Mormon Beliefs: Laws of Health
Mormons follow a law of health that does more than prevent illness. The Mormon code of health, called the “Word of Wisdom,” also protects agency, or freedom of choice, by proscribing the use of addictive substances. The Word of Wisdom was given by revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and first prophet of the Church. The revelation was given first as counsel from the Lord and then later was made a commandment under Brigham Young in 1851. Mormons must live according to the dictates of the law in order to enter a Mormon temple.
Brigham Young related some of the circumstances leading up to the reception of the revelation:
“The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles [to Kirtland, Ohio] to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, … 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 at having to clean [the] 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.)
The revelation known as the Word of Wisdom is contained in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants [full text]. Following is a list of the provisions of the law:
- “Strong drinks (meaning alcoholic or other harmful beverages) are not for the belly.” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:7)
- “Tobacco is not for the body…and is not good for man.” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:8)
- “Hot drinks [meaning black tea and coffee] are not for the body.” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:9)
The Word of Wisdom not only admonishes against the use of harmful substances, but it also describes those foods which are good for man:
- “All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
- “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof;
- “Flesh … of beasts and of the fowls of the air…are to be used sparingly;
- “All grain is ordained for the use of man…to be the staff of life…
- “All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine.” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:10–12, 14, 16)
The Word of Wisdom is a law and a principle with promise. When men and women obey the provisions of the law, they receive the blessings associated with those provisions. However, if they do not obey, there will be both temporal and spiritual consequences.
The introduction to Section 89 says the following:
“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” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:4).
These are the “last days,” and “conspiring men” seek to conceal the destructiveness of certain substances in order to make money. Addictive substances are especially profitable, because those who use them continue to use them and even increase their consumption. Free agency is compromised when addictions take over. Also, all men are responsible for their own behavior, and being in a drunken state does not remove the responsibility for one’s acts, nor the judgments of God for those acts. To fully exercise agency, one must be fully aware of his behavior at all times.
Living the Word of Wisdom has brought noticeable health benefits to Latter-day Saints. These benefits have been measured in numerous studies.