Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
The Word of Wisdom: “A Principle with
Why was the Word of Wisdom revealed?
The Lord's counsel about what is not good for the body.
The Lord's counsel about what is good for the body.
Promised blessings for obedience to the Word of Wisdom.
A study of this lesson will encourage us to obey the counsel in the Word of
Wisdom, as well as the Lord’s other counsel about physical health.
Scripture references for study:
Our Heritage, pages 25–26
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 22 Handout (PDF)
The Word of Wisdom - Historical Background
In compliance with the command of the Lord in
Section 88, the Prophet commenced
the School of the Prophets in Kirtland in January 1833.
The purpose of the school was to prepare men holding the priesthood for
the ministry. The school included priesthood bearers from high priest
Only those who were clean were admitted. Each one, upon entering
the room, was saluted by the teacher and then questioned as to his worthiness. The unworthy were not admitted.
The Prophet gave seven formal lectures on the fundamental principles of
the restored gospel. These lecture contained material on the Godhead,
on character and attributes of God, on faith, miracles, and sacrifice. We know these lessons as the Lectures on Faith.
Over time the curriculum expanded. Members had the opportunity to
learn different disciplines which enabled them to reach a place in the
world of politics, arts, and sciences.
Brigham Young describes the situation that led to the revelation:
"I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances
which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom as any man in the Church,
although I was not present at the time to witness them. The first
school of the prophets was held in a small room situated over the Prophet
Joseph's kitchen, in a house, which belonged to Bishop Newel K. Whitney,
and which was attached to his store, which store probably might be about
fifteen feet square. In the rear of this building was a kitchen,
probably ten by fourteen feet, containing rooms and pantries. Over this
kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations
and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place
for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger
than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after
breakfast, the first [thing] 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 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."
(Journal of Discourses, 12:158)
Additional historical information:
The Word of Wisdom at LDS.org.
Photos from my visit to Kirtland in 2010
Newel K Whitney store - the School of the Prophets was held here
Upper room in the N.K. Whitney store where the School of the
Prophets was held
Joseph Smith was not the only one teaching a health rule in the 1830's.
There were others that recognized these substances as harmful to health.
There was an escalating temperance movement in the United States.
In the first half of the 19th Century, there was an economic movement from
self-employed artisans to workers going to factories.
encouraged the temperance movement that gathered force after 1830 because
its Protestant ethic virtues of sobriety, punctuality, reliability, and
thrift were precisely the values needed by disciplined workers in the new
order. Some employers banned drinking on the job and tried even to
forbid their workers to drink off the job." (Battle
Cry of Freedom, p24)
During this same time, women became active in the organization of temperance
societies. The changes in society through this period, along with the activity
of the temperance societies resulted in American's reducing "consumption of
liquor from the equivalent of seven gallons of 200-proof alcohol annually in the
1820s to less than two gallons by the 1850s" (Ibid., p249). Interestingly,
the per capita consumption by Americans of coffee and tea doubled during this
"A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council
of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints
in Zion—To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation
and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the
temporal salvation of all saints in the last days" (D&C
As noted in verse two, the Word of Wisdom was given "not by commandment
Between 1834 and 1880, Church leaders exhorted the Saints to obey the Word
of Wisdom, but did not see fit to require obedience.
In 1851, Church Patriarch, John Smith gave a talk to the Saints on the
Word of Wisdom. Brigham Young then arose and proposed to the Conference
that the Saints abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, whiskey, and "all things
mentioned in the Word of Wisdom." The motion was accepted unanimously.
In 1880, during the presidency of John Taylor, President George Q. Cannon
presented to the Church membership a new edition of the Pearl of Great
Price and the Doctrine & Covenants. He stated: "It has been deemed
wise to submit these books with their contents to the conference, to see
whether the conference will vote to accept the books and their contents
as from God, and binding upon us as a people and as a Church."
The motion was sustained by unanimous vote.
As a consequence, the Saints acknowledged their desire to have the Lord's
"order and will" become commandment. Obviously, this included the
Word of Wisdom.
