wide range of meaning, with something like "utensil" as a base meaning. But, as the article linked in the previous sentence demonstrates (see page 3), "clothing" is part of its semantic range, and what we want in context (see below). "geber" is the word GT translates as warrior here: this is just possible, as it usually refers to men who can be part of the fighting force, but even this needs to be explained sometimes (see Jeremiah 41:16 where it spelled out as "gibborim [plural of geber] who were men of war"). In Lamentations 3:1 it is always translated simply "I am the man who has..."

(2) GT's "woman" is fine, but "weak person" is fabrication. It simply isn't there, nor is it an acceptable expansion of Hebrew ʾiššâ which can mean "woman" or "wife", more specifially. It is not a generic term for "weak person".


MT: וְלֹא־יִלְבַּשׁ גֶּבֶר שִׂמְלַת אִשָּׁה
Translit.: wĕlōʾ-yilbaš geber śimlat ʾiššâ

LXX: οὐδὲ μὴ ἐνδύσηται ἀνὴρ στολὴν γυναικείαν
Translit.: oude mē endunasētai anēr stolēn gunaikeian
Trans.: neither shall a man put on a woman’s dress

GT: neither dress warriors armor on a woman or weak person
TNK: nor shall a man wear woman's clothing

Commentary: The errors that GT perpetuates in the preceding phrase are carried forward here. It's hard even to work out how the GT's English can "map" back on to the Hebrew text. The best part about it is the verb "dress", although this is worded so as to imply that there is a dresser, and someone is (passively) being dressed. That's not what the Hebrew conveys. It's just about putting on clothes, or even more neutrally, "wearing" as the Tanak has it.

"warrior's armor" is getting close to fabrication. "geber" was discussed in the previous phrase. The important word here is "śimlah" (or in the genetive construction of the Hebrew, "śimlat ʾiššâ", with the -at ending signalling an "of" relationship). It is, quite unambiguously, simply an outer garment, a cloak, and you might well sleep in it, using it as a blanket. It never has the nuance or connotation of "armour" -- this pretty much qualifies as a falsification. I can't see how it is a "mistake", when the translation is, presumably, thoughtfully and deliberately produced.

(The Greek translation, stolē, is likewise simply a "robe" - it's where we get our English word "stole" [as in "fur stole"] from.)

Given the unambiguous meaning of "śimlah", and the symmetrical construction of the prohibition, this is the clincher for why "kĕlî" does not mean "weapon" or the like in the preceding phrase.


MT: כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ כָּל־עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה
Translit.: kî tôʿăbat YHWH ʾĕlōhêkā kol-ʿōśē ʾēlleh

LXX: ὅτι βδέλυγμα κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ σού ἐστιν πᾶς ποιῶν ταῦτα
Translit.: hoti bdelugma kuriō(i) tō(i) theō(i) sou estin pas poiōn tauta
Trans.: for every one that does these things is an abomination to the Lord thy God

GT: for to Yahweh, God of Host, disgusting is such that do so
TNK: for whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD your God.

Commentary: All our translations line up pretty much here, even the GT -- although it has one distortion.1 (It also is barely English, but we're not discussing the quality of the translation as 'literature', just its accuracy.)

The distortion is that the GT translation imagines some party forcing some weaker person or persons to bear arms against their will, and that this is abhorrent (it is quite right about the force of this term, tôʿăbat) to the Lord. That sense is wholly absent from the Hebrew, and from its ancient Greek translation which (translated by Jews for Jews in the pre-Christian era) had no reason to meddle in its translation of this text.

Conclusion Plainly, what is abhorrent to the Lord according to Deuteronomy 22:5 is cross-dressing. Where that leaves the relationship of church and synagogue with the fashion industry is a different question, and not one for this Q&A. The clear question posed has, I hope, a clear answer. (Actually, as I post this, it seems to have at least one other clear answer already.)


