This week, we’re continuing with the Word of Wisdom discussion. There were some important concepts introduced in last week’s post: the need for ongoing revelation, the Word of Wisdom as a mark to set us apart from the rest of the world, that there are differences between the revelation found in D&C 89 and the version we follow today, and that it was not meant just for physical health, but also for spiritual health. These are things to keep in mind this week, too.

The LFMW picks up:

Additionally, the Lord’s Law of Health seems to lack real health considerations.

This is a bit of an odd statement to me. The Word of Wisdom was not meant to be an all-encompassing list of everything that was healthy or unhealthy. It doesn’t cover every single individual circumstance. It makes very few definitive health statements, and mostly just says whether things are good or not good according to the Lord’s definition.

This is similar to the Creation account we find in Genesis 1, where God saw that His creations were good. We read in the Book of Abraham (chapters 4 and 5) that this meant that those things obeyed the council of the Gods. Meaning, they functioned as they were intended to.

This suggests to me—and this is entirely my opinion, so take it with a big ol’ grain of salt—that the things the Lord labels as “not good for man” and “not good for the body” are things that alter the body’s natural state.

Alcohol gets you drunk and can have serious effects on your liver and other organs over time. Coffee and tea contain caffeine, and while that is not against the Word of Wisdom in and of itself, it causes your blood pressure to rise and your heart to speed up. It can overstimulate your brain and cause withdrawal symptoms. Illegal drugs can have mind-altering effects as well as increase your heart rate to the point where it can sometimes be fatal. That’s in addition to being incredibly addictive. Smoking tobacco causes your lungs to fill with chemicals, which leads to heart and lung disease, diabetes, stroke, emphysema, COPD, and more. Chewing it causes those same chemicals to eat through your gums and destroy the enamel on your teeth. Both forms can lead to at least 14 different types of cancer: lung, mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, rectum, and a certain type of leukemia. Eating too much meat can lead to all kinds of health issues. Red meat, as many of us might know, is linked to numerous cancers. But processed meat of any kind, including poultry, can also lead to “ischaemic heart disease, pneumonia, diverticular disease, colon polyps and diabetes … gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gastritis and duodenitis, … [and] gallbladder disease…” if you over-indulge. These all cause our bodies to function in ways that it wasn’t originally intended to.

Following the Word of Wisdom won’t keep your body completely free from any outside influences, as that is impossible to do. But it does cut down on some of the biggest things that can negatively alter the processes of your mind and body.

And guess what? At least one notable study conducted by UCLA over 25 years showed that following the counsel in the Word of Wisdom leads to longer life expectancies compared to people who don’t follow its counsel.

Currently, extremely obese members are given temple recommends, while active, healthy, and fit members who drink coffee and tea would not qualify.

I mentioned this last week, as it’s something I’ve seen come up occasionally on Reddit. While we’re charged with caring for our earthly bodies, there is no commandment against being obese. That’s because there are a lot of things that could cause someone to become overweight, and many of them have nothing to do with that person’s diet. Injury, illness, prescription medication, mental health issues, etc., can all lead to sometimes serious weight gain, as well as prevent that weight from coming back off. Individual circumstances vary too much for us to say that someone is sinning by being overweight.

That doesn’t give us free rein to abuse our bodies, but calling to spiritually punish someone for something that is not a commandment and that is so individualized is also not okay.

Overweight people are still given temple recommends because they’re not willfully violating a commandment. Just because Thomas Faulk thinks it should be a commandment does not mean that it isone.

Active, healthy, physically fit members who drink coffee and tea are breaking a commandment they covenanted with God to keep. So no, they do not qualify for a temple recommend.

It seems that if God really wanted to give the saints a code of health that would have prevented pioneer deaths due to a long list of illnesses including scarlet fever, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, cholera, malaria and small pox, he would have added things like the need for sanitizing water by boiling, increased personal hygiene and quarantining of sick persons.

