Overview of the Word of Wisdom Revelation
Throughout these overviews, I’ve tried to highlight that Joseph Smith’s productions have been influenced entirely by ideas that surrounded him. In the Book of Mormon overviews I outlined how the King James Bible was the foundational text for the text supplemented by surrounding influences such as the Moundbuilder Myth, Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream, and even the anti-Masonic feelings that arose in the mid 1820s.
In this overview I wanted to cover the Word of Wisdom because it illustrates another area where Joseph Smith was pulling from surrounding ideas to create revelation, and it also highlights again how the church retrofits and redefines revelations to fit whatever they need a revelation to mean at a given moment, such as redefining "new and everlasting covenant" from the original meaning of plural marriage to the current meaning of celestial marriage as I outlined in the final polygamy overview.
This overview will incorporate a recent video by the church in their “Now You Know” series because it gives a very clear description of how the church frames the Word of Wisdom today (the video was released on July 15, 2019), and that will help to show how the church has completely redefined the Word of Wisdom since the original revelation, why advances in health and nutrition have shown the Word of Wisdom to be both disjointed and incorrect today, and how the early church never viewed or treated it as a commandment in the first place.
Compared to previous overviews, this is going to be a fairly short one which will be a nice change of pace, but I think this is a great topic to outline because it shows just how inconsistent the revelations created by Joseph Smith are and, more importantly, shows that we can point to surrounding influences that Joseph Smith used in these revelations and that they contain nothing prophetic beyond what was already known. In other words, this is another area where we can show that revelations are being written by Joseph Smith, because there is simply nothing new beyond what was already believed at the time, much of which has since been proven wrong.
How the Church Frames the Word of Wisdom Today
In July 2019, the church released a short "Now You Know" video on the Word of Wisdom, which is a topic that they had not covered in the longer Gospel Topics essays released over the last 5-6 years. If you have not seen it, the church published it on YouTube and you can view it here.
It's a short video and I won't spend a ton of time here rehashing it, but just as I did with the seer stone video, I want to point out some of the ways that it feels like the church is still dodging and skirting difficult issues while inoculating members about topics that don't add up. This is particularly problematic for the younger members who are well aware of the health benefits of coffee and tea, and I believe these are who the "Now You Know" videos are really designed for.
This video uses fluffy language and imagery to avoid giving any real details of how the Word of Wisdom was used by the church for about 70 years after the revelation was recorded. In addition, the video uses a very simple art style which allows them to demonize those outside of the church (I’ll get to that later) while painting early church leaders in the best possible way.
Below I am going to have the text of the video with some comments about why the church is still being misleading about the Word of Wisdom even in 2019 when the information is so readily available. We have not previously covered the Word of Wisdom, so at the end we will provide some more resources for anyone interested in learning more. I like using the text of the video because it covers the most current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom along with how apologetics defend its use. From the video:
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lived by a health code called the Word of Wisdom. What is the word of wisdom? And why do millions of Latter-day Saints around the world follow it? Let's take a closer look. The prophet Joseph Smith received the word of wisdom by revelation in 1833. He wrote the revelation down and canonized it in a collection of revelations called the Doctrine and Covenants, which Latter-day Saints view as scripture. The revelation is recognized by most as the reason why Latter-day saints abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and drug use. But to understand why the word of wisdom came about, we first need to know some historical context.
I will get into some details as to why this glosses over some issues with the Word of Wisdom's actual text later, but the opening paragraph is pretty straightforward. The only thing I would add is that again they use imagery of Joseph Smith writing down revelation in the video, and that is just not historically accurate. For the earliest revelations Joseph Smith still used the same seer/peep stone in a hat that he used for both buried treasure and the Book of Mormon and a scribe would write down the words, and in later revelations Joseph Smith stopped using the seer/peep stone and would just dictate the wording to a scribe. It might seem like a small thing as the Word of Wisdom was possibly after Joseph Smith used the seer stone for revelations, but again it is the issue where the church always tries to make Joseph Smith look as polished and refined as possible.
Furthermore, while the Word of Wisdom today is why members are not allowed to drink alcohol, the text of the Word of Wisdom itself does allow for beer. Again, the messiness of the revelation will be in full display in this overview, but it’s important to note right off the bat that the church is viewing the Word of Wisdom as it has been redefined today and not how the claimed revelation from God was actually recorded.
Back to the video:
The word of wisdom appeared at a time of intense public debate in the United States about alcohol abuse. As early as the 1810s, rapidly growing industrialization and alcohol use had begun breaking down previously held social norms. By the 1830s, many adults in the United States had been raised in families where alcoholic beverages were consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many people became concerned about the social and health consequences of increased alcohol consumption. The temperance movement grew as reformers called for abstinence from hard liquor, and many involved with the movement went further taking a pledge against all alcoholic beverages, including beer. Some even recommended coffee as a substitute for alcohol, given that clean water was not always available. At the same time, some reformers spoke out against tobacco use.
I want to give the church credit for this paragraph because it explicitly mentions that there was a growing public movement against alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. When I was taking the missionary discussions a little over 20 years ago, the Word of Wisdom was hailed as a revelation that Joseph Smith could not have possibly known about on his own. But as we have come to learn, almost every idea that Joseph Smith would later adopt was from a surrounding influence around him whether it was the Melchizedek/Aaronic priesthoods (Campbellite movement brought over these terms, and Sidney Rigdon brought them to Joseph), multiple tiers of heaven (Emanuel Swedenborg), the First Vision (Solomon Chamberlain), temple endowment ceremony (Masonic ceremony), etc.
