The Word of Wisdom

This post will discuss the Mormon code of health, often referred to as the Word of Wisdom. The historical context in which this code of health came about will be discussed as well as its history from the time it was written to the time it became a requirement for Latter-day Saints, on up to the present time. There is also a strong cultural prohibition against caffeinated soft drinks, but no formal prohibition against them. I will discuss the caffeine issue in a separate post.

Related Posts: Mormons and Caffeinated Soft Drinks

What it says

The revelation called the Word of Wisdom was, according to the section heading, revealed at Kirtland, Ohio on February 27, 1833. The revelation states that we ought to abstain from “hot drinks,” eat meat sparingly, and that we should avoid tobacco and alcohol products. (For the entire revelation see
D&C 89:1-21.) Those who adhere to this code are promised “health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures”; they shall “run and not be weary…walk and not faint.” The Lord then promises, “the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them” (D&C 89:18-21).

It also stipulates that “wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man.” Of the meat of beasts and birds, “they are to be used sparingly…[and] only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.” And tobacco “is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill,” but it is “not for the body, neither for the belly.”

From early on hot drinks were interpreted as being coffee and tea; because coffee and tea were common and served hot, “hot drinks” seems to have been generally applied to them—I have never heard it interpreted otherwise.[1] It has been posited that the reason behind the prohibition of coffee and tea is that they contain caffeine—the prohibition against tea does not extend to herbal tea, however. As far as decaffeinated coffee is concerned, it would be frowned upon; I don’t know any active Mormon who drinks it. Some interpret the Word of Wisdom as including a prohibition against all caffeinated drinks, soft drinks included. Others believe that “hot drinks” applies only to coffee and tea. However, a Mormon can have a Coke and still obtain a temple recommend (see below).

(For a discussion about the caffeine issue see Gregory Smith, “The Word of Wisdom in a Caffeinated World,” at
Mormon Times; and Teas by Kaimi Wenger at Times & Seasons; and Health Practices from LDS Newsroom.)

Adhering to the Word of Wisdom's proscription of coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol is a requirement for holding important positions in the church, as well as for temple attendance. In order to enter a temple a Mormon must have a temple recommend, signed by his bishop and Stake President—during the temple recommend interview the interviewee is asked if he abstains from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.

Historical context

Though Brigham Young was not present at the time, according to his information the circumstances which brought about the Word of Wisdom were as follows.

The brethren came to that place [Bishop Whitney’s store] 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. (JD, 12:157-158)

But the Word of Wisdom goes beyond tobacco use to include instruction about the use of alcohol, hot drinks, herbs, meat and grain. Clyde Ford makes some very interesting points about this: “If tobacco was the principal question, why does tobacco occupy only one verse? And why are not the chewing and smoking of tobacco specifically mentioned? How does the proper food for an ox relate to Emma’s concern regarding tobacco?” (Ford, 137-138). Some sections of the Word of Wisdom seem to be iterations of previous revelations. It was revealed in 1831 that the sick “shall be nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food” (
D&C 42:43). Later that year it was revealed, “the herb, and the good things which come of the earth…in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart…for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess” (D&C 59:17-20). Both predate the 1833 Word of Wisdom revelation. Ford posits that the Word of Wisdom was compiled from previous revelations; if so that would account for its rather unusual structure. [2], [3]

Much of the advice contained in the Word of Wisdom was, in fact, common medical wisdom of the time. A treatise on diet from 1828 contains the warning,

The art of extracting alcoholic liquors from vinous liquors, must be regarded as the greatest curse ever inflicted upon human nature. The fatal effects of dram-drinking have been vividly depicted by numerous writers; and the awful truth has been too frequently illustrated.
(John Ayrton Paris, A Treatise on Diet, p. 289)