It wasn't until the administration of Heber J. Grant that this law became
binding upon the Saints.
As late as the October conference of 1942, the First Presidency (Heber
J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay) urged the Saints to
"quit trifling with this law and so to live it that we may claim its promises."
(Improvement Era, Nov 1942)
It seems that the Lord works over a period of time to build and strengthen his Saints.
The Lord's Counsel About What Is Not Good For The Body
WHAT SPECIFIC THINGS ARE PROHIBITED BY THE WORD OF WISDOM?
As listed in the Doctrine & Covenants:
"That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong
drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your
"And, again, strong drinks
are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
"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.
"And again, hot drinks
are not for the body or belly." (D&C 89:5, 7-9)
These prohibitions have been identified as alcoholic beverages, coffee,
Additional prohibitions (see Lesson Manual):
Use of any substance that contains illegal drugs.
Use of any other habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent
Misuse of prescription and other drugs.
The question often comes up about the use of caffeinated soft drinks.
Priesthood Bulletin, February. 1972: "With reference
to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this
matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically
advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs
under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any
beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided."
WHY ARE THESE THINGS PROHIBITED?
To show "forth the order and will of God in the
temporal salvation of all saints in the last days" (D&C
The Lord knew in 1833 that use of these items would not only affect the
physical health of the Saints, but also their spirituality. It truly
has been a physical blessing to the Saints. A 1997 study at UCLA
showed that LDS death rates from cancer and cardiovascular diseases are
about half of those of the general population. Other studies have
shown that members of the Church live from eight to eleven years longer
than other Americans. Consider the great blessing to the Church because
President Monson has faithfully observed this law.
We could list pages of statistics about the damage to the human body as a result of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drug use. Even harder to quantify is the negative effect on marriages, families,
and productivity. The impact on society extends from broken families,
to deaths on the highway, to higher taxes to cover Medicaid and Medicare
costs, and on and on. In past years, roughly half of all traffic fatalities involve
the use of alcohol. We see an increase in crime as individuals rob
and steal to support their drug habits.
"Each year tobacco use causes nearly 2.5 million
premature deaths worldwide. Tobacco use also harms millions of innocent
victims. Each year more than 3 million babies are born with birth defects
caused by their mothers’ smoking. Nonsmokers who regularly inhale secondhand
smoke have much higher rates of respiratory illness and are three times
more likely to die of lung cancer than those who do not inhale secondhand
smoke. Smokeless tobacco is just as addictive as cigarettes, and users
of smokeless tobacco have cancer rates up to fifty times higher than those
who do not use tobacco." (Lesson Manual)
"In consequence of
evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men
in the last days" (D&C 89:4).
Is there any question that men have conspired in the last days to profit
from the sale and distribution of these substances without considering
the consequences to men and society?
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "We, today,
have before us abundant evidence of the evils and designs of wicked men.
It is seen in the advertising of tobacco, tea, coffee, liquors and beers
and wines. It is also seen in the advertising of prepared foods. So bad
did this condition become some decades ago that the National Government
had to take the matter in hand and Congress passed laws to control the
evils which had arisen. These pure food laws have been very beneficial
but even now there are ways by which the laws are evaded." (Church
History & Modern Revelation, 1:384)
President David O. McKay: "One of the most
significant statements in the Doctrine and Covenants, one which carries
with it evidence of the inspiration of the Prophet Joseph Smith, is found
in the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: [D&C 89:4]
"The purport of that impressed
me in the twenties and the thirties of this century. I just ask you . .
. to recall the methods employed by certain tobacco interests to
induce women to smoke cigarettes.
"You remember how insidiously
they launched their plan. First, by saying that it would reduce weight.
They had a slogan: 'Take a cigarette instead of a sweet.'
"Later, some of us who
like the theatre, noticed that they would have a young lady light the gentleman's
cigarette. Following this a woman's hand would be shown on billboards lighting
or taking a cigarette. A year or two passed and soon they were brazen enough
to show the lady on the screen or on the billboard smoking the cigarette.
. . .
