Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Index/Chapter 14

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    Response to claims made in "Chapter 14: The Word of Wisdom"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101
A work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
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It was déjà vu all over again!
—Yogi Berra
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The chapter is little more than a rehash of an essay that appeared in Chapter 20 of the Tanners' anti-Mormon opus ’’Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?’’. It would seem that the authors essentially edited the Tanner's work to make it shorter then simply stuck their names on it. Their footnotes give the Tanner's no credit for their work whatsoever.



  • The authors claim that “few (if any) Mormons try to keep the Word of Wisdom as it was said to be given to Smith in 1833.”
  • The authors claim that “important Mormon leaders” broke the Word of Wisdom themselves.


The Word of Wisdom Defined


  • The authors claim that if the Word of Wisdom “was such an important teaching,” why wasn’t it made a “command” until 1851 by Brigham Young?
  • The authors quote the introduction to Section 89 thusly:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 27, 1833. HC 1: 327–329. As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result.

Author's source(s)

  • Ezra Taft Benson, Church News, 20 May 1989, 10.


  • The authors fail to quote the whole introduction. The final sentence of the introduction is omitted. It reads: "The first three verses were originally written as an inspired introduction and description by the Prophet." In other words, the first three verses of this revelation were not a part of the original revelation. They were added in 1835 when the revelation was added to the Doctrine and Covenants. The first three verses are:

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— 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— 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. (D&C 89:1–3)

Rather than quoting the first three verses in their entirety, the authors instead write:

According to D&C 89:3, the Word of Wisdom is "a principle with [a] promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak." This did not become a "command" for eighteen years, until President Brigham Young proposed it in 1851. If this was such an important teaching, it seems strange that it was not a command from God when this revelation was first given.

  • One must ask why the authors find this so strange when the second verse of the revelation clearly says that it was not a commandment.
  • In answer to the author's query regarding how strange it was that this "important teaching" was not delivered as a command at first, the answer was right in front of them. It was not considered a command at first because the Lord specifically dictated otherwise. That being the case, the historical record clearly shows that the early Saints interpreted the revelation in light of this verse and also in light of another revelation that the Prophet had received earlier.(D&C 59:
  • We should also to draw attention to the author's omission of not only the majority of verse three but also the complete text of verse four. The omissions are highly suspect because in both cases they omit the Lord's explanation of the reason for the revelation. The third verse says the purpose of the revelation was to show the "will of God in the temporal salvation" of the Saints. The fact is that obedience to the principles of the Word of Wisdom actually did lead to the temporal salvation of the Church. The forth verse continues:

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. (D&C 89:4

  • The authors therefore chose to ignore two of the most important verses in the revelation. These are the two verses that essentially validate the prophetic nature of the revelation and the man who received it. Both of these verses contain prophecies and both of these prophecies have vividly come to pass.
  • For a detailed response, see: Word of Wisdom and Word of Wisdom/Temporal salvation of the early Saints

  • The authors note that the Word of Wisdom makes an exception that the use of wine is permitted in order “to offer up your sacraments,” yet Latter-day Saints now use water instead of wine for the Sacrament.


  • George q. Cannon “included chocolate, cocoa, and even soup” on the list of items prohibited by the Word of Wisdom.

Author's source(s)


  • The authors note that,

While most Mormons say caffeine is their reason not to drink coffee and tea, an article in the Salt Lake Tribune states that 90 percent of adults in North America consume caffeine on a regular basis through other products.

Author's source(s)

  • Salt Lake Tribune, 18 August 1991, p. A2.


