I'd like to first post a paper and study I recently finished on the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom: Easier to live or easier to explain? Written & Compiled by Kent E. Wentzell
Many don’t realize D&C section 89 is only the Word of Wisdom for the Lord’s law of health and that the actual Words of Wisdom are more expansive and start in the previous section 88.
D&C SECTION 88
118 And as all have not afaith, seek ye diligently and bteach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best dbooks words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
119 aOrganize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a bhouse, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
120 That your aincomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with buplifted hands unto the Most High.
121 Therefore, acease from all your light speeches, from all blaughter, from all your clustful desires, from all your dpride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.
122 Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let anot all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be bedified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.
123 See that ye alove one another; cease to be bcovetous; learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires.
124 Cease to be aidle; cease to be bunclean; cease to cfind fault one with another; cease to dsleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be einvigorated.
125 And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of acharity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and bpeace.
126 aPray always, that ye may not faint, until I bcome. Behold, and lo, I will come quickly, and receive you unto myself. Amen.
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 27, 1833. HC 1: 327–329. As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result. The first three verses were originally written as an inspired introduction and description by the Prophet.
1–9, Use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks proscribed; 10–17, Herbs, fruits, flesh, and grain are ordained for the use of man and of animals; 18–21, Obedience to gospel law, including the Word of Wisdom, brings temporal and spiritual blessings.
1 A aWord OF Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—
2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the aword of wisdom, showing forth the order and bwill of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—
3 Given for a principle with apromise, adapted to the capacity of the bweak and the weakest of all csaints, who are or can be called saints.
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of aevils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of bconspiring men in the last days, I have cwarned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
5 That inasmuch as any man adrinketh bwine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, apure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7 And, again, astrong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
8 And again, tobacco is not for the abody, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with aprudence and bthanksgiving.
12 Yea, aflesh also of bbeasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used csparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be aused, only in times of winter, or of cold, or bfamine.
14 All agrain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And athese hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
16 All grain is good for the afood of man; as also the bfruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—
17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, ashall receive bhealth in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall afind bwisdom and great ctreasures of dknowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall arun and not be bweary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the adestroying angel shall bpass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
Having to explain to friends/co-workers/non-member family why we have/live the Word of Wisdom can sometimes seem more difficult than actually living it.
It seems that the relationship between the difficulty of explanation is inversely proportional to its importance to our eternal progress.
In other words:
Why we need charity = easy to explain = very important
Baptism = easy to explain = very important
Eternal families = easy to explain = very important
Why we don’t drink tea/coffee = difficult to explain = not so important
Polygamy = difficult to explain = not so important
Former ban on the priesthood = difficult to explain = not so important
In explaining, do we simply say, it’s “Mormon kosher” or just that God told our prophets we shouldn’t consume these substances and we follow it in faith? Some may accept those statements, but many others will not understand why God would give such a command. Therefore some explanation to non members and members alike is sometimes needed to help them understand better.
Q. It seems confusing that Mormons won't drink caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea, but many have no problem with eating chocolate, drinking hot chocolate, colas, and other sources of caffeine. Can you explain the apparent hypocrisy?
A. In section 89 of the Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), also known as the Word of Wisdom, is a revelation appertaining to the health and strength of our physical bodies. The focus relative to this question is 'hot drinks' and caffeine, two separate items which, when lumped together as one, result in misconceptions concerning the Word of Wisdom.
“And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” (D&C 89:9)
As noted in the question, the confusion occurs when one misunderstands the Word of Wisdom. Some members of the Church as well as many non-members understand the Word of Wisdom, specifically the definition of 'hot drinks' mentioned in verse nine, this way:
Hot drinks = coffee and tea. Coffee and tea have relatively high levels of caffeine, therefore the reason LDS abstain from coffee and tea is because of the caffeine, and therefore LDS abstain from all products containing caffeine, true?
False, actually. This presents a logical error, known as a fallacy of definition, because the definition is too broad. The official and correct definition of 'hot drinks as found in the Word of Wisdom is simply this:
Hot drinks = coffee and tea.
The Word of Wisdom is a basic law of health, in other words, it is a good starting point. Add to this to the "body is a temple" scripture found in the Bible and we begin to have a clearer understanding of the Church's emphasis on being vigilant of what we ingest and on the well being of our bodies. The standard works have many scriptures admonishing us not to defile the mind or the body. "The promises associated with the Word of Wisdom are considered both temporal and spiritual. No law has ever been given that is only temporal or only spiritual. The temporal promise has been interpreted as better health, and the spiritual promise as a closer relationship to God."
Latter-day Saints, with the Word of Wisdom as a foundation and mindful of both the scriptures and the counsel of a living prophet, are encouraged to personalize their health regimen and-just like anyone else who chooses to live a healthy lifestyle-quickly realize that there are many paths and options. At this juncture, members of the Church decide for themselves if they will follow the basic parameters of the Word of Wisdom (that is, to simply abstain from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco), or if they will go the extra mile, for example by not drinking any caffeinated drinks or eating any caffeinated products whatsoever. In the Church, we refer to this as living according to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to each of us, or in this instance, living according to the spirit of the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom contains two kinds of instructions: (1) prohibitions, and (2) counsel. The prohibitions are binding upon the Saints; the counsel, precisely because it is counsel, is up to each of us as individuals. The prohibition in question is against 'hot drinks.' The Church has, as a body, accepted that the hot drinks in question are coffee and tea. The high caffeine content of these drinks has been widely discussed, and is generally accepted, as a likely explanation for the prohibition; but this explanation has, of itself, no binding doctrinal force.
A personalized interpretation of the Word of Wisdom oftentimes adds to the confusion of "what is the Word of Wisdom." Our personal interpretation should not be forced on other members, nor should it be promoted as THE Word of Wisdom. It isn't; it’s YOUR personalized version that you view as consonant with the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. Keeping this in mind, when someone informs us that "THE Word of Wisdom says don't drink caffeinated beverages," he/she is incorrect.
"But," some may ask, "what about what President Hinckley said on the 'Larry King Show' and '60 Minutes'?" President Hinckley's acknowledgement of his interviewer's leading questions is not indicative of a shift in formal Church policy. It doesn't work that way. If the President of the Church ever wants to formally include caffeine in the Word of Wisdom, he will do so through established Church channels, not by a media interview.
Joseph Smith "defined 'hot drinks' as tea and coffee, the two common household beverages of the day. Joel H. Johnson, with whose family the Prophet was intimate, relates that on a Sabbath day in July (1833) following the giving of the "Word of Wisdom," when both Joseph and Hyrum Smith were on the stand, the Prophet said to the Saints: "I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said 'hot drinks' in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom. Tea and coffee are what the Lord meant when he said 'hot drinks.' " [John A. Widtsoe and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1937), 85-87.]
It’s called "a Word of Wisdom" in the introduction, the revelation was given to Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, on February 27, 1833, when the School of the Prophets was meeting at his home in the Whitney Store. It came in response to the Prophet's inquiry about tobacco, which was being used by some of the men attending the school. The revelation states that it is specifically for the latter days because of "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men" (D&C 89:4). The Word of Wisdom limited alcohol use to wine for the Sacrament and hard liquor for washing the body. It noted tobacco as useful only for treating bruises and sick cattle. Hot drinks (later defined as coffee and tea) were not for "the body or belly" (D&C 89:9). Additional advice was given permitting the use of meat, but suggesting that it be restricted to winter or times of famine (D&C 89:12-13). The revelation places strong emphasis on the use of grains, particularly wheat, as the staple of the human diet (D&C 89:14, 16-17), and upon fruits and vegetables ("herbs" verse 11) in season. The Word of Wisdom also states that some "herbs" are present on the earth for the healing of human ailments (D&C 89:8-11). Church members should not consume alcohol, tobacco, tea, or coffee and should use moderation in eating other foods. [Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1584.]
