Sunday School Lesson 22

Lesson 22: Doctrine and Covenants 89

Notice that this is the first revelation given after the School of the Prophets was organized. Is there a connection between that organization and this revelation?

As you study section 89, ask yourself what aspects of the Word of Wisdom you personally have difficulty with. Why?

Verse 1: The phrase “word of wisdom” appears in three other places in the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 12:8, Moroni 10:9, and D&C 46:17, in sections that are clearly parallel. What might the use of that phrase here have to do with its use in those places? How is this a “word of wisdom”? Why is this given “for the benefit of the council of high priests, [. . .] and that church, and also the saints”? Why list all three rather than just the church, since it includes the other two?

Verse 2: As this verse makes clear, the Word of Wisdom was not originally binding as a commandment. How did it become one? When? What does it mean to say that the Word of Wisdom is given, not only by revelation, but by the word of wisdom? Is it important that this is for the temporal salvation of the saints? (Cf. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 18:243.)

Verse 3: What is “a principle with promise”? Are there principles that do not have promises associated with them? If not, why describe this one in particular in that way? What is the implication of saying that the Word of Wisdom has been adapted? What does it mean to say that it is for the weakest of those who can be called saints?

Verse 4: What do you make of the fact that this revelation was given “in consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of men”? What evils and designs might the Lord have had in mind? How is that related to these commandments about food and drink?

Verse 5: It is not good to drink wine, the Lord says. But current medical science says that, in moderation, wine is good for our health. If the Word of Wisdom is a health law, how do we explain that difference?

Verse 9: How do we know that “hot drinks” refers to tea and coffee? (Cf. Hyrum Smith, Times and Seasons 3:799.)

Verses 10-11: What did the word “herb” mean at the time of Joseph Smith? Look here for an answer. Does that meaning change your understanding of the verse? In 1833, when this revelation was given, it was important to use fruits and vegetables in season because they were considerably less nutritious at other times, due to the difficulty of storing them well. Is it still important for us to use them in season? If so, why? What does it mean to use fruits and herbs with prudence?

Verses 12-13: To whom should we be thankful for the meat we eat? Though we sometimes twist verse 13 in a variety of ways, the plain meaning seems clear: do not eat meat except in the winter or in famine. Why does the Lord make an exception for winter time? How do you deal with this part of the revelation?

Verses 14-17: What does it mean to say that grain is the staff of life? What is the significance of the image of the staff? What mild drinks are made from barley? From other grains?

Verses 18-20: What do these promises mean to us? What does it mean to receive health in our navels and marrow in our bones? Compare Proverbs 3:7-8. Are that verse and this about the same thing? What does it mean to find wisdom? Does “not faint” have anything to do with the same phrase in D&C 88:126? Compare Isaiah 40:31, which uses the same phrase, “run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” Does the passage from Isaiah shed any understanding on this promise? On the revelation as a whole?

Verse 21: Implicitly this verse compares keeping the Word of Wisdom to the children of Israel placing blood on the lintels of their doors. (See Exodus 12:21-23.) What is the point of that comparison?

25 comments for “Sunday School Lesson 22

  1. Jim F:

    I’m curious if you have any ideas on mild drinks that are made from barley and other grains?

    And how do YOU deal with the words on meat?

  2. Wasn’t beer considered a mild drink as opposed to hard drinks like the liquors? At least I think that’s the way it was interpreted for some time.

  3. Richard T: I don’t know what other drinks the verse might have intended, at least parly because I know little about the culture of the time. I drink Pero and similar drinks because I loved coffee before my conversion. But I doubt that is what was meant.

    How do I deal with what section 89 says about meant? Good question, but I don’t think I’ll answer. I have no desire to open the possibility of a flame war between the carnivores, omnivores, and vegetarians, and I don’t think I have much to say that is interesting.

  4. There is a fairly comprehensive set of historical references for D&C 89 available here. The collection deals with origin, interpretation, and adoption.

    There is nothing to suggest beer was considered a “mild drink” and was permitted.

