Setting for the Revelation
Brigham Young tells what prompted Joseph to inquire of the Lord before he received Doctrine and Covenants 89. He describes the room where the school of the prophets was held attached to the Whitney store in Kirtland. Here "they assembled together… after breakfast [and] the first thing 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 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 [Emma] 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" ( Journal of Discourses, 12:158).
A Principle With A Promise
Doctrine and Covenants 89 contains helpful instructions for the latter-day use of our bodies. This fascinating section may be helpfully analyzed according to the Lord's own description. He called it a "principle with a promise" (v. 3). Principles are guiding truths, or in other words, doctrinally based guidelines. Elder Packer has stated "a principle is an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to guide you in making decisions" ( Ensign, May 1996, 17). Thus, the principle(s) of the Word of Wisdom establish a course of action that will enable us to receive the Lord's promises. The principles are discussed in verses 4-17 and the promises are found in verses 18-21.
The first principle is a warning about the "designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men" (D&C 89:4). We must remember that our adversary has no body and is bent on wrecking our opportunities with one. Sadly "he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself" (2 Nephi 2:27 ). From this we learn a significant reason for the Lord's specific instructions concerning our bodies. In fact, we need look no further than recent revelations from the United States tobacco industry-whose deceitful and deliberate efforts to enslave millions to their products has been unfolded in the court system, to see the benefits of the foreknowledge of God. One apostle wrote over half a century ago about the "abundant evidence of the evils and designs of wicked men. It is seen in the advertising of tobacco, tea, coffee, liquors and beers and wines" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:384). The power of these advertisements is so great that many companies will pay in the multiples of millions of dollars for only thirty to sixty seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl!
Following the warning, the Lord gives both negative and positive prescriptions. Those things prohibited by God are detailed in verses 5-9:
5-7-"Wine or strong drinks" refer to alcoholic drinks of all kinds. The Lord said that partaking of them "is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father." The exception granted is the sacrament, which has its own restriction to that drink that is made among the Saints. This reminds us of the earlier warning to Joseph Smith about the dangers of wine even in the sacrament setting (see D&C 27:1-4; and heading) and out of which grew the current practice of using water instead of wine in the Church. As for those who would seek to justify themselves in partaking in "moderation," Elder David O. McKay inspiringly declared: "It is sufficient for me to know that God said, 'Wine, strong drink, is not good for man'; and I wish that all Israel would accept that divine statement, and prove in their lives to the whole world that they accept this as a revelation from God" ( Conference Report, April 1911, 62).
8-"Tobacco is not for the body" in any form for man, but is useful in healing cattle. Elder George Albert Smith has stated, "In my judgment, the use of tobacco, a little thing as it seems to some men, has been the means of destroying their spiritual life, has been the means of driving from them the companionship of the Spirit of our Father, has alienated them from the society of good men and women, and has brought upon them the disregard and reproach of the children that have been born to them, and yet the devil will say to a man, Oh, it's only a little thing!" ( Conference Report, 1918, p. 40).
9-"Hot drinks" were defined by Hyrum Smith in 1842 and Brigham Young in 1867 respectively. "There are many who wonder what this can mean, whether it refers to tea or coffee, or not. I say it does refer to tea and coffee" ( Times and Seasons, 1842, 3:801). "Many try to excuse themselves because tea and coffee are not mentioned, arguing that it refers to hot drinks only. What did we drink hot when that Word of Wisdom was given? Tea and coffee" ( Journal of Discourses, 12:117).
5-9-Elder Boyd K. Packer has thoughtfully and humorously spoken about the temptation to consider these prohibitions in only legalistic terms. "Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It's well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it. It has not been spelled out in more detail. Rather, we teach the principle together with the promised blessings. There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation." For that matter, "everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance-certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, ' is a slothful and not a wise servant' (D&C 58:26)" ( Ensign, May 1996, 17). Another witness to this is Joseph Fielding Smith. He has clarified that, "If we sincerely follow what is written with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, we need no further counsel…. Thus by keeping the commandments we are promised inspiration and the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord through which we will know what is good and what is bad for the body, without the Lord presenting us with a detailed list separating the good things from the bad that we may be protected" ( Improvement Era, Feb. 1956, 78-79).
If we are not careful, the negatives, or "don'ts" can get more press than the positives. In fact, the Lord has also discussed those good things he has placed on the earth for our righteous and blessed use. These "do's" for our bodies are discussed in verses 11-17.
11-"In the season thereof" has been the cause of some confusion by those seeking to understand the Lord's directions pertaining to fruits and vegetables. Joseph Fielding Smith has explained "any grain or fruit is out of season no matter what part of the year it may be, if it is unfit for use. The apple under the tree bruised and decaying is out of season while the good fruit is waiting to be plucked from the tree" ( Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:385). Elder John A.
Widtsoe further explains that with the use of "proper methods" many fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed long after their natural season and thereby not prohibited by the Word of Wisdom (see Evidences and Reconciliations, 3:157).
12-13-The "flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air" are revealed to be "ordained for the use of man." The Lord had already stated this in a revelation to the Shaker community. "And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God" (D&C 49:18; also 19-21). Elder Widtsoe offers the following: "The Word of Wisdom is not a system of vegetarianism.