What is the Word of Wisdom? When did it become a commandment? What happens if memebers don't live the Word of Wisdom? Did Mormon leaders always live by it?
On the Church's official website they give the following story for the context of the Word of Wisdom:
The Word of Wisdom appeared at a time of intense public debate about bodily health in general and alcohol abuse in particular. In the United States, many adults in the 1830s had been raised in families where alcoholic beverages were consumed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many became concerned about the social and health-related consequences of increased alcohol consumption. Beginning in the 1810s, reformers called for abstinence from hard liquor; many of their hearers went further, taking a pledge against all alcoholic beverages, including beer. At the same time, some reformers spoke out against tobacco chewing and recommended coffee as a substitute for alcohol, given that clean water was not always available.2
Within the context of this debate, Emma Smith approached her husband, concerned about the environment in the School of the Prophets. The same space Joseph used to record revelations and work on his inspired Bible translation was also used as the schoolroom, in which attendees often smoked, chewed, and spat tobacco. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received the Word of Wisdom. The revelation helped Saints navigate many of the issues debated by reformers and also addressed Emma’s specific concerns. “Strong drinks” and “hot drinks,” the revelation said, were “not for the belly.” Neither was tobacco, which was better used as an herb for sick cattle.3 Sources make clear that many early Latter-day Saints understood “hot drinks” to refer to coffee and tea.4 Some groups, like the Shakers, advised against eating meat, while others advocated no restriction. The Word of Wisdom took an independent position, saying that the Lord ordained the use of meat, on condition that it be eaten “sparingly.”5 The Word of Wisdom also advocated the use of grain and fruit.
1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—
2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—
3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.
4 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—
5 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.
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
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.
9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.
10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
14 All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—
17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
Video summary of the Word of Wisdom.
In a talk given in April 1977, President Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement:
The so-called Mormon code of health, widely praised in these days of cancer and heart research, is in reality a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1833 as a “Word of Wisdom” from the Lord. (D&C 89:1.) In no conceivable way could it have come of the dietary literature of the time, nor from the mind of the man who announced it. Today, in terms of medical research, it is a miracle, whose observance has saved incalculable suffering and premature death for uncounted tens of thousands.
What President Hinckley fails to acknowledge is that these specific, yet vague, restrictions WERE a part of the literature of the day. In fact, one book, Means of Preserving Health & Preventing Diseases, published almost thirty years earlier, gives almost the exact same outline as Joseph Smith's Word of Wisdom.
"Avoid, likewise, the excessive use of hot drinks, such as coffee, chocolate, and tea, particularly the last, in which the inhabitants of this country indulge more than in any other beverage. I scarcely dare venture to impeach this favourite solace of our morning and evening hours; but, with all due deference to the happiness of the domestic circle, I consider it as my duty to denounce the too liberal use of this liquor, as not a little prejudicial to the fairness and purity of the skin. Tea, taken hot, and in immoderate quantities, not only has a tendency to weaken the organs of digestion, but causes fluctuations and congestions in the humours of the face, and frequently brings on a degree of debilitating perspiration.."
Stories abound of Joseph Smith Jr. indulging in liquor and tobacco. Joseph even set up a tavern in the Nauvoo Mansion. He drank wine the evening before he was killed.
Minute Book, 18 March, 1833
After which several exertationswere given to faithfulness and obedienceto the commandments of God and muchuseful instruction given for the benefitof the saints with a promise that the purein heart that were present should see a heavenly vision, and after remaining fora short time in secret prayer the promise was verified to many present having the eyes of their understanding<s> opened so as to behold many things afte[r] which the bread and wine was distributed by Bro Joseph after which many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the saviour and concourses of angels and many othe[r] thing[s] of which each one has a reccord of what they saw &c
Barton Stafford, 3 November 1833
Being called upon to give a stement of the character of the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. as far as I know I can state that I became aquainted with them in 1820, and knew them until 1831, when they left this neighborhood. --Joseph Smith, Sen. was a noted drunkard and most of the family followed his example, and Joseph, Jr. especially, who was very much addicted to intemperance. In short, not one of the family had the least claims of respectability. Even since he professed to be inspired of the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon, he one day while at work in my father's field, got quite drunk on a composition of cider, molasses and water. Finding his legs to refuse their office he leaned upon the fence and hung for sometime; at length recovering again, he fell to scuffling with one of the workmen, who tore his shirt nearly off from him. His wife who was at our house on a visit, appeared very much grieved at his conduct, and to proect his back from the rays of the sun, and conceal his nakedness, threw her shawl over his shoulders and in that plight escorted the Prophet home. As an evidence of his piety and devotion, when intoxicated, he frequently made his religion the topic of conversation!!
