Word of Wisdom/History and implementation

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The history and implementation of the Word of Wisdom


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  1. REDIRECTJoseph Smith and the Word of Wisdom#''Revelations in Context'': "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"
Articles about Joseph Smith

In what way did Joseph Smith implement the Word of Wisdom during his lifetime?

Joseph Smith never interpreted the Word of Wisdom revelation as demanding total abstinence

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are.

Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28:10,13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

As one historian noted:

it appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the [Word of Wisdom] revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control....He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and "strong drink" possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet's position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: "As a companion, socailly, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth loving, and a times even convivial. He was partial to a well supplied table and he did not always refuse the wine that maketh the heart glad."[1]

Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89꞉5,7), which some (including Joseph) seem to have interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" by some (D&C 89꞉17) and therefore acceptable under at least some circumstances (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). One historian notes that the degree of rigor with which early Saints observed the Word of Wisdom varied:

[23] While the Saints opposed the common use of tea [24] and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequently used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use....

[25] The journal of Joseph Smith reveals many instances where Joseph and other Church leaders drank wine and a tolerant attitude towards the consumption of this beverage is particularly noticeable....

[26] Despite the injunction contained in the revelation discouraging the drinking of wine, (except for sacramental purposes) the casual nature of the allusions to this beverage suggest that many Church Authorities did not consider moderate wine drinking in the same category as the use of strong drinks....

Evidence suggests that the drinking of tea, coffee, and liquor was [in the 1830s] in general violation of the principle [of the Word of Wisdom], though exceptions can be found. All of these items were used by the Saints for medicinal purposes. Moderate wine-drinking was evidently acceptable to most Church leaders....[27] In short, it would seem that adherence to the revelation to at least 1839 required Church members to be moderately temperate but certainly [did] not [require] total abstinence....[2]

Did Joseph Smith give some of the brethren money to purchase whiskey in violation of the Word of Wisdom?

The use of whiskey as a stimulant while traveling was allowed, but abusing it by getting drunk was not

Liquor in judicious amounts was used as a medicinal substance, and seen as a stimulant or restorative against fatigue. This is why Joseph "investigated the case"--he wished to know if the use had been acceptable or to excess. (In a similar way, a modern-day Church leader who heard that a member was using morphine might investigate to discover if such use is appropriate--e.g., under a doctor's supervision in proper prescribed amounts for a legitimate ailment--or whether they were abusing it to get "high".)

Here's what Joseph said,

The company moved on to Andover, where the Sheriff of Lee County requested lodgings for the night for all the company. I was put up into a room and locked up with Captain Grover. It was reported to me that some of the brethren had been drinking whiskey that day in violation of the Word of Wisdom.

I called the brethren in and investigated the case, and was satisfied that no evil had been done, and gave them a couple of dollars, with directions to replenish the bottle to stimulate them in the fatigues of their sleepless journey.[3]

The complete prohibition on alcohol was phased in gradually

Critics of the Church who use this quote as evidence that Joseph disregarded the Word of Wisdom also do not inform readers that the complete prohibition on alcohol was a gradual matter, and so Joseph's judgment on the issue was possible (which explains why no one at the time was shocked or outraged by it). Later nineteenth century Mormons, such as Brigham Young, understood the matter in the same way, and also distinguished between the excessive and judicious use of spirits.

Did Joseph Smith appear in public smoking a cigar right after teaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom?

This accusation was made by Amasa Lyman, who had already been excommunicated from the Church

Abraham H. Cannon made an entry in his diary stating that Amasa Lyman saw Joseph Smith smoking the cigar immediately after delivering a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and that he immediately afterward "rode through the streets smoking a cigar" in order to try "the faith of the Saints."[4] At the time that Lyman made this accusation, he had already been excommunicated from the Church.

We ought to start with a degree of suspicion when we hear stories like this, because Joseph really did to things on occasion to test the Saints

These sorts of things really call into question a lot of these kinds of stories - especially when they are published long after the events they claim to be portraying (and the cigar story is certainly that). By the time these stories develop, we have these cultural myths being created about Joseph Smith. And so when we have this story about the Amasa Lyman encounter that first shows up in Abraham Canon's journal in 1895, we ought to start with a degree of suspicion. The problem we have with stories like this is that Joseph really did on occasion do things to test the Saints. He liked to go down to the boats at Nauvoo dressed poorly so as to interact with the new converts coming in to Nauvoo and to see what their expectations were. He regularly acted in ways that some thought were inappropriate for a prophet. One of the more widely known stories in the later 19th century was this one, recorded by William Allred and published in 1892:

I was with him [Joseph Smith] in the troubles at DeWitt, Adam-ondi-ahman, and in Far West. I have played ball with him many times in Nauvoo. He was preaching once, and he said it tried some of the pious folks to see him play ball with the boys. He then related a story of a certain prophet who was sitting under the shade of a tree amusing himself in some way, when a hunter came along with his bow and arrow, and reproved him. The prophet asked him if he kept his bow strung up all the time. The hunter answered that he did not. The prophet asked why, and he said it would lose its elasticity if he did. The prophet said it was just so with his mind, he did not want it strung up all the time. Another time when I heard him preaching he said if he should tell the people all the Lord had revealed to him, some would seek his life. Even as good a man as old Father C—-, here on the stand, he added, (pointing back to him) would seek his life.[5]

