Word of Wisdom Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

By Jane Birch

Some questions about the Word of Wisdom get asked more than others. Here are a few of my thoughts on common questions. Feel free to contact me with your comments or questions!

Questions on D&C 89

Is the Word of Wisdom a commandment? (D&C 89:2)

Short answer: Abstaining from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs is a commandment. The rest of the beautiful counsel in D&C 89 is not required, but we’d be wise to heed this advice of our loving Savior.

Longer answer:  Two Meanings of “Word of Wisdom”

What are the “evils and designs . . .  in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days”? (D&C 89:4)

Short answer: The food industry (like the alcohol and tobacco industries) are in the business of making money, not protecting our health. While many employees are innocent, there are those who conspire to do whatever they legally can to get us to consume their unhealthy products.

Longer answer:  The Evils and Designs of Conspiring Men

What are the dietary principles in the Word of Wisdom?

Short answer: The Lord ordained: (1) All wholesome plants to be used with “prudence and thanksgiving”; (2) Animal flesh to be eaten sparingly in times of need; (3) All grain to be the “staff of life.”

Longer answer: see “The Dietary Principles of the Word of Wisdom”

What are “wholesome herbs”? (D&C 89:10)

Short answer: “Herbs” in modern English means “plants.” “Wholesome herbs” are health-promoting plants. Lots of refined/junk foods are made from plants but are not “wholesome.”

Longer answer: see (1) Wholesome Herbs and Every Fruit (2) Food Addiction and (3) Healthy Fats & Vegetable Oils

Doesn’t God instruct us to use meat “sparingly” rather than not at all? (D&C 89:12)

Short answer: D&C 89:12 asks us to eat meat “sparingly,” but verses 13 & 15 tell us it is “pleasing” to the Lord if we do not consume meat except in times of need (winter, cold, famine, and excess of hunger).

Longer answer: see the first section of Chapter 2 – The Flesh of Beasts

What does “sparingly” mean? (D&C 89:12)

Short answer: The Oxford English Dictionary defines “sparingly” as “In a sparing or saving manner” (Hugh Nibley suggested it means “sparing God’s creatures.” ) In relation to food, the OED definition is: “In great moderation; abstemiously.”

Longer answer: The Flesh of Beasts, Part I

Why does the LDS Church own cattle ranches? (D&C 89:12–13)

Short answer: There is no commandment against owning cattle ranches.

Longer answer: Why does the LDS Church own cattle ranches?

If I eat meat does that mean I’m not “keeping the Word of Wisdom”? (D&C 89:12–13)

Short answer: When LDS Church leaders discuss “keeping the Word of Wisdom” they have consistently referred to abstaining from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs. It is our privilege to prayerfully study the Word of Wisdom and seek any further guidance the Lord wishes to give us.

Longer answer:  Two Meanings of “Word of Wisdom”

Wasn’t the comma in D&C 89:13 added later? Didn’t that change the meaning of that verse? (D&C 89:13)

Short answer: Yes, the comma was added in 1921. No, it did not change the meaning of the verse; it only served to clarify the meaning.

Longer answer: A. Jane Birch, Questioning the Comma in Verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 10 (2014): 133-149.

Is it true that the Lord asked the early Saints to not eat meat except in winter, cold and famine only because they didn’t have refrigeration in their day? (D&C 89:13)

Short answer:  There is no evidence that this was the Lord’s intent. Humans have known for thousands of years how to eat meat safely during warm weather without refrigeration. While of course there are important challenges with temperature, they are not insurmountable by any means, and this is just one factor in food safety.

Longer answer: Was lack of refrigeration the reason God advised meat for winter only? (D&C 89:13). Also see: A. Jane Birch, Getting into the Meat of the Word of Wisdom, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 1-36.

What does the Word of Wisdom say about dairy and eggs?

Short answer:  Nothing. Unlike plants and the flesh of animals, no mention is made of dairy or eggs being ordained for human use. While not explicitly prohibited, I feel the scientific evidence is strong that dairy and eggs are harmful to our health and so like many other harmful substances that are not explicitly prohibited in the Word of Wisdom (e.g. narcotics), it is best to avoid them.

