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

By Jane Birch 

Note the pronoun “these” in D&C 89:15:

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.

Over the past few decades there has been some controversy about what this pronoun refers to. Interestingly, before that time, there was no ambiguity. For the first hundred years after the Word of Wisdom was revealed, all LDS Church leaders and others who commented on this verse interpreted “these” to refer to the animals in verse 14.

Does “These” Refer to the Grains?

As criticism of grain in our society has became popular, some Latter-day Saints suggested that “these” could refer to the “grains,” which are the subject of the preceding verse. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith refuted this interpretation as early as 1947:

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.” [Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation (n.p.: Council of the Twelve Apostles of The  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1947-1950)].

In verse 14, God declared grains to be the “staff of life.” The “staff of life” means the staple or foundation of the diet, which is where the bulk of one’s calories come from. Obviously, grains cannot be the staff of life if one uses them only in times of famine and hunger, so of all the possible interpretations, there doesn’t seem to be any scriptural support for this one. I have written more on this topic here: “The Staff of Life.”

Does “These” Refer to Wild Animals?

Some people have suggested that the pronoun “these” refers to just the wild animals. Elder Ezra Taft Benson wrote:

It seems to me that the following should be avoided on the Sabbath: [he includes a long list of activities, among which is] Engaging in sports and hunting “wild animals” which God made for the use of man only “in times of famine and excess of hunger. (See D&C 89:15.) [Ezra Taft Benson, “Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy?” Ensign (May 1971).]

Elder Benson does not say that this verse refers only to the wild animals, but others have made this claim.

Does “These” Refer to the Animals in Verse 14?

I believe the pronoun “these” refers to all the animals mentioned in verse 14. In verse 13, the Lord has already stated that “flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air” should only be used in “times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (D&C 89:12–13). Verse 14 adds “wild animals” to the list of creatures to use only in times of need.

I believe God is telling us that all animals should be used for food only in times of need. Verse 12 refers generally to beasts and fowls. Verse 14 includes beasts and fowls and adds all the wild animals. Together, they simply tell us it is pleasing to God if we reserve the use of animals for times when we can’t get all we need from the glorious plant foods the Lord has provided for us.

See also: Chapter 2 – The Flesh of Beasts from Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective by Jane Birch

Last updated: July 20, 2015


  1. Good points, those small details which are easily overlooked over time in reading section 89.
    I also like the part of the verse close to the end of the section. “who remember to keep and do these sayings…”

    To me, the word remember has key implications: Remember as in perhaps a ‘waking up’ to what was once overlooked and/or forgotten, or a waking up to, or even a realization, to what was once known and understood. It is interesting to consider different possibilities with the one word!

  2. The verse says, “And it is pleasing unto me that they should NOT be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” What if this means that they shouldn’t be used only in times of famine,etc?

    • Hi Jessica! Good question. Note that the comma in this verse clarifies the meaning of the verse by providing a pause at the end of the phrase, “it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used.” It then concludes with the few times where it may be appropriate to use animal flesh (“in times of winter, or of cold, or famine”). LDS Church leaders inserted that comma to add clarity and make it difficult to misinterpret the verse. I’ve written extensively on this added comma in this paper, “Questioning the Comma in Verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom.” In short, there is no evidence to support the alternative interpretation you mentioned in your comment. I hope this is helpful!

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