"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
There are few gospel principles which are in greater tension than the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, and resolving this tension is by no means an easy task. [Spencer J. Condie, In Perfect Balance (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993), 96.]
Certain members have wanted to add substantially to various doctrines. An example might be when one advocates additions to the Word of Wisdom that are not authorized by the Brethren and proselytes others to adopt these interpretations. [Quentin L. Cook, "Looking beyond the Mark," Ensign (March 2003): 42.]
Have the Saints always given as much emphasis to the Word of Wisdom as they do today?
Many present-day members of the Church, in reading the diaries, letters, histories of their grandparents and great-grandparents, have discovered that even those who were faithful members of the Church occasionally mention use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicating drinks. Even after the publication of the revelation called the Word of Wisdom in 1835, a number of loyal members continued to indulge in some of these habits despite the Lord’s counsel against it.
We should not be surprised at their doing so, because at that time some of them apparently felt that the revelation meant simply a word of advice and counsel—“not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2)—somewhat on the order of the other words of wisdom in section 88- “get plenty of sleep” and “don’t be idle.”
From time to time Church leaders laid special stress on the importance of the revelation, and in general conference in 1851 the Saints agreed by uplifted hand that they would observe it. Obedience to the Word of Wisdom was listed as a requirement to belong to the School of the Prophets, to the United Order, and to fully participate in many of the important activities of the Church.
Word of Wisdom as a commandment
Although the revelation of the Word of Wisdom was received on 27 February 1833, its acceptance by the individual members of the Church was gradual. On 9 September 1851, some eighteen years after it was given, the Patriarch to the Church, John Smith, delivered a talk to the Saints on the Word of Wisdom. Following his address, President Brigham Young arose and proposed to the general conference that all Saints formally covenant to abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, whiskey, and "all things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom" ("Minutes of the General Conference," Millennial Star, 1 Feb. 1852, p.35). The motion was accepted unanimously and became binding as a commandment for all Church members thereafter. In 1921 Church leaders ended years of discussion on interpreting the Word of Wisdom by making adherence to this important principle a requirement for admission to the temple.
President Brigham Young strongly urged obedience to the principle in the mid-1860s, President John Taylor and others in the 1880s, and President Joseph F. Smith and others in the early years of this past century. President Joseph F. Smith, in a sermon, said, “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment’ or ‘restraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man [and woman] addicted to the use of these noxious things under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.” President Smith stated in 1908, “I believe that we are coming nearer to the point where we shall be able to observe that great and glorious law of temperance which the Lord Almighty has given unto us.”
It was in 1921, under the inspiration of President Heber J. Grant, that the Church as a whole began to consistently regard the revelation not only as “the order and will of God” but also as a binding principle. From that time forward Church leaders have uniformly and consistently insisted on obedience to the revelation—refraining from the use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and intoxicating beverages—as a condition of holding local leadership positions. And from that time forward, compliance with the ban on coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco has been considered essential to ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood, obtaining recommends to the temple, and participating in other ordinances and responsibilities.
We should not be impatient with the Word of Wisdom lapses of early Church members. Certainly there is no reason for us to be ashamed of them. They lived before the revelation was considered binding, and they acted upon the light and understanding which they had. Some of them observed the Word of Wisdom very carefully; others were less scrupulous in this one area but demonstrated their loyalty and goodness in countless other ways. And the Saints as a whole were much more temperate than nineteenth-century persons generally. Travelers to Latter-day Saint communities in the last century praised the temperance and moderation of the Saints. Extreme abuses, particularly drunkenness, were never at any time tolerated among the Saints.
The Lord adds to the Saints’ understanding constantly through the prophet and other leaders he calls. The early Saints struggled through terrible adversities and laid the great foundation of faith that is our heritage. They should be honored and appreciated for their faithfulness to the laws that God revealed to them. At the same time we should be grateful for any additional understanding that adds to our happiness and spiritual growth.
I want to address the apparent lack of clarity within the Word of Wisdom. One would be correct in saying that the revelation, we call the Word of Wisdom, does not say "caffeine," or "cola." Of course, it also doesn't include, as substances to avoid, marijuana or cocaine. One must look past the words and look to the spirit of the counsel contained within the revelation.
Are we looking to abide by the letter or the spirit of the law? The spirit of the law says to treat our bodies well…to feed it healthy substances and to abstain from harmful substances. Is cocaine harmful? Is marijuana harmful? That seems to be a pretty easy question to answer. A more difficult one for many is the question of the harmful effects of caffeine…and the quantities that we should allow in our bodies.
One study(unknown source) has declared that the average American consumes 280 mg of caffeine per day (which is a level considered harmful to the body, according to the same study). This is the equivalent to 2-3 cups of coffee per day. An average and active Latter-day Saint, who abstains from coffee and tea, would have to consume 7 or 8 cans of cola to reach this level…or 18 Cadbury chocolate bars…or 56 cups of hot chocolate (which equates to about 3 buckets full) per day…or some combination of the above.
The point is clear…moderation and avoiding unhealthy substances and/or unhealthy levels of other substances.
Many General Authorities of the Church have included caffeine as something to avoid, consistent with the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. But, that is not by the letter of the law. It is not official Church doctrine. Do we need to avoid any and all levels of caffeine? Well, I guess that is one of those things that are left up to the individual. I will discuss it further later in the paper. Not everything is black and white. There are of course some apparent gray areas, but why do you suppose we have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost? Nevertheless, the official interpretation of the Word of Wisdom on this wise, is coffee and tea.
Some things require us to make a sound judgment call. Not all of us will make the same judgment. Some of us will make wrong judgments, not so sound. We are human…yes, even the Latter-day Saints are human… as much as many would try to hold us to a different standard. We are in a constant battle to overcome the natural man. “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Silly Premises Lead to Silly Conclusions
by Cooper Johnson
One study from the Journal of American Diet concludes that an average 7-oz cup of coffee contains anywhere from 80 to 175 mg of caffeine. That's a pretty wide range. Another study estimates the caffeine content of a cup of coffee at 90-150. Regardless, we can safely average these two studies and say that a cup of coffee will have about 125 mg of caffeine.
These same studies cite the caffeine content of other sources:
A Cadbury chocolate bar has 15 mg of caffeine (one would need to eat more than 8 Cadbury chocolate bars to equate to a cup of coffee).
A glass of chocolate milk has a whopping 8 mg of caffeine (yes, that's more than 16 glasses to match a cup of coffee).
A package of hot chocolate/cocoa, mixed with water or milk, to produce a cup of hot chocolate/cocoa contains 5 mg of caffeine (one would need to consume 25 cups of hot chocolate to equal one cup of coffee).
Jell-O pudding pops contain 2 mg (over 60 pudding pops to equal a cup of coffee).
A glass of iced tea contains about 70 mg of caffeine.
The most popular brands of cola contain about 30-45 mg of caffeine.
However, when considering the health benefits to the Word of Wisdom, should we just look at the caffeine content of coffee, tea and other sources? It is not just the caffeine in coffee and tea that produces harmful effects to our health. Take the caffeine out and you are still left with the following consequences:
Hundreds of potentially harmful chemical components. One class of these compounds is caffeols. Caffeols are coffee oils, which are very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, many other chemicals that have been linked to cancer and heart disease are still present as are other central nervous system stimulants (Journal of the National Cancer Institute 54:587, 1975).
The coffee bean's composition is dramatically altered during roasting, resulting in chemical transformations where more than 700 "volatile substances…are formed (Garattini, Silvio, Caffeine, Coffee and Health, Raven Press, New York, 1993, pp. 17-41 and H. Maarse, Volatile Compounds in Food, Vol. 2, 6th Ed., Zeist, 1989).
Such chemicals as acetaldehyde, ammonia, carbon disulphide, acetic acid, nitrosamines, and others may make coffee a mouthful of trouble! (Garattini, Silvio, Caffeine, Coffee and Health, Raven Press, New York, 1993, pp. 17-41 and H. Maarse, Volatile Compounds in Food, Vol. 2, 6th Ed., Zeist, 1989).
