Two Meanings of “Word of Wisdom”

By Jane Birch

We commonly use the phrase “Word of Wisdom” in two very distinct ways in the LDS Church. The first is plainly the most important. Our Church leaders have determined that the standard of worthiness for keeping the Word of Wisdom is abstaining from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs. I fully sustain this standard, and I want to be clear that I believe anyone abstaining from these substances is fully obeying what our Church leaders have specifically asked us to do and is fully worthy of the privileges contingent on obedience to this important counsel.

But there is a second meaning of the “Word of Wisdom” commonly used the Church, and that is in reference to the entire text of Section 89 in the Doctrine and Covenants. This section contains much more wisdom, advice, and blessings than is covered in the few prohibitions of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. This entire section is wise counsel from the Father of our Bodies and the Creator of this earth. We would do well to heed all of this counsel.

When members of the LDS Church are asked to “keep the Word of Wisdom,” this is generally understood as referring to the first meaning: the prohibitions. Abstaining from all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs is a commandment from God. The rest of the counsel was given “not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2). There is no official interpretation of this additional counsel, so we are each free to study and pray and receive out own answers. Note that the blessings listed in D&C 89 (verses 18–21) pertain to heeding all of the counsel in D&C 89—along with “walking in obedience to the commandments” (D&C 89:18).

See also: Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective by Jane Birch


Last updated January 15, 2016

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