Another health book published that year contains this warning, “those who debase themselves by this sordid gratification, are constantly troubled with sickness at stomach…the finer feeling are thus insensibly weakened and great are the inroads of this destructive habit upon the mind, that with it, every vice may enter” (James Rymer, A Treatise on Diet and Regimen, 1828, p. 47, italics original). The warning of these physicians is not very different from the one contained in the Word of Wisdom, “inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good…And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly.” The Word of Wisdom also mentions that strong drinks are “for the washing of your bodies.” Some have interpreted this to mean perfume, which contains alcohol—I’m skeptical about that interpretation. The part about strong drinks being “for the washing of your bodies” is unclear but seems to prescribe alcohol for external cleansing. I haven’t found any references from the period explaining what this was suppose to achieve, but apparently it was an accepted practice of the time. An anti-Mormon book published in 1840 says, “The first [commandment] is, that strong drink is forbid, except as an external application—in this we are inclined measurably to agree with the mandate; but believe there might be reasonable arguments urged in favor of its internal use, under particular circumstances” (E.D. Howe, History of Mormonism, p. 229).

As for tobacco the Word of Wisdom says, “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.” Rymer’s book says that tobacco fumes will “stupify the brain, and deaden the invigorating power of the nerves upon the whole bodily system” (p. 45). Apparently tobacco was used as a remedy for bruises: “The first English book on first aid came out in 1633 recommending tobacco as an antidote to poison and as an unguent for wounds or bruises, etc” (Grace G. Stewart, “A history of the medicinal use of tobacco 1492-1860,”
Medical History, Vol. 11, No. 3, July 1967, p. 240).[4] Tobacco has been used successfully in treating scab on sheep, cattle, and horses, as well as a treatment for animal parasites generally.[5]

Of eating meats the Word of Wisdom teaches that “the Lord, have ordained [them] for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly…only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine…these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger” (D&C 89:12-15). Part of this is common sense: food tended to be scarcer in winter; vegetables were more abundant during summer; meat would keep better in winter. But the general understanding was that meat produced heat, therefore its consumption was favorable during winter. A Physician of that period, Caleb Ticknor, writes,

The question in this place naturally presents itself, whether or not animal food is equally proper at all seasons in a temperate climate. From the fact that animal food is proper and necessary for health in polar regions, and that a vegetable diet is equally proper and necessary in the torrid zone, we may conclude that in winter, in our own climate, an animal diet is the best, while vegetables are more conductive to health in the summer season. And such a conclusion is born out by almost universal experience.
(Caleb Ticknor, The Philosophy of Living, 1836, p. 37).

In the opinion of another physician “animal food, though more easily digested than vegetable, is more stimulant to the stomach, and more productive of heat and general excitement” (Ticknor citing a Dr. Jackson of Philadelphia, Ibid., p. 59
).[6] This is very similar to the advice contained in the Word of Wisdom: meat should be consumed “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” and “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof.” However, the advice that meat should be used sparingly didn’t seem to have strong support from physicians of the time.[7]

The Word of Wisdom says, “hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” But there is no specification as to the exact meaning of “hot drinks.” Because coffee and tea were quite common it seems to have meant those two drinks. But it should be pointed out that in the contemporary view of the early nineteenth century any hot beverage was generally considered to be detrimental to one’s health. Paris writes, “fluids heated much above the temperature of the body are equally injurious: it is true that they will frequently, from their stimulus, afford present relief; but it will always be at the expense of future suffering, and be compensated by subsequent debility” (
A Treatise on Diet, p. 156). Combe writes, “The temperature at which liquids are taken is a matter of perhaps greater consequence than it is usually considered. As regards the teeth, we have already seen that either very cold or very hot substances coming in contact with them are apt to be injurious. As regards the stomach, the same principle hold true.”[8] Also, “Liquids, such as soup, tea, and coffee, taken at a very high temperature, also are injurious, but not to the same degree [as cold liquids]. They relax the mucous membrane and weaken the action of the muscular coat, and in so far tend to impair digestion” (pp. 272-276). (Physicians of the time also viewed cold drinks as possibly fatal if taken after strenuous exercise.[9])