  • That 90 percent of adult in North America consume caffeine on a regular basis is totally irrelevant. It does not address the percentage of Mormons who consume caffeine on a regular basis, neither does it describe what some of these other sources may be. *Many common headache medications contain the drug because it enhances the effectiveness of the pain killing properties of the medicine. Anyone taking this medication could be classified as partaking caffeine, however the Mormons have always recognized that the "abuse" of certain drugs is different that using those drugs for legitimate medical reasons. Without further information or clarification, therefore, the "90 percent" figure is totally useless.
  • The statement is also irrelevant what "most Mormons" claim as their reason for avoiding coffee and tea. The Word of Wisdom itself gives no indication of the reasons these substances are to be avoided—it only states that they should be. While avoiding caffeine is a legitimate reason for avoiding coffee and tea, it is not the only reason nor is it necessarily the reason the Lord had in mind in giving the revelation.
  • A study printed in the International Journal of Cancer recently reported these startling findings: Drinking very hot beverages appears to raise the risk of esophageal cancer by as much as four times. The researchers analyzed results from five studies involving nearly three thousand people. The study found that hot beverages did increase the cancer risk. The study provided evidence of a link between esophageal cancer induced by the consumption of very hot drinks.[1] Another report by Swiss researchers found that a component in coffee (chlorogenic acid) actually destroyed much of the body's thiamin after one quart of coffee was consumed in three hours.[2] Other reported effects of drinking coffee are more controversial and have yet to be firmly proven.[3] At any rate, it is clear that just because "most Mormons" avoid coffee and tea due to concerns about caffeine, the presence of the stimulant is not the only reason the Lord may have invoked a prohibition against these substances.
  • For a detailed response, see: Word of Wisdom/Cola drinks

  • ”Mormon writer John J. Stewart” is claimed to “admit” that “The admonition to eat little meat is largely ignored, as are some other points of the revelation.”

Author's source(s)
  • John Stewart, Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet, 90.

Hypocrisy in the LDS Leadership


  • Early Mormon leaders didn't follow the teachings of the Word of Wisdom as strictly as do modern members of the faith. The authors take Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to task for their apparent non-compliance with the precepts of the revelation. They point to several events as "proof" of their accusations. Among these accusations are:
  • Joseph Smith said that he, Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson and Warren Parrish occasionally drank wine
  • The fact that Joseph Smith attempted to run a tavern from his home
  • An story alleging that Smith counseled a man to get drunk else he die
  • The fact that the Church-owned cooperative store in Utah sold tea, coffee and tobacco
  • A quote from Brigham Young rebuking the elders for spitting tobacco but refusing to qualify it as a sin

Author's source(s)
  • History of the Church 2:369, 378.
  • Life of Oliver B. Huntington, typed copy at the University of Utah.
  • The third item is based only a third party allegation and is completely hearsay. There is no evidence that Joseph said such a thing or that the man who was thus counseled actually died.
  • The reasonable question is not, "did early Mormon leaders obey the Word of Wisdom as it is understood today." The reasonable question is, "did early Mormon leaders obey the Word of Wisdom as they understood it in their day?" The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
  • How were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other leaders able to indulge themselves, in public, using substances forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, without any apparent criticism from the members, if the understanding of the Word of Wisdom in that time was that of complete abstinence as it is today? The answer is quite simple: early Mormons and their leaders did not interpret the Word of Wisdom in the same way as it now interpreted.
  • The authors undermine their own premise when they quote the Encyclopedia of Mormonism to the effect that John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant promoted adherence to the Word of Wisdom as a precondition for entering the temple. If these three men (all of who eventually became Prophets of the Church) were promoting this point of view, it must be understood that this was not the prevailing point of view at that time. Nevertheless, the suggestion was never made by these men that non-adherence to the precepts of the revelation was recognized at that time as being grounds for losing temple privileges. Therefore, charges of hypocrisy against early Church leaders are misguided and false because the authors hold Smith and Young to a standard that did not exist in their day.
  • For a detailed response, see: Word of Wisdom/Joseph Smith used tea, Word of Wisdom/Joseph Smith sold liquor in Nauvoo, Word of Wisdom/Brigham Young and tobacco, and Word of Wisdom/Brigham Young's whiskey distillery


  • The authors claim that history was “sanitized” to remove references to Word of Wisdom violations.

Author's source(s)
  • History of the Church 5:450.
  • Millennial Star 21, 283.
 FAIR WIKI EDITORS: Check sources


  • The authors claim that Brigham Young reported in 1873 that a store in Utah “was doing a great business in tea, coffee and tobacco.”
  • Brigham “rebuked LDS men for chewing tobacco in the semiannual conference and spitting it on the floor but came short of calling their habit ‘sin’.”
  • Brigham states that the Saint “spend considerably more” on tobacco than before, and that they should raise their own tobacco or quit using it.

