What the Word of Wisdom says and what it doesn’t say


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.

Open interpretations:

  • 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.

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Strong drinks, mild drinks, hot drinks, wine, etc.


 

Noah Webster published the first edition of his dictionary in 1828. It was the very first American dictionary. Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants (the Word of Wisdom) was revealed in 1838, so Webster’s 1828 dictionary was the one in use when the Word of Wisdom was given. It may be useful to look at his 1828 definitions when deciding on the meaning of “strong drinks,” “mild drinks,” “hot drinks” and “wine.” (Yes, yes, I know that hot drinks have already been defined as tea and coffee by the First Presidency, but look this over anyway. You might find it interesting.)

HOT, a.

1. Having sensible heat; opposed to cold; as a hot stove or fire; a hot cloth; hot liquors. Hot expresses more than warm.

2. Ardent in temper; easily excited or exasperated; vehement. Achilles is impatient, hot and revengeful.

3. Violent; furious; as a hot engagement or assault.

4. Eager; animated; brisk; keen; as a hot pursuit, or a person hot in a pursuit.

5. Lustful; lewd.

6. Acrid; biting; stimulating; pungent; as hot as mustard or pepper.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/hot)

MILD, a. [The primary sense is soft or smooth, L. mollis, Eng. mellow.]

1. Soft; gently and pleasantly affecting the senses; not violent; as a mild air; a mild sun; a mild temperature; a mild light. The rosy morn resigns her light And milder glory to the noon. And with a milder gleam refreshed the sight.

2. Not acrid, pungent, corrosive or drastic; operating gently; not acrimonious; demulcent; mollifying; lenitive; assuasive; as a mild liquor; a mild cataplasm; a mild cathartic or emetic.

3. Tender and gentle in temper or disposition; kind; compassionate; merciful; clement; indulgent; not severe or cruel. It teaches us to adore him as a mild and merciful Being.

4. Not fierce, rough or angry; as mild words.

5. Placid; not fierce; not stern; not frowning; as a mild look or aspect.

6. Not sharp, tart, sour or bitter; moderately sweet or pleasant to the taste; as mild fruit.

7. Calm; tranquil. When passion subsides the temper becomes mild.

8. Moderate; not violent or intense; as a mild heat.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/mild)

STRONG, a. [G., L. The sense of the radical word is to stretch, strain, draw, and probably from the root of stretch and reach.]

1. Having physical active power, or great physical power; having the power of exerting great bodily force; vigorous. A patient is recovering from sickness, but is not yet strong enough to walk. A strong man will lift twice his own weight. That our oxen may be strong to labor. Psalm 144. Orses the strong to greater strength must yield.

2. Having physical passive power; having ability to bear or endure; firm; solid; as a constitution strong enough to bear the fatigues of a campaign.

3. Well fortified; able to sustain attacks; not easily subdued or taken; as a strong fortress or town.

4. Having great military or naval force; powerful; as a strong army or fleet; a strong nation; a nation strong at sea.

5. Having great wealth, means or resources; as a strong house or company of merchants.

6. Moving with rapidity; violent; forcible; impetuous; as a strong current of water or wind. The wind was strong from the northeast. We had a strong tide against us.

7. Hale; sound; robust; as a strong constitution.

8. Powerful; forcible; cogent; adapted to make a deep or effectual impression on the mind or imagination; as a strong argument; strong reasons; strong evidence; a strong example or instance. He used strong language.

9. Arden; eager; zealous; earnestly engaged; as a strong partisan; a strong whig or tory. Her mother, ever strong against that match–

10. Having virtues of great efficacy; or having a particular quality in a great degree; as a strong powder or tincture; a strong decoction; strong tea; strong coffee.

11. Full of spirit; intoxicating; as strong liquors.

12. Affecting the sight forcibly; as strong colors.

13. Affecting the taste forcibly; as the strong flavor of onions.

14. Affecting the smell powerfully; as a strong scent.

15. Not of easy digestion; solid; as strong meat. Hebrews 5.

16. Well established; firm; not easily overthrown or altered; as a custom grown strong by time.

17. Violent; vehement; earnest. Who in the day of his flesh, when he offered up prayers with strong crying and tears–Hebrews 5.

18. Able; furnished with abilities. I was stronger in prophecy than in criticism.

19. Having great force of mind, of intellect or of any faculty; as a man of strong powers of mind; a man of a strong mind or intellect; a man of strong memory, judgment or imagination.

