The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized on April 6, 1830, with Joseph Smith as president and prophet. less than three years later, Feb. 27, 1833, a revelation was given to the prophet Joseph called the “Word of Wisdom“, which is often termed the “Mormon Health Code”. At the time of this revelation, it came about as quite a challenge for the members as it went completely against the ‘society norm’ of what was considered acceptable and popular. However, One hundred and seventy-five years later, this health code is being praised by doctors and health-care researchers world-wide as “state-of-the-art” medical advice. It teaches what is harmful, & what is necessary for a healthy mind, body and spirit!
In 1833 Joseph Smith had organized a special weekly meeting for the leadership (“Brethren”) of the church called the “School of the Prophets” in Kirtland, Ohio. The following account describing the circumstances surrounding the revelation comes directly from President Brigham Young (second president and prophet of the church) which was published in the Deseret News in 1868:
“The first school of the prophets [a special school for the early leaders of the Church] was held in a small room situated over the prophet Joseph’s kitchen in a house belonging to Bishop Whitney, and which was attached to his store. [This was the room where] the prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen [feet]. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, 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 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, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry” (in Deseret News [Weekly], 26 Feb. 1868, 18, also found in Journal of Discourses vol. 12, pg. 158).
It is clear that Emma Smith (the prophet Joseph’s wife) dreaded those initial meetings. Imagine the task left to her of scrubbing out the spittoons – and the stains left all over the floor by those who missed, or didn’t try! Imagine the tobacco smoke from the pipes permeating her home. This behavior was not considered by society as rude, but rather a common and acceptable practice of the times. However, it was very distressing for Emma, and I find it especially interesting that the use of tobacco itself distressed the prophet. As he tenderly listened to his wife’s protests, and he pondered upon the matter, he did what he always did when any question arose; he inquired of the Lord concerning the problem.
The Lord answered Joseph’s prayer with a marvelous revelation ahead of its time regarding care of our bodies, known as the Word of Wisdom. There are three main sections in the revelation.
1. The Don’ts:
no “hot drinks” referring specifically to coffee and tea, no tobacco, no alcoholic beverages or “other harmful substances” – (defined by President David O. McKay as “products which artificially stimulate the body”). The Church also considers the misuse of drugs – illegal, legal, prescription or controlled as being a violation of the health code.
2. The Do’s:
Eat “Wholesome herbs“, grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry and meat (however, meat should be consumed “sparingly” and mainly in times of “winter, cold or famine”), exercise, get a proper amount of sleep (arise early, retire early)
3. The Promises:
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.”
You will read in the introduction of the revelation that it first came “not by commandment, but by invitation only” to the Latter-day Saints. However, in 1868 Brigham Young stated as prophet of the church:
“O my people! Keep the word of the Lord, observe the Word of Wisdom, sustain one another, sustain the household of faith. I know that some say the revelations upon these points are ‘not given by way of commandment’. Very well, but we are commanded to observe every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. These are the words of God.” (DBY, 182–83).
Thus, the saints began to live by those words and precepts as diligently as possible. It was many years later before the health code would become adopted as a binding commandment of church members.
“There is evidence that Church Presidents John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, and Heber J. Grant wanted to promote adherence to the Word of Wisdom as a precondition for entering LDS temples or holding office in any Church organization; and indeed, by 1930 abstinence from the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea had become an official requirement for those seeking temple recommends. While abstinence from these substances is now required for temple attendance and for holding priesthood offices or other Church callings, no other ecclesiastical sanctions are imposed on those who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom.” (Reference Source: BYU Studies Encyclopedia of Mormonism )
From 1833 up to our present day, all of our church prophets have taught the importance of living the Word of Wisdom – for physical and spiritual strength. Even before there was any medical science to back these claims, members have lived it faithfully and reaped the rewards. Today, this health code is being proven as inspired medical council.
Latter-day Saints understand that keeping the Word of Wisdom is not only a law of health which offers physical blessings, but also a law of God which offers spiritual blessings. When our minds are clear, and our bodies are strong, we are more receptive to messages from the Spirit of God which come quietly into our mind and heart – and we are better able to perform acts of service and literally follow in the Master’s footsteps. Our physical bodies are a great gift from God; a temple for our spirit (soul) to dwell. Thus, we need to treat our body with the greatest respect, and keep it healthy and clear of all toxins, impairment or addiction so that our spirit will also be healthy.
“The Word of Wisdom does not promise you perfect health, but it teaches how to keep the body you were born with in the best condition and your mind alert to delicate spiritual promptings.
“The promise of health for living the standard of the revelation is not limited to members of the Church. Tell your friends about the Word of Wisdom and urge them to live it!” (emphasis added)
We invite all to live this smart code of health. All who choose to follow the Word of Wisdom, whether Mormon or not, are eligible for the blessings promised!
The following video is taken from a special media report created by KSL TV in 1997, after findings a 14-year UCLA study were published:
A Mormon Doctor Discusses this health code: Addiction or Freedom
Smokeless (Chewing) Tobacco: Hooked!
Coffee / Tea / Cola?: Research and Perspectives: Caffeine – The Subtle Addiction
Help for Families: When a Loved One Struggles With Addiction
Practical Tips for Social Situations: Observing the Word of Wisdom – Politely