Word of Wisdom implementation over time

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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.[1]

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. [2]

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] [3]

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.[4]

  • 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.[5]

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. [6]

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? [7]

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....[8]

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. [9]

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. [10]

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. [11] On 5 July 1906, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve began using water instead of wine for their sacrament meetings. [12] By 1915, President Joseph F. Smith instructed that no one was to be ordained to the priesthood or given temple recommends without adherence. [13] 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. [14] 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. [15]

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. [16]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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).

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.[19] 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."[20] 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.[21]

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."[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

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).[25]

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).


  1. "The Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org (11 June 2013)
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 17 January 1851, Salt Lake City, Wilford Woodruff Journal Mss (BYA 2.40)
  5. Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1925, p.9
  6. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:35.
  7. Ezra T. Benson, Journal of Discourses 11:367.
  8. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 14:20.
  9. 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
  10. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  11. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 79.
  12. 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).
  13. Alexander, "Principle to Requirement," 82.
  14. 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.
  15. McConkie and Ostler, ibid.
  16. Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1913), 14.
  17. 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.
  18. 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).
  19. See "Temperance movement in the United States." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 January 2016. off-site link
  20. 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
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible : A Biblical Study on the Use of Alcoholic Beverages (Biblical Perspectives, 1989), 181. ISBN 1930987072.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.