Church History Lesson 22 (D&C 89; 49; 59; 88)

The Historical Setting

It is hard to imagine an elders’ meeting today in a smoke-filled room, but such meetings were commonplace in the Church before February 1833.

President Brigham Young said:

“The first school of the prophets was held in a small room situated over the Prophet Joseph’s kitchen, in a house which belonged to bishop Whitney, and which was attached to his store, which store probably might be about fifteen feet square. In the rear of this building was a kitchen, probably ten by fourteen feet, containing rooms and pantries. Over this kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.”1

Twenty-two brethren were in the School of the Prophets room when this revelation was given. Zebedee Coltrin said it “was received in an adjoining room, in the presence of two or three brethren.” “The Prophet Joseph Smith was in an adjoining room, in the School where they were assembled, and came in with that Revelation in his hand. Out of the twenty-two members that were there assembled, all used tobacco more or less, except two. Joseph read the Revelation and when they heard it they all laid aside their pipes and use of tobacco, and I have never used it since.”2

Not by “Commandment or Constraint”

●    The revelation sets forth the will of God and explains the reasons for its being given (D&C 89:1–3). President Joseph F. Smith said, “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment or constraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.”3

Though not initially given “by commandment,” the Word of Wisdom soon became a test of faithfulness in the Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith in speaking to the “High council” in 1838 said, “No official member in this Church is worthy to hold an office after having the word of wisdom properly taught him; and he . . . neglecting to comply with and obey it.”4

●    It is considered a commandment today. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Later on, it was announced from this stand, by President Brigham Young, that the Word of Wisdom was a revelation and a command of the Lord. I desired to mention that fact, because I do not want you to feel that we are under no restraint.”5

The Institute of Religion Manual for the Doctrine and Covenants says:

“The Word of Wisdom revelation was given on February 27, 1833, but its acceptance by many in the Church was gradual. On September 9, 1851, some eighteen years after the revelation was given, President Brigham Young proposed in a general conference that all Saints discontinue the use of tea, coffee, tobacco, and whiskey. The motion carried unanimously, and the principle known as the Word of Wisdom was accepted as a binding commandment for all members.6 But the Saints were slow to remember their covenants. Repeated admonitions from the prophets to observe the Word of Wisdom met with varying degrees of obedience. As late as the October conference of 1942, the First Presidency (President Heber J. Grant, Elder J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and President David O. McKay) urged the Saints to ‘quit trifling with this law and so to live it that we may claim its promises.’”7 8

●    The Lord specifically mentions “conspiring men” who will attempt to influence us to use those things prohibited in the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:4).

“The tobacco industry [in the United States] outspends all other national advertisers in newspapers, and cigarettes constitute the second-largest category of magazine advertising, behind transportation. . . . Eight cigarette companies spent $309 million [in 1981] on magazine advertising. The same companies bought $386 million of newspaper ads. . . .

“Were it not for such outlays, anti-smoking activists suggest, the public would read far more bad news about smoking. . . .The American council on Science and Health periodically surveys magazines to compare their smoking coverage with the amount of tobacco advertising revenues they receive. The council’s latest survey of 18 popular publications showed that those heavily reliant on cigarette advertising gave short shrift to the smoking issue.”9

The “Don’ts” of the Word of Wisdom

●    We are the “temple of God” because the Spirit of God dwells in us.  When we defile our bodies, the Spirit leaves us (1 Cor. 3:16–17).

●    Wine or strong drink (D&C 89:5–7). The First Presidency said, “Drunken with strong drink, men have lost their reason; their counsel has been destroyed; their judgment and vision are fled. . . . Drink has brought more woe and misery, broken more hearts, wrecked more homes, committed more crimes, filled more coffins, than all the wars the world has suffered.”10

●    Tobacco (D&C 89:8). James O. Mason said, “Each year tobacco use causes approximately 2.5 million premature deaths worldwide. Tobacco use also harms millions of innocent victims. For example, smoking by pregnant mothers passes on toxic chemicals that interfere with fetal development, afflicting approximately 3 million babies each year. These babies have lower birth weight and increased risk for neurological and intellectual delays and for premature death. Other innocent victims include non-smokers who regularly inhale secondhand smoke. These people have much higher rates of respiratory illness and are three times more likely to die of lung cancer than those who do not inhale secondhand smoke. Smokeless tobacco is just as addictive as cigarettes, and users of smokeless tobacco have cancer rates up to fifty times higher than those who do not use tobacco.”11

●    Hot drinks (D&C 89:9)—which are defined as tea and coffee. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “By strong drinks is meant alcoholic beverages; hot drinks, according to the Prophet’s own statement, meant tea and coffee. Accordingly the negative side of the Word of Wisdom is a command to abstain from tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor.”12

President Brigham Young after hearing it argued that tea and coffee are not specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom answered, “That is very true; but what were the people in the habit of taking as hot drinks when that revelation was given? Tea and coffee. We were not in the habit of drinking water very hot, but tea and coffee—the beverages in common use.”13

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:

“Abstinence from these four things [tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor] has been accepted by the Church as a measuring rod to determine in part the personal worthiness of church members. . . .