From principle to commandment

Though adherence to the Word of Wisdom was “not by commandment or constraint” it is nevertheless the “will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days.” Throughout the nineteenth century it was seen as strong advice, but not a requirement. Indeed, in 1836 Joseph Smith attended a wedding during which, he records, “We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine. This is according to the pattern set by our Savior Himself, and we feel disposed to patronize all the institutions of heaven” (CHC, Vol. 2, p. 369
). Brigham Young’s policy was to walk a fine line between preaching adherence and leaving people free to choose. In 1865 he preached, “Let us raise our own tobacco, or quit using it…The Lord gave me strength to lay aside tobacco, and it is very rarely indeed that I taste tea or coffee; yet I have no objection to aged persons, when they are fatigued and feel infirm, taking a little stimulus that will do them good” (JD 11:140-141). In 1860 he said, “Many of the brethren chew tobacco, and I have advised them to be modest about it…Do not glory in this disgraceful practice. If you must use tobacco, put a small portion in your mouth when no person sees you, and be careful that no one sees you chew it. I do not charge you with sin. You have the ‘Word of Wisdom.’ Read it…It is, at least, disgraceful to you to expose your absurdities” (JD 8:362).

Throughout the nineteenth century the saints were committed and recommitted to more strictly adhere to the Word of Wisdom’s prohibitions against alcohol, tea, tobacco, and coffee. But it nevertheless remained “not by commandment” and had never been a test of fellowship. Reportedly at a conference in 1851 Brigham Young “rose to put the motion and called on all the sisters who will eave off the use of Tea, Coffee, etc., to manifest it by raising the right hand…And then put the following motion; calling on all the boys who were under ninety years of age who would covenant to leave off the use of Tobacco, Whiskey and all things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom to manifest it in like manner” (
Frontier Guardian, Vol. 3, No. 22, November 28, 1851; cited from McCue p. 67). In 1859 he said “it is my positive counsel and command that drinking liquor be stopped…In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command the Elders of Israel-those who have been in the habit of getting drunk to cease drinking strong drink from this time henceforth, until you really need it…As I have already requested, I now again request the authorities of this Church in their various localities to sever from this society those who will not cease getting drunk” (JD 7:338).[10]

That it was “not by commandment” is affirmed by Brigham Young in a sermon given October 30, 1870: “In some respects we have to define it for ourselves—each for himself—according to our own views, judgment and faith, and the observance of the Word of Wisdom…must be left, partially, with the people…We cannot say you shall never drink a cup of tea, or you shall never taste of this, or you shall never taste of that; but we can say that Wisdom is justified of her children” (JD 14:20
.) Heber J. Grant (b. 1856; ordained an apostle in 1882 and President of the Church in 1918; d. 1945) is a good illustration of how the Word of Wisdom was viewed by average devout Mormons. As a young man (before he became an Apostle) in an effort to gain weight so that he could get a life insurance policy to protect his mother, he began drinking beer on the advice of a doctor.

At first Heber found beer “bitter and distasteful”…But he quickly acquired both a business and a personal taste for it. Within a year, he secured the fire insurance business of most Salt Lake City saloons and Utah breweries, an additional ten pounds, and a growing relish for the savor of hops. His daily four-glass limit became five, and occasionally grew to six.

He warred with his acute sense of conscience. Rereading the Word of Wisdom, he resolved to abandon his drinking and place his health and his mother's future with the Lord, “insurance or no insurance.” But resolutions were easier made than kept. “I wanted some [beer] so bad that I drank it again,” he confessed. Finally…he overcame his obsession and ceased drinking. As quickly, he lost his trade with the saloons and breweries of the Territory.
(Ronald W. Walker, “Young Heber J. Grant's Years of Passage,” BYU Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, Spring 1984)

As the twentieth century approached preaching on the Word of Wisdom became stricter as to adherence, especially for church officers. In 1894, President Wilford Woodruff, said, “The Word of Wisdom applies to Wilford Woodruff, the President of the Church, and it applies to all the leaders of Israel, as well as to the members of the Church; and if there are any of these leading men who cannot refrain from using tobacco or liquor in violation of the Word of Wisdom, let them resign, and let others take their places” (Collected Discourses, Vol. 4, October 7, 1894). In 1897 Apostle George Q Cannon said, “I am today at my present age, and I never have drunk tea and coffee. I scarcely know the taste of either tea or coffee, and I have never touched tobacco, nor anything intoxicating” (Ibid., Vol. 5, January 1, 1897). In 1902 the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles made it a rule not to fellowship those who operated saloons (Alexander, 79). Alexander writes, “In the same year, Joseph F. Smith urged stake presidents and others to refuse recommends to flagrant violators but to be somewhat liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Habitual drunkards, however, were to be denied temple recommends…By mid-1905, members of the Twelve were actively using stake conference visits to promote adherence…In keeping with the change in emphasis, the First Presidency and Twelve substituted water for wine in the sacrament in their temple meetings…beginning July 5, 1906” (Ibid.).[11] In the decade prior to Heber J. Grant’s administration the Word of Wisdom enjoyed greater emphasis than in times past, but after 1918 it was more strictly enforced. According to Alexander adherence to the Word of Wisdom became a requirement for temple privileges in 1921 (p. 82). (See also Word of Wisdom,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism.) The General Handbook of Instructions from 1933 instructed bishops that members seeking temple privileges “should observe the law of tithing…observe all other principles of the Gospel, [and] should keep the Word of Wisdom” (Alexander, 82).

Moving toward stricter adherence began in the late nineteenth century and overlapped with the national temperance movement in the United States. The Mormons were latecomers to the national prohibition movement which was spearheaded by evangelical Protestants. However when temperance became a national issue church authorities generally supported prohibition laws. (Though B. H. Roberts, a Seventy, fought prohibition laws and supported their repeal.)[12] National prohibition was created by the Eighteenth Amendment which was passed on October 28, 1919 and went into force January of the following year. The Twenty-first Amendment that ended it was passed in 1933. The timing of Utah’s convention was such that it was the state which gave the three-fourths majority necessary for ratification. Thus on December 5, 1933 at 5:32 pm EST, Utah became the state that ended prohibition (“Liquor Milestone,” Time Magazine, Dec. 11, 1933). The London Star’s headlines were “The Deciding Vote by Latter Day Saints,” and the London Evening News' was “Prohibition is dead—The Mormons Killed it—Whoopee—Happy Days Are Here Again” (“Last Mile,” Time Magazine, Nov. 20, 1933)—Apparently Great Britain exported a lot of alcohol to the United States. But even without Utah’s vote prohibition was doomed. Had Utah voted dry, Kentucky’s vote would have ended it, Kentucky having voted a week earlier to end it but had not yet had a constitutional convention to make it official (Ibid.). In Utah the vote clearly favored ending prohibition, 99,943 to 62,437 (Kearnes). In analyzing the vote Larry Earl Nelson found that of the seventeen rural counties only four voted to repeal; of the twelve urban counties nine voted to repeal. In twelve of the counties voting for repeal 55 percent of the population were Mormons (Kearnes).[13]

An economic interpretation

Mormon essayist and educator
Leonard J. Arrington (1917 - 1999) makes a very good case that one of the reasons behind preaching adherence to the Word of Wisdom was economic. In 1861 Brigham Young complained “We annually expend…$60,000 to break the ‘Word of Wisdom’” (JD 9:31). In 1867 Wilford Woodruf said, “Very few of us have kept the Word of Wisdom; but I have no doubt that if the counsel of President Young were carried out it would save the people of this Territory a million of dollars annually” (JD 11:369).[14] The reason for this frugality was partly that, in the frontier, goods were scarce: tobacco, coffee, and tea were seen as luxuries. But even after Utah became economically integrated to the rest of the nation this view endured. In 1926 Heber J. Grant said, “let me say right here that I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that if the Latter-day Saints had observed the Word of Wisdom, and if the money that has been worse than wasted for tea, coffee, tobacco and liquor, had been utilized for missionary service, we would have had the millions of dollars for the work of the Lord” (Conference Report, October 1926, p. 7).[15]

When Sunday school lessons on the Word of Wisdom are taught, often the great expense of tobacco and alcohol consumption are mentioned, along with testimonies of the money saved by adhering to the Word of Wisdom. One of the purposes of the Word of Wisdom is “the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (
D&C 89:2).

What is it like today?
Today the usual prohibitions of tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea are maintained. But the Word of Wisdom is often mentioned in conjunction with other addictive or harmful substances. Elder Boyd K Packer (Apostle) said,

Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it…There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation…Everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance—certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, “is a slothful and not a wise servant” (
D&C 58:26). (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Word of Wisdom: The Principle and the Promises,” Ensign, May 1996.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley (d. 2008) said,

Pornography is one of the hallmarks of our time. Its producers grow rich on the gullibility of those who like to watch it. In the opening lines of the revelation which we call the Word of Wisdom, the Lord declares: “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation” (
D&C 89:4). (President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Loyalty,” Ensign, May 2003.)