But whether it's decaffeinated or not, just one daily cup of coffee increases the risk of bladder cancer three times (American Journal of Epidemiology 117: 113-127, 1983; Journal of the National Cancer Institute 547, 1975).
And drinking more than two cups a day of caffeinated coffee doubles the risk of fatal bladder cancer (American Journal of Public Health 74(8)820-23, 1984).
Brown drink users have an increased risk of stomach, kidney, lung, pancreatic, ovarian and colon cancer. (George Hodgkin, M.S., R.D., et. al., Caffeine: Bad to the Last Drop, Loma Linda, CA) and (International Journal of Cancer 28(6): 691-693, 1981).
So, we know and can say, scientifically, that coffee brings unique and serious health risks, even without the caffeine. There is plenty of the same regarding tea.
Then we come to the next substance of debate. Non-alcoholic beer! “and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks” (D&C 89:17) O’Doul’s is a brand of non-alcoholic beer. Its label reads “less than 0.5% alcohol by volume.” This is a legal requirement. O’Doul’s is for all intents and purposes alcohol-free. Even if it were 0.5% alcohol, that is equivalent of 1 proof. Most American beers are about 9 proof, which means you would have to drink 9 O’Doul’s to equal one weak American beer.
The following is from the Clausthaler (a non-alcoholic brew) web site:
In the United States, the term “alcohol-free” may only be used for products with no detectable alcohol content. 0.45 (or 0.25) % vol is such a small quantity that many other food products contain similar alcohol quantities. Nearly all fruit juices all have traces of alcohol. In Germany, grape juice is officially allowed to contain up to 1.0 % vol alcohol and soft drinks may contain up to 0.3 % vol alcohol.
Such low alcohol concentrations have no effect on the body organism. Scientific research carried out in the Institute for Medical Law at the University of Frankfurt am Main has confirmed that the consumption of Clausthaler has no effect on one’s BAC (blood alcohol content) or on one’s ability to react. The conclusion of the expert opinion was that even the consumption of a 1.5 ltr. Clausthaler within one hour would not raise the natural BAC(blood alcohol content).
Alcohol content of various foodstuffs
Clausthaler Classic 0.45 % vol
Clausthaler Extra Herb 0.45 % vol
Clausthaler Radler 0.25 % vol
Clausthaler Hefeweizen 0.45 % vol
Apple juice 0.1 - 0.38 % vol
Grape juice 0.15 - 1.0 % vol
Sauerkraut 0.20 - 0.80 % vol
Rye bread 0.34 % vol
German chocolate cake 0.62 % vol
So, if you are going to avoid non-alcoholic brews or even wine for that matter, because they contain minute amounts of alcohol, on that principle you should also avoid rye bread and apple juice. Your reason therefore in abstaining from such substances, (if you choose to do so) should be in response to “avoiding the appearance of evil.” In that case, make your own.
Some questions and answers: insights taken from (E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983).
Don't the beginning verses say the Word of Wisdom isn't a commandment?
Yes. And when it was given as a revelation in 1833, it wasn't. Since then, other prophets have become more adamant about it now being a commandment. (HJG 1921) Today, it is a requirement for baptism and entrance into the temple.
When did the Word of Wisdom become a commandment?
"In 1851, President Brigham Young proposed to the general conference of the Church that all Saints formally covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. This proposal was unanimously upheld by the membership of the Church. Since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment on all Church members" (E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983). Some leniency was still given after that date but President Heber J. Grant finally ending all interpretation and acceptance in 1921 when he proposed it be requirement for all LDS to abide the Word of Wisdom to receive a temple recommend.
What does conspiring men refer to?
"The Lord foresaw the situation of today when motives for money would cause men to conspire to entice others to take noxious substances into their bodies. Advertisements which promote beer, wine, liquors, coffee, tobacco, and other harmful substances are examples of what the Lord foresaw. But the most pernicious example of an evil conspiracy in our time is those who induce young people into the use of drugs" (E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983).
Does this only refer to tobacco, coffee, tea, and alcohol or could it also apply to pharmaceuticals?
It's been a common teaching that it refers to the most commonly discussed prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom (i.e. coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, etc). Ezra Taft Benson made a general statement on this matter. "The Lord foresaw the situation of today when motives for money would cause men to conspire to entice others to take noxious substances into their bodies." (E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983).
Some critics of the pharmaceutical industry believe some products can be more harmful to the body than natural products. However, these are only critics and therefore you should follow the sound guidance of an authorized doctor as far as it is not contrary to the teachings of the church.
What is the Word of Wisdom?
It is often printed in the media as a Mormon Health Code or Mormon Code of Health. And in actuality, that is what the Word of Wisdom is. A code of health for Latter-day Saints.
Verses 5, 7, 8 & 9 of section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants specifically say that alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks are not good for us. Other verses speak of other substances as being good for us (such as herbs, grains, etc).
To what does "tea" refer to?
"I have heard it argued that tea and coffee are not mentioned therein; that is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee—the beverages in common use" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 182).
Tea as it is was consumed in the days of the early Saints, as it is today, was an infusion of the leaves, buds and internodes of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Teas derived from this plant include black tea, green tea, oolong tea, congou tea, pekoe tea, orange pekoe tea and souchong tea. They are available under numerous brands and product names. Some members however have interpreted the revelation to only mean black tea, which was the common type they used. I have not found in my research any official church statements that say otherwise or specify this claim. I know some who drink green tea and feel fine with it.
Are diet supplements that contain green tea against the Word of Wisdom?
The Word of Wisdom specifically states hot drinks. It does not specify ingredients that make up those hot drinks. While many prophets since Brigham Young have clarified that hot drinks means tea and coffee, they have not said that the coffee bean or the tea leaves are in violation of the Word of Wisdom (or at least not so far as I’ve found in my research). However, iced tea is also said to be against the Word of Wisdom, so it appears that the temperature of the drink is irrelevant. One interpretation of the hot drinks portion of the Word of Wisdom could specify only the drink form.
Are herbal teas against the Word of Wisdom?
Herbal teas are not infusions of parts of the tea plant. They are infusions of other herbs, fruits and flowers. Therefore, it is totally up to personal interpretation.
Is caffeine the reason tea and coffee are restricted?
Not necessarily. The Lord has never said that we are to abstain from tea and coffee because of the caffeine. In fact, He has never said what the physical reason is. We are to abstain from them because it is a commandment and because they "are not for the body" (D&C 89:9).
Is decaffeinated tea or decaffeinated coffee fine to drink?
As above, caffeine has never been revealed as the reason why we are not to partake of tea and coffee. The revelation has only been interpreted as coffee and tea. Period. I would strongly argue that these should not be permit able based on the fact that caffeine is not the revealed reason to abstain from such substances.
Does tea include "iced tea"?
Iced tea is still an infusion of the plant mentioned above, except where the drink is derived from other sources (herbs, fruits and flowers). Some argue the relevance of the temperature of the drink. To me that is ridiculous.
Are cola drinks prohibited in the Word of Wisdom?
Tricky but No. But some leaders have encouraged us not to partake of them.
"With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided" (Priesthood Bulletin, Feb 1972).
Whether or not Cola, (caffeinated) drinks falls into this category is open to personal interpretation. There are of course many arguments that could be made for and against it, or for their occasional use for headaches or fatigue and such. It’s more like deciding whether or not women should wear that second pair of ear rings to me.(of course I don’t wear ear rings at all) Or if priesthood holders should wear white shirts to church.( I do wear white shirts) We have a lot of these types of counsels in the church that are not official doctrine. It’s gentle counsel from our prophets. Will we follow it or not? Will it prevent our progression? Probably not, but we are all on different levels on a spiritual path. It’s up to us!
Isn't herbal tea just decaffeinated tea?
No. Herbal tea is not created from the tea plant.
