Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 89

/ Doctrina y Convenios 89 / Comentario

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-3

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


The first three verses introduce the rest of the revelation. There has been some dispute over whether they should be considered part of the revelation itself. When the revelation was first published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, these three verses were printed as part of the italicized section introduction, and not as part of the text of the revelation itself.1 It remained this way until 1876 when, in a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants produced under the direction of Brigham Young, these three verses were moved from the introduction into the revelation itself.2 In the earliest copies of Doctrine and Covenants 89, the first three verses are included as part of the revelation.3


As these verses indicate, when the Word of Wisdom was originally given, it was not interpreted as a binding commandment for the Church. Observance of the Word of Wisdom varied during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. But over time, the leaders of the Church gradually elevated the Word of Wisdom in importance to today’s expectation, which is completely abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs. President Joseph F. Smith explained why God implemented the Word of Wisdom in this measured, careful way. President Smith taught, “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment or restraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment[,] it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.”4


In the decades following the death of Joseph Smith, the Word of Wisdom became increasing important. For instance, at a September 1851 conference, Brigham Young motioned that “all the sisters who will leave off the use of tea, coffee, etc.[,] to manifest it by raising the right hand.” He then motioned that “all the boys who were under ninety years of age who would covenant to leave off the use of tobacco, whisky, and all things mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, to manifest it in the same manner.”4 According to conference minutes, the motions were carried unanimously In several sermons in the 1860’s Brigham spoke against the use of alcohol and tobacco, with his central focus on denouncing drunkenness. In 1870 he stated, “Tea Coffee whiskey & tobacco prepares the system for all diseases…Those who say they Cannot keep the word of wisdom it shows they Cannot…The word of wisdom if carried out would add to the lives of the rising generation 20 to 30 years…”5 Despite the fact that Brigham Young and other Church leaders regularly encouraged following the Word of Wisdom, only in cases of great excess, especially drunkenness, was any discipline. During this time there was a wide range of interpretations about the Word of Wisdom.6


By the early 20th century, abstinence was becoming more of the ideal. In the early 1900’s water was substituted for sacramental wine and in 1908, when the First Presidency announced that Church members who did not live the Word of Wisdom would not be called to leadership positions in local units and quorums. In 1913 the First Presidency gave instructions to the president of the Salt Lake Stake to not recommend any young people for missionary service unless they lived the Word of Wisdom.7 This trend continued under Heber J. Grant, who favored a strict interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. In 1921, under the direction of President Grant, observing the Word of Wisdom became a requirement for receiving a temple recommend. President Grant clearly taught the revelation was now to be considered a binding commandment, not merely as a guideline or a suggestion. On one occasion he wrote, “I have met any number of people who have said the Word of Wisdom is not a command from the Lord, that it is not given by the way of commandment. But the Word of Wisdom is the will of the Lord.”8 Since 1921, living the Word of Wisdom has become a standard expectation for active members of the Church.


1. Doctrine and Covenants, 1835, p. 207, JSP D3:15. JSP


2. Robert J. Woodford, “Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1974, 2:1171, 1175.


3. See Revelation, 27 February 1833 [D&C 89], Revelation Book 2, p. 49, JSP.


4. Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 14


5. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 23 June 1870, see also Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Vol. 3, p. 15.



6. Paul H. Peterson and Ronald W. Walker, “Brigham Young’s Word of Wisdom Legacy,” BYU Studies, 2003, 46–47.


7. Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, 2005, 3:143.


8. James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 5:301.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verse 4

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


The Savior is very clear in this revelation that the Word of Wisdom is a specifically crafted for the conditions found in the latter days. Throughout time, the Lord has often given His people health guidelines and changed these guidelines to meet the needs of the conditions they live in. In Moses’s time, the Lord restricted what kind of animals, clean or unclean, the Israelites should eat (see Leviticus 11). While the logic behind some of these dietary laws seems obvious, the reasons for other laws are sometimes less clear. We are expected to act in faith to follow the Lord’s commandments.


In verse 4, the Lord explains that He has given this law of health specifically in “consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” (emphasis added). Thus, this law is specifically tailored to help us counter the forces that might harm us in our time—and in the future. Some people deride the Word of Wisdom because in earlier dispensations the Israelites, Nephites, and other peoples consumed wine, for instance. While the Bible counsels against the abuse of alcohol (see Proverbs 23:20), there is no provision in biblical health codes against the use of wine. The Savior and His disciples used wine at the Last Supper, and drank it at the marriage feast. The Word of Wisdom was not a commandment intended for earlier dispensations. The sacredness of the body and its health is a timeless teaching. The Word of Wisdom should be considered a timely teaching for our time specifically.


Today members of the Church are not asked to abstain from the use of pork or products made from other animals that the Lord deemed unclean in the Old Testament. We are, however, asked to not use substances, such as wine, that the ancient Israelites could use in moderation.


There are forces at work in the latter days that make these substances particularly dangerous for Latter-day Saints to use. In the revelation, God also declares that He gave the Word of Wisdom to counter evil designs that will exist in the future. In Joseph Smith’s time, it was unthought of to consider as harmful some of the most pernicious substances the Word of Wisdom protects us against. We should consider the Word of Wisdom as the foundation of a living commandment that is constantly being adjusted by Church leaders to meet the needs of our time. It is likely that a century from now, the Lord will adapt the Word of Wisdom to meet the needs of that time, and so forth. We must look to the guidance of current Prophets and Apostles to know the conditions in which safety lies.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 5-7

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


In verse 5, the Lord prohibits the use of “wine or strong drink” except for uses in the sacrament. Throughout the nineteenth century, Latter-day Saints used wine in their sacrament services with only a few exceptions when wine was not available. This changed in the early twentieth century. Beginning on July 5, 1906, the First Presidency and the Twelve began using water instead of wine in the sacrament they administered to each other in their temple meetings. Local congregations followed this action shortly after, and the practice of using water for the sacrament soon became uniform throughout the Church (See D&C 27:1–2).


Joseph Smith strongly believed in the truths of the Word of Wisdom, though he practiced a more relaxed application of the revelation than we observe in our day. Entries in journals tell of him consuming tea and wine and beer, sometimes in a more medicinal way as a relief in times of stress, but he did not consider a single drink as a violation of the commandment. In Carthage Jail, for example, Joseph and his friends felt “unusually dull or languid” and requested that wine be brought to the jail to raise their spirits.9 Nevertheless, Joseph was strongly against drunkenness or the abuse of alcohol in any form. After hearing of a man freezing to death while under the influence of spirits, he lamented in his journal, “O my God[,] how long will this monster [of] intemperance find its victims on the earth.”10 On another occasion, he counseled, “There is no excuse for any man to drink and get drunk in the church of Christ.”11


In the Church today, those who live the Word of Wisdom are expected to completely abstain from alcohol.12 President Russell M. Nelson has commented, “The damaging effects of alcohol are so widely known, additional comment is hardly needed.”13


9. For a more specific accounting of Joseph Smith’s observance of the Word of Wisdom, see “Historical Introduction,” Revelation 27 February, 1833 [D&C 89], JSP.


10. JS Journal, 1835–1836, p. 168, JSP.


11. Discourse, 3 May 1844, p. 219, JSP.


12. See General Handbook, 38.7.14.


13. Russell M. Nelson, “Joy Cometh in the Morning,” October 1986 General Conference.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verse 9

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


At the time this revelation was given, and to a certain extent even today, some members of the Church were confused over the meaning of “hot drinks” in the revelation. An editorial published on June 1, 1842 in the Church newspaper Times and Seasons, which was under Joseph Smith’s editorial supervision, reads, “And again ‘hot drinks are not for the body, or belly;’ 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.”14 As with some other substances mentioned in the revelation, there was not a strict prohibition on coffee and tea when the Saints first received the revelation, and there is ample evidence that the Saints in Joseph Smith’s time continued to drink coffee and tea. Sometimes the use of coffee or teas was occasionally for medicinal purposes, such as providing comfort to an exhausted traveler. Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, in an account written in 1881, remembered making tea from river water during her early stay in Nauvoo because the local water sources were contaminated.15


Even in our time, the Word of Wisdom continues to be adjusted through revelation to the leaders of the Church. An official statement on the Word of Wisdom made by Church leaders in August 2019 warned that any “substances that are destructive, habit-forming, or addictive should be avoided.” The statement also explained that “Church leaders have clarified that several substances are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, including vaping or e-cigarettes, green tea, and coffee-based products. They also have cautioned that substances such as marijuana and opioids should be used only for medicinal purposes as prescribed by a competent physician.”16 These changes demonstrate that the Word of Wisdom is a living revelation. The Lord still guides the prophets of our day as they interpret it, and Latter-day Saints should expect further revelation and clarification on this subject in the future.


14. Times and Seasons, 1 June 1842, p. 800, JSP.


15. “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 27 February 1833 [D&C 89], fn. 26, JSP.


16. “Statement on the Word of Wisdom,” August 15, 2019, See also “Vaping, Coffee, Tea, and Marijuana,” August 2019,


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 10-13

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


Not every part of the Word of Wisdom prohibits dangerous substances. A large part of the revelation encourages the Saints to use the Lord’s bounty with good judgement and gratitude. Verses 10–17 of the revelation speak of substances that promote good health.


These verses are another illustration of how the Word of Wisdom is a living revelation. It is clear from other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants that the Lord allows the eating of meat and the use of animal products. In a revelation given two years earlier the Lord declared, “Whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance” (D&C 49:18–19).


The warning to eat meat “sparingly” might reference the fact that at the time the revelation was given, the typical adult in the United States consumed over a pound of meat every day.17 Over time, this warning has been seen as good counsel but has not been emphasized by Church leaders in the same way that strong drinks, tobacco, tea, and coffee have been. The last time the excessive consumption of meat was mentioned by a prominent Church leader came in a fiery sermon delivered over the radio by Apostle Joseph F. Merrill in 1945.18 Since that time, Church leaders have generally refrained from providing counsel on this subject, and it is not typically mentioned as a part of the Word of Wisdom in temple recommend interviews or when missionaries teach this principle.


17. “Historical Introduction,” Revelation, 27 February 1833 [D&C 89], fn. 34, JSP.


18. Joseph F. Merrill, The Truth Seeker and Mormonism, 1946, 247.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)

Verses 14-21

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)


The end of the revelation applies to not only the Word of Wisdom but also all of the commandments God has given us. While it is common for Latter-day Saints to highlight the physical blessings that come from abstaining from the substances prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, the Lord also promises spiritual blessings to those who hearken to this revelation. The provisions of the Word of Wisdom bring knowledge in addition to good health. We should also keep in mind that though we tend to think of the Word of Wisdom as a physical commandment, the Lord makes no distinction between physical commandments and spiritual commandments. In an earlier revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord declared, “My commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual” (D&C 29:35).


Over time, many of the provisions of the Word of Wisdom, such as abstaining from tobacco and alcohol, have been demonstrated to have clear and measurable health benefits. The practical blessings of the Word of Wisdom are evident but are not the only reason to obey this law. We must remember that the most compelling reason to obey the Word of Wisdom is simply to show our faith in the Savior and our commitment to following the guidance given to His representatives in our day.


(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)