Longer answer: Discovering the Word of Wisdom: What About Dairy and Eggs?

If it is best that we not consume animals foods, what about Vitamin B12?

Short answer: In our day and age, it is easy and cheap to get Vitamin B12 through fortified foods or a supplement.

Longer answer: What about Vitamin B12?

What does it mean for grain to be “the staff of life”? (D&C 89:14)

Short answer: “The staff of life,” means the “staple” of the diet. The staple of the diet is the foundation of the diet, where we get the bulk of our calories. According to God, the bulk of our calories should come from grains.

Longer answer: The Staff of Life

Haven’t wheat and other grains changed? Are they really still good for us? (D&C 89:14, 16)

Short answer:  All plant foods have changed. God explicitly states that the Word of Wisdom is the counsel for “all saints in the last days” (D&C 89:2). In this revelation, God declared, “all grain is good . . . wheat for man” D&C 89:16–17).

Longer answer: (1) All Grain Is Good (2) The Danger of Displacing Grain and (3) Wheat for Man

See also: Gluten, Wheat, Grain (and other food sensitivities)

What does “these” refer to in D&C 89:15?

Short answer: Animals.

Longer answer: “Does the pronoun ‘these’ in D&C 89:15 refer to grains, wild animals, or all animals?”

Why did the Lord ordain grain to be “the staff of life”? (D&C 89:14)

Short answer: Grains are the most abundant source of calories that are economical, sustainable, health-promoting, and kind to animals.

Longer answer: The Staff of Life

Why did the Lord single out wheat as being “for man”? (D&C 89:17)

Short answer: One reason may be for its usefulness as food storage.

Longer answer: Why Wheat for Man?

Why don’t LDS Church leaders tell us what to eat? What do they tell us?

Short answer: LDS Church leaders tell us to follow the Word of Wisdom. It is up to us to prayerfully read D&C 89 and decide how to following this divine counsel and guidance.

Longer answer: (1) Why Aren’t We Told How to Eat? (2) LDS Leaders on the Word of Wisdom (3) Why the Preoccupation with the Prohibitions?

Questions on D&C 49

What does “forbiddeth to abstain from meats” mean and isn’t the footnote wrong?

Short answer:”Forbiddeth to abstain from meats” means “commandeth to abstain from meats” so the footnote is essentially correct.

Longer answer: What does it mean to “command to abstain from meats”?

What about D&C 49:18 and 1 Timothy 4:3 where we are told that anyone who commands us to not eat meats is not of God?

Short answer: Note that “meats” means “food.” God does not command us to abstain from meats, neither should Church leaders. So, of course, we should not command others to abstain from certain foods, including meat. But hopefully we will not deny ourselves of the blessings of voluntarily abstaining from unhealthy foods just because God and Church leaders will not command us to do so (see D&C 58:28).

Longer answer: What does it mean to “command to abstain from meats”?

Questions on the Bible

Did Adam and Eve eat a more ideal diet in the Garden of Eden?

Short answer: They ate only plant foods. We don’t know exactly which ones.

Longer answer: The Garden of Eden Diet

Doesn’t the Bible describe the Promised Land as a land “flowing with milk and honey”? Doesn’t that mean milk is good for us?

Short answer: A land “flowing with milk and honey” is an ancient description of a fertile land, not a health prescription for the 21st century.

Longer answer: A Land Flowing with “Milk and Honey”

Didn’t Jesus eat fish?

Short answer: Jesus also drank wine. His first miracle was turning water to wine (John 2), and He was accused of being a “winebibber” (Matthew 11:19).  The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to drink wine for the stomach. Do these facts suggest we should ignore the Word of Wisdom and drink wine today? Is it possible that the Lord who drank some wine and ate some meat in His day could also ask us in our day to not consume alcohol (D&C 89:5–7)  and tell us that it is pleasing to Him if we do not use meat, except in times of winter, cold, famine, and excess of hunger (D&C 89:13, 15)?

See also: Fish and WFPB

Last updated March 6, 2016

Leave a Reply