Where does it say that the Word of Wisdom is meant to prevent pioneer deaths due to grave illnesses? It doesn’t even say it’ll ward against illnesses at all. It only says that: A) it was given to avoid the conspiracies of evil men (such as those in the cigarette industry who knew that their products caused cancer and hid the information while touting supposed health benefits in order to make money); B) that they would be generally healthy and strong, which does not mean they would never again get sick; C) that they would gain great knowledge; and D) that they would be marked as the covenant people of God so that the destroying angel would pass by them the way he did during the Passover.

This is just a silly straw man that has nothing to do with the text or intent of the Word of Wisdom.

In fact, the Church has long taught that coffee and tea were unhealthy; however, this reputation appears to be mistaken. Studies involving over 1.5 million participants who consumed 3-5 cups of coffee a day were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular diseases, stroke, prostate, breast and lung cancers, compared with those who drank none. Similar research show that polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant found in black, green and white teas, combat free-radicals that contribute to cancer, heart disease, kidney damage, diabetes, and helps lower cholesterol. ( and (

Yep, that’s because early studies did show that coffee and tea were unhealthy. Church leaders were repeating scientific consensus at the time. Scientific consensus changes as more information comes to light. That’s exactly what happened here, and it’s why Church leaders no longer make that claim.

However, just because black coffee and green tea have some health benefits, it doesn’t mean that drinking multiple cups daily loaded with sugar, milk, or creamer is good for you. We all know the negative effects of too much sugar, but milk and creamer both also have high levels of potassium. Combined with the potassium already in coffee, for example, 3-4 cups of that per day, every single day, can lead to too much potassium in your diet. Too much potassium leads to kidney disease.

Even things that are supposedly healthy come with caveats and restrictions. Black coffee is not the same as a mocha latte. All of the extra sugar and milk in it makes the mocha far less healthy than the black coffee.

Additionally, look at the wording of D&C 89:9:

9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

That’s literally all it says. It doesn’t say whether they’re good or bad for you, just that the Lord didn’t approve of them for drinking or using on injuries. But compare that to the admonition against tobacco in verse 8:

8 And again, 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.

It specifically says that tobacco is not good for man to ingest or use, but is only to cure bruises or sick cattle. Clearly, sometimes the Word of Wisdom did say that things were bad for us. But it never actually says that coffee or tea or “hot drinks” are bad for us, just that we’re not supposed to drink them.

So, it doesn’t matter if they’re good for us or not, that’s not why we were prohibited from drinking them. The answer is essentially just, “Because God told us to.” That’s it, that’s the entire reason we avoid coffee and tea. 

  • Possible Influences 
  1. Popular Misconceptions Regarding “Hot Drinks”

 One common misconceptions in this era said that hot liquids were not good for the body. 

A popular book titled, “Wholesome Advice against the Abuse of Hot Liquors,” particularly targeted tea, coffee and hot chocolate labeling them as unhealthy. This book argued that an excess consumption of hot drinks caused the blood and insides to heat up and that “Excess of heat is the most common cause of sickness and death.” Medical science at the time was so basic that the evidence presented in the book was based largely upon crude anatomical knowledge and references to classical Greek and Roman texts.

I didn’t read this entire book, personally. I kind of doubt Thomas Faulk did either, since the info he provided is mostly pulled from the full title. The quoted line is from page 91, about 1/3 of the way through. And frankly, the book is really boring.

Regardless of whether he read the entire thing or not, it was published in 1706, 127 years before the Word of Wisdom was introduced. Just to put that in perspective, that’s the same time difference between today and 1896, when Utah became a state. The world was very different in 1706 than it was in 1833, just like it was very different in 1896 than today. Science has grown by leaps and bounds since then.

Prior to the 19th Century, it was true that both excessively hot and cold drinks were thought to cause illness and even death. However, it was precisely because of the popularity of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate that those old ideas began to change. People were drinking a lot of each of them—remember, coffee in particular was pushed as a substitute for whiskey, because tea was seen as unpatriotic after the Boston Tea Party. It was over the course of the 19th Century that things began to change in earnest, as new medical discoveries were being made and deeper knowledge about the body became known. By the turn of the century, this idea of hot and cold liquids being bad for you was almost completely gone.

