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The Word of Wisdom

This will be an interesting post. I agree with many of the guidelines in the Word of Wisdom, and am grateful for its influence in my life, but how the modern church views it bothers me immensely.

The Word of Wisdom was not intended to be a commandment, but rather a word of wisdom

D&C 89:2:

“To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation…”

It’s clear from studying the history of the church that it was not a commandment when it was given. Brigham Young explained that it came about as a result of problems encountered while meeting in the Smith home:

“When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Joseph Smith] entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.”

But a year later, the problem apparently persisted. Joseph Smith proposed a resolution which was accepted:

“No official member in this Church is worthy to hold an office after having the word of wisdom properly taught him; and he, the official member, neglecting to comply with and obey it.”

Joseph Smith did not obey the Word of Wisdom

There is clear evidence that after the Word of Wisdom was revealed, Joseph partook of beer, wine, tea, and tobacco. Amasa Lyman, a member of the First Presidency at the time, related that Joseph once finished preaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and immediately afterwards rode through the town smoking a cigar.

Most other early church leaders didn’t obey the Word of Wisdom

President Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff Journal:

“When you consider that the tenth Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, declared the habit of drinking tea, coffee or smoking can ‘bar’ a person from the ‘celestial kingdom of God’ it appears that not so many of the early members and almost none of their leaders will make it there after all as they took little, if any notice of the Word of Wisdom.”

What does that mean for verse 3 of the revelation?

“Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”

What about eating meat sparingly?

D&C 89:12-13:

“Yea, flesh also of beasts 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 sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

Many often forget that it was mentioned again later in the revelation. In verses 14 and 15 we find:

“…and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.”

From 1898 to 1901, President Lorenzo Snow repeatedly taught that eating meat sparingly was important and that church members should only eat it in cases of dire necessity. There is evidence that Apostle George Teasdale taught that it was more important than abstaining from tea and coffee.

In the 1950’s the church built, using tithing money, the largest cattle ranch in the United States. The justification given now for the massive meat consumption by members of the church is that it can be refrigerated. Surely that is a reasonable justification for ignoring scripture verses, right?

What about beer?

Verses 16 and 17:

“All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

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.”

Beer happens to be a barley based mild drink. Apostles Brigham Young Jr. and John Henry Smith both claimed that beer was acceptable. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both owned and operated establishments that served alcohol.

What about refined grains?

Apostle John A. Widtsoe, in a 1930 pamphlet aptly called Word of Wisdom, taught that refined flour was against the Word of Wisdom.

Caffeinated soda

The church has never taken a stance against caffeinated soda. Nonetheless, there exists the myth that it is prohibited or at least sinful. It’s odd to me that so many members would take up avoidance of caffeinated beverages as a cause but ignore the real aspects of the Word of Wisdom.

Medicinal tobbaco

Verse 8:

“And again, tobacco is not for the body, 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.”

I supposed it could be that no medicinal practitioners use judgment and skill, but tobacco isn’t exactly making headway as the next miracle drug in hospitals or veterinary clinics.

The promise

Verses 18-21

“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; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. 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.”

I don’t even know what to say regarding those verses. It’s obviously not true literally. I think we all know plenty of people who conform to the popular modern practice of the Word of Wisdom and couldn’t run to the end of the block.


The evolving nature of the Word of Wisdom and the church’s approach to it is disturbing to me. It was given as advice or counsel, quickly upgraded to commandment, and has become increasingly more vital in the eyes of church leaders as time progresses. Almost none of the church leaders for the first 70 years of church history would by today’s standards be able to serve missions, enter the temple, get baptized, or even attend BYU.

The revelation seems to have been changed not by additional revelation, but by interpretation of whoever was in charge at the time. The Word of Wisdom is essentially a health code, but in my estimation church members would be far better served by eating more grains, more fruits, more vegetables, and less meat or junk food than by abstaining from coffee and tea. Of course, it’s rather hypocritical for me to say that since the same advice would serve me well.

Next Step: Prophets and Revelation

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