There is this story, and it sounds like something we might expect, but it tends to have problems when we realize that this entire story is based on a much older story about the New Testament apostle John. Here is a version of that story, published by Fracis De Sales, in 1609:

It is necessary sometimes to relax our minds as well as our bodies by some kind of recreation. St. John the Evangelist, as Cassian relates, was one day found by a huntsman with a partridge on his hand, which he was caressing for his recreation. The huntsman asked how such a man as he could spend his time in so poor and mean an occupation? St. John replied: Why dost thou not carry thy bow always bent? For fear, answered the huntsman, that if it were always bent, it would loose its spring and become useless. Be not surprised, then, replied the apostle, that I should sometimes remit a little of the close application and attention of my spirit and enjoy a little recreation, that I may afterward employ myself more fervently in divine contemplation.[6]

Did Joseph Smith violate the Word of Wisdom by drinking tea?

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today

Joseph Smith is reported as drinking tea on a few occasions. Does this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day.

The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not enforced as rigorously, or with the same requirements, in Joseph Smith's day. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Many speakers emphasized the Lord's patience in this matter, as applied to both leaders and members.

But, many of the events described are actually concerned about medical practice, not the social or recreational use of these substances. For example, one might be shocked to learn that President Kimball used morphine—however, the morphine was prescribed for cancer pain by a physician.

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal

Joseph's use of tea may have been an exceptional event, worthy of note in his journal. Why would this be?

In consulting the journal entry, we read: "Saturday, March 11th Too cold last night as to freeze [p.332] water in the warmest rooms in the city. River filled with anchor ice. 8 1/2 o'clock in the office, Joseph said he had tea with his breakfast." [7]

In Joseph's day, some medical thinking held that "hot drinks" (such as tea and coffee) could heat the body and vital fluids. While this was usually regarded as a bad idea that would be dangerous to health:

I found, after maturely considering the subject, that all animal bodies are formed of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Earth and water constitute the solids, and air and fire, or heat, are the cause of life and motion. That cold, or lessening the power of heat, is the cause of all disease; that to restore heat to its natural state, was the only way by which health could be produced;....a state of perfect health arises from a due balance or temperature of the four elements; but if it is by any means destroyed, the body is more or less disordered. And when this is the case, there is always an actual diminution or absence of the element of fire, or heat; and in proportion to this diminution or absence, the body is affected by its opposite, which is cold. And I found that all disorders which the human family were afflicted with, however various the symptoms, and different the names by which they are called, arise directly from obstructed perspiration, which is always caused by cold, or want of heat ....[8]

This entry is from the works of Samuel Thomson, a founder of what became known as "Thomsonian herbalism." There were several Latter-day Saint physicians who were Thomsonians, including (significantly) Willard Richards, who wrote the diary entry we are here considering. The emphasis on loss of heat and lack of stimulation is significant—for it clashed with another set of medical principles, the "orthodox" or "heroic" doctors who came to believe that acute disease was not caused by lack of heat, but by too much energy, heat, or vital force: hence their prescriptions for bleeding, purging, and the like: to lower the energy or "heat." [9] Thus, under normal circumstances an 'energizing', 'hot', or 'stimulating' drink would be inappropriate.

There might, however, be exceptions. Thomson described a local woman who acted as a healer, and his admiration for her skill and methods is clear:

There was an old lady by the name of Benton lived near us, who used to attend our family when there was any sickness. At that time there was no such thing as a Doctor known among us, there not being any within ten miles. The whole of her practice was with roots and herbs, applied to the patient, or given in hot drinks, to produce sweating; which always answered the purpose. [10]

Thus, in a time of extreme cold, a "hot drink" like tea could be seen as a medicinal or preventative treatment which would help maintain health, since it would prevent the loss of the vital heat upon which the body depended. As a Thomsonian physician, Willard Richards (who wrote Joseph's journal for him) would have known and preached this. An "orthodox physician" (wary of heat, and more apt to bleed or purge) would have vigorously disagreed. [11]

By analogy, a modern member would be in violation of the Word of Wisdom if he or she injected morphine as a "recreational" drug. But, if the same drug was administered for a medical reason, the member would not be at fault. (Indeed, we might find fault with someone for refusing a medical treatment to maintain their health or cure an illness.)

That Richards was not surprised or offended by Joseph's consumption of tea on a bitterly cold winter morning demonstrates that Joseph's action was not the scandal that some wish to portray it as.

As one historian observed in 1972:

While the Saints opposed the common use of tea and coffee, it would appear that they had little objection to its occasional use for medicinal purposes. In an age when these items were frequenlty used as a relief for a wide variety of ailments, it would have been imprudent to have entirely forbidden their use.[12]

Did George A. Smith report that some church members left the church after finding that their leaders drank tea and coffee?