Revelation, August 1835
"wherefore a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine, neither strong drink of your enemies: wherefore you shall partake of none, except it is made new among you, yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built upon the earth."
Joseph Smith, 30 March, 1836
I called the house to order, and the presidency proceeded to wash the feet of the 12 pronouncing many prophecy’s and blessings upon them in the name of the Lord Jesus, the brethren began to prophesy upon each others heads, and cursings upon the enimies of Christ who inhabit Jackson county Missouri continued prophesying and blessing and sealing them with Hosanna and Amen until nearly 7 o clock P.M. the bread <& wine> was then brought in, and I observed that we had fasted all the day; and lest we faint; as the Saviour did so shall we do on this occasion, we shall bless the bread and give it to the 12 and they to the multitude, after which we shall bless the wine and do likewise;
Joseph Smith, 2 May 1843
Called at the office and drank a glass of wine with Sister Jenetta Richards, made by her mother in England, and reviewed a portion of the conference minutes.
Tavern in the Nauvoo Mansion
When she returned [to the Nauvoo Mansion] Mother found installed in the keeping-room of the hotel—that is to say the main room where the guests assembled and where they were received upon arrival—a bar, with counter, shelves, bottles, glasses, and other paraphernalia customary for a fully-equipped tavern bar, and Porter Rockwell in charge as tender.
She was very much surprised and disturbed over this arrangement, but said nothing for a while. A few hours later, as I met her in the hall between the dining room and the front room, she asked me where Father was. I told her he was in the front room. She asked, "If anyone else there?" Yes," I answered, "quite a number."
Then she told me to go and tell him she wished to see him. I obeyed and returned with him to the hall where Mother awaited him. "Joseph," she asked, "What is the meaning of that bar in this house?"
He told her of Porter's arrival and that a place was being prepared for him just across the street where he would run a barber shop with a bar in connection, explaining that the bar in the hotel was only a temporary arrangement until the building referred to could be finished and ready for occupancy.
There was no excitement or anger in Mother's voice nor in what she said as she replied but there was a distinctness and earnestness I have never forgotten, and which had its effect upon Father as well. "How does it look," she asked, "for the spiritual head of a religious body to be keeping a hotel in which is a room fitted out as a liquor-selling establishment?"
He reminded her that all taverns had their bars at which liquor was sold or dispensed—which was true at that day—and again urged that it was only for a time and was being done for Porter's benefit, explaining that since Porter had been compelled to leave his own home and had, in a measure, been made a scapegoat for charges that had been made against the two of them, he felt obligated to help him.
Mother's reply came emphatically clear, though uttered quietly:
"Well, Joseph, the furniture and other goods I have purchased for the house will come, and you have some other person look after things here. As for me, I will take my children and go across to the old house and stay there, for I will not have them raised up under such conditions as this arrangement imposes upon us, nor have them mingle with the kind of men who frequent such a place. You are at liberty to make your choice; either that bar goes out of the house, or we will!"
It did not take Father long to make the choice, for he replied immediately, "Very well, Emma: I will have it removed at once"—and he did.
John Taylor, Martyrdom Account
"Some time after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported, by some; that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Capt. [Dan] Jones who went after it; but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine & gave some to one or two of the prison guards."
Orson Pratt, Feb. 18, 1855
"... A certain family, after having travelled a long journey, arrived in Kirtland, and the Prophet asked them to stop with him until they could find a place. Sister Emma, in the mean time, asked the old lady if she would have a cup of tea to refresh her after the fatigues of the journey, or a cup of coffee. This whole family apostatized because they were invited to take a cup of tea or coffee, after the Word of Wisdom was given.
Brigham Young, 10 March, 1860
"I have my weaknesses, and you have yours; but if I am inclined to do that which is wrong, I will not make my wrong a means of leading others astray. Many of the brethren chew tobacco, and I have advised them to be modest about it. Do not take out a whole plug of tobacco in meeting before the eyes of the congregation, and cut off a long slice and put it in your mouth, to the annoyance of everybody around. 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 a "Word of Wisdom." Read it. Some say, "Oh, as I do in private, so I do in public, and I am not ashamed of it." It is, at least, disgraceful to you to expose your absurdities. Some men will go into a clean and beautifully-furnished parlour with tobacco in their mouths, and feel, "I ask no odds." I would advise such men to be more modest, and not spit upon the carpets and furniture, but step to the door, and be caerful not to let any person see you spit; or, what is better, omit chewing until you have an opportunity to do so without offending.