"Now, it is common to see
beautiful young ladies depicted on billboards, and in the popular journals
advertising certain brands of cigarettes. . . .
"The radio has become one
of the most successful means of advertising cigarettes. Attractive programs
are presented, not for the purpose of entertaining the youth, but for the
purpose of enticing and encouraging them to reach for a cigarette.
"Parents meekly submit
to this and later deplore the fact when their children are hopeless cigarette
addicts." (CR, Sep 1949, pp185-86)
President McKay made this statement before television
became popular and depicted cigarette smoking as something to be highly
desired. After two decades of television, cigarette advertising was
banned. So successful were the tobacco companies in their television
advertising that more than decades after the ban, their slogans are still
easily remembered, even by those of us who never smoked. Those of
you old enough to remember cigarette advertising fill in the blanks:
Winston tastes good, __________________.
I'd rather fight, __________________.
I'd walk a mile __________________.
Can you hum the Marlboro tune.
Click here to check your answers.
Advertising is powerful. Isn't it amazing that we can still remember these
slogans dozens of years after they were last aired. We continue to
see commercials for beer, wine, tea, and coffee. Beer commercials
have become highly popular because of their humor. Magazines continue
to glorify all of these things.
Old Cigarette Ads
It is hard to believe that these ads were once acceptable
Major corporations continue this activity because of immense profits. We have learned through legislative and
court investigations that tobacco companies have been insidious in
their attempt to retain customers by increasing the amount of nicotine
in cigarettes. As we know, nicotine is highly addictive.
news article in 2000 related the results of a study on caffeinated soda
pop (excerpts below):
"Most people cannot taste
the difference between caffeinated and non-caffeinated sodas, according
to a new study, even though soft drink manufacturers say they add caffeine
to enhance flavor.
"The Johns Hopkins study
found that only 8 percent of a group of 25 adult consumers were able to
detect the caffeine in sodas. The rest could not tell the difference between
caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks until caffeine levels were raised
to levels beyond those approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"Soft drinks represent
the single largest source of added sugar in the U.S. diet, according to
sources cited in the study. Soda drinking displaced consumption of more
nutritional foods and could lead to more tooth decay, obesity and bone
fractures, the report said.
"In 1998, Americans guzzled
15 billion gallons (57 billion liters) of soda, an average of about 585
cans per person. Consumption of soft drinks has more than doubled since
1975, and more soda is consumed than water.
"'We know adults and children
can become physiologically and psychologically dependent on caffeinated
soft drinks, experiencing a withdrawal syndrome if they stop,' Griffiths
said in the study.
"Soda makers responded
to a 1981 FDA proposal that caffeine be eliminated from cola drinks by
saying it enhanced flavor."
Though soda pop is not banned by the Brethren, the above story
demonstrates what corporations are willing to do in the name of profit. Clearly, a high level of soda pop consumption in the diet is harmful. The major soft drink companies are doing what the tobacco companies did,
adding or increasing the level of caffeine in order to create an addiction
that brings consumers back to their product. As the study shows,
to the vast majority of consumers caffeine does not enhance the flavor
of the drink.
It is also interesting to note that these corporations are now adding caffeine
to soda flavors that have not had the additive in the past, such as some brands
of root beer and orange soda.
When we review the Word of Wisdom as related to harmful substances, the
Lord has blessed the Saints with a remarkable revelation that truly speaks
to our time. How many ills and problems have the Saints avoided because
of obedience to this revelation?
The Lord's Counsel About What Is Good For The Body
As well as those things that are harmful, the Lord has given guidance on
those things which are good for the body.
WHAT THINGS HAS THE LORD "ORDAINED FOR THE USE OF MAN"?
"Every herb in the season thereof"
"...every fruit in the season thereof"
"...flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the
air...are to be used sparingly" (D&C 89:12).
"...grain is ordained for the use of man"
Modern science has confirmed the wisdom of proper diet. We know that
grains, particularly wheat, are an excellent source of nutrition. We know that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for the body. Meat
used "sparingly" is good. In excess, it is harmful, particularly
in our modern, less active society. The Lord has not been more specific. We have been blessed with wisdom, knowledge, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. We know when we are exceeding the guidance contained in this revelation. We know when we are eating an excess of food that is not good for us.