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous

Some critics of the Church hope their readers will be shocked by George A. Smith's admission that Emma Smith offered some new converts a glass of tea. But, why would George A. Smith admit to Joseph committing a grave sin, if such it was? His account provides us with the clues:

I know persons who apostatized because they supposed they had reasons; for instance, a certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given. [13]

It is significant that George A. Smith says Emma made the offer "to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey." This is not merely a polite offer of something to drink—it is suggesting that the old woman may be particularly vulnerable to having her "vital heat" diminished by the rigors of a long journey exposed to the elements. Emma is probably making a health-related offer, not just offering a social beverage as we would today. Difficulties in assuring clean water supplies also make tea or coffee a sometimes wiser choice for health. Both coffee and tea are made from boiled water, which will kill bacteria. Even without boiling, the tannic acid in tea would kill the bacteria that caused such scourges as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery—all real risks on the American frontier. [14]

George A. Smith clearly intends his audience to see the converts' action as ridiculous—the Word of Wisdom did not forbid the maintenance of health.

Did Willard Richards violate the Word of Wisdom by using tobacco at Carthage Jail?

Joseph Smith obtained some tobacco for a friend while in Carthage Jail prior to being martyred. Doesn't this make Joseph Smith a hypocrite for violating the Word of Wisdom?

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States

We are sometimes guilty of "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day. The tobacco was intended for medicinal purposes.

Willard Richards was a Thomsonian herbalist, a type of physician common in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States. Thomson was the name of the founder of this school of practice, which differed from the practice of the "orthodox" medical doctors, who focused on balancing humors, purging, inducing diarrhea, and so forth.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal

An aspect of Thomsonian medicine was Thomson's enthusiasm for the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom--they were likely medicinal.

Tobacco for Willard Richards

Willard Richards, who was in jail with Joseph, was a Thomsonian physician. This was a branch of pre-modern medical practice which required minimal schooling. Thomson's followers' believed strongly in the use of lobelia, or wild Indian tobacco. It was used as a cure-all, and was prominently used as an emetic to induce vomiting and restore health. This is the key to understanding the use of tobacco at Carthage Jail.

Critics Gerald and Sandra Tanner (p. 33) make a great deal of Joseph asking for a "pipe and tobacco" for Willard Richards. However, when we understand the circumstances, this action makes sense, and it has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. In the first place, we must realize that Joseph and Willard were locked in Carthage Jail.

Joseph had sent Stephen Markham out, as previous text unquoted by the Tanners tells us: "'Brother Markham...go get the doctor [i.e., Richards] something to settle his stomach,' [said Joseph,] and Markham went out for medicine. When he got the remedies desired...[the] Carthage Greys gathered round him, put him on his horse, and forced him out of the town at the point of the bayonet." So, Markham could not return, and none of the remedies he had obtained reached the jail. [15]

It is not clear which remedies Markham sought out—but he could not return. A Thomsonian like Richards would have probably seen tobacco as a medicinal drug, however—especially in a pinch when he could get nothing else. This would be particularly true if the tobacco was lobelia—it was the Thomsonian cure-all, literally.

The Tanners complain elsewhere about how in the History of the Church the words "pipe and some tobacco" were replaced by the word "medicine" (p. 471). But, this misses the point in a spectacular way—tobacco was considered a medicine at the time! Modern editors would not make this type of change to a historical text, but one can understand why rather than bother to explain about Thomsonian beliefs and medical practices, the editors of earlier times decided to simply "translate" the reason for the tobacco. The issue only becomes important, after all, when one is unfamiliar with early nineteenth century medicine.

There is further evidence that the tobacco was not seen as a problem by current or later leaders, since John Taylor's later account of the martyrdom in History of the Church mentions it very frankly and matter-of-factly:

Before the jailer came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.

The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailer went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.[16]

Since neither the wine nor the tobacco was, for members at the time, seen as a violation of the Word of Wisdom. Leaders would not include this information if it made Joseph look bad. This should be our first clue that something else is going on.[17] Some critics, however, have not sought to understand, but merely to condemn by trusting that their audience will not understand the fine points of early nineteenth century frontier medicine.

Events surrounding the death of Joseph Smith

Summary: To learn more about the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum in Carthage jail, follow this link.
Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Joseph utter a false prophecy and show disregard for the Word of Wisdom in telling Orson Hyde that he would drink wine with him in Palestine?

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come

Joseph's prophecy of drinking wine with Hyde in Palestine is reminiscent of Jesus' promise to the apostles that he would drink of wine when the kingdom of God was come (Luke 22:18) which was reiterated in a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 27꞉5). Joseph prophesied that he would drink with Hyde there—but whether he would go to Palestine in this life was something about which he immediately expressed uncertainty.

Those who offer this criticism make three errors:

  1. they do not cite the entire text
  2. they refuse to consider a fulfillment after this life.
  3. they ignore the Word of Wisdom's application in historical context.