Are all herbal teas then fine to drink without fear of breaking the Word of Wisdom?
No. Some do contain parts of the tea plant. Care should be taken when purchasing herbal teas to read the list of ingredients.
What about other hot drinks?
It has been said that drinking beverages of high temperatures can cause damage to the lining of the mouth, oesophagus and stomach. However, "hot drinks" only refers to tea and coffee.
What were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee—the beverages in common use" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 182).
Is chocolate against the Word of Wisdom?
“At no time has cocoa or chocolate been included in the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom, and at no time has the Church said that cocoa is as harmful as coffee. Those who make these claims do so on their own responsibility and obviously without knowing the facts of the matter” (Elder Mark E. Peterson, Patterns for Living [Bookcraft, 1962], pp. 235-37).
Heber C. Kimball included chocolate and cocoa among the hot drinks, but then they drank them extremely hot. When they said hot, they meant hot! So it’s ok; just don’t drink it too hot, or you’ll burn your tongue. Please enjoy chocolate; life would not be the same without it! (Laughs)
Are tea tree oil products made from the same plant as green tea?
Tea tree oil is derived from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. Tea is derived from the Camellia sinensis plant
Where is exercise mentioned in the Word of Wisdom?
It's not. Many people have mentioned that the Word of Wisdom is a revelation concerning diet and exercise. However, guidelines are never given concerning exercise. The mention of such words as "run and not be weary" and "walk and not faint" are not instances of exercise suggestions. They are examples of blessings we will receive from full obedience to the Word of Wisdom/commandments.
However, other passages (such as D&C 88:124) suggest that exercise and sufficient rest are vital to health. They are also words of wisdom.
Are these blessings of health and intellect solely dependent on obedience to the Word of Wisdom?
No. Verse 18 states that "walking in obedience to the commandments" will provide us with these blessings. President Benson in April of 1983 interpreted this to mean all commandments.
What are considered strong drinks?
"Strong drinks [or, in other words, alcoholic or harmful beverages] are not for the belly" (E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983).
Because of its low alcohol content and because it's made with barley, would beer be one of the mild drinks in verse 17?
Yes, it is possible. But what can be considered low content? The Word of Wisdom was not given as a commandment at first, and many early members of the Church probably drank beer. Currently, however, prophets have considered beer to be against the Word of Wisdom. It does have alcohol in it, although it varies from brands and types.
‘Stay away from those things proscribed in the Word of Wisdom-no alcohol, no beer, no tobacco." (Gordon B. Hinckley, regional conference, Montreal, Quebec, 6 Aug. 1998)
“God bless you to grow in faith and to avoid the filthy, terrible sleaze that is all around you, to turn away from it and live above it, to stay away from beer and anything of that kind which is made so tempting for you." (Gordon B. Hinckley, regional conference, Salt Lake Holladay, 8 Feb. 1998)
“Avoid alcohol as you would a loathsome disease. Beer will do to you what hard liquor will do. Each contains alcohol in varying amounts." (Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1999)
Unless it’s non-alcoholic beer or a home made barley drink, stay away from it!
The Grey of the Grey!
Grape juice and wine both come from grapes, right? Wine is not Mormon kosher because it is fermented and contains alcohol.
Ok; fair enough,
Green tea and black tea both come from the tea plant, Camelilia sinensis. Black tea is fermented. Green tea is not. Drink grape juice? Drink green tea?
Can these really be compared?
It’s also said to be very good for you. Again, this is debatable, because we can get the same nutrition from other healthy sources.
The official missionary discussions in German, state “schwarzer Tee,” “black tea” (a necessary clarification because “tea” in German means any infused drink).
Wow, I have a headache now. What should I do? Green tea anyone? (Silent cries of noooooooo!) I’ll pass.
Yeah… I have no idea about this conundrum. Decide how you will.
This goes to show that we must follow the word of wisdom by the spirit of the law by personal spiritual interpretation until the prophets reveal the interpretations otherwise. Whenever a substance comes into question and doubt whether or not it may or may not be ok, we should take 3 steps. First search out what facts there are about the particular substances, then second search out what general authorities have counseled or recommended in both official and non official church statements. Third, ask Heavenly father in ponderous and fervent personal prayer. Follow the answer the spirit gives you. Reconfirm the response if necessary. Remember your answer is not another’s and should not be forced or even recommended as the right way to follow.
Internet poll from nine moons of 100 latter day saints: They think that…
These are interesting results. I would say however that in an internet poll of only 100 LDS, there is by no means any sort of conclusive results to what we believe the Word of Wisdom to be. It is however a starting point, and interesting to look at and discuss. It amazes me that 27/100 people thinks it’s ok to drink decaf coffee. What were you taught in Sunday school? Although I’m glad to see it’s not like 40/100. As far as O’Doul’s, I’m not that surprised, I expected somewhere close to 50/100. My question to the 66/100 who think it’s not ok would be, is it because of the -0.5% alcohol or is it the appearance of evil thing? I would expect most people would answer the latter. I myself am a fence sitter on this one; I would probably chalk it up to the appearance of evil thing. But then again I run around with my Stewarts Root beer, that doesn’t look much better. I’m astonished that 34 people think it’s ok to have green tea. I actually thought maybe only 10/100. It shows that it’s actually a grey area. 25 people won’t eat candy cigarettes. That’s just funny. When I was a kid, I’d pretend to smoke them. That’s not so good. We got some real stalwarts here. Coffee ice cream has been a topic of debate in my discussions for years and I’m not surprised by the 49/100. One must ask if it’s any different than iced tea. How much coffee is really in it? One could ask the same for Coffee crisp bars. I’m guessing though if we polled Coffee crisp bars, it would be more like 85/100. I know people who won’t eat them though. It’s a very interesting debate. A huge 98% think its ok to have steak in the summer. I’m not surprised again. With freezers, we can keep meat fresh year round, and we don’t consume so much of it in the winter like they did in the old days. This is something that has developed with technology. We should still eat it sparingly though. I don’t see a big difference between chocolate covered espresso beans and tiramisu, but yet 13 more people think its ok to have tiramisu. I’d like to know the reasoning, as I don’t understand either response. Who really wants to eat hard green mangos? I argue 70% is too high a response for this one. Unripe out of season fruits aren’t good for you. These days however we can usually buy ripe fruit year round at the grocery stores. 39/100 people think its ok to ingest second hand smoke. Are you crazy? Second hand smoke kills and is just as bad as smoking itself. I wouldn’t recommend purposefully putting yourself some place where there was second hand smoke. It makes me sick to my stomach anyway. I just don’t understand the reasoning to suggest its ok at anytime. I mean if you walk into it accidentally and inhale some it’s not a sin, or if you smell the presence of it from the smoking section across the pool hall. But don’t stick around in the midst of it to inhale more if you know what I mean. This should be more like 0-5% in my eyes.
There are the never ending debates of herbal teas, green tea extract capsules, Coke/Pepsi, decaffeinated coke, root beer, ginger beer, and the type of bottles their contained in. Hot chocolate, cocoa powder, non-alcoholic wine, spritzers, rum candies, -0.5% alcoholic beer. American beer vs. German beer? What really is mild? Is using wine ok in cooking? How about buying liquor for others? Having it in your house? Going into bars to dance or eat? What about the appearance of evil? How should that be interpreted? –search, ponder and pray.
I would say to use caution and discretion and to follow the three steps if a substance comes into doubt. Use the Holy Ghost to direct you in all things. Are we worthy of His guidance to begin with? There will always be however those who feel completely ok with something when another feels it is completely wrong. “He, who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
About our Prophets
“I say to Israel, The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, selected by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 212-213.)
Whenever considering a commandment or teaching, I keep in mind what President Harold B. Lee said. That such a teaching must be (1) consistent with scripture, (2) consistent with the teachings of the prophets living and dead, (3) consistent with the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and (4) consistent with human experience.
When are Prophets speaking as Prophets and when are they speaking as men with ideas?
