My Word of Wisdom Experiment: Part 2 [The History]

Welcome to the second installment of my Word of Wisdom experiment. You can read Part 1 here, where I shared thoughts about the physical body, which are foundational to an understanding of the Word of Wisdom as well as the origins for this experiment.

On to Part 2 …

The Word of Wisdom was a revelation from God, given to Joseph Smith in 1833 after he made an inquiry of the Lord regarding the use of tobacco by many of the Church’s Elders. The Church had been officially organized for three years at that point, and in the absence of a temple, the first School of the Prophets was held in a small room in the home of Bishop Newel K. Whitney. Brigham Young recorded a scene which frequently presented itself during those instructional meetings:

“The brethren came to that place from hundreds of miles to attend school … When they assembled together … the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom … As soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Smith] entered the room to give the school instruction he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean the floor [of tobacco spit], made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco” (Journal of Discourses, 12:158).

In response to his inquiry, the Lord gave Joseph Smith the verses of scripture we now call the Word of Wisdom.

As I set out to outline my lesson and craft my experiment, I knew my first step was to understand deeply and completely the entirety of the principle. I began with a prayer that my mind and heart would be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, that I would understand exactly what the Lord intended for me to do, and that I would be able to see clearly the wisdom in the law. I then dissected each verse.

In the paragraphs that follow I will share my study notes. Of particular importance to me were the definitions of important key words in each verse. A dictionary is as essential to my gospel study as my scriptures. I find that in understanding completely every definition for a word and the root from which the word comes, my comprehension of the Lord’s language increases ten-fold. It really is amazing (and completely exciting!) to study the scriptures this way. I invite you to study along in chapter 89 of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Doctrine & Covenants 89: 1

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—

Wisdom (noun) 1a : accumulated philosophic or scientific learning 1b : insight, ability to discern inner qualities 1c : good sense, judgment 2 : a wise belief or course of action 3 : the teachings of the ancient wise men

Benefit (noun) 1 : an act of kindness 2 : something that promotes well-being 3 : help in time of sickness, old age, or unemployment 4: a service or right provided by an employer in addition to wages and salary.

Here, God, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe who knows everything and is the source of all truth, is passing along to us His great wisdom as an act of kindness. He is giving us His knowledge in an effort to promote our well-being. It’s almost as if He, like our temporal employers, are providing us with the best health insurance available.

President George Albert Smith stated: “It seems to me that as a people we have been marvelously blessed. … The Lord has been merciful to us, to caution us, advise us and warn us with regard to many things. I look upon the Word of Wisdom as kind advice of our Father in heaven, who desires to see His children become more like Him. … I take it as the fatherly counsel of one who, knowing what I needed, said to me: ‘My son, these things are not good for you, and if you will avoid them I will give you the companionship of my Holy Spirit and joy while you live in the world and in the end eternal life’” (Teachings of George Albert Smith, 204).

Doctrine & Covenants 89: 2

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—

Order (noun) 1 : a community under a religious rule especially one requiring members to take solemn vows 2 : a prescribed form of a religious service, rite 3 : the customary mode of procedure 4 : the state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior 5 : a specific rule, regulation, or authoritative direction

Will (noun) 1 : desire, wish 2 : appetite, passion 3 : choice, determination 4 : request, command 5 : power of control over one’s own actions or emotions

Temporal (adjective) 1a : of or relating to time as opposed to eternity 1b: relating to earthly life

Salvation (noun) 1a : deliverance from the power and effects of sin 1b : the agent or means that affects salvation 2: liberation from ignorance 3a : preservation from destruction of failure 3b: deliverance from danger or difficulty

At the time this revelation was given, it was not a commandment, but merely a “suggestion.” It became a commandment in 1851, when Brigham Young presented it to the body of the Church as such. The principles contained within outline God’s rules, regulations, and direction, which point the way to a state of peace and freedom from confused behavior. The Word of Wisdom is also a means for our earthly (and ultimately eternal) deliverance from the power and effects of sin, ignorance, failure, danger, and difficulty.

Footnote 2a leads us to Doctrine & Covenants 84: 44, which states: “For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” I find this interesting, that phrase—that we shall “live” by God’s word. Earthly life is enhanced and blessed, and our spirits are sanctified, by following God’s laws, his “words.” Physical health is enhanced when we follow the Word of Wisdom, or so the principle states. Eternal life is only possible through Christ who is also called the Word (see John 1:1). There is a correlation between the “word” and the “Word” and the ingestion of them both—to take them into us, to allow them to pass through the cellular levels of body and spirit, and nourish us as they ignite the functions of life (and Life).

Footnote 2b leads us to Doctrine and Covenants 29: 34, which states: “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal…” As I have come to understand, and as stated yesterday, the spiritual and the temporal are one. Though this is a law of basic principles for physical health in this earthly life, it is ultimately a spiritual law.

President George Albert Smith stated: “I am fully convinced that the Lord in His mercy, when He gave us the Word of Wisdom, gave it to us, not alone that we might have health while we live in the world, but that our faith might be strengthened, that our testimony of the divinity of the mission of our Lord and Master might be increased, that thereby we might be better prepared to return to his presence when our labor here is complete” (Teaching of George Albert Smith, 206).

Questions to ponder: How does (or might) the Word of Wisdom 1) strengthen our faith, 2) increase our testimony of Christ’s divinity, and 3) prepare us to return to His presence?

