By Jane Birch
Two Meanings of the Phrase “Word of Wisdom”
The phrase “Word of Wisdom” is used in two distinct ways in the LDS Church. The first is the most important, as it is a standard of worthiness set by LDS Church leaders for all LDS Church members. The standard is to abstain from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs. This is the meaning implied by the phrase “keeping the Word of Wisdom.”
The second way the phrase “Word of Wisdom” is commonly used in the LDS Church is in reference to the text in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This text is a revelation Mormons believe God gave through Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in 1833. This text contains much more wisdom, advice, and blessings than are covered in the few prohibitions listed above.
Although the first meaning of “Word of Wisdom” is most important, this page (and the entire Discovering the Word of Wisdom website) are dedicated to an exploration of the second meaning. Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own understanding and interpretation of these precious verses. The Lord (and the Church) teach us correct principles so that we can govern ourselves.
A Brief Explanation of Doctrine and Covenants 89
Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) contains a revelation from God commonly referred to as the “Word of Wisdom.” In this revelation, God explains what is and is not ordained for human consumption. The text of the Word of Wisdom is rich and includes many dimensions, but the dietary counsel could be summarized as follows:
1. Strong drinks (alcohol), tobacco, and “hot drinks” (defined as “coffee and tea”) are not good for human consumption. (verses 5–9)
2. All “wholesome” plants are ordained for human use and should be used with “prudence and thanksgiving.” (verses 10–11)
3. Meat is ordained for human use with thanksgiving, but it should be eaten sparingly and only in times of need: winter, cold, famine or “excess of hunger.” (verses 12–13, 15)
4. “All grain is good” and is ordained to be the “staff of life.” (verses 14, 16)
The Word of Wisdom promises rich blessings to those who keep these sayings, along with the other commandments of God.
For a longer discussion of the dietary principles of the Word of Wisdom, see Dietary Principles of the Word of Wisdom.
Full Text of Doctrine and Covenants Section 89[The Doctrine and Covenants contains many revelations Joseph Smith received. The revelations are divided into separate “sections” (chapters). Because the Word of Wisdom is the 89th revelation listed in that book, the text is also commonly referred to as Doctrine and Covenants 89, D&C 89 or simply Section 89. The full text is printed below. See also D&C 89 on the LDS Church website, which also contains a header and footnotes not included here.]
1 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—
2 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—
3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.
4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
5 That 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.
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—
17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
How Important is the Word of Wisdom?
No Mormon grows up in the LDS Church without learning that the standard for keeping the Word of Wisdom is to abstain from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs. This is taught to every child, if not at home than certainly at Church. Every investigator is taught these principles. Many who join the LDS Church have to forsake addictive substances in order to be found worthy of baptism.
Obedience to these basic tenets of the Word of Wisdom is expected of every Church members, and is requisite for entering an LDS Temple or serving in leadership positions. It is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of members of the LDS Church. Social settings where prohibited substances are served remind both members of the Church and others that this principle sets member of the LDS Church apart in distinct ways.
Generally most Mormons have also read the full text of D&C 89. It is regularly taught and referenced at Church. However, the well-known prohibitions are usually the only part of the text that are emphasized. Often, the other parts of D&C 89 are not specifically addressed, or are only superficially addressed. Clearly, following all the advice found in D&C 89 is not mandated for LDS Church members. However, the full text does include much wise counsel from the Father of our Bodies and the Creator of this earth. I believe we would be greatly blessed by heeding this counsel, but we are each responsible for discovering how it applies to us as individuals.
More on the Word of Wisdom and a Whole Food, Plant-based Diet
Discovering the Word of Wisdom series of articles on the Word of Wisdom in Meridian Magazine by Jane Birch
If your question is not addressed (or addressed insufficiently), please contact Jane Birch.
Last updated: October 6, 2016