Author's source(s)
  • The authors mistakenly attribute to Brigham Young a 1873 talk on the Word of Wisdom given by George A. Smith.
  • The authors fail to note what Smith actually said in the main text, and only clarify it in an endnote over 100 pages later. Note the full context of the quote:

I say, brethren and sisters, let us observe the Word of Wisdom. We are doing a great business in the tea, coffee and tobacco in the Co-operative Store. When we first established it we thought we would not sell tobacco at all; but pretty soon the Superintendent asked the Directors if he might not bring in some poor kind of tobacco to kill the ticks on the sheep. It was very soon discovered that unless they sold tobacco, so many Latter-day Saints used it, that a successful opposition could be run against them on the tobacco trade alone, and they had to commence it, I believe, under the plea that it was brought on to kill the ticks on sheep. Shame on such Latter-day Saints, so far as tobacco is concerned.

  • The authors add the detail about killing ticks on sheep and Smith's rebuke (which they mistakenly call Young's rebuke) in an endnote on page 304. Thus, the authors demonstrate both shoddy research by attributing the statements to Brigham Young, and a deceptive presentation of the information by presenting only part of the quote out of context in Chapter 14 while clarifying the context only in the endnote.
  • For a detailed response, see: Word of Wisdom/Brigham Young and tobacco


  • The final nail in Joseph Smith's coffin, according to the authors, is the fact that, despite Joseph's claims that the Word of Wisdom was a revelation, there were in that time, temperance societies that also advocated the abolition of alcohol. The authors also quote a newspaper article that appeared in the Wayne Sentinel, published in the area where Joseph was reared, that called tobacco "an absolute poison." They conclude their brief review with this conclusion: "It is extremely possible that Smith picked up his ideas from these other sources."

Author's source(s)
  • BYU Studies (Winter 1959): 39-40.
  • ’’Wayne Sentinel’’, 6 November 1829.
  • In fact, this movement successfully engineered the closing of a distillery in Kirtland, just a few weeks before Joseph Smith received the Word of Wisdom.
  • The authors are correct in stating that the temperance movement of the day was instrumental in raising awareness to the evils of alcohol. They are also correct in stating that several of these groups also held disparaging views of tobacco. However, what they do not tell us is that many of these groups also held some rather unorthodox beliefs. For example, other health reform campaigns of Joseph's day did recommend abstinence from tobacco, coffee and tea, but some of these same health reformers also recommended abstinence from pepper, mustard,[4] white bread, salt, ultimately all condiments, and even sex.[5] Many members of the medical community in that day also believed in varying degrees of "stimulation associated with such items … mustard, pepper, and other spices."[6]
  • Interestingly enough, none of these elements are found in the Word of Wisdom. In other words, the authors would have us believe that Joseph Smith fashioned the Word of Wisdom using the prevailing theories and ideas on nutrition and health of his day. They would also have us believe that as he was plagiarizing these ideas from these various resources, he somehow managed to avoid including even a single bit of the "quackery" that was prevalent in his day. The Word of Wisdom makes no references to bloodletting, leeches, sexual abstinence or any other practice that, by modern standards, would be considered medieval.
  • It must be recognized that the Word of Wisdom does not represent the first time that the Lord has seen fit to reveal commandments regarding His people's dietary practices. Anciently, the Lord revealed a dietary code to Moses that was incorporated into the Mosaic Law. Like the Word of Wisdom, the ancient dietary law was first spiritual and only secondarily a health law. This principle has been overlooked in far too many discourses on the Word of Wisdom.


  1. International Journal of Cancer, 88 (15 November 2000): 658–664.
  2. International Journal of Vitamin and Nutritional Research 46 (1976).
  3. An example of this is a study by Dr. Hershel Jick of Boston University Medical School. He found that drinking one to five cups of coffee per day raises the risk of heart attack by as much as 60 percent and drinking more than six cups per day raises the risk by 120 percent. However, other studies have failed to find a connection between heart attack and coffee intake. Other ongoing studies indicate a possible connection between coffee intake and bladder cancer. Coffee has also been tentatively linked to a rise in blood fats, increased adrenal activity, and blood cholesterol and heart action irregularity. Nevertheless, these studies are not conclusive and as such, cannot be authoritatively cited as evidence against coffee drinking. There are, however, other health concerns regarding the excessive or inappropriate use of caffeine. See: Thomas J. Boud, MD, "The Energy Drink Epidemic," Ensign (December 2008), 48–52.
  4. Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 14–15.
  5. Lester E. Bush, Jr., "The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 14 no. 3 (Autumn 1981), 52.
  6. Bush, 49; Nissenbaum, 86–104.
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