They almost always let us know when they are speaking in behalf of the Lord. Sometimes we are guilty of over belief with expectations too high for our prophets. We believe every statement that they have ever made, at any venue. These are fallible men, not God. They do make mistakes in speaking and in thought; it’s only human to do so. However, as stated above, when it comes to official doctrine, the Lord will not permit them to lead us astray. Therefore, follow the spirit when seeking answers to the mysteries, and questionable doctrines and theologies.
Is our current emphasis on the Word of Wisdom apostate?
I think the answer to this is an unequivocal “No”. The reason I believe this is because the very same keys that Joseph held when the original revelation was given have been passed down to all of his successors. The very authority that makes D&C 89 scripture was used by later prophets to tell the church that the ban on certain substances was no longer optional. Now whether God thought of that plan or his servants thought of that doesn’t matter, because God backs up his servants. They lead by inspiration from the spirit. You don’t have to take my word on that though - you can verify that with God yourself.
I think that our current emphasis on the Word of Wisdom is a bit out of proportion to how it was intended to be. (Like I said before, I know some members who won’t eat a coffee crisp bar or consume non alcoholic sparkling wines) One thinks of Joseph Smith drinking beer on occasions till the end of his life. We think about how Sec. 89 itself condones ‘mild drinks’ made of barley, aka beer. It counsels against strong drinks. We think of the spittoons which used to be in the Salt Lake Temple. The church did talk quite a bit about it in the 19th century, but they we never as fanatic about it as we are. Yet we progressed and chose by common consent as a church to live a higher standard, and today we abstain from certain substances and this observance has become a requirement for baptism and temple service. We have made covenants to do so and now we are bound by that. We live and grow line upon line, precept upon precept. Yet these days, some think that people who drink Diet Coke aren’t keeping the spirit of the law. Sometimes they are looked down upon. Are we not falsely judging? Are we not falsely interpreting? What about the new convert who is striving yet struggling to break old habits, how do we look upon that? “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Mat 23:24) Yes, the word of wisdom has been progressive in time and so it should be as we constantly strive to live a more spiritual life, but where do we draw the line? Our personal choices should not be forced on others today just as they were not in the earlier days of the church. We must learn to follow the spirit of the law and not be like so many Pharisees of old.
That said, is “placing barriers” a bad thing? I don’t think so. In fact I’m greatly in favor of personal barriers. They will only help with our safety and protection and increase spirituality. I’m suggesting if one doesn’t have faith enough to voluntarily give up illegal drugs/alcohol/tobacco/ tea/coffee, how can they have enough faith in Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. Do you know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and do you believe the church is true?
I believe in the Word of Wisdom and strive to live it. However, I do believe its interpretations are overemphasized as a measure of personal righteousness, and even more so as a measure of “unworthiness.” It is amazing to me that active, temple-recommend-holding members of the church seem relatively unconcerned about 25% home teaching, but would have an absolute fit if they saw a fellow member drinking a non- alcoholic beer. Are we judging others according to our own views and interpretations? Or are we even judging others according to what the lord has said when it is not our position to do so? I think God is far more concerned about our failures to love our neighbors than Word of Wisdom short comings. I would even take it so far to say the same, if it was a cigarette or a coffee we saw. I absolutely don’t condone it. It is a commandment to abstain from certain substances. Nevertheless, give me a tea-sipping, coke drinking home teacher who visits, serves, and loves his assigned families every month over a prude who can’t find enough time in the 720 hours a month he is given to serve as the Lord’s servant.
Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!-Mathew 23
Jesus says it meekly…
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
The Promise- D&C 89
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
It is not included in mortality for man to be immune from suffering but it does guarantee that things will be as they should be. The main thing about the Word of Wisdom is that it represents a new way of life. We don't realize this, but when we go back to the Journal of Discourses: tea, coffee, tobacco and liquor are all a part of our way of life, but they are luxuries, a form of indulgence, and a form of gracious living. The Saints needed to break away from that. They are things we really don't need because they are stimulants or narcotics. The early Saints were forced to give them up when they ran out of supplies. The Saints in St. George had no trouble at all with the Word of Wisdom because they couldn't get any of the stuff. They adopted the Word of Wisdom, and it worked. In other words, they were forced into a new way of life. There's a book that came out on alcohol in American history. In the 19th century it seems that Americans imbibed a pint of liquor every day. This was their way of life—perfectly normal. The Word of Wisdom was necessary to stop the cycle within these customs, for the coming forth of the kingdom in the latter days. Brigham Young said the older generation is too far gone. "We must begin with the younger generation. The older ones need it. They collapse without it. They must have their coffee, etc." Ezra T. Benson said that this was a whole new way of life—a cultural revolution which the Saints have not yet accepted.
Brigham Young again: "When we first heard the revelation many of us thought that it consisted just of our drinking tea and coffee. But it is not just these things but every other evil that is calculated to contaminate this people. We should feel to thank the Lord that we have escaped thus far the contaminating influence of the Gentiles." George Albert Smith said the same in the conference: "The Word of Wisdom sifts the people. They do not realize it. How carefully they are being tested. It's a gradation, so to speak. It's a cultural revolution. So also is their treatment of animals, etc." And the same year (1855) Brigham Young again speaks: "The people have laid the foundation of short life through their diet, their rest, their labor, their doing this, that and the other in a wrong manner with improper motives at improper times." "Let all things be in moderation" is what we have here. "Suppose I say, 'Come wife, let's have a good dinner today.'" Well, this is a Victorian tradition, you see. What does she get? "Pork and beef, stewed, roasted, fried, boiled, potatoes, cabbage, onions, turnips, eggs, custard, pies of all kinds, cheese and sweet meats. Now I admit that my wife and I sit down and overload our stomachs until we feel the deleterious effects of it from the crowns of our heads to the soles of our feet, eyeballs protruding and belts snapping and everything else." Then he says, "The whole system is disturbed by its operations and is ready to receive heart disease. A child begotten under such conditions is liable to be born with a tabernacle subject to pain and distress. Will all hearken to this plain statement? No. You might as well talk to the wild geese that fly over us."
In a speech given in Provo on the Word of Wisdom Brigham Young says. "It has been an organic part of the church teachings at all times. Like the temple garments, it is a protection. It is an admonition to wisdom, giving appetites, desires and passions within boundaries, and is to be considered with discretion. It is a protection from evil and designing men and from many things that can harm us."
These really are some great promises. Keeping in mind they are contingent upon keeping all of the commandments and not just the Word of Wisdom only. I especially like the part, “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures”. I would chalk it up to the fact that if we are following this law, we are more open to receive the spirit and be in tune to His promptings and teachings.
Excerpts from Wikipedia:
Interpretation by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Adoption as binding
At a general conference of the church held on September 9, 1851, BrighamYoung imposed the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom revelation as a binding commandment for all Latter-day Saints.
Adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom was not made a requirement for entry into LDS Church temples until 1902. However, even then, church president Joseph F. Smith encouraged stake presidents to be liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Of those who violated the revelation, it was mainly habitual drunkards that were excluded from the temple. In 1921, church president Heber J. Grant made adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom an absolute requirement for entering the temple.
Today, adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom is required for baptism and for entry into temples of the LDS Church. Adherence to the prescriptions of the Word of Wisdom and the revelation's counsel on the use of meat have never been made obligatory.
Official modern interpretation
The church's official statement on the interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is short: it reaffirms the long-standing meaning of "hot drinks" and extends the substances covered by prohibition:
The only official interpretation of "hot drinks" (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term "hot drinks" means tea and coffee. Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.
Although avoiding the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom is a requirement for admission to LDS temples, violation of the Word of Wisdom no longer results in church discipline, as it once did; the church instructs its leaders that church discipline "should not be [used] to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom".