Joseph Fielding Smith: "There would be less
disease and mankind would live longer if all would also heed the counsel
of the Lord concerning the use of wholesome foods. Many a man thinks he
keeps the Word of Wisdom, who knows only the 'don'ts' which is but a part
of its great meaning. Some have stumbled over the meaning of the expression
'in the season thereof,' and have argued that grains and fruits should
only be used in the season of their growth and when they have ripened.
This is not the intent, but any grain or fruit is out of season no matter
what part of the year it may be, if it is unfit for use. The apple under
the tree bruised and decaying is out of season while the good fruit is
waiting to be plucked from the tree. Neither is it the intent of this revelation
to include grains and fruits in the restriction placed upon meats, that
they should be used only in famine or excess of hunger. The antecedent
of 'these' in verse 15, may not be clear, but common sense teaches us that
it does not refer to grain in the preceding verse.
"While it is ordained that
the flesh of animals is for man's food [Sec. 49:18-19], yet this should
be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in
relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it. The designated
grains for the use of man, beasts and fowls, is scientifically correct."
(Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:148)
One problem that exists within the Church are those that feel that by doing
more than the Lord has commanded, they can attain to greater spirituality. Small factions within the Church set up their own standards for worthiness,
and in their anxiety to live the highest laws possible, they impede the
This is what "looking beyond the mark" means (see Jacob 4:14).
HOW MIGHT SOMEONE DO THIS WITH THE WORD OF WISDOM?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "It is . . . my
experience that people who ride gospel hobbies, who try to qualify themselves
as experts in some specialized field, who try to make the whole plan of
salvation revolve around some field of particular interest to them-it is
my experience that such persons are usually spiritually immature and spiritually
unstable. This includes those who devote themselves-as though by divine
appointment-to setting forth the signs of the times; or, to expounding
about the Second Coming; or, to a faddist interpretation of the Word of
Wisdom; or, to a twisted emphasis on temple work or any other doctrine
or practice. The Jews of Jesus' day made themselves hobbyists and extremists
in the field of Sabbath observance, and it colored and blackened their
whole way of worship. We would do well to have a sane, rounded, and balanced
approach to the whole gospel and all of its doctrines." (Sermons
& Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p232)
Elder McConkie continues: "There are no
private doctrines. All of the doctrines and practices of the Church are
taught publicly. There are no secret doctrines, no private practices, no
courses of conduct approved for a few only. The blessings of the gospel
are for all men. Do not be deceived into believing that the General Authorities
believe any secret doctrines or have any private ways of living. Everything
that is taught and practiced in the Church is open to public inspection,
or, at least, where temple ordinances are concerned, to the inspection
and knowledge of everyone who qualifies himself by personal righteousness
to enter the house of the Lord." (Sermons & Writings of
Bruce R. McConkie, p234)
Elder McConkie also said: "The proper course for
all of us is to stay in the mainstream of the Church. This is the
Lord's Church, and it is led by the spirit of inspiration, and the practice
of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture."
(Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p67)
HOW DOES ALL OF THIS APPLY TO THE WORD OF WISDOM?
Latter-day Saints are free to compose their own diets within the Lord's
parameters, but not to impose their preferences and opinions on others.
Elder Mark E. Petersen: "I do not believe we should
try to establish our personal fads as Church doctrine. I do not believe
my eternal salvation will be affected in any way if I eat white bread or
white sugar. I do not believe the doctrines of the Church are in
any way involved in whether my whole wheat is stoneground or steel-cut."
(CR, Apr 1953)
A Principle With Promise
The Word of Wisdom was given as "a principle with promise" (D&C 89:3).
WHAT PROMISES HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO THOSE WHO OBEY THIS PRINCIPLE?
Good physical health: "...receive health
in their navel and marrow to their bones" (v18).
As previously noted above, members of the Church generally live longer, more
healthy lives than the population in general. In this modern scientific
era, we know the damaging effects of tobacco and alcohol on the body. We also know the importance of a proper diet.