    Meat consumption is not prohibited by D&C 89, it is discouraged unless starving. Given the difficulty history of adoption for those things explicitly prohibited, it isnt very likely the Church would ever taken a stand on things only encouraged/discouraged. Its up to the members.

  5. Jim F:

    I think you should write the questions for our church manuals. Yours are much better than, say, “how good do you feel when you follow the counsel to abstain from alcohol, coffee, tobacco, and tea?”

  6. Jim F:

    Thanks for the reply. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Your questions are very provocative, and I thought maybe you had some ideas you were hoping to discuss by raising them. Did your class have anything interesting to say about barley-based drinks or how to deal with the meat question?

  7. Richard T: No problem. My class just did lesson 19 (“The Plan of Salvation”) yesterday, so it will be a couple more weeks before we get to section 89. I try to stay far enough ahead with the questions that if something comes up I can take a week off.

  8. Kurt,
    I don’t know a lot about the practice of the Saints concerning the Word of Wisdom in the earlier days of the church, but I did do a search and found an article in sunstone that addressed the issue. I’ll copy/paste part of it here:

    Early Church members seem to have associated references found in the Word of Wisdom to “strong drink” with distilled spirits – whiskey, rum, brandy, and gin and “mild drink” with fermented drinks. Thus counsel regarding the use of barley for “mild drinks ” appears to have been an endorsement of beer and ale, both of which are mild drinks made of barley. Certainly the example of some early Church leaders gives credence to such a view (see HC, 2:26, 369, 378; 6:616). The use of tobacco was apparently also tolerated and continued well into the 1870s and 1880s (see “Joseph Smith as an Administrator,” master’s thesis, BYU, 1969, p. 161; Brigham Young, unpub. sermon, 7 October 1862, Church Archives; Gene Sessions, Mormon Democrat, pp. 57-61).

    I didn’t look up the references, but if your interested there they are.

  9. Hey Craig,

    References cited in the quotation:

    HC 2:26 Allegation by Rigdon against Harris that he said that Smith had drank too much liquor while translating the BofM, which Harris denied ever saying.

    HC 2:369 Attendees, including Smith, at a wedding had some wine, explicitly citing it as being after the pattern established by Jesus (presumably an obscure ref to John 2).

    HC 2:378 Attendees, including the FP, at a wedding had some wine, again explicitly citing above noted pattern.

    HC 6:616 Shortly before being massacred, Joseph, and presumably some others, had some wine.

    Not exactly persuasive evidence in support of the thesis. Wine isnt derived from barley so the logical leap the Sunstone article is making is precarious.

    One question for any readers: Does anyone know when it was the Church explicitly required strict observance of the WofW in order to be baptised? If someone could provide a reference it would be much appreciated.

  10. Kurt, as far as I can tell (and I’m not an expert on this, but have done some looking), no one knows the answer to your question. The abstinence parts of the WofW came to be required for temple recommends and, presumably, baptism during the 20s (at the same time as the Prohibition movement), but there doesn’t seem to have been any particular point at which that was made explicit publicly.

  11. Kind of a bummer. I think I would really enjoy a nice glass of wine now and again.

  12. Kaimi, thanks for posting that list. I was too lazy to go find them, but they are a good resource for anyone interested in these topics.

  13. Thanks for the links, but they ultimately proved depressing. At first I was hoping we might move as a church in the general direction of allowing wine, beer, cigars, coffee, and tea. But, alas, I think I’m going to have to abstain until the millenium (when, of course, we all know Jesus will clear things up and let us drink and smoke again).

  14. I’m thinking wine in moderation MIGHT be good for most people, but it’s the moderation part that might get you. You could start out intending to drink in moderation, but a lot of people can’t keep it that way.

  15. I’m glad that the leadership of the church has interpreted the Word of Wisdom the way it has. I’ve seen first hand what these substances can do to people, their lives, and families. I think it’s better never to start.

