Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making Sense of the Word of Wisdom

While addressing the saints in his day, the apostle Peter referred to those belonging to the Christian faith as a "peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9). Perhaps this is one of the more misunderstood verses in scripture due to translation. The word "peculiar" is only used in the King James Version of the Bible and meant something different back then than it does now. If you were to say the word "peculiar" today, you would think of synonyms such as "weird" or "strange". However, the word originally meant "belonging to someone" when it was originally penned. Thus, the followers of Christ belong to him, but that does not mean that they should be strange in any sense.

Mormons tend to think of this verse out of context, thinking that this means that they must be markedly different from other people. While it is true that Christians should be "In the world, but not of the world" (John 17:16), they can generally do the same things as unbelievers so long as the practices are not sinful.

One way that Mormons mark themselves as different is their adherence to what is known as "The Word of Wisdom." For people not familiar with the term, it means that Mormons do not smoke or drink alcohol, use tobacco products, eat meat sparingly, or use tea or coffee. When put in context that the average American drinks 3 cups of coffee each day, this makes the Mormons queer in deed.

This practice came as a revelation to church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. after he inquired of the Lord about it. This was not done because Joseph himself had a problem with using any of the above products; it was that his wife Emma was tired of cleaning up after his comrades when they spit their tobacco juice on the floor.

While this revelation came to Joseph in 1833, the practice was not made a test of fellowship until the presidency of Heber J. Grant.

The real question about the word of wisdom is whether or not it should be a test of fellowship, as many people either do not join the church or cannot enter the temples because they use one or more of these substances. Let's use the scriptures and history as our guide.

In the second verse of Section 89 where the Word of Wisdom is outlined it reads "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"

So, it appears that this was never meant to be a commandment; it was a helpful suggestion. It could be boiled down to this : "Keep it down on the cocktails and the smokes and you will be glad you did so."

Further evidence this should not be a commandment is that the Lord himself was a drinker and made wine on more than one occasion. Paul counseled Timothy to drink wine for his stomach, as well as counseled Bishops to use it in moderation.  (1 Timothy 3:8) (1 Timothy 5:23)

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself was a drinker and a smoker after this revelation, drinking whiskey in the Carthage Jail before he died. Most of the brethren from Brigham Young (who opened breweries) to Heber J. Grant drank alcohol and smoked. It seems that the men to whom this was given seemed to understand as I do that this was a suggestion, not a commandment.

Stranger still is that this was given by revelation as a word of wisdom, but changed to a commandment without revelation by Heber J. Grant as admitted by LDS historian Thomas G. Alexander. It appears that Mr. Grant decided to take manners in his own hands and tighten his grip on the Saints, whom he knew practically worshipped their leaders and would never question them.

Strangely enough, one part of the word of wisdom talks about eating meat sparingly, but this is not adhered to generally by church members. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (who presided over my mission), always counseled us to not pick and choose which rules to obey. I guess that rule does not apply to Presidents of the Church.

Often Mormons claim their system is better than others because their members live longer than those who do not keep the word of wisdom. Keep in mind that their are only 15 million Mormons and over 7 billion in the world, so these studies are not perfect. And they reject modern science, which agrees with Paul that drinking every now and then is good for you.

At any rate, the system is probably here to stay. Mormons who wish to keep the peace will have to live the code as currently stated by current leaders. But their interpretation is a way to control people; it is not the Lord's directive.


  1. Mr. Grant..... Please excuse me for finding that perspective humorous.

  2. The thing is...Heber J. Grant was a Prophet of God, given the same authority and same right to revelation for the Church as Joseph Smith. If we are to believe all of the commandments as revealed to Brother Joseph, then why not believe commandments as revealed to President Grant.

    Times are different, and though certain things are concrete and will never change, the Lord has a purpose for revealing a stricter adherence to His health code.

    I don't believe our current leaders' interpretation is "a way to control people." They have nothing to gain from advising us to abstain from coffee, tea, tobacco, illegal drugs, large amounts of meat, etc. Rather, it's inspiration for our benefit.

    Wilford Woodruff once said that the Lord would not allow a President of the Church to lead us astray. That President would immediately be removed from that position if he did so.

    It's not about "following blindly." It's about how much faith you have in the Lord's chosen leaders.

  3. Also, is was good ol' Brother Brigham that made it a commandment, if I'm not mistaken.

    You're a great dude! And I don't want to seem like I'm attacking you. My thoughts on this subject are just quite different from your opinions...

  4. Brigham Young encouraged the church to not use the items mentioned in the W.O.W., but Heber J. Grant made it a commandment by making it a requirement for temple attendance. Brigham and others still used tobacco and other substances until they dies, and up until Grant church leaders use alcohol and tobacco.

  5. "I will draw the line and know who is for the Lord and who is not, and
    those who will not keep the Word of Wisdom, I will cut off from the
    Church; I throw out a challenge to all men and women. Have I not always
    counselled you right? I would rather you would cut me into inch pieces,
    than to flinch from my duty, the Lord being my helper."

    That was spoken by Brigham Young in an 1851 conference. What's more, he said these words following a Word of Wisdom talk given by Patriarch John Smith. Pretty strong words for just a "suggestion," especially by someone "used tobacco and other substances until they died." I'm curious...what are your sources that tell you that President Young and others used these substances. I'm not saying you're wrong-I just want to know where the information is.

    But, who said and did what isn't my point. This is what I'm trying to say: it doesn't matter who "made it a commandment." What matters is that it is a commandment given to us by Prophets and Apostles TODAY. As members of the Church, we sustain them. By saying that we disagree with their revelation, we are saying that we do not believe them to truly be prophets, seers, and revelators. And, if we do not believe them to be prophets, seers, and revelators, we might as well be calling them frauds.

    I know this all sounds super harsh. I'm not trying to attack at all. I apologize if I'm coming off rather brash.

  6. Just a few arguments in bullet point form;

    Christ consumed alcohol which by his act determines it to not be a sin since he fulfilled all righteousness.

    The Church has no disciplinary action for those who do consume alcohol.

    I feel that it is not the church seeking to control its member but that in the odd way the Church is being constrained by the cultural teachings, not doctrinal teachings, of its members. Imagine the chaos that would insue if the leadership came out and said you could drink mild alcoholic beverages in moderation. people would freak out.

    I feel that the word of wisdom actually encourages the partaking of mild barley drinks (D & C 89:17 - Doctine and Covenants 89:17 "... barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks..." I am not aware of a beverage other than beer that was primarily barley in Joseph Smith's time.)

    The key to almost everything in the Word of Wisdom is moderation.

    I would bet money that less that 1% of active church members actually follow the word of wisdom to the letter.

    I don't drink, I have and I know its dangers and benefits. I feel that like many things it needs to be decided by the individual what is entailed by the Word of Wisdom, which is probably why in the Temple Recommend they don't ask individual questions regarding specific verses in the Word of Wisdom, just if you're keeping it or not.

    This opinion is definitely the minority in the church, that doesn't make it wrong or right.

  7. Also, the very first building constructed in the Salt Lake Valley by Brother Brigham was a brewery. an odd choice for someone so opposed the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

  8. Appreciate all of these comments, thank you.