Brigham Young 7 April 1867
"You go through the wards in the country, and ask the Bishops --"Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?" The reply will be "Yes; no, not exactly." "Do you drink tea?" "No." "Coffee?" "No." "Do you drink whisky?" "No." "Well, then, why do you not observe the Word of Wisdom?" "Well, this tobacco, I cannot give it up." And in this he sets an example to every man, and to every boy over ten years of age, in his ward, to nibble at and chew tobacco. You go to another ward, and perhaps the Bishop does not chew tobacco, nor drink tea nor coffee, but once in a while he takes a little spirits, and keeps whiskey in his house, in which he will occassionaly induge- Go to antoher ward, and perhaps the Bishop does not drink whisky nor chew tobacco, but he "cannot give up his tea and coffee." And so it goes through the whole church. Not that every Bishop indulges in one or more of these habits, but most of them do. I recollect being at a trial not long since where quite a number of Bishops had been called in as a witness, but I could not learn that there was one who did not drink whisky, and I think that most of them drank tea and coffee. I think that we have some Bishops in this city who do not chew tobacco, nor drink liquor nor tea nor coffee to excess.
The Word of Wisdom is one thing, and ignorance, superstition, or bigotry is another. I wish people would come to understand with regard to the Word of Wisdom. For illustration, I will refer to a certain brother was in the church once, and President of the Elder's Quorum in Nauvoo. While living at that place there was a great deal of sickness among the people, and he was sometimes called in to lay hands on the sick, but if he had the least doubt about their drinking tea, if he even saw a tea-pot, he would refuse. I recollect he went into a house where a woman was sick, who wanted him to lay hands on her; he saw a teapot in the corner containing catnip tea, but without stopping to enquire he left the house, excaliming against her and her practices.
Now, there is no harm in a teapot, even if it contains tea, if it is let alone; and I say of a truth that where a person is diseased, say, for isntance, with canker, there is no better medicine than green tea, and where it is thus used it should be drank sparingly. Instead of drinking thirteen or fourteen cups every morning, nood, and night, there should not be any used. You may think I am speaking extravagantly, but I remember a tea-drinking match once in which fourteen cups apiece were drank, so you see it can be done. But to drink half a dozen or even three or four cups of strong tea is hurtful. It injures and impairs the system, becumbs the faculties of the stomach, and affects the blood, and is deleterious in its nature. If a person is weary, worn out, cast down, fainting, or dying, a brandy sling, a little wine, or a cup of tea is good to revive them. Do not throw these things away, and say they must never be used; they are good to be used with judgment, prudence, and discretion. As our Bishops if they drink tea every day, and in most cases they will tell you they do if they can get it. They take it when they do not need it and when it injures them....
Brigham Young 14 April 1867
Suppose, as was said at Conference, that we dispense with the luxuries of tobacco, tea, coffee, and whisky, how much would we save? If we had the money on hand that we have spent on these needless articles during the year that is past, we should have abudnance to donate to the missionaries to land them in their fields of labor.
Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards. We all of us felt unusually dull and languid, with a remarkable depression of spirits. In consonance with those feelings I sang a song, that had lately been introduced into Nauvoo, entitled,
‘A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief’, etc.
27 June 1844
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 wine for 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. When at the top of the stairs some one below called him two or three times, and he went down.
Apr 8, 1894
Wilford Woodruff tells General Conference of a revelation he had: "When I have the vision of the night opened continually before my eyes, and can see the mighty judgments that are about to be poured out upon this world, . . . We have fourteen million people on this earth, and over them all there hangs a cloud of darkness almost entirely upon their shoulders. Can you tell me where the people are who will be shielded and protected from these great calamities and judgments which are even now at our doors? I'll tell you. The priesthood of God who honor their priesthood, and who are worthy of their blessings are the only ones who shall have this safety and protection. . . .God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now, that those angels have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day they shall be poured out." Afterwards, as Wilford Woodruff writes in his diary, "I drank some Hot Lemonade with a little brandy in it. Went to bed and soon to sleep."
Apr 21, 1897
Wilford Woodruff wrote in his diary: "The swelling in my body and limbs has gone down. My pulse are normal. I have no pain. Weak in my limbs. I eat bread & milk and drink Cacao & a little port wine."
June 9, 1897
President Wilford Woodruff writes: "I was quite restless all night. Felt chilly. Took a little Brandy sling and a cup of coffee, and slept some before daylight and until 9 am. . . ."
Jan 12, 1899 - At the weekly meeting in the Salt Lake Temple of the First Presidency and Apostles, Rudger Clawson writes that “the tables were spread and the brethren partook of the sacrament. After the bread and wine were blessed by Pres. Snow, [they] ate and drank freely until satisfied. It was indeed a time of refreshing and one long to be remembered.”
July 13, 1899 - Salt Lake temple fast meeting for general authorities: Apostle Rudger Clawson writes, "Pres. Jos. F. Smith was mouth in blessing the bread and wine, which was supplied in sufficient abundance to satisfy all present. A very enjoyable time was passed at the table. . . ."
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