Doctrine and Covenants Lesson Special | BYU Studies

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson Special

November 24, 2017
Doctrine and Covenants Lesson Special
The Word of Wisdom
Author Alison Palmer

The document that eventually became known as the "Word of Wisdom" and appears in Doctrine and Covenants 89 was created in February 1833. Most discussions about the Word of Wisdom among the Saints, both today and when it was first introduced, center around the prohibition of alcohol, coffee and tea, and tobacco. In many ways, this makes sense—for instance, the document's creation coincides with temperance movements throughout the United States, including in Ohio, where the Latter-day Saints were located at the time.

Relatively little emphasis has been placed on the revelation's caution that meat is "to be used sparingly." One early Church leader, however, was the exception. In 1842, Hyrum Smith, the Prophet's brother and member of the First Presidency, spoke on the Word of Wisdom, encouraging Church members to following the Word of Wisdom's counsel on meat and to be "sparing of the life of animals" ("The Word of Wisdom," Times and Seasons 3 [June 1, 1842]: 801). There is little evidence, however, that this instruction was repeated in the following few years.

Adherence to the Word of Wisdom fluctuated during the early decades of the Church, and strict compliance was rarely enforced. It wasn't until Brigham Young's tenure as president of the Church that the Word of Wisdom transitioned form guidance to commandment, as explicated in Paul H. Peterson and Ronald W. Walker's article "Brigham Young's Word of Wisdom Legacy." In addition to setting a standard of complete abstinence for the substances prohibited in the Word of Wisdom, Brigham addressed the often-overlooked issue of meat. In 1851, he instructed the Saints at general conference saying, "We are forbidden to eat meat in hot weather." He was particularly opposed to the consumption of pork, and in the late 1860s, he encouraged Church members to abstain from eating pork and to replace it with foods such as eggs and fish.  At the April 1868 general conference, he strongly asserted that "it was the will of the Lord that his people should cease eating swine's flesh." This instruction likely related to Brigham's concern that the Saints practice temperance and moderation in eating; he often encouraged his listeners to not overload their stomachs with heavy foods.

Although the counsel to eat meat sparingly is no longer strongly emphasized by Church leaders today, it was occasionally addressed by nineteenth-century Church leaders, particularly Brigham Young. The Saints during his time as president and prophet never strictly followed his counsel regarding the Word of Wisdom; however, his teachings greatly influenced current Latter-day Saint adherence to the revelation.