More curious is what’s not in the Word of Wisdom. Paul Hoskisson gave a presentation at the 2008 Sperry Symposium that discussed this very topic. While everything in the Word of Wisdom could be found in the thoughts of the day if you looked at the broader society, there were a lot of other things included in those thoughts than made it into the Word of Wisdom. For example, when Joseph and Hyrum both defined “hot drinks” as being “coffee and tea,” they didn’t mention cider, hot chocolate, herbal tea, or hot milk, which had to be drank after boiling it to rid of its impurities. There was also no mention of common medicinal cures like laudanum or calomel, which is especially surprising since an overdose of calomel is what killed Joseph’s brother Alvin. There was nothing about hygiene, and no admonition against eating vegetables with the skin on, which something you’d see during that time period. Even “too much thinking” was considered to be bad for your health. Etc. According to this Deseret News article by Michael De Groote:

While it is true that all of the items in the Word of Wisdom were at least mentioned in contemporary literature of Joseph Smith’s time, “clearly the Word of Wisdom contains none of the stupid and strange ideas that were rampant in the Prophet’s day,” Hoskisson said. “Neither does it include all the reliable and good stuff in his day.”

It’s something entirely different than that: a revelation from God, stating what was and was not acceptable according to Him.

A few decades later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was arguing for complete abstinence from tea, on the grounds that it gave rise to “numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind”. He placed emphasis on the religious importance of self-denial. (

Interestingly, Joseph Smith became very familiar with Methodist teachings when in June 1828 he became a member of minister Nathanial Lewis’ Harmony, Pennsylvania congregation. It is important to note that Joseph became a member after the First Vision where he was told that all religions were incorrect.

Nope, Joseph did not “become a member” of this congregation. Testimony of hostile witnesses (two of Emma’s cousins) states that at most, his name was on the roll for three days. To join the Methodists at that time, it was a six-month probationary period, which Joseph did not engage in. Their account is also not backed up by any other source at all. We only have the words of two men, coming decades later in 1879, who hated Joseph.

There are, however, multiple witnesses stating that he did not join any other church.

  1. The Temperance Movement

Alcohol had been socially acceptable during the colonial era, but a social shift in the early 19th century initiated the belief that drinking was no longer acceptable.

It was more than “socially acceptable.” As we discussed last week, drinking hard liquor at every meal was a mainstay of most families in the Americas during the time period. Though that slowly started to change in the early 1800s, abstinence from alcohol is a belief that never fully took hold. Even during Prohibition, bootlegging was a common and profitable venture. If you wanted to drink alcohol during that time period (1920-1933), you could easily find a way.

Faulk words this in a way that insinuates that that drinking alcohol is not considered acceptable in the United States, but that is not accurate. Though there are a few dry counties in the South, this is not the norm for the vast majority of the country.

The temperance movement was an organized effort to encourage moderation in the consumption of alcohol or press for complete abstinence.

Marcus Morton founded the American Temperance Society in 1826 and it benefited from a renewed interest in religion and morality in America. The movement began to grow exponentially. Within 12 years it claimed more than 8,000 local groups and over 1.5 million members. By 1839, 18 temperance journals were being published. Some groups took positions on moral issues and advocated temperance with alcohol rather than abstinence. The movement split along two lines: moderates who allowed some drinking and relied on moral persuasion alone, and radicals who demanded prohibition laws to restrict or ban alcohol. Prohibitionists dominated many of the largest temperance organizations after the 1830’s, and temperance eventually became synonymous with prohibition.

“On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members…. This society at Kirtland was a most active one…. it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood. The Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twenty seven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time.” (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40)

Yep, the temperance movement happened, and yes, the Kirtland Temperance Society was an active one. But just because temperance was an idea in place, doesn’t mean that that Joseph stole the idea from them. Like the Revelations in Context article points out, the Lord was preparing the people to receive the law.