Wisdom & knowledge: "...shall find wisdom
and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures" (v19).
President Heber J Grant: "No man who breaks
the Word of Wisdom can gain the same amount of knowledge and intelligence
in this world as the man who obeys the law. I don't care who he is
or where he comes from, his mind will not be as clear, and he cannot advance
as far and as rapidly and retain his power as much as he would if he obeyed
the Word of Wisdom." (CR, Apr 1925)
Elder Boyd K. Packer: "I have come to know
… that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation.
… If someone 'under the influence' [of harmful substances] can hardly listen
to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch
their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a
law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it
is physically." (Ensign, Nov 1979, p20)
Years ago the third missionary discussion talked about the Word of Wisdom. As a
young missionary, I would always try to get a commitment from the investigator
to live the Word of Wisdom. When the investigator accepted this principle,
they were able to understand subsequent discussions. Almost without
exception, I found that if they had not started to live this important
principle then they could not comprehend later discussions. Compliance
with this principle is essential to continued growth in the gospel.
Endurance: "...shall run and not be weary,
and shall walk and not faint" (v20).
I have been an active runner for fitness purposes. I have had the opportunity to run in several marathons. Rarely, if ever,
does one find a smoker or heavy drinker running and
completing in a marathon. Most people don't run marathons, but all those
who are obedient to this great principle are better able to cope with the
challenges and difficulties of life.
Protection: "...the destroying angel shall
pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them"
Marion G. Romney: "From this promise in
the Word of Wisdom and other scriptures, it appears that there are destroying
angels who have a work to do among the peoples of the earth in this last
dispensation. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that because
all flesh was corrupted before him, and the powers of darkness prevailed
upon the earth, these angels were 'waiting the great command to reap down
the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned.' That was
in 1831. In 1894, President Woodruff said: 'God has held the angels of
destruction for many years lest they should reap down the wheat with the
tares. But I want to tell you now, those angels have left the portals of
heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering
over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day
they shall be poured out. Calamities and troubles are increasing in the
earth, and there is a meaning to these things.' (Improvement Era 17:1165.)
"Now . . . in view of this
revealed knowledge and understanding which the Lord has given concerning
what is transpiring about us, is it not a glorious thing to have the assurance
that if we will clothe ourselves with bodies purified through observance
of the Word of Wisdom, these destroying angels will pass us by, as they
did the children of Israel, and not slay us? Well, this is one of the blessings
to follow observance of the Word of Wisdom." (CR, October 1952,
President Heber J. Grant taught that the Word of Wisdom "would solve the
economic problems not only of our country but of every other country, if
it were obeyed by the people of the world" (CR, Apr 1936)
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Consider some of the economic costs:
Acreage now being used to cultivate these products.
Up front costs to individuals and families utilizing these products.
Costs of tragedy:
High percentage of highway fatalities caused by drunken driving.
Broken homes due to alcohol.
Dealing with the results of drug addition.
Enormous health care costs.
The Word of Wisdom stands as another witness of the prophetic calling of
Joseph Smith. How blessed we are to have the guidance of modern prophets. The Word of Wisdom is the most significant revelation in relation to physical
health since the Lord handed down the law of Moses nearly 4,000 years ago. We should consider how we can more fully take care of our bodies and thus
be of greater service to the kingdom.
For additional information see
Practices at MormonNewsroom.org and
Wisdom at LDS.org.
Advertising Quiz Answers
Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.
LSMFT, Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.
I'd rather fight, than switch.
I'd walk a mile for a Camel.
Return to Lesson
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on the discussion on the Word of Wisdom. How has
compliance with this law blessed your life?
Resources Used In This Lesson
Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson.
Church History & Modern Revelation, Volume 1, by Joseph Fielding Smith.
Conference Reports (CR).
Journal of Discourses (JD).
Sermons & Writings of Bruce R. McConkie edited by Mark L. McConkie.
Studies In Scripture, Volume 1, edited by Robert L. Millet
and Kent P. Jackson.
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
03 April 2017