The prophecy: "If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me"

Joseph was not certain that he would see Palestine during this life. As can be seen below, Joseph (1) prophesied that he would drink wine with Hyde in the Holy Land; and then (2) expressed hope that he would go with the Twelve to the Holy Land, but was aware he might not live, and left the matter to God's will:

Elder Hyde told of the excellent white wine he drank in the east [Palestine]. Joseph prophesied in the name of the Lord that he would drink wine with him in that country. Joseph [said], "From the 6th day of April next, I go in for preparing with all present for a Mission through the United States and when we arrive {page 143} at Maine we will take ship for England and so on to all countries where we are a mind for to go." P[r]e[se]nt: H[yrum] Smith, B[righam] Young, H[eber] C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, W[ilford] Woodruff, Geo[rge] A. Smith, [and] W[illard] Richards.

[Joseph said,] "We must write for John E. Page. We must love the whole Quorum. We must send Kings and Queens to Nauvoo and we will do it. We must all start from this place. Let the 12 [Apostles] be called in on the {page 143} 6th of April and a notice be given for a special conference on the platform on [the] House of the Lord. We are sure to go as we live till spring. If I live I [will] take these b[r]ethren through these United States and through the world. I will make just as big a wake as God Almighty will let me."[18]

In Joseph's day, wine was not forbidden by the Word of Wisdom

Once again, critics count on their audience thinking that the prophets have commanded the same degree of observance of the Word of Wisdom throughout Church history.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

To learn more about Joseph Smith: Word of Wisdom

Question: Did Heber J. Grant include a strict observance of the Word of Wisdom in the temple recommend interview because of the repeal of prohibition?

The Word of Wisdom requirement in the temple recommend interview was in place for many years before Prohibition was repealed

The temple recommend requirement was in place by 1919. Prohibition wasn't repealed until 1933.

A 1919 letter, Instructions to mission presidents, date October 8, 1919 clearly shows the Word of Wisdom requirement being in place at that time:

Temple Recommends

Presidents of Missions are not authorized to give temple recommends; these are issued by the President of the Church for mission members; upon obtaining suitable letters of recommendation from Mission Presidents for such members. Letters of recommendation should be given only to those who have been members of the Church at least a year, and in good standing for one year prior to giving the recommend. It must be known that they keep the Word of Wisdom, pay their tithing and otherwise are good members. Each letter of recommendation should specify what particular blessing the person is recommended to receive. [First Presidency: Heber J. Grant, Anthon H. Lund and Charles W. Penrose] [19]

The notion that President Grant could, unilaterally, institute such a change also goes against all established Church procedure and the scriptural mandate in D&C 107:27.

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time. Clearly there were always many who refused to go along with it. Even Brigham Young had difficulty giving up coffee and tobacco until his later years. So, the Church kept emphasizing it.

  • 1841 At a conference of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in Zarahemla, Iowa, commencing on Saturday August 7th, 1841 Times and Seasons, 2. 548

Resolved, That this church will not fellowship any person or persons who are in the habit of drinking ardent spirits, or keeping tipling shops, and we will use our best endeavors to suppress it.

  • 1850 Millennial Star 12.3 (February 1, 1850): 42.

ORDINATIONS.--…. If he be guilty of drinking ardent spirits, instead of being ordained to the priesthood, he should be admonished; and if he should in any case, carry it to drunkenness, he should be strictly dealt with; and if he repent not, he should be excommunicated (42).

  • 1851: Wilford Woodruff.

President Young ... made many interesting remarks. He spoke upon the word of wisdom, of its origin &c. Said it was well kept when it was first given.[20]

  • 1925: Heber J. Grant (April 1925):

President Wilford Woodruff from this stand, many years ago, called upon every man holding the Priesthood and occupying any office in this Church, to obey the Word of Wisdom or to resign and step aside. I reiterate that men who do not obey the Word of Wisdom are not worthy to stand as examples before the people, to be invited into private priesthood meetings and to discuss matters for the welfare of the Church of God. Their disobedience shows a lack of faith in the work of God. I shall not take your time to read all of the Word of Wisdom, but I shall take time to read the words of the living God that must be acknowledged by every Latter-day Saint to be the word of God, or he or she is not entitled to be a member of this Church. After telling us what is good for us, the Lord makes a promise that is one of the most marvelous, one of the most uplifting and inspiring promises that could possibly be made to mortal man.[21]


Articles about Word of Wisdom

Revelations in Context: "Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture"

"The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013):

Nevertheless, it required time to wind down practices that were so deeply ingrained in family tradition and culture, especially when fermented beverages of all kinds were frequently used for medicinal purposes. The term "strong drink" certainly included distilled spirits like whiskey, which hereafter the Latter-day Saints generally shunned. They took a more moderate approach to milder alcoholic beverages like beer and "pure wine of the grape of the vine of your own make" (see D&C 89꞉6). For the next two generations, Latter-day Saint leaders taught the Word of Wisdom as a command from God, but they tolerated a variety of viewpoints on how strictly the commandment should be observed. This incubation period gave the Saints time to develop their own tradition of abstinence from habit-forming substances. By the early twentieth century, when scientific medicines were more widely available and temple attendance had become a more regular feature of Latter-day Saint worship, the Church was ready to accept a more exacting standard of observance that would eliminate problems like alcoholism from among the obedient. In 1921, the Lord inspired Church president Heber J. Grant to call on all Saints to live the Word of Wisdom to the letter by completely abstaining from all alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Today Church members are expected to live this higher standard.[22]

Has the implementation and enforcement of the Word of Wisdom changed over time?

Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements for the Word of Wisdom as today's Saints are

Observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed over time, due to on-going revelation from modern-day prophets, who put greater emphasis on certain elements of the revelation originally given to Joseph Smith. Early Latter-day Saints were not under the same requirements as today's Saints are. Latter-Day Saints believe that the Lord reveals his will to men "line upon line, precept upon precept," (Isaiah 28꞉10-13 and others) and that revelation continues as circumstances change.

"Strong drink" was initially interpreted as hard liquor, and did not include beer or lightly fermented wine

The text of the Word of Wisdom forbids "strong drink" (D&C 89:5, 7), which was initially interpreted as distilled beverages (hard liquor). Beer, unfermented or lightly fermented wine, and cider were considered "mild drinks" (D&C 89:17) and therefore acceptable (note that verse 17 specifically permits "barley...for mild drinks"). The complete prohibition of alcoholic drinks of any kind only became part of the Word of Wisdom following the temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant supported the movement and Grant made complete abstention from alcohol in any form a requirement for a temple recommend in the early 1920s.

Consider also that drinking water in Joseph Smith's day (or during Biblical times) was a gamble because water purity was always questionable; a little alcohol in a beverage ensured that it was free of viruses and bacteria. The development of germ theory in the late 19th century lead to chemical treatments to ensure a safe supply of public drinking water. A strict ban of all alcohol in Joseph Smith's time would have been a death sentence for many Latter-day Saints—especially during the 1832–1833 cholera pandemic, which spread its disease by water.

Tobacco, coffee and tea were not initially prohibited, but instead their use was discouraged

The same sort of "ramping up" of requirements occurred with regard to tobacco, coffee and tea. While use of these items was often discouraged by Church leaders, enforcement was usually light and confined to people who were severe abusers. For example, Brigham Young made the following remarks in April 1870 General Conference:

On Sunday, after meeting, going through the gallery which had been occupied by those claiming, no doubt, to be gentlemen, and perhaps, brethren, you might have supposed that cattle had been standing around there and dropping their nuisances. Here and there were great quids of tobacco, and places a foot or two feet square smeared with tobacco juice. I wish the door-keepers, when, in the future, they observe any persons besmearing the seats and floor in this way to request them to leave the house; and, if they refuse and will not stop spitting about and besmearing their neighbors, just take them and lead them out carefully and kindly. It is an imposition for those claiming to be gentlemen to spit tobacco juice for ladies to draw their clothes through and besmear them, or to leave their dirt in the house. We request all addicted to this practice, to omit it while in this house. Elders of Israel, if you must chew tobacco, omit it while in meeting, and when you leave, you can take a double portion, if you wish to. [23]

Kate Holbrook: The Word of Wisdom: Development and Practice


Joseph Smith and the Word of Wisdom

Summary: Learn about the implementation of the Word of Wisdom during Joseph's lifetime.

Did Heber J. Grant include a strict observance of the Word of Wisdom in the temple recommend interview because of the repeal of prohibition?

The Word of Wisdom requirement in the temple recommend interview was in place for many years before Prohibition was repealed

The temple recommend requirement was in place by 1919. Prohibition wasn't repealed until 1933.

A 1919 letter, Instructions to mission presidents, date October 8, 1919 clearly shows the Word of Wisdom requirement being in place at that time:

Temple Recommends

Presidents of Missions are not authorized to give temple recommends; these are issued by the President of the Church for mission members; upon obtaining suitable letters of recommendation from Mission Presidents for such members. Letters of recommendation should be given only to those who have been members of the Church at least a year, and in good standing for one year prior to giving the recommend. It must be known that they keep the Word of Wisdom, pay their tithing and otherwise are good members. Each letter of recommendation should specify what particular blessing the person is recommended to receive. [First Presidency: Heber J. Grant, Anthon H. Lund and Charles W. Penrose] [24]

The notion that President Grant could, unilaterally, institute such a change also goes against all established Church procedure and the scriptural mandate in D&C 107:27.

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time

The church had been emphasizing the importance of living the Word of Wisdom from a very early time. Clearly there were always many who refused to go along with it. Even Brigham Young had difficulty giving up coffee and tobacco until his later years. So, the Church kept emphasizing it.

  • 1841 At a conference of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held in Zarahemla, Iowa, commencing on Saturday August 7th, 1841 Times and Seasons, 2. 548

Resolved, That this church will not fellowship any person or persons who are in the habit of drinking ardent spirits, or keeping tipling shops, and we will use our best endeavors to suppress it.

  • 1850 Millennial Star 12.3 (February 1, 1850): 42.

ORDINATIONS.--…. If he be guilty of drinking ardent spirits, instead of being ordained to the priesthood, he should be admonished; and if he should in any case, carry it to drunkenness, he should be strictly dealt with; and if he repent not, he should be excommunicated (42).

  • 1851: Wilford Woodruff.