And Faulk did not show any link between the Kirtland Temperance Society and the membership of the Church. How many of those 239 members were also Latter-day Saints? All of them? Any of them? I don’t know, and Faulk didn’t provide any evidence either way.

Many members of the Church during the Kirtland years were former Campbellites, and there were many more current Campbellites in the area during those same years. Alexander Campbell taught that alcohol should be avoided except during the Sacrament. Campbellites were clearly comfortable with the idea of prohibitions on alcohol, and a large number of people in the Kirtland Temperance Society surely had a Campbellite background. 

  1. Emma Smith

Joseph Smith started a training school called the School of the Prophets for the elders of the Church, which opened in Kirtland on the second floor of the Newel K. Whitney mercantile store in January 1833. Brigham Young stated that the Word of Wisdom was given in response to problems encountered while conducting those meetings:

“I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom…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 [Joseph Smith] 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.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol.12, p.158)

Yep, I think most of us are familiar with this story. It sounded like a disgusting atmosphere, so I’m not surprised Emma complained about it. I would’ve complained, too.

As I said last week, revelation rarely happens in a vacuum. It usually comes in response to our sincere questions. If Emma’s distaste for the practices led to Joseph asking the Lord what He felt about those things, I have no problem with that. That’s exactly how most revelation comes about: something occurs to us, we ask, and the Lord reveals His will to us. 

  • Timeline
    • 1826 – American Temperance Society founded.
    • 1828 – Joseph Smith becomes a member of the Methodist church that discouraged
    • hot drinks.

Where is any evidence whatsoever that Joseph became a member of a Methodist church? Can Thomas Faulk provide the rolls for the church, showing Joseph on them for longer than the six months necessary to become a member? Or even a roll with his name on it at all? Because he certainly didn’t cite them for us. 

    • 1830 – Kirtland Temperance Society founded.
    • 1833 – (Jan) Joseph Smith hears complaints from Emma about tobacco.
    • 1833 – (Feb. 1) The Kirtland Temperance Society eliminates the distillery in Kirtland.
    • 1833 – (Feb. 27) Joseph writes the Word of Wisdom limiting hot drinks, tobacco and strong drinks.

Again, Joseph did not “write” the Word of Wisdom. He received the revelation and dictated it to someone else, who wrote it down.

Even after all that, the History of the Church records that Joseph taught the Word of Wisdom but did not practice it. If the Lord really gave this revelation to Joseph, one would think he would at least follow it himself.

It wasn’t a commandment, it was a guide, and in Joseph’s day, wine and mild drinks were allowed under certain circumstances, particularly if the wine was of their own making. It was hard, distilled liquor that was forbidden.

And, as Paul H. Peterson says in his Master’s thesis, “An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom”:

[I]t appears clear that Joseph Smith never interpreted the revelation as demanding total abstinence, but stressed moderation and self-control. His opposition to intemperance is evidenced by earlier statements which referred to intemperance as a “monster” and “the bane of humanity.” The Prophet almost never used tobacco, although it is recorded that once at Nauvoo he tried the faith of the Saints by smoking a cigar after having preached a discourse on the Word of Wisdom. He had no objections to using tobacco for medicinal purposes. With regard to wine and “strong drink” possibly the most accurate index to the Prophet’s position was expressed by Benjamin F. Johnson, who personally knew Joseph: “As a companion, socially, he was highly endowed; was kind, generous, mirth-loving, and at times even convivial. He was partial to a well-supplied table and he did not always refuse the win that maketh the heart glad….”

Moreover, there is some evidence that Joseph sought to avoid needless dissension among the Saints by urging moderation and charity. It would appear that some Mormons had been influenced by the fanaticism that characterized sermons of some of the radical temperance reformers, and tended to be intolerant of those with professed Word of Wisdom weaknesses. The Prophet, recognizing that the revelation must be seen in perspective with other matters and doctrines pertaining to the growth of the “Kingdom,” urged them to be slow to judge or condemn others.

So, if his aim was to teach charity and moderation while the Saints built up to living the law as a commandment, I don’t fault him for that. 