20. Having great force; comprising much in few words. Like her sweet voice is thy harmonious song, as high, as sweet, as easy and as strong.

21. Bright; glaring; vivid; as a strong light.

22. Powerful to the extent of force named; as an army ten thousand strong.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/strong)

DRINK, n.

Liquor to be swallowed; any fluid to be taken into the stomach, for quenching thirst, or for medicinal purposes; as water, wine, beer, cider, decoctions, &c.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/drink)

LIQ’UOR, n. lik’or [L. liquor.]

A liquid or fluid substance. [See Liquid.] Liquor is a word of general signification, extending to water, milk, blood, say, juice, &c.; but its most common application is to spirituous fluids, whether distilled or fermented, to decoctions, solutions, tinctures.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/liquor)

WINE, n. [Gr.]

1. The fermented juice of grapes; as the wine of the Madeira grape; the wine of Burgundy or Oporto.

2. The juice of certain fruits, prepared with sugar, spirits, &c.; as currant wine; gooseberry wine.

3. Intoxication. Noah awoke from his wine. Genesis 9.

4. Drinking. They that tarry long at the wine. Proverbs 23. Corn and wine, in Scripture, are put for all kinds of necessaries for subsistence. Psalm Bread and wine, in the Lords supper, are symbols of the body and blood of Christ.

(from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/wine)

FERMENTA’TION, n. [L. fermentatio.] The sensible internal motion of the constituent particles of animal and vegetable substances, occasioned by a certain degree of heat and moisture, and accompanied by an extrication of gas and heat. Fermentation is followed by a change of properties in the substances fermented, arising from new combinations of their principles. It may be defined, in its most general sense, any spontaneous change which takes place in animal or vegetable substances, after life has ceased. It is of three kinds, vinous, acetous, and putrefactive. The term is also applied to other processes, as the panary fermentation, or the raising of bread; but it is limited, by some authors, to the vinous and acetous fermentations, which terminate in the production of alcohol or vinegar. Fermentation differs from effervescence. The former is confined to animal and vegetable substances; the latter is applicable to mineral substances. The former is spontaneous; the latter produced by the mixture of bodies.

(taken from http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/fermentation)

Here are the verses in the Word of Wisdom that mention these words:

Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: 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—that inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies…. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly. (D&C 89: 4-7, 9)

The verse summary for verses 1-9 states, “Use of wine, strong drinks, tobacco, and hot drinks proscribed.” This is not entirely true. The word proscribe means “to forbid or condemn as harmful or unlawful: to prohibit.” Only hot drinks are prohibited, whereas wine, strong drinks and tobacco are given lawful uses.

When I was a young teacher, I remember my teacher’s quorum adviser explaining to us one Sunday how “pure wine of the grape” meant grape juice. As nice a guy as he was, he was incorrect in that assumption. When the Lord uses the term wine in this section, he is referring to the fermented juice of grapes, and of grapes only, not other types of wines, which is why he clarifies his statement with “yea, pure wine of the grape.” So, we are permitted to use wine, meaning actual alcoholic wine, when partaking of the sacrament, but only if we make the wine ourselves. All other uses of it are prohibited.

The Lord states that strong drinks are for the washing of our bodies. Most people interpret that to mean that alcohol cleans and disinfects, thus is used in hospitals prior to injecting someone with a hypodermic needle, etc. The word alcohol existed at the time of this revelation, but the Lord didn’t use it, instead he used the words “strong drinks,” such as vodka, rum, etc.

Not all alcohols are the same. There is ethyl alcohol (drinking alcohol), methyl alcohol (wood alcohol) and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Strong drinks contain ethanol (ethyl alcohol), whereas the alcohol used to clean skin in preparation for an injection is isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol).

The use of vodka or rum to wash the body gets the skin squeaky clean, removes dead skin and dirt and eliminates many odors. It leaves the skin feeling clean and looking shiny. It requires very little liquid to clean the entire body and saves a ton of water that would otherwise be needed to take a shower or bath. It is can be stored indefinitely and is not messy, requiring only a rag to rub onto the skin. I know from experience the wisdom of using strong drinks to wash our bodies.

If you still haven’t tried using strong drinks to wash your body, I encourage you to go out and buy a bottle of vodka and test the wisdom of the Lord. You may be pleasantly surprised. Plus, it’ll make for some interesting Word of Wisdom conversations when visitors open your cupboard and see the bottle there.

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