President Young ... made many interesting remarks. He spoke upon the word of wisdom, of its origin &c. Said it was well kept when it was first given.[25]

  • 1925: Heber J. Grant (April 1925):

President Wilford Woodruff from this stand, many years ago, called upon every man holding the Priesthood and occupying any office in this Church, to obey the Word of Wisdom or to resign and step aside. I reiterate that men who do not obey the Word of Wisdom are not worthy to stand as examples before the people, to be invited into private priesthood meetings and to discuss matters for the welfare of the Church of God. Their disobedience shows a lack of faith in the work of God. I shall not take your time to read all of the Word of Wisdom, but I shall take time to read the words of the living God that must be acknowledged by every Latter-day Saint to be the word of God, or he or she is not entitled to be a member of this Church. After telling us what is good for us, the Lord makes a promise that is one of the most marvelous, one of the most uplifting and inspiring promises that could possibly be made to mortal man.[26]

How was enforcement of the Word of Wisdom phased in over time?

Brigham Young declined to make the Word of Wisdom a "test of fellowship"

Said Brigham Young in 1861:

Some of the brethren are very strenuous upon the "Word of Wisdom", and would like to have me preach upon it, and urge it upon the brethren, and make it a test of fellowship. I do not think I shall do so. I have never done so. [27]

Ezra T. Benson notes that observing the Word of Wisdom would be "pleasing" to our Heavenly Father

In 1867, Ezra T. Benson exhorted the Saints to live the law, but seemed to realize that not all the Saints of the time had the capacity:

Supposing he had given the Word of Wisdom as a command, how many of us would have been here? I do not know; but he gave this without command or constraint, observing that it would be pleasing in His sight for His people to obey its precepts. Ought we not to try to please our Heavenly Father? [28]

In 1870, Brigham Young left the compliance with the Word of Wisdom up to the individual

In 1870, Brigham Young again emphasized that this was a commandment of God, but that following was left, to an extent, with the people:

The observance of the Word of Wisdom, or interpretation of God's requirements on this subject, must be left, partially, with the people. We cannot make laws like the Medes and Persians. We cannot say you shall never drink a cup of tea, or you shall never taste of this, or you shall never taste of that....[29]

In 1898, the First Presidency noted that bishops should not withhold temple recommends based upon the Word of Wisdom

Just before the turn of the century, in 1898, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve discussed the Word of Wisdom:

President Woodruff said he regarded the Word of Wisdom in its entirety as given of the Lord for the Latter-day Saints to observe, but he did not think that Bishops should withhold recommends from persons who did not adhere strictly to it. [30]

So, even by this date keeping the Word of Wisdom was not a "point of fellowship"—you could still have a temple recommend if you didn’t obey, though the leaders remained clear that it was a true doctrine from the Lord.

By 1902, temple recommends were beginning to be denied to those who did not follow the Word of Wisdom

By 1902, the Church leaders were strongly encouraging the members to keep the law, and were even beginning to deny temple recommends to those who would not. They were, however, still merciful and patient with the older members who had not been born into the system, and for whom change was presumably quite difficult:

[In 1902] Joseph F. Smith 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. [31]

By 1905, the Council of the Twelve were actively preaching that no man should hold a leadership position if he would not obey the Word of Wisdom. [32] On 5 July 1906, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve began using water instead of wine for their sacrament meetings. [33] By 1915, President Joseph F. Smith instructed that no one was to be ordained to the priesthood or given temple recommends without adherence. [34] Heber J. Grant became President of the Church in 1918, and he continued the policy of Word of Wisdom observance; after that time temple attendance or priesthood ordination required obedience to the principle. Thus, the Church membership had eighty-five years to adapt and prepare for the full implementation of this revelation. [35] By 1933, the General Handbook of Instructions listed the Word of Wisdom as a requirement for temple worship, exactly 100 years after the receipt of the revelation by Joseph Smith. [36]

Joseph F. Smith reasoned that the long period of implementation was needed to allow people to overcome addictions

According to Joseph F. Smith, this long period of patience on the part of the Lord was necessary for all—from the newest member to even the leaders:

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, 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. [37]

Thus, we should not expect perfect observance of the Word of Wisdom (especially in its modern application) from early members or leaders. The Lord and the Church did not expect it of them—though the principle was taught and emphasized.

Why do Mormons use water instead of wine for their sacrament services?

Latter-day Saints understand and accept the symbolism of wine, as used by the Savior at the Last Supper and in communion services among other Christian churches

Latter-day Saints understand and accept the symbolism of wine, as used by the Savior at the Last Supper and in communion services among other Christian churches. The color of wine closely matches that of blood, and is an apt symbol for the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the redemption of the human race.

The Latter-day Saint use of water in its sacramental services stems from scriptural authorization given in 1830, followed by an institutional change in the early 20th century.

The Lord provided scriptural authorization to substitute water for wine in the Sacrament

Four months after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (then called The Church of Christ) was established, Joseph Smith received the following divine manifestation:

Early in the month of August [1830], Newel Knight and his wife paid us a visit, at my place at Harmony, Penn[sylvania]; and as neither his wife nor mine had been as yet confirmed, and it was proposed that we should confirm them, and partake together of the sacrament, before he and his wife should leave us.— In order to prepare for this; I set out to go to procure some wine for the occasion, but had gone but <only> a short distance when I was met by a heavenly messenger, and received the following revelation; the first paragraph of which was written at this time, and the remainder in the September following.