The prohibition of "wine or strong drink" is widely interpreted as a blanket prohibition of all alcoholic beverages, regardless of the level of alcoholic content of the drink. The revelation suggests that making barley-based mildly alcoholic beverages (such as beer) may be permissible, and as recently as 1901 Apostles Brigham Young, Jr. and John Henry Smith argued that the revelation did not prohibit beer. Today, however, there are few Latter-day Saints who view the consumption of such drinks as permitted by the Word of Wisdom.
Generally, members of the church view the prohibition on "hot drinks" as covering coffee and tea, whether or not the drinks are hot. There is generally thought to be no prohibition against herbal tea, hot chocolate, or malt drinks, such as Ovaltine or Milo.
The Word of Wisdom states that meat should not be eaten, except "in times of winter, or of cold, or famine". While a minority of church members adhere to this restriction, most do not. Although from 1898 to 1901, church president Lorenzo Snow repeatedly emphasized the importance of eating meat sparingly, compliance with this injunction has never been made mandatory. An official church publication suggests that because "[m]odern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season", the Word of Wisdom's limitations on the time of eating meat is not as important as observing the counsel to use it "sparingly".
Gray areas of debate
Cola and other caffeinated beverages
A longstanding issue among members of the church is whether it is permissible to ingest drinks containing caffeine that are not coffee or tea. In 1918, Frederick J. Pack, a Latter-day Saint professor at the University of Utah, published an article in an official church magazine in which he reasoned that because Coca-Cola contained caffeine, which is also present in tea and coffee, Latter-day Saints should abstain from Coca-Cola in the same way that they abstain from the Word of Wisdom "hot drinks". Since Pack's article, many Latter-day Saints have come to believe that the reason tea and coffee are proscribed is the presence of caffeine in the drinks. However, the church has never stated that this is the reason for the prohibition.
The church has no official stance on the consumption of caffeinated beverages and the consumption of such does not constitute a violation of the Word of Wisdom. However, a number of church leaders have discouraged the use of such products. For example, in 1922, Church President Heber J. Grant counseled the Latter-day Saints:
I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola [sic] alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious. The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.
Two years after making this statement, Grant met with a representative of the Coca-Cola Company to discuss the church's position on Coca-Cola; at the conclusion of their second meeting, Grant stated that he was "sure I have not the slightest desire to recommend that the people leave Coca-Cola alone if th[e] amount [of caffeine in Coca-Cola] is absolutely harmless, which they claim it is". Grant never again spoke out against the use of cola drinks.
Approximately fifty years later, the church issued an official statement which stated:
With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.
Because of such statements, some adherents believe that caffeine is officially prohibited under the Word of Wisdom. Some members who hold that caffeinated soft drinks are prohibited distinguish between foods with naturally occurring caffeine and those in which caffeine is an additive.
Speculation also exists concerning the use of alcohol as a cooking ingredient or the use of decaffeinated coffee or tea. The church has taken no official stance on either.
Health studies regarding Latter-day Saints
A 14-year selective study conducted by UCLA epidemiologist James E. Enstrom tracked the health of 10,000 moderately active LDS people in California and ended in 1987. Of these non-smoking, monogamous non-drinkers, Enstrom concluded from the study "that LDS Church members who follow religious mandates barring smoking and drinking have one of the lowest death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases—about half that of the general population. ... Moreover, the healthiest LDS Church members enjoy a life expectancy eight to 11 years longer than that of the general white population in the United States." The standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) for whites in the general population is defined as 100. For males in the study, the SMRs "are 47 for all cancers, 52 for cardiovascular diseases, and 47 for all causes; the SMRs for females are 72 for all cancers, 64 for cardiovascular diseases, and 66 for all causes." For LDS high priests who never smoked cigarettes, exercised, and had proper sleep, the mortality rate was less. The results were largely duplicated in a separate study of an LDS-like subgroup of white non-smoking churchgoers in Alameda, California.
Some Latter-day Saints use studies such as these to extol the Word of Wisdom as divine guidance, the value of which will be recognized in time. However, the studies correlate health primarily with the prohibition against tobacco and, perhaps, church attendance. Critics reject these studies in part because other factors may be credited for Latter-day Saints' longevity and health.
The Church’s increased emphasis on Word of Wisdom observance.
For most of LDS history the Word of Wisdom was viewed with some laxity and most certainly more with moderation than abstinence. Wilford Woodruff, for instance, “concluded that it was wisdom to deal with all such matters according to the wisdom which God gave; that a forced abstinence was not making us free, but should [put us] under bondage with a yoke upon our necks.” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 7 November 1841 quoted in Bergera , 32.) Orson Pratt, and probably other members, felt that Word of Wisdom infractions were not as serious as disobedience to more fundamental Gospel principles. (Orson Pratt, JD [May 20, 1855] 3:18.) Despite the fact that the Word of Wisdom was not lived to the degree that it is today, non-Mormon visitors to both Nauvoo, and later Salt Lake City, observed that the Mormons were more moderate in their consumption of those elements proscribed by the Word of Wisdom than their contemporaries. (Peterson, 47-48; Arrington, 42.)
Initially Brigham Young, like Joseph Smith, took a tolerant rather than a vigilant attitude to Word of Wisdom observance. Nels Anderson wrote, “For him the test of a man's faith was his integrity to an assignment given by the church. Could a man take a company of Saints to a desert and hold them to the task of building a community; then it didn’t matter much to Brother Brigham if he was a user of whiskey and tobacco. Those “Word of Wisdom” virtues were precious to him but secondary.’” (Quoted in Arrington, 41.)
As gospel knowledge grew LDS leaders began to recognize the wisdom of D&C 89 and efforts appeared periodically to commit to greater adherence. “Additional evidence of serious concern,” notes Peterson, “is seen in the fact that in December, 1850, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, and other Church [leaders] met in Young’s ‘upper room’ to pray. Here they concluded to ‘renew the Word of Wisdom.’” (Quoted in Peterson, 44.) By 1862 Brigham Young had curbed his own habits and encouraged the members to curb their bad Word of Wisdom habits as well. Then by 1867 Brigham Young began campaigning for a stronger emphasis on the Word of Wisdom. The Women’s’ Relief Society and the men’s School of the Prophets were both organized in each Mormon community and adopted rules requiring Word of Wisdom observance. At that time the primary reason for the increased stress on the Word of Wisdom was economic. (Arrington, 43.) It had become necessary for the Mormons to develop and maintain a self-sufficient economy. This required not only developing their own resources (which included providing jobs for the hundreds of new converts arriving regularly), but also controlling their cash outflow which was needed for the home economy as well as the gathering of Saints into the Valley– which required large sums of cash. The Mormons could not afford to waste their liquid assets on imports such as alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. There would have been no problem producing these products locally for their own consumption, but “something more permanent and productive than tea, coffee, and tobacco was wanted for the building of the Kingdom, in view of the limited funds at the disposal of the Saints.” (Ibid., 44.)
In the 1860's Brigham Young suggested that the Saints in St. George manufacture their own wine to provide for the sacrament wine as well as to help their economic situation (which was destitute at that time). (Ibid., 46; Peterson, 64.) The need for economic independence fueled the LDS desire to break their bad Word of Wisdom habits, and little by little the Church saw an increase in observance. Peterson, however, explains, that “while the economic motive was the major factor in bringing about an increased stress on Word of Wisdom observance, Brigham Young also stressed the spiritual side. ...Moreover, one can sense after reading various conference addresses in 1867 that the Authorities were becoming preoccupied with the idea of more strict observance of the Word of Wisdom, rather than the notion of producing these products locally.” (Peterson, 58.)
“The spirit whispers to me,” said Young in 1867, “to call upon the Latter-day Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, to let tea, coffee, and tobacco alone, and to abstain from drinking spirituous drinks.” (JD [August 17, 1867] 12:118.) In this same year, Brigham Young referred to the Word of Wisdom as “the word of the Lord,” and explained to the members that although they had a great many privileges, indulgence in liquor and other injurious substances was not one of them. (JD [April 7, 1867] 12:29.)