1 And one mistake: it adds "of Host", which should probably be "of Hosts", [Heb. ṣĕbāʾôt] IF it was in the Hebrew text, which it isn't.

share|improve this answer
2  
Purporting to be clear, they dropped into Yoda-speak. –  Frank Luke Jan 23 at 19:21

Whether it's an accurate interpretation of the verse is something I'm not qualified to answer. But the article claims it to be a "literal" translation, and that appears quite obviously false.

Translations

No major Bible translation looks at it that way:

Young's Literal Translation: "The habiliments of a man are not on a woman, nor doth a man put on the garment of a woman, for the abomination of Jehovah thy God [is] any one doing these."

Amplified Bible: "The woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are an abomination to the Lord your God."

ESV: "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."

NRSV: "A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God."

The Message: "A woman must not wear a man’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing. This kind of thing is an abomination to God, your God."

(BibleGateway)

Quick note on translations used: YLT and ESV would both be considered literal translations in a conservative textual tradition, while NRSV is also literal but has been accused of liberalism and feminism. The Amplified Bible "attempts to take both word meaning and context into account in order to accurately translate the original text from one language into another. The Amplified Bible does this through the use of explanatory alternate readings and amplifications to assist the reader in understanding what Scripture really says." Yet obviously it has no alternate readings or amplifications that approach what the article claims the verse to say. Finally, The Message is an idiomatic translation that "keeps the language of the Message (Bible) current and fresh and understandable." But it too is entirely in keeping with the others.

Hebrew Words

We've looked at the translations, now let's look at the Hebrew words. The article makes a few departures from the major translations. Let's check these one at a time.

  1. Instead of "shall not wear" it's "shall not be forced to wear."
  2. Instead of "man" it's "warrior." And "man's garment" becomes "warrior's weapon or armor."
  3. Instead of "woman" it's "woman or weak person."
  4. Instead of the first clause pertaining to woman wearing a man's garment and the second being the reverse, both clauses pertain to a woman wearing a man's garment.

So the question is, are any of these changes warranted? We'll use Strong's to see. Follow along by looking at the verse interlinearly and check out the links to the corresponding Hebrew words.

Coercion

The verbs used for "wear" are 3847 and 1961; both pretty straightforwardly mean "wear" and there is no verb indicating coercion. The only other verb in the verse is the "do" in "such that do so."

Warrior

The Hebrew for "man" is simply that: "man." (1397) It occurs 65 times in the Bible, and the NASB translates it as man, men, or boy 63 of those times. The other two it's "everyone" in Joel 2:8 and "warrior" in Judges 5:30, simply because the context is about warriors. (And no, the context of Deuteronomy 22 is not about warriors.)

There is also no word for "weapon" or "armor." The only way to get there is by using the words "pertaining to" and making the jump because of the assumption that the word "man" means "warrior."

Weak

The Hebrew for "woman" in this verse is always translated by the NASB to mean either woman, wife, or something marriage-related (or in one case, "adulteress" and "harlot" in a few others.) Never is it used for a "weak person."

Word Order

As I mentioned, the article's version keeps it about a woman wearing something of a man's, not the other way around. Is this warranted? I'm not qualified to answer that (I'd need to know something of Hebrew syntax), but the consensus of the other translations is no -- good enough for me.

Other Considerations

So the article is wrong about their version being a "literal translation." That much is certain. But you're probably wondering if their version is at least a valid interpretation of the verse. As I said at the beginning, I can't answer that. (I'd need to know a lot more about the ANE context in which it was written.) They claim that it's borne out by historical evidence, and cite a story from Josephus. However, the Josephus story is of men wearing women's clothing, something their version of the verse says nothing about. It is also the only piece of evidence they cite, making for a rather flimsy case even if it actually pertained to their case. In the end, it sure seems like they began with their conclusion and sought to make the Bible verse fit the conclusion, rather than reading the Bible verse for what it says.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.