Revelation given at Harmony Penn, August 1830.

1 Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God and your redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful. For behold I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat, or what you shall drink, when ye partake of the sacrament if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory; remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins: wherefore a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine, neither strong drink of your enemies: wherefore you shall partake of none, except it is made new among you, yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.

2 Behold this is wisdom in me: wherefore marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth.[38]

The Lord's revelation that "it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins" (D&C 27꞉1-2) gave the Saints permission to substitute any emblems for the original bread and wine, if circumstances warranted.

Beginning in 1902 President Smith began institutional reforms to require greater adherence to the Word of Wisdom

Joseph Smith's revelation of The Word of Wisdom allows for wine to be used for the sacrament: "Inasmuch as any man drinketh wine 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. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make." (D&C 89꞉5-6, emphasis added.)

Latter-day Saints continued to use wine in their sacramental services throughout the 19th century.[39] During this same time the Word of Wisdom was not enforced as rigorously as it is today, and social drinking of wine and other alcoholic beverages was not uncommon among Latter-day Saints (although leaders often counseled against it).

To learn more: History and implementation of the Word of Wisdom

Various American temperance movements since the mid-18th century had called for a ban on the sale and use of alcohol. The third wave of this movement began in 1893 and culminated with national prohibition in 1919.[40] Among the supporters of complete abstinence were LDS Church Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant. Beginning in 1902 President Smith began institutional reforms to require greater adherence to the Word of Wisdom. "In keeping with the change in emphasis, the First Presidency and Twelve substituted water for wine in the sacrament in their temple meetings, apparently beginning July 5, 1906."[41] Local Latter-day Saint congregations followed suit soon after, a practice that remains to this day.

Some early Christians used both water and wine in the sacrament

It is noteworthy that some early Christians used both water and wine in the sacrament. Justin Martyr (ca. 140 A.D.) recorded:

On Sunday we hold a meeting in one place for all who live in the cities or the country nearby. The teachings of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time is available. When the reader has finished, the president gives a talk urging and inviting us to imitate all these good examples. We then all stand together and send up our prayers. As noted before, bread, wine and water is brought forth after our prayer. The president also sends up prayers and thanksgivings. The people unitedly give their consent by saying, "Amen." The administration takes place, and each one receives what has been blessed with gratefulness. The deacons also administer to those not present... We all choose Sunday for our communal gathering because it is the first day, on which God created the universe by transforming the darkness and the basic elements, and because Jesus Christ—our Redeeming Savior—rose from the dead on the same day.[42]

This practice was also mentioned by Pope Julius I (A.D. 337) in a decree which stated: "But if necessary let the cluster be pressed into the cup and water mingled with it."[43] This practice of mixing wine and water may be related to the fact that both blood and water were shed on the cross. John recorded that, "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:34). John later recorded that, "there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one" (1 Jn. 5:8). In like manner baptism by water was also related by Paul to Christ's death (Romans 6:3-5).

Samuele Bacchiocchi, a non-Mormon scholar, has observed that

An investigation... of such Jewish Christian sects as the Ebionites, the Nazarenes, the Elkesaites, and the Encratites, might provide considerable support for abstinence from fermented wine in the Apostolic Church. The fact that some of these sects went to the extreme of rejecting altogether both fermented and unfermented wine using only water, even in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, suggests the existence of a prevailing concern for abstinence in the Apostolic Church.[44]

It also suggests that early Christians understood that "it mattereth not what ye shall eat or drink when [partaking] of the sacrament" (D&C 27꞉1-2).

Later developments in Christianity: Some Christians felt it was permissible to modify the observance of the sacrament even without direction from the Lord

Catholics at a much later period also substituted the Eucharist for the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, believing that it would literally be turned into the flesh and blood of the Lord.[45]

Although the latter practice was introduced during a period of what the LDS understand to be the apostasy from the fulness of gospel doctrine and authority, it nonetheless shows that some Christians felt it was permissible to modify the observance of the sacrament even without direction from the Lord.

The LDS sacrament service is observed often and within the guidelines given by the Lord as prescribed in LDS scriptures (See John 6:53-54; Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30; Moroni 4-5; D&C 20꞉75-79; 27:1-4). Early Christian practices are useful illustrations of the fact that LDS practice is not foreign to Christianity generally, but the LDS rely on scripture and the teachings of modern prophets for their forms of worship.

Latter-day Saints emphatically affirm our reliance on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins

Latter-day Saints emphatically affirm our reliance on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins as attested to in the Bible (Colossians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Jn 1:7;Revelation 7:14) and modern scripture (1 Nephi 12꞉10; Mosiah 3꞉7,11; 4:2; Alma 5꞉21,27; 21:9;24:13; 34:36; Helaman 27꞉19; Ether 13꞉10; Moroni 4꞉1;5:2; 10:33; D&C 20꞉40; 27:2; 76:69; Moses 6꞉62).[46]

Even the sacrament prayer given at the beginning of the administration of the water affirms the symbolism of the atoning blood. It states in part: "... bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them..." (D&C 20꞉79).