Brainstorm: As we live the Word of Wisdom, our bodies are free from addictions and influences that make it difficult to feel the Holy Spirit. In turn we are able to be closer to God, which automatically increases faith because we can feel the presence of Heaven. Our minds are also then clear and available to the voice of the Lord. Also, God, as a perfected being has perfect control over His appetites and passions. As this life is essentially a classroom for learning to become like Him, the Word of Wisdom is a guide to help us reign in our appetites, quite literally, in like manner. This kind of discipline helps us be more like Him and thus prepares us to return to our heavenly home.

President George Albert Smith stated: “I sometimes wonder if Latter-day Saints realize that the Word of Wisdom has been given to us for our exaltation; not only for our temporal blessing, but to prepare us for spiritual life. We are told that the glory of God is intelligence [see Doctrine & Covenants 93:36] … therefore is should be our desire to lay the foundation for increased mental power and not do anything to weaken it. It is evident in the lives of some that they deprive themselves of the brain power they might enjoy, but the continued use of things our Heavenly Father has said are not good; they become less intelligent as a result, and fail to make the preparation for Eternal Life that should be their ambition. If we believe as we claim, that Jesus is the Christ, and that we are the children of our Heavenly Father, then how careful we should be to conduct ourselves that we may be worthy of the temples we occupy, which were created in the image of God” (Teachings of George Albert Smith, 208).

Doctrine & Covenants 89: 3

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.

Principle (noun) 1 : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption 2 : a rule or code of conduct

Promise (noun) 1 : a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified 2 : a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act

Adapt (verb) 1 : to make fit (often by modification)

Capacity (noun) 1 : the maximum amount that can be accommodated 2 : an individual’s mental or physical ability (aptitude, skill)

Weak (adjective) 1 : lacking strength as 2 : deficient in physical vigor (feeble, debilitated) 3 : not able to sustain or exert much weight, pressure, or strain 4 : not able to resist external force or withstand attack 5 : easily upset or nauseated 6 : mentally or intellectually deficient 7 : not firm 8 : not able to withstand temptation or persuasion

The Word of Wisdom is a comprehensive and fundamental law with an accompanying declaration from God (who cannot lie) that he will grant certain blessings when the law is followed. And we have every right to expect those blessings. Furthermore, God has modified and fit this law to the maximum ability level of the weakest among us.

Bottom line? Anyone can follow this law. No one is too weak to adopt and live by the principles outlined.

Additional bottom line? I need to remember this when I’m certain that the call of the chocolate bar is stronger than my will.

Doctrine and Covenants 89: 4

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—

As previously stated, the Word of Wisdom was given in 1833—quite timely indeed. 1833 was the middle of the transition from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Revolution, where changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of the human population labored in agriculture. Pre-industrial agriculture was typically subsistence farming in which families raised most of their crops for their own consumption instead of for trade.

And interestingly enough, the items prohibited by the Word of Wisdom—alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea—were the first foods to be industrialized, along with sugar.

We live in a day in age where much of our food isn’t even food. It’s genetically modified, pumped full of hormones, coated with pesticides, packed with preservatives, and stored until any nutritional value has expired. And at the root of these choices (supposedly made on our behalf with our “protection” in mind) is profit.

I highly recommend watching the documentary Food, Inc. (Netflix instant queue has it available) to better understand the wooly mammoth that is the American food production industry. I’m by no means a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe for one second that the food packaging plant in who-knows-where, USA, or the chicken farmer who injects his chickens with growth hormones to that they’ll be fatter so that he can earn a greater profit, or even the FDA has my health and well-being in mind.

President Ezra Taft Benson, prophet and 13th President of the Church, who was also Secretary of Agriculture to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, said this: “To a great extent, we are physically what we eat. Most of us are acquainted with some of the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom, such as no tea, coffee, tobacco, or alcohol. What needs additional emphasis are the positive aspects—the need for vegetables, fruits, and grain, particularly wheat. In most cases, the closer these can be, when eaten, to their natural state—without overrefinement and processing—the healthier we will be. To a significant degree, we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging an early grave with our teeth, and lacking the energy that could be ours because we overindulge in junk foods. … We need a generation of … people who, as Daniel, eat in a more healthy manner than to fare on the ‘king’s meat’ – and whose countenances show it” (“In His Steps,” 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year, BYU, p. 62).

Don’t you love that quote? That one part … “we are an overfed and undernourished nation digging and early grave with our teeth” … wow. And that was in 1979!

The Lord has forewarned us. We must be vigilant. Just as we have to protect our spirits from the corrosive effects of sin, we have to protect our bodies from the damaging effects of improper nutrition. For example, we fight loud and hard against pornography. We should be fighting just as loud and diligently for healthier foods. If we don’t, who will?

And with that, I close Part 2. Tomorrow we’ll be diving into the finer points of the Word of Wisdom, namely what the Lord prohibits.

Click Here for Part 3

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  1. I love that quote by President Benson at the end. The Word of Wisdom is something that I love so much. Our lesson on Sunday was also on this topic, and our teacher pointed out that her husband said, “It should be called the GIFT of wisdom.” I really liked that. Because living this law is truly a gift. And Heavenly Father has given it to us because He knows all and He loves us and He wants us to have the gift of health and to be as wise as we can. Another thing we talked about was in verse 3, the footnote for “weak” says “humble.” And it made me realize that we have to give away our pride and be humble enough to be willing to trust God and live this law. And when we do that, we are blessed beyond measure. I have LOVED reading your two installments thus far, Krista! THANK YOU!

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