Although LDS leaders urged greater observance and more dedicated commitment, members were slow in following the counsel. Many members had become addicted to these stimulants. Showing compassion for those who were addicted– especially the older members who had been addicted for years– efforts were concentrated on the younger generation. (See George A. Smith, JD [April 8, 1855] 2:362-364 and JD [August 2, 1857] 5:111.)
By the late 1800's, despite the high production of wine in Southern Utah, the Church became convinced that the promotion of this industry was a mistake due (in part) to the degradation of individual Saints. More of the home-grown wine was consumed in the Mormon settlements than church officials had hoped, and in1900 Church members were counseled to dig up their vineyards. (Arrington, 46.)
John Taylor, Brigham Young’s successor, took leadership of the Church in 1880, and two years later, according to one researcher, received a revelation designating the Word of Wisdom as a commandment. (Cited in Peterson, 69-70.) By the following year (1883) the Church saw the commencement of a “Second Reformation” which stressed, among other things, greater observance of the Word of Wisdom. (Ibid., 71.) In fact, the Quorum of the Twelve pledged themselves to observe the principals of the Word of Wisdom. Peterson notes that this stress on the Word of Wisdom “was strictly moralistic as Church members were urged to heed the revelation because God desired it and not because of economic pressure or health considerations.” (Ibid., 107.)
The renewed emphasis on Word of Wisdom compliance began to see fruition. Observance by way of abstinence was being preached vigorously throughout the Church until the Polygamy persecutions caused a shift of focus and a minor slump in observance. By 1894 Wilford Woodruff became President of the Church and spoke forcefully to the members about Word of Wisdom compliance. (Ibid., 76-77.) With the increasing concern over observance, some leaders began to question whether those who did not fully follow the Word of Wisdom should be allowed to attend the Temple. In the early 1900's bishops were asked to consider each situation on its own merits since there was no rigid rule for each case. (Bergera, 32.) Recognizing that it would be a hardship for the older men– who had become addicted– to abstain from tobacco in order to enter the Temple, the First Presidency decided in 1902 that such members “should at least be willing to curtail themselves as much as they possibly can, and promise to cleanse themselves from the tobacco odor and not to use it at all the days they do work in the temple.” (Quoted in Bergera, 32.)
Just as the Israelites wandered for forty years raising a new generation before their arrival to the promised land, so likewise, the Lord, in his wisdom allowed the Word of Wisdom to develop slowly so that the revelation might be “adapted to the weakest of the Saints” (D&C 89:3.) Joseph F. Smith, fifth President of the Church, felt “the reason ...why the Word of Wisdom was given not by commandment or constraint was that at that time . . . it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation.” He reasoned that a merciful God would give individuals a chance to overcome undesirable habits before bringing them under law. (Conference Reports, October, 1913, p. 14) Nevertheless, Joseph F. Smith felt that it was time for stricter observance. In 1902 he “urged stake presidents and others to refuse recommends to flagrant violators but to be somewhat liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Habitual drunkards, however, were to be denied temple recommends.” (Alexander , 79.) As demands for observance increased bishops were advised to no “‘longer tolerate men in presiding positions who would not keep the Word of Wisdom.’” By 1906, in keeping with the increased emphasis on abstinence, the First Presidency and Twelve substituted water for wine in the sacrament in their temple meetings. (Cited in Bergera, 32; see also Alexander , 79 and Alexander , 261.) Seven years later, the First Presidency instructed the President of the Salt Lake Stake, not to call or recommend missionaries who did not observe the Word of Wisdom. (Clark, 4:283.) Five years later Heber J. Grant became Church President and in 1921, adherence to the Word of Wisdom was made a requirement for admission to the temple. (Alexander , 82; Peterson, 90.)
Final Question: Why Would God Change Moderation to Abstinence?
The question might be answered that God did not change Word of Wisdom observance from moderation to abstinence, but rather than the Latter-day Saints eventually came to recognize what God knew all along-- that abstinence was preferred to ineffectual self-policed moderation. In verse four of the D&C 89 – which originally was the first verse– the Lord explains that this revelation was given “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” (See also Ford, 134-4.) The revelation begins not by condemning the stimulants it later suggests avoiding, but rather warning that it is due to the evil of conspiring men that the revelation was given. In our day we see the enticing alcohol and tobacco ads designed to lure young men and women into partaking of these vices. We read of the on-going lawsuits with the Tobacco Industry and the claims that they were aware of the links with cancer years ago. Addiction to these harmful stimulants drives billion dollar businesses.
While it is possible that in a perfect world moderation might be sufficient, even a cursory investigation of the ills caused by tobacco and alcohol alone should demonstrate that mankind is generally incapable of such moderation. Alcoholism, drunk drivers, date rape, and a variety of other maladies can be traced to the over-indulgence of alcohol. Sometimes critics cite studies which indicate that the consumption of small quantities of alcoholic can be healthy. While there may be some truth to this, the problem, as one researcher has noted, is that “moderate drinking can easily turn heavier, increasing the drinker’s risk of other diseases. Besides... any protection from alcohol is far less than a person gets from more traditional practices like exercise, proper diet and avoiding tobacco.” (Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, May 14, 1984.) Other researchers are not so sure about the conclusiveness of these studies. “‘A protective effect’” of the moderate consumption of alcohol, notes Dr. Arthur Klatsky, “‘is not really proven’” (Ibid.) and some research indicates that the same preventive benefits can be obtained from drinking grape or apple juice. (Ogden Standard Examiner, May 17, 1992.)
As for tobacco, Dr. James Mason, director of the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta wrote:
...the Surgeon General of the United States has identified cigarette smoking as the single most important cause of disease and premature death. Tobacco kills thirteen times as many Americans as hard drugs do, and eight times as many as automobile accidents. (Mason, 59-61.)
One report has established that “smoking and smokeless tobacco kill more adults than any other preventable cause of death, including war, famine and terrorist attacks....” (Deseret News, Jan. 12, 1986) In 1985, the Chicago Tribune observed that “drug abuse, including cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, has become the No. 1 cause of death in America, accounting for nearly one out of three deaths, according to a federal study.” (Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, March 3, 1985.)
There appears to be at least three reasons why Word of Wisdom emphasis went from moderation to abstinence.
1) Line upon Line.
It is important to understand that not every Gospel Principal was, or is, revealed in its complete form all at once. Joseph Smith once said: “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.” (TPJS 297.) As new truths are revealed, previous revelations are modified to accommodate additional light. “But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little....” (Isaiah 28:13; D&C 98:12.) “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:23-24.) It is not strange that many truths are revealed in stages or degrees. Brigham Young once said:
I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fullness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, groveling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities. (JD 2:314.)
Although the righteous will be prompted in correct directions by the Spirit, I believe that we (and the prophets) are often expected to figure things out first. And thanks to continuing, modern, revelation we have the blessing of hearing the Lord’s word on the subject as the work progresses.
The Church has seen a variety of changes and improvements as gospel knowledge has increased. The garment, for example, has undergone a series of changes, including changes of length. Early LDS garments extended to the wrists and ankles (See Melvin J. Ballard to Mr. Lloyd J. Ririe, December 1, 1933 in “Research Notes on LDS Temples-- Temple Clothes Letter, “New; Buerger , 55; Alexander , 201) and were (until 1979) always one-piece. (Buerger , 56.) Rebaptisms were not uncommon in early LDS history– especially during the Salt Valley “Reformation” of 1856-1857. (See Campbell, 181-84; King and King, 63; Quinn , 226-32.) Even the Temple admission standards and questions have undergone changes. (Edward Kimball , 135-76.]