Notes

  1. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 38. The cited material is [Letter from BF Johnson to George F. Gibbs, 1903.]
  2. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972. Page numbers cited within text.
  3. Millennial Star 21:283
  4. October 1895 entry in theDiary of Abraham H. Cannon, Volume 19
  5. [citation needed]
  6. [citation needed]
  7. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 331.
  8. J.U. and C.G. Lloyd, "Life and Medical Discoveries of Samuel Thomson, and a history of the Thomsonian Materia Medica, as shown in "The New Guide to Health," (1835) and the literature of that day, &c." in Bulletin of the Lloyd Library of Botany, Pharmacy and Materia Medica No. 11, Reproduction Series No. 7 (1909): 26. off-site (italics added)
  9. Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 49.
  10. Lloyd, 12. (emphasis added)
  11. Bush, 55
  12. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 23-24.
  13. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:214.
  14. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York, Walker Publishing Co., 2005), 135, 179.
  15. History of the Church, 6:616. Volume 6 link
  16. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  17. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 6:616. Volume 6 link
  18. Joseph Smith, An American Prophet's Record:The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, edited by Scott Faulring, Significant Mormon Diaries Series No. 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 294.
  19. Instructions to mission presidents, October 8, 1919 Original circular letter. Church Historian's Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 5, p.163.
  20. 17 January 1851, Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff Journal Mss (BYA 2.40)
  21. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1925, p.9
  22. "The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013)
  23. Deseret News (11 May 1870): 160; reprinted in Brigham Young, "Fortieth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," Millennial Star 32 no. 22 (31 May 1870), 346. See discussion of the history in Robert J. McCue, "Did the Word of Wisdom Become a Commandment in 1851?," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 66–77.off-site
  24. Instructions to mission presidents, October 8, 1919 Original circular letter. Church Historian's Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. 5, p.163.
  25. 17 January 1851, Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff Journal Mss (BYA 2.40)
  26. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1925, p.9
  27. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:35.
  28. Ezra T. Benson, Journal of Discourses 11:367.
  29. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:20.
  30. Minutes of First Presidency and Council of Twelve Meeting, Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," May 5, 1898, Church Archives; cited in Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 78–88.off-site
  31. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  32. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  33. This exception had been permitted by the Word of Wisdom from the beginning (see D&C 89꞉5-6), though it was also clear that what one used for the sacramental emblems was not of primary doctrinal importance (see D&C 27).
  34. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 82.
  35. See discussion in Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1964), Doctrine and Covenants 89:2.
  36. McConkie and Ostler, ibid.
  37. Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1913), 14.
  38. History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 (Draft 2): 51–52 (cf. History of the Church 1:106–07). The shorter version of this revelation—now canonized as D&C 27꞉1-5—was first recorded in the early 1830s in Revelation Book 1: 35–36, then published in 1833 in The Evening and the Morning Star 1/10 (March 1833) and in The Book of Commandments as chapter XXVIII (p. 60). It was combined with another revelation and published in a longer version in 1835 as Doctrine and Covenants chapter L (pp. 179–81) and in an expanded reprint of Evening and Morning Star 1/10 (March 1833; reprinted May 1836): 155. The longer (1835) version is now D&C 27.
  39. In 1861 Brigham Young sent 309 Mormon families to settle in Utah's "Dixie" region, where they would produce, among other crops, wine for the sacrament. (Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1958]: 216.) President Young remarked publicly that he "anticipate[d] the day when we can have the privilege of using, at our sacraments pure wine, produced within our borders." ("Remarks by President Brigham Young, Tabernacle, G[reat].S[alt].L[ake]. City, June 4, 1864," The Deseret News 13/39 (22 June 1864): 302. off-site link.) By the 1870s Church vineyards were producing "as much as 3,000 gallons per year," however, "by the turn of the [20th] century, most of the vines had been pulled on the advice of church authorities…" (Great Basin Kingdom, 222).
  40. See "Temperance movement in the United States." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 January 2016. off-site link
  41. Thomas G. Alexander, "The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14/3 (autumn 1981): 79. off-site PDF
  42. Justin Martyr, "First Apology," in ? Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)?:65–67. ANF ToC off-site This volume; cited by Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace, The Firm Foundation of Mormonism (Los Angeles, CA: The L. L. Company, 1981), 231. ISBN 0937892068.
  43. Gratian, De Consecratione, Pars III, Dist. 2, c. 7, as cited by Leon C. Field, Oinos: A Discussion of the Bible Wine Question (New York, 1883), 91, and Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible : A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages (Biblical Perspectives, 1989), 109–110. ISBN 1930987072.
  44. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible : A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages (Biblical Perspectives, 1989), 181. ISBN 1930987072.
  45. See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 241. GL direct link or James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of our Fathers (T A N Books & Publishers, 1980), 235–250. ISBN 0895551586.
  46. This wiki article was originally based upon Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),131–133. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786. It has been subsequently edited by FairMormon Answers wiki editors.


Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes