D&C 89, the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, gives both very specific and very general instructions. Sometimes we have a tendency to read more into it than is there, or to take away what is actually written there. In the economy of heaven, supererogation is a sin. We are expected by the Lord to do what is required by him. No more, no less.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Ne. 11: 40)
But whoso among you shall do more or less than these are not built upon my rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them. (3 Ne. 18: 13)
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. (D&C 10: 68 )
And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. (D&C 93: 25)
And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. (D&C 98: 7)
For that which is more or less than this cometh of evil, and shall be attended with cursings and not blessings, saith the Lord your God. Even so. Amen. (D&C 124: 120)
So, in the spirit of doing no more and no less than what the Word of Wisdom says, let’s review just what it does say, and what it doesn’t say.
- Wine Drinking wine is prohibited by the revelation with but one exception: we can use wine for the sacrament if we ourselves make it, but it must be pure grape wine, not other types of wine.
- Strong Drink Drinking strong drink is strictly prohibited, however, it is given the use of washing our bodies.
- Tobacco Smoking, chewing and eating tobacco is strictly prohibited, however, it is given the use of a healing herb for bruises and sick cattle, with cautions on its use (as tobacco poisoning is a real danger.)
- Hot Drinks Hot drinks, defined by modern prophets as tea and coffee, are strictly prohibited to be used on the outside or inside of the body.
- Wholesome Herbs The Lord gives the thumbs up, but says to use them in the season thereof, with prudence and thanksgiving.
- Fruit Again the Lord gives his approval of their use, but says to use them in the season thereof, with prudence and thanksgiving.
- Flesh of Beasts and Fowls of the Air The Lord gives his approval for their use but emphasizes two times in the revelation that they are only to be used in times of winter, cold or famine, which is his definition of the word “sparingly” and also says that it is pleasing to him that they not be used, at all, except under the conditions he states. Also, these things are to be used with thanksgiving.
- Grain The Lord gives a thumbs up for all grain, both for man, beasts of the field, fowls of heaven and all wild animals on dry earth.
- Mild Grain Drinks The Lord gives a thumbs up for all mild grain drinks. Mild grain drinks at the time the Word of Wisdom was revealed was interpreted by the saints, including, apparently, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, as being beer drinks, with alcoholic content between 1% and 5%, as opposed to strong drink, which was hard liquor with alcoholic content of 40% or more.
- Fruit-Bearing Plants The Lord gives a thumbs up to all fruit-bearing plants, whether that “fruit” is found above or below ground.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Lord says about what we can or cannot eat. Now, here is what the Lord doesn’t say:
- Cola drinks The Lord is silent on cola drinks.
- Chocolate The Lord is silent on chocolate, including hot chocolate drinks.
- Caffeine The Lord is silent on the consumption of caffeine.
- Seafood The Lord is silent on eating seafood, both sea creatures and sea plants. After all, the saints were in the middle of the country and had no access to seafood, so why talk about it?
- Insects, Arachnids, etc. The Lord is silent on the eating of insects, arachnids (scorpions, etc.)
- Drugs The Lord is silent on drugs, whether legal or illegal.
- Cooking The Lord is silent about cooking food. He doesn’t approve or disapprove of raw-foodism.
- Vegan Diets The Lord is silent about vegan diets.
- Vegetarian Diets The Lord is silent about vegetarianism, though the revelation seem to stress a mainly plant-based diet.
- Every other type of food consumed, not mentioned in the revelation. The Lord is silent.
Some modern LDS interpretations on the revelation that contradict how the saints who lived at the time of the revelation interpreted it:
- Wine Means Grape Juice The early saints did not understand the revelation to mean grape juice. It was wine, as in it had alcoholic content. It is lumped together with strong drink for this reason. After all, what’s wrong with drinking grape juice?
- Mild Barley Drink Is Barley Water The early saints did not use barley water. The mild barley drinks they made were beers, not barley water. The Lord in the revelation is referring to the practices of the time. Therefore, he is referring to, and approving of, beer.
- Wholesome Who decides what a wholesome herb is? You do.
- Tea Although the prophets have interpreted “hot drinks” to mean tea and coffee, just what constitutes the tea that is prohibited is interpreted by LDS in different ways. For example, there are four types of tea: black tea, oolong tea, white tea and green tea. Some choose to interpret tea as being only the type of tea that was in use by the saints at the time of the revelation, leaving the other three types open for use. Especially green tea, which many people feel has great healing properties. Others reject all teas, including herbal teas.
- Coffee Many saints think that it is the caffeine in coffee that makes it prohibitive and so drink decaffeinated coffee.
Sometimes as LDS we tend to be a little too judgmental of our fellow saints, based upon our preconceived notions of what the Word of Wisdom is and isn’t. Just because a saint has a bottle of vodka in his cupboard doesn’t mean he’s drinking it, it may mean he’s using it for washing purposes. Just because a saint has a winery and is bottling wine doesn’t mean he’s drinking it, it may mean he’s preparing for the day when we will again partake of the sacrament with wine. Just because a sister refuses to eat meat, it doesn’t mean she is breaking any commandment. Just because a saint is a raw-foodist or vegan or vegetarian, doesn’t mean they are weird or strange. Just because a saint drinks coca-cola or green tea or makes a meal of cake and ice cream doesn’t mean that they are sinners. And even if we ever see a saint drinking Guinness, at 5% alcohol, are they really breaking the Word of Wisdom? The earlier saints wouldn’t have thought so.
Remember, the Word of Wisdom was given for “the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” It may be less of a test to see if we can follow it and more of a test to see if we can stop judging our fellow saint.
Previous Word of Wisdom article: Strong drinks, mild drinks, hot drinks, wine, etc.