“Obviously the standard of judgment must be uniform throughout the Church, and local officers are not at liberty to add other items to this list. However, there are many other substances which have a harmful effect on the human body, though such particular things are not specifically prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. Certainly the partaking of cola drinks, though not included within the measuring standard here set out, is in violation of the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. Harmful drugs of any sort are in a like category.

“Some unstable people become cranks with reference to this law of health. It should be understood that the Word of Wisdom is not the gospel, and the gospel is not the Word of Wisdom. As Paul said, ‘The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’ (Romans 14:17).

“There is no prohibition in Section 89, for instance, as to the eating of white bread, using white flour, white sugar, cocoa, chocolate, eggs, milk, meat, or anything else, except items classified under the headings, tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor.”14

●    What about caffeinated soft drinks? A priesthood Bulletin in 1972 said, “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.”15

●    The following substances have been added to the Word of Wisdom in our own time:
—    Any substance that contains illegal drugs.
—    Other habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician
—    Misuse of prescription and other drugs

The “Do’s” of the Word of Wisdom

●    The things which the Lord recommends for our good health are as follows: (D&C 89:10–17).
—    Wholesome herbs—nourishing vegetables and plants (v. 10).
—    Fruit (v. 11).
—    Flesh of beasts and fowls (vv. 12–13).
—    Grains (vv. 14–17).

●    Getting adequate sleep—retiring to bed early and rising early (D&C 88:124). President Brigham Young said, “Instead of doing two days’ work in one day, wisdom would dictate to [the Saints] that if they desire long life and good health, they must, after sufficient exertion, allow the body to rest before it is entirely exhausted. When exhausted, some argue that they need stimulants. . . . But instead of these kind of stimulants they should recruit by rest.”16

●    Using food “with prudence” (D&C 89:11; 59:18–20).  This means that we should eat food that nourishes our bodies and use moderation in the kind and amount of food we eat.

●    Using food “with . . . thanksgiving” (D&C 89:11). This means showing the Lord our gratitude for the food He provides us.

The Spiritual Blessings of the Word of Wisdom

●    Spiritual blessings for living this temporal law (D&C 89:18–21).
—    Physical health (v. 18).
—    Wisdom and great treasures of knowledge (v. 19).
—    The ability to run and not be weary and walk and not faint (v. 20).
—    Protection from the destroying angel (v. 21).

●    All commandments are spiritual—they affect our spiritual well-being (D&C 29:34).

●    The conditions under which we live were prophesied many years ago (Isaiah 40:28–31).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I recall a bishop’s telling me of a woman who came to get a [temple] recommend. When asked if she observed the Word of Wisdom, she said that she occasionally drank a cup of coffee. She said, ‘Now, bishop, you’re not going to let that keep me from going to the temple, are you?’ To which he replied, ‘sister, surely you will not let a cup of coffee stand between you and the house of the Lord.”17

Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “I have come to know . . . that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation. . . . If someone ‘under the influence’ [of harmful substances] can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.”18

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“In the march to perfection through the conquering of sin, it is important to have the right perspective. For example, some people get means and ends reversed. Many feel the Word of Wisdom is for the principal purpose of increasing our health, increasing our mortal life, but a more careful study of the revelation (D&C 89) reveals that there is a deeper purpose. . . .

“The spiritual promises greatly exceed the physical. For those who observe these particular instructions and are obedient to all the Lord’s commandments, the blessings really are increased and magnified. Such saints, he promises, shall be passed over by the angel of death and shall not be slain. This promise returns us to Exodus where we read that the Lord tested the faith of the children of Israel to see if they would follow the great Moses. . . .

“For observing the Word of Wisdom the reward is life, not only prolonged mortal Iife but life eternal. No promise is made through the Word of Wisdom that the faithful observer will not die: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). With ancient Israel it was physical life or physical death. In our modern promise, it is spiritual life or spiritual death. If one ignores ‘these sayings’ and fails in ‘obedience to the commandments’ his death is certain, but if he obeys implicitly, his eternal life through perfection is assured. The angel of death cuts one short of mortal life for disobedience; the angel of light makes the way clear for the spiritual life eternal.”19

1.  In Journal of Discourses, 12:157–158.
2.  Minutes of St. George School of the Prophets, December 23, 1883, 3.
3.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 14.
4.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 117. 5.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 14.
6.  General Minutes of Conference, Millennial Star 14:35 [Feb. 1, 1852].
7.  “The Message of the First Presidency of the Church,” Improvement Era 45:687 [Nov. 1942].
8.  D&C, Institute of Religion Self Instruction Program, 2:40–41.
9.  Janet Guyon, “Do Publications Avoid Anti-Cigarette Stories to Protect Ad Dollars?” Wall Street Journal, 22 Nov. 1982, 1.
10. In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, 8.
11.  “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Sept 1986, 59–61.
12.  Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 845.
13.  Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe [1941], 182.
14.  Mormon Doctrine, 845–846.
15.  Priesthood Bulletin, Feb. 1972, 3–4.
16.  Discourses of President Brigham Young, 187.
17.  In Conference Report, Apr. 1990, 67; or Ensign, May 1990, 51.
18.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 28–29; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 20.
19.  The Miracle of Forgiveness, 210–211.