  1. 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.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, January 14, 1836, vol.2, p.369) 

Again, wine was not completely forbidden by the Word of Wisdom during Joseph’s day. And again, his goal—especially so soon after the revelation was given—was to urge moderation and a gradual building-up of obedience to the law. 

  1. Ordinance on the Personal Sale of Liquors – Section 1. Be it ordained by the City Council of Nauvoo, that the Mayor of the city be and is hereby authorized to see or give spirits of any quantity as he in his wisdom shall judge to be for the health and comfort, or convenience of such travelers or other persons as shall visit his house from time to time. Passed December 12, 1843. Joseph Smith, Mayor. Willard Richards, Recorder.” (History of the Church, December 12, 1843, vol.6, p.111) 

Certain alcohols, such as brandy, were seen to have medicinal purposes, and to warm and heal people who were exposed to cold temperatures. This was an ordinance giving Joseph, as the Mayor of Nauvoo, the ability to care for travelers who arrived in poor shape. 

  1. “Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more. The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as also Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out.” (History of the Church, June 27, 1844, vol.6, p.616)

 Again, wine was not completely forbidden. And honestly, if Joseph needed a drink while he was waiting for death in Carthage jail, I don’t personally have much problem with that.

I have never been taught in Church that abstinence from alcohol and other hot drinks were already popular concepts of time leading up to the revelation.

I am genuinely baffled by this comment. Church is for fellowshipping and learning how to draw closer to Christ. Why would anyone expect to be taught secular US history in Sunday School? We don’t even learn about the parts of US history that entwine with the Restoration, such as Manifest Destiny or the history of the First Amendment.

Why on earth would we use our limited time at Church to learn about the temperance movement in the United States? And why would any member expect that we would? That’s what high school is for.

It appears that the Word of Wisdom may not be unique instruction, but well within the context of 19th century assumptions.

My response to this comment is twofold.

First, I’m not aware of any source that claims that the counsel given in the Word of Wisdom was wholly unique and had never been suggested before. The intent wasn’t to declare counsel that nobody had ever heard before. It was to declare counsel that God recommended for physical and spiritual health, a starting point to ramp up to living the commandment.

Second, the Word of Wisdom was somewhat unique as written in D&C 89, as we discussed last week. The warnings against indulging in those substances were given in a completely different way than they were given in organizations like temperance societies. They would try to frighten people by claiming that alcohol use would lead to an entire host of diseases, among other things. The Word of Wisdom does not do that. It’s not comparable in tone or consequence to any kind of abstinence literature from that day and age.

Perhaps it was spurned by Emma’s complaints, added to by Methodist teachings and pressured by the local Kirtland Temperance Society.

If that was true, there would be evidence of it. Yet, Faulk hasn’t provided any. All he has provided are insinuations, accusations, and misrepresentations. If you’re going to accuse a prophet of being a liar and a fraud, you have to provide evidence of that if you expect me to believe you. Faulk hasn’t said anything here that’s alarming when you actually look at the evidence behind the accusations.

But, as always, the surest way to know whether or not the Word of Wisdom was revelation from the Lord is to get on your knees and ask. The Spirit will tell you, because the Spirit confirms the truth of all things. Despite what people like Thomas Faulk and Jeremy Runnells claim, that is a witness you can trust.

Remember, the Lord has graven us on the palms of His hands so that He would always remember us. In turn, we promise each week during the Sacrament to always remember Him. We are His, and He has ransomed us. As long as we remember that and follow His path, we will not be lost. His Spirit will not lie to us nor lead us astray.

The entire intent of these letters is to make you lose your trust in God. Do not let that happen. We are His children. He loves us and He wants us to learn to hear His voice and to recognize His hand in our lives. He’s there, waiting to give us shelter and guidance, but we have to ask for it. He won’t barge into our lives. We have to invite Him in. Please do. While you study these things, open the door and let Him in. Ask Him your questions, and let Him guide you to the answers. He will.

And as He does, we will “grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.”


Sarah Allen is relatively new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. An avid reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her friends lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises. That’s when she began sharing what she’d learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.

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