Concluding remarks

The practical health benefits of abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, coffee and tea, are obvious. The collective health benefits are something Mormons are quite proud of. (See William T. Stephenson, “Cancer, Nutrition, and the Word of Wisdom: One Doctor’s Observations,”
Ensign, July 2008 and Clifford J. Stratton, “The Xanthines: Coffee, Cola, Cocoa, and Tea,” BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 4, Summer 1980)It's also a point of pride that BYU has been #1 on the Princeton Review's list of stone-cold sober universities for the past 11 years (see BYU NewsNet; here). However tobacco and alcohol promote chronic disease, which was not a major cause of death until the twentieth century. Lester E. Bush pointed out: “First, the major impact of the Word of Wisdom appears to be on chronic diseases of adulthood such as cancer and heart disease, aliments of relatively little impact in the nineteenth century—because people didn’t live long enough to die from them…Second, the largest single demonstrated factor in favor of twentieth-century Mormon longevity is the failure of Mormons to smoke cigarettes, a custom that became commonplace in America only after the invention of cigarette making machinery very late in the nineteenth century. In many important areas of health…it is not so much that Mormons do ‘better,’ but rather that non-Mormons now collectively do worse” (Bush, 59).

But even so, the timing of the change of the Word of Wisdom from being a principle to a commandment can be seen as providential. Bush points out,

Circumstances changed around the turn of the century in such a way that its guidelines could unquestionably promote better physical health (i.e., there was more cigarette smoking and less serious infectious disease). That this development—the implications of which were not apparent to the medical scientists for decades—coincided with a decision by the church leadership to require firm adherence of the Word of Wisdom is quite remarkable. It may well represent their most demonstrably prescient insight to date in helping assure that the “destroy angel” of disease will “pass us by”
(Bush, 60).

Journal Articles about the Word of Wisdom
Gary J. Bergera, “Has the Word of Wisdom Changed Since 1833?,” Sunstone , Vol. 10, July 1985.

Clyde Ford, “The Origin of the Word of Wisdom,”
Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 24, No. 2, Fall 1998.

Lester E. Bush, “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Robert J. McCue, “Did the Word of Wisdom Become a Commandment in 1851?,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement,”
Dialogue, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn 1981.

Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,’”
BYU Studies, Vol. 1, Winter 1959.

John Kearnes, “Utah, Sexton of Prohibition,”
Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 47, 1979.

Brent G. Thompson, “‘Standing between Two Fires’: Mormons and Prohibition’: 1908-1917,”
Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 10, 1983.

End Notes_________________________

[1] An 1868 issue of the American Phrenological Journal contains a short a response to a question.

“A number of your subscribers would like to have your opinion, through the columns of the Journal, upon the following subject. The people of this Territory--Utah--are making strenuous efforts to abandon the pernicious habit of drinking tea and coffee. Persons who have been in the habit of drinking those beverages twice, and sometimes three times a day, find it hard to partake of a meal on a cold winter day without the accustomed beverage.
“Do you think it necessary in our cold climate that we should drink
hot or warm drink of any kind? or, in other words, does the system, when in health, require hot or warm drinks to give tone to it, or to create an artificial heat sufficient to withstand the inclemency of our cold winter season.

Ans. Tea and coffee are simply luxuries, not necessary to health or life. Hot drinks are injurious. More colds are contracted in consequence of the general habit of using them, than from almost any other one cause. The sugar and the cream used in tea and coffee are nutritious, and therefore food. But neither tea nor coffee afford anything which can prolong life. No harm can come from their total abandonment.
“If one's stomach has been accustomed to hot tea or coffee for years, it may not be best to drop it at once; but lessen its strength from day to day till reduced to water with the sugar and cream. Then, instead of pouring it down
hot from the pot, let it cool--and in time pure cold water will be relished as well, and to an unperverted appetite, better than any mixture. Try it. (here)

[2] Ford concludes, “the Word of Wisdom is complex and possibly not a literary unity. The three main parts were not necessarily received at the same time, may not have been addressed to the same group, or probably were not responding to the same issues…Comparing the revelations in the Book of Commandments (1833) and the Doctrine and Covenants (1835) easily establishes the fact that the Prophet Joseph Smith expanded some revelations after they were originally received (e.g., D&C 7, 27). Furthermore, other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants appear to be compilations of two or more individual revelations” (Ford, 153)

[3] The unusual structure becomes apparent after a careful reading. Verse nine says “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” The words “and again” are confusing: are they to mean a repetition of things “not for the body or belly”? If not, why are “hot drinks” not mentioned previously? Verse 17 says that barley is “for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.” Is this intended to give an OK to alcoholic beverages made from barley? such as beer? It has never been interpreted that way; the proscription of strong drinks seems to include all alcoholic beverages, except for the use of wine in the sacrament which must be locally made. Also, the opening, “for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion,” seems redundant. Simply saying that it was intended for all the saints would be sufficient. Also, it has been noted by several authors that the introduction (verses 1-3) was not an original part of the revelation. Those three verses were originally part of the chapter heading (Ford, footnote 8). For example, the 1852 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Text not available

Ford points out: “Note that ‘Amen’ and ‘Even so, Amen’ end many of the revelations. Some sections of the current LDS Doctrine and Covenants have these endings in the middle as well as at the end of the revelation, suggesting that two or more original revelations have been combined. Often the next verse begins with: ‘And again.’ Examples include Sections 30, 72, 75, 96, 124. Other sections, such as 88, are also composite (see heading of section.)” (See footnote 77 in Ford).

[4] A home remedy book from 1885 says, “[Tobacco] not only seems to cure all cases of bruises, sprains, wounds, bunions, corns, sore throats, erysipelas of the dead or face, sore eyes, etc., but the suddenness of the cures is most remarkable” (Thomas Lanier Clingman, The Tobacco Remedy, 1885, p. 24).

[5] An edition of the New England Farmer, Saturday, April 26, 1823, here; “Tobacco dips for Sheep Scab,” The Farmers Bulletins (1913), from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; The Sportsman’s Dictionary (1807), p. 102, here; Medical and Veterinary Entomology (1915), “Bovine Scabies; Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Vol. 19, 1858, p.149).

[6] Here Dr. Ticknor is quoting Dr. Jackson who in Ticknor’s opinion was “second to no medical man in this country.”

[7] “It may be considered to be proved by general experience, that animal food is more nourishing than vegetable food” (The Philosophy of Living by Herbert Mayo p. 54). And, “The preceding examples are valuable as showing the impressions of practical persons upon the questions of what diet is the most nourishing, what the least so. We seem authorized to concluded that meats contain the most nutriment, milk and eggs the next, the best farinaceous food the next, fish the next, vegetables the least” (p. 58). As to meats versus vegetables Ticknor writes, “The extend to which we may indulge, I have no disposition to limit by certain fixed abstract ‘rules.’ This I leave for each person to settle, in the first place, with his conscience, in the second, with his health, and in the third, with his purse. (The Philosophy of Living, p. 63, italics original).

[8] As to teeth Paris writes, “It is a popular idea that hot liquids injure the teeth. I entertain great doubts upon the subject” (p. 157

[9] Combe notes that, “It is well known, for example, that a copious draught of cold water, taken in a state of perspiration and fatigue, is often instantly fatal” (p. 273).

[10] In 1867 Brigham Young said,

We, for instance, exhort the Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, that they may, through its observance, enjoy the promised blessing…What did we drink hot when that Word of Wisdom was given? Tea and coffee. It definitely refers to that which we drink with our food…the Spirit whispers to me to call upon the Latter-day Saints to observe the Word of Wisdom, to let tea, coffee, and tobacco alone, and to abstain from drinking spirituous drinks.
(JD 12:117)

[11] The wording in the word of wisdom gives approval of the use of wine when “assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments” and that it should be “pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.” A revelation from 1830 says “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory” (
D&C 27:2).

