By Eric Johnson
The Word of Wisdom is a special commandment found in Doctrine and Covenants 89 that leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim was given by God. It teaches, among other things, that no “hot” drinks should be consumed and that alcohol and tobacco should be avoided.
As far as alcoholic drinks, one church manual reports:
Our Father in Heaven has commanded us not to drink beer, liquor, and other drinks that contain alcohol. These things can cause sickness and can result in unhappiness in the home. When people drink these things, they cannot think clearly. These drinks often lead people to choose bad things, to lie, to waste all their money, and to break the law of chastity. When a pregnant woman drinks alcoholic drinks, she can hurt the unborn child. People who drink alcoholic drinks cause many serious problems (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 151).
Used properly, however, the same manual says there can be benefit from items banned in the Word of Wisdom:
Our Father in Heaven has told us that alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can help us if we know how to use them properly. He said alcohol is to be used only for washing our bodies. Tobacco can be used to heal wounds on sick cattle. Drugs can sometimes help heal us when we are sick. But before we try to use these things, we should learn from wise people what they should be used for and how they should be used. If we use them in the wrong way, they can be harmful (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 152).
A church manual explained these benefits in more detail:
D&C 89:7. Strong Drinks Are for Washing the Body. Alcohol is a valuable cleansing agent for wounds and abrasions. When used to bathe an injured part of the body, alcohol performs a service for which it was intended (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, p. 208. Bold in original).
D&C 89:8. “Tobacco … Is an Herb for Bruises and All Sick Cattle.” Tobacco, like alcohol, possesses medicinal properties for use on sick animals. When applied with skill, a tobacco poultice can be useful in healing the cuts and bruises of cattle. Alcohol and tobacco have place when used as the Lord intended (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, p. 209. Bold and ellipsis in original).
According to Apostle George Q. Cannon even hot chocolate and cocoa ought to be avoided as well as hot soups (Journal of Discourses 12:221, 223). However, the church has never officially banned these items. During Christmastime, for example, it is typical for many who are observing the lighted displays around Temple Square to hold cups of hot chocolate in their hands!
Referring to the restrictions the revelation places on meat, the same manual reports:
D&C 89:13. “Only in Times of Winter, or of Cold, or Famine.” This verse has caused some to ask if meat should be eaten in the summer. Meat has more calories than fruits and vegetables, which some individuals may need fewer of in summer than winter. Also, before fruits and vegetables could be preserved, people often did not have enough other food to eat in winter. Spoiled meat can be fatal if eaten, and in former times meat spoiled more readily in summer than winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season. The key word with respect to the use of meat is sparingly (D&C 89:12) (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, p. 210. Bold and italics in original).
Some leaders have also taught that anything made of caffeine, including cola drinks, were part of the “spirit of the law,” as fourteenth President Howard W. Hunter taught:
Live the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. We complicate the simplicity of the Word of Wisdom. The Lord said don’t drink tea, coffee, or use tobacco or liquor and that admonition is simple. But we confuse it by asking if cola drinks are against the Word of Wisdom. The 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants doesn’t say anything about cola drinks, but we ask questions that go beyond the simplicity of the lesson that has been taught. We know that caffeine is taken out of coffee and used as an ingredient of cola drinks. It seems to me that if we probably want to live the spirit of the law we probably wouldn’t partake of that which had been taken from what we were told not to drink (Howard W. Hunter, “Marriage is Forever,” Australia Area Conference, Women’s Meeting, Melbourne, Australia, November 28, 1979. Cited in The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, pp. 104-105. Bold in original).
By not keeping the Word of Wisdom, a person is prohibited from obtaining or renewing a temple recommend, which is necessary to enter the temple. A church manual states, “We must obey the Word of Wisdom to be worthy to enter the temple. If we do not obey the Word of Wisdom, the Lord’s Spirit withdraws from us” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p.167). In fact, breaking this rule could cause a person from entering the celestial kingdom, as to tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. “Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.” Yes, he will forgive you, because he is going to forgive every man who repents; but, my brethren, if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:16)
Other bad things might happen, reasoned seventh President Heber J. Grant:
Many a professed Latter-day Saint in hard times has lost the home that sheltered his wife and his children, who, if he had observed the Word of Wisdom, would have been able to save it. The violation of the Word of Wisdom has meant the difference between failure and success. By observing the Word of Wisdom, sufficient money to pay the interest on the mortgage would have been forthcoming, with additional help to take care of his family and farm (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 2002, p. 193).
What Does Christianity Teach
There are no specific prohibitions concerning hot drinks, alcohol, and meat in the Bible. For instance, when it comes to meat offered to idols, the apostle Paul said that a person had the right to choose to partake or to abstain (1 Cor 8; 10:23-33). Hot drinks were never banned in the Old Testament. And in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul told Timothy to stop drinking water and drink some wine to help him deal with a weak stomach. However, he also said that a Christian should not drink too much and get drunk (Eph. 5:18).
The Bible certainly intends for believers to live healthy, so imbibing to excess (Eph. 5:18) or partaking of unhealthy items is not wise. Romans 14:2-3 says,
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Paul said there should be no unnecessary restrictions on believers in Colossians 3:22: “These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.” Therefore, the Bible commands moderation but does prohibit the items described in the Word of Wisdom.
Other articles to consider
Test Your Understanding
- Which of the following is NOT prohibited in the Word of Wisdom?
A) Sex outside of marriage
B) Hot drinks
D) Meat except in winter or times of famine
E) All of the above are prohibited in the Word of Wisdom
2. According to D&C 89, what is alcohol good for?
A) Drinking B) Cleaning wounds C) Washing of the body D) All of the above are true
3. Tobacco is good for ___________ according to D&C 89:
A) Spitting B) Healing bruises C) Treating sick cattle D) B and C E) All of the above
4. Technically, in today’s Mormonism, if a person says that he/she does not keep the Word of Wisdom, what would be the result?
A) Not receive their temple recommend
B) Not allowed to attend church
C) Loss of church membership
D) No consequences for disobeying D&C 89
5. According to the Bible, partaking of items such as alcohol, coffee, and tea for the Christian is:
A) prohibited for everyone
B) an issue involving a person’s conscience and individual freedom
C) grounds for excommunication from the local church body
D) a heresy
Answers to the Quiz
- A. However, it should be pointed out that the ruling of a temple recommend is left up to the bishop and stake president, and some have allowed those who have broken the Word of Wisdom to keep their recommends.