  16. If one wants to know how people of JS’s day interpreted the WofW it is useful to compare the WofW with the suggested health practices outlined in the book “The Philosophy of Living or the Way to Enjoy Life and its Comforts” by Caleb Ticknor, published in 1836. D&C 89 pretty much was an affirmation of Ticknor’s recommendations, which must have been common knowledge years before Ticknor’s book. For example, on meats vs. vegitablesl, according to Ticknor, food was created by God so that mankind in all climates and all seasons would have the appropriate food. Animal food is proper and necessary in the polar regions. A vegitable diet is proper and necessary in the torrid zone. In our own climate, animal food is more appropriate in the winter, and vegetables are more appropriate in the summer. Even the type of animals and vegetables appropriately follow the seasons. In the depths of winter, the flesh of old or fully grown animals are most available, most stimulating, and most appropriate. As warm weather approaches, the more bland tender flesh of young animmals becomes available. And then there should be a transition to mostly vegetables as summer arives
    There are other interesting discussions concerning alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco..

  17. With respect to the health benefits of red wine, they can all be obtained simply by drinking purple grape juice.

    With respect to the use/misuse of the prohibited items, please note the reason the Lord gives the prohibition: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men. The consumption of these prohibited substances is actively and aggresively marketed by conspiring men for their personal profit. They are killing you for money, and they are happy and eager to do it. The Lord wants to protect us from it, just as we want to protect our children from people like that.

    Somewhere there has to be something by the FP stating strict observation of the WofW prohibitions is required for baptism. Now, just to find it.

  18. Kurt, I don’t know whether there is a First Presidency statement to that effect, but I’m quite sure it is one of the questions in the baptismal interview, as it is in the Temple Recommend interview.

  19. There are three articles appearing in Dialogue, volume 14, number 3, Autumn 1981 dealing with the WofW. One of them is historical medical, one deals with whether it was a commandment in 1851 or not, and one deals with the history of its adoption. Unfortunately, none of them indicate when it’s observation was made a requirement for baptism. Scans of the magazine are available here

  20. An excellent source that discusses the history of the Word of Wisdom from 1833 until 1930 is the chapter dealing with the Word of Wisdom in Tom Alexander’s MORMONISM IN TRANSITION: A HISTORY OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS, 1890-1830.

  21. Scanning around the Internet, there seems to be a lot of studies contending that alcoholic beverages other than red wine are also good for you. I suspect a lot of this material is promoted by the beer and spirits industries (as well as the wine industry) — more “evils and designs” in the mode of the tobacco companies? However, let us assume that there is some health benefit to alcohol itself (as opposed to just the flavonoids in red grapes which make Welch’s as healthy as a red pinot). I am wondering if we can learn something about why the WoW is of spiritual value from our Jewish friends. For an observant Jew, keeping kosher is about exercising obedience to G-d even though the practical health benefits of the ancient dietary laws have largely been superceded by modern technology. Considering our observance of the WoW to be a spiritual disipline (Mormon kosher) as well as practical heath advice makes sense to me in light of the end of the Section 89, especially the last verse.

  22. If there are gains to be had from drinking, the losses outweight them enormously. It is too easy to go from a glass before bed to a bottle instead. I hear people bring up the wine thing as if it is a clever refutation of D&C 89 rather than a bit of controversial trivia which has no bearing on the debate, true or false. (You might as well say that Dr. Atkins has one-upped the Prophet!) It makes sense, when it comes to alcohol, to draw a very, very strict line, and jog and eat your veggies instead.

  23. Wine is good for the heart but…..
    One or two years ago the national news had a doctor on with his new study. A glass of wine a day was actually BAD for your brain. Good for your hearth, though, right doctor? Yes, good for the heart but bad for your brain. So, basically you have to choose your organ? Yes. And this doctor knows which organ he’d pick.
    Anyway, I thought it was funny from an LDS viewpoint. His new evidence didn’t eliminate the old evidence that it is good for your heart, but it just added new information that just because its good for your heart doesn’t mean it is necessarily good for you.
    I have not yet found anyone but me who saw that on the news.

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