Early Mormons understood things differently than we do today. Just as Biblical figures had strange view about the shape of the earth (Isaiah 11:12), the motion of the planets (Joshua 10:6), and animal husbandry (Genesis 30:33-39), so likewise some early LDS leaders had odd views about the habitation of the Sun, treasure-digging and a variety of other topics. Not only did they have their own cultural views, but the views of the Saints, and LDS leaders, did not always harmonize with the views of Joseph Smith. The early members of the Church, for example, voted to retain Sidney Rigdon as a counselor in the first presidency despite the protests of Joseph. (CHC 2:242-3.)
Considering the fact that there are other examples of partial understanding developing into advanced understanding as prophets and Saints became more spiritually mature, it is entirely possible that the early Saints simply did not fully comprehend the significance and scope of the Word of Wisdom. It’s entirely possible that we still don’t fully understand the depth of the principals which the Lord revealed.
2) Economic concerns and the Gathering of Israel.
As I’ve pointed out earlier, economic factors played a major if not sole role in the increased Word of Wisdom observance in the 1860's and 1870's. There are some who suggest that the early Saints never took the Word of Wisdom seriously until Brigham Young used the revelation as the perfect tool to enlist the assistance of Saints in supporting the emigration efforts. The Word of Wisdom would thus have been revealed for this later purpose of addressing the cash leak problem which would have hindered the gathering of Saints in the Salt Lake Valley. Since the Word of Wisdom tells us that it was revealed for the “temporal” salvation of the Saints, it is significant to recall that the gathering of Saints formed the foundation of their temporal salvation. (Thanks to Andrew Piereder for pointing out this perspective on LDS-Hist email list, July 28, 2000.) Even later prophets have noted the financial stress put upon those who refuse to observance the Word of Wisdom. In 1944, for example, Heber J. Grant said:
In thinking seriously of the economic condition of the world, I am convinced without doubt, that a revelation in the book of D&C, known as the Word of Wisdom, given by the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth, to the Prophet Joseph Smith over 100 years ago, would solve the economic problems not only of our country but of every other country, if it were obeyed by the people of the world. (Heber J. Grant, April 1936, Conference Report, p. 48.)
3) The Lord’s timetable for the fruition of Word of Wisdom blessings required an intermediate generation.
When the Word of Wisdom was first revealed, the health benefits which could have been attained from strict observance were minimal. Life expectancy was thirty-five years and by 1900 was still less than fifty years– less than that of underdeveloped countries today. (Bush , 59.) Whereas the Word of Wisdom would have extended the lives of adult Mormons, most Mormons (and non-Mormons) died in either infancy or before they would have reached an age where the Word of Wisdom’s preventive effects (cancer, heart disease, etc.) would have any real impact. (Ibid.) The Lord, of course, knew that the time would come when adherence to the Word of Wisdom would impact the life expectancy and health of the Saints. Considering the length of time it took for the Saints to comprehend the significance of the Word of Wisdom and wean themselves from the addictive elements which it proscribed, it interesting that by the time this realization was made the health value of the revelation was real. As Lester Bush has written:
...whatever merit or function the Word of Wisdom had for the nineteenth-century Mormons, in retrospect we know that circumstances changed around the turn of the century in such a way that its guidelines would unquestionably promote better physical health (i.e., there was more cigarette smoking and less serious infectious disease). That this development– the implications of which were not apparent to the medical scientists for decades-- coincided with a decision by the church leadership to require firm adherence to the Word of Wisdom is quite remarkable. It may well represent their most demonstrably prescient insight to date in helping assure that the “destroying angel” of disease will “pass us by.” (Ibid., 60.)
The health benefits of the Word of Wisdom have been extolled by many researchers– and for good reason.
There may be other reasons for the change in Word of Wisdom observance and perspective, but the forgoing reasons fit comfortably into a framework of logic and the historical record. If we think in terms of the distinction between “rules” and “laws,” as J. Reuben Clark outlines below, we need not worry about why the status of the Word of Wisdom changed.
“My brothers and sisters, my young people, the Church cannot change the laws of God. They stand immutable. We may change the rules; we may say that a drunkard may go into the temple; we may say that a blasphemer may go into the temple; we may say that he who drinks tea and coffee may go into the temple. These rules we may change. But we cannot change the biological law that he who uses narcotics must pay the penalty somehow, somewhere, sometime--he himself or his children or his children’s children. And this is the tragedy and the curse of disobeying nature's laws and God’s laws.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Report, October 1935, p. 92.)
All sources for this document found on mormonfortress.com
While Joseph was most likely aware of the prevailing health movements of his day, the Word of Wisdom– though similar to some health reform suggestions– included only those things which we now know negatively impacts our health. While the medical community and health reform movements added some proscribed substances which they (and admittedly some early Saints) believed were harmful, the Word of Wisdom ignores these elements. Joseph Smith, under the direction of the Lord, got the right things right.
While it is correct that Joseph and other early LDS leaders partook of things which are proscribed by the Word of Wisdom, some fail to grasp that the early LDS view of the Word of Wisdom is not the same as it is today. Although taught by angels and heavenly messengers, Joseph had to learn line up line as all other prophets before him. His spiritual education was received within the limitations of his understanding, expectations, familiarity and cultural atmosphere.
The evidence suggests that the Word of Wisdom was not merely the product of Joseph Smith’s environment, and neither he, nor Brigham Young were hypocritical about their observance. Instead we find that God works through living prophets and directs the affairs of the Church in His own manner and according to His own timetable. And the evidence suggests that the charges of enemies to the church have gone up in smoke.
What are the real questions to ask?
Do we really believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God? Was he a prophet when he received this revelation? Do we believe and sustain all our modern prophets and more particularly our current prophet and president? Do we believe they talk with and receive direction from the Godhood concerning all matters of the church including the word of wisdom? Are we willing to follow their counsel in all things as we pray for spiritual confirmation? Have we received a testimony of the word of wisdom? What must we do to get such a testimony of its truthfulness? Must we be compelled and instructed in every little detailed matter? Should we seek earnestly to live by the spirit and govern ourselves in righteousness?
In presenting the Word of Wisdom I wanted to display it openly, with doctrine and counsel combined with personal interpretation, to give an overall out look on how it is viewed by members and non members alike. I hope I was at least able to accomplish that much. My purpose wasn't to expose what I interpret it to be and how it should be lived, or what I do and do not do. However, I feel we should strive as the spirit directs us personally to follow all sound counsels. In regards to avoiding the appearance of evil, it becomes difficult to break down as it is way to broad a subject. I think we should use our best judgment when deciding what things to participate in; at the same time living by the spirit of the law and not just the letter.
The Word of Wisdom is inspired of God, and it’s temporal and spiritual blessings out weigh all if any benefits and pleasures to not obeying it. Keep the commandments, follow the spirit and follow our latter day prophet’s counsels, and we will not go wrong. This is what I have strived to do in my own life in obeying the Word of Wisdom. I would conclude then, that it is truly easier to live the Word of Wisdom than to explain it.
Doctrine &Covenants sections 88 and 89
New Testament Mathew 23
New Testament 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Online sources: Wikipedia online, Clausthaler (non-alcoholic brew) web site, Mormonfortress.com, Ninemoons.com
John A. Widtsoe and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1937), 85-87.]
[Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1584.]
[Spencer J. Condie, In Perfect Balance (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993), 96.]
[Quentin L. Cook, "Looking beyond the Mark," Ensign (March 2003): 42.]
[Online Paper] “Silly Premises Lead to Silly Conclusions” by Cooper Johnson
["Minutes of the General Conference," Millennial Star, 1 Feb. 1852, p.35]
(E.T. Benson, Ensign, May 1983)
(Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 182).
(Priesthood Bulletin, Feb 1972).
(Elder Mark E. Peterson, Patterns for Living [Bookcraft, 1962], pp. 235-37).
(Gordon B. Hinckley, regional conference, Montreal, Quebec, 6 Aug. 1998)
(Gordon B. Hinckley, regional conference, Salt Lake Holladay, 8 Feb. 1998)
(Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1999)
(The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, selected by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 212-213.)
Copyright.C Kent E. Wentzell 2007
This document may be printed and distributed with consent of the author.