[12] B.H. Roberts writes to Elder Rugder Clawson president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles,

All this gives me the opportunity of saying that to my way of thinking there is no connection between state prohibition and our Word of Wisdom. State prohibition is based on compulsion as all human-made laws must be, while the Word of Wisdom is just what its name implies, namely a Word of Counsel from the Lord as to what is good for all his saints, but it is not given by way of “compulsion” or “constraint”; and certainly does not rest upon physical force as state prohibition does and must do if it continues.
(Roberts to Clawson, September 20, 1933. Typescript copy in Special Collections Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; cited from Kearnes)

[13] Around 1911 the population of Salt Lake County was only 40.3% Mormons (Thompson, 43).

[14] Another example is from Brigham Young: “Speaking of the completion of this railroad, I am anxious to see it…’But,’ says one, ‘we shall not have any money.’ Yes, we shall, if you and I observe the Word of Wisdom, we shall have plenty of it” (JD 12:54-55

[15] Later in the twentieth century Apostle John A. Widstoe counseled, “Humanity has need for the warning and help offered by the Word of Wisdom…There is too much poverty, because money is spent for things injurious to the body…There is not enough faith; not enough prayer…by obedience to the Word of Wisdom they may be corrected” (The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, p. 248, 1950).


  1. More Info. for this post

    By 1890 temperance education laws were in effect in most states in the union. Only New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, and Montana did not have laws requiring “scientific” temperance instruction. Books such as Health for Little Folks, Lessons in Hygiene, and Guide to Health were endorsed by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Within the temperance union Mrs. Mary H. Hunt spearheaded the movement to teach public-school students “laws of health.” (Report of the Commissioner of Education for the year 1889-90, pp. 695-742.)

    Mrs. Hunt’s goal is stated in her own words; as to the necessary textbooks she comments,

    “The study that was thus hampered and halting at the first is now fully equipped. What it then lacked is now supplied. Everything is ready. As the teachers translate these methods into actual school-room work, the intent of the law will be accomplished in the generation of intelligent total abstainers that will come from our schools.” (Ibid., p. 699, italics mine)

    Also, in 1883 Congress passed a law requiring temperance instruction in all public schools in the territories:

    “Instruction as to the nature of alcoholic drinks and narcotics, and their effects upon the human system, is required in Utah, as in all the other Territories and the District of Columbia, by the act of Congress approved May 20, 1883. It is required, also, that teachers shall pass a satisfactory examination as to the effects of alcoholic drinks and stimulants upon the human system before receiving a certificate to teach.” (Report of the Commissioner of Education for the year 1887-88, p. 149.)

    In 1884 Brigham Young College, a private LDS school located in Logan, Utah, required students to sign a new Rules and Regulations card which listed the following 10 principles:

    1. I will not use tobacco.

    2. I will not mark or deface in any way, any college furniture, building, fence, or tree.

    3. I will not visit places of amusement nor leave school without permission.

    4. I will not play nor be noisy in any of the school rooms between school hours, nor be disorderly in school.

    5. I will not visit saloons or places of bad reputation while I am a pupil of the college.

    6. I will faithfully try to prepare my lessons, and to set a good example at all times.

    7. I will be clean and tidy in person and dress, and kind and courteous to my teachers and fellow students.

    8. I will take good care of my health.

    9. I will try to be obedient to my Parents and Teachers.

    10. I will try to do to others as I would like to be done by at all times, and mind my own business.

    (See F. Ross Peterson, A History of Cache County, Chapter 8, "Early Education," pp. 205-206.)

  2. More info. for this post

    As to washing the body with "strong drink." It's possible that this did refer to some kind of perfume.

    In relation to temple washings Oliver Cowdery wrote,

    "Met in the evening with bro. Joseph Smith, jr. at his house, in company with bro. John Corrill, and after pure water was prepared, called upon the Lord and proceeded to wash each other's bodies, and bathe the same with whiskey, perfumed with cinnamon. This we did that we might be clearn [sic] before the Lord for the Sabbath." (1833, Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 311, see also p. 335)

  3. See, "Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It," by Roni Caryn Rabin at the New York Times, June 15, 2009.

    "For some scientists, the question will not go away. No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death — only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy."

  4. See Marlin K. Jensen, “The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books,” Ensign, Jul 2009, 46–51