So I give the church credit for stating up front that these ideas of abstaining from certain substances was not unknown or unique at the time of Joseph Smith's revelation. As a convert I thought it was remarkable that Joseph Smith knew of the problems that could come from abusing alcohol and tobacco, so it was quite a surprise to learn that not only did other groups already discuss this, but that the Word of Wisdom itself was treated much differently in Joseph Smith's lifetime.
To be clear on just how readily available these ideas were, here is a great summary of just how well discussed and followed these concepts were both to Joseph Smith and the Kirtland area in the years and even day leading up to the revelation that is now known as the Word of Wisdom:
"The Temperance Movement was very much a thing by the late 1820s. Simplicity of Health, published in 1829, elaborates on every item in Word of Wisdom. Means of Preserving Health was published in 1806 and contains every bit of the Word of Wisdom: avoidance of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco and sparing use of meat, as well as eating fruits in season. The Journal of Health, published in Philadelphia, August 25, 1830 also contains every aspect of the Word of Wisdom.
The Kirtland chapter of Temperance Society formed in 1830, shortly before Mormons arrived from New York. Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham, conducted a speaking tour for almost fifteen years extolling the virtues of abstaining from alcohol, smoking, tea, coffee, and eating a diet mainly of grains, local fruits and vegetables; meat was expressly forbidden. He was popular and well known in the late 1820s – 1840, and also invented the Graham Cracker.
Feb 26, 1833 was National Day of Temperance, which prompted much discussion in Nauvoo. It was common practice at School of Elders to chew, spit and smoke tobacco. The ladies, as tradition would have it, were tasked with cleaning up the boys’ mess. Emma was prompted to lament, “It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.” The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter dig at the sisters. Far from a groundbreaking revelation from God about health, Joseph Smith, Emma and the School of Elders were simply discussing the events of their day. Imagine their surprise when the following day, Feb 27, 1833, Smith brought forth revelation from God that conveniently ended the debate, using the very language of the temperance movement." (Mormon Stories Essay, the Word of Wisdom)
Again, I realize it is a common apologetic response to say that God only gives us the answers that we ask, which is why Joseph Smith got a revelation the day after the National Day of Temperance which just happened to repeat all of the ideas of the temperance movement, but this is a common aspect of Joseph Smith's life where he takes surrounding ideas and puts them in the voice of God. At some point we have to ask why Joseph Smith is only able to get answers from God that anyone else could get, with nothing that is actually unkown to the world such as boiling water to kill bacteria and stop very dangerous health outbreaks.
Back to the video:
It was in this social climate in the early 1830s, Joseph Smith started a series of formal classes called the School of the Prophets. This school was an assembly of church leaders who met to discuss and instruct one another in theological and secular learning, such as religion, economics, philosophy and civic matters. But the attendees frequently smoked, chewed, and spat tobacco, all in the same space where Joseph taught the school and recorded revelations. In addition, Emma Smith, (one of) Joseph's wife (wives), was left to clean up the mess, and she was disturbed by the men's actions. She spoke to Joseph about it. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom.
This paragraph is also fairly straightforward, but I have to comment on how the video compares the "School of the Prophets" against the non-Mormons in this time. As you'll see in the pictures below, the non-Mormons are portrayed as bumbling drunks smoking at the bar, while the church leaders are portrayed as scholarly figures smoking pipes while in a very formal discussion.
The truth is that early church members almost all drank -- including Joseph Smith. In fact, Joseph Smith drank wine on the day he died, which was a full decade after the Word of Wisdom was recorded. As John Taylor recalled:
“Sometime after dinner we sent for some wine. It has been reported by some that this was taken as a sacrament. It was no such thing; our spirits were generally dull and heavy, and it was sent for to revive us. I think it was Captain Jones who went after it, but they would not suffer him to return. I believe we all drank of the wine, and gave some to one or two of the prison guards.” (History of the Church, 7:101)
Even three years after this revelation, Joseph Smith did not seem at all hesitant to drink alcohol. From the History of the Church:
"We then partook of some refreshments, and our hearts were made glad with the fruit of the vine. This is according to the pattern set by our Savior Himself, and we feel disposed to patronize all the institutions of heaven." (Joseph Smith – History of the Church, January 14, 1836, vol.2, p.369)
There are also stories in Saints of early members getting drunk to the point where they were having visions, speaking in tongues, etc. That's not to say all church members were habitual drunks by any stretch, but neither were those not in the church which the different imagery implies even if unintentionally.
The most important issue to me with the Word of Wisdom is how the revelation came to be. As the church notes in the video, Emma Smith was frustrated with cleaning up after these meetings which led to Joseph Smith inquiring of the Lord as to what to do. This approach is similar to most of Joseph Smith's revelations, which is to say that Joseph Smith would have a problem, he would ask God for wisdom, and he would pretty much always get it, almost always in a way that benefited his situation or authority.
What's particularly interesting about this reveltaion is a later reminisence from David Whitmer as to the origin of the revelation:
“Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs. Smith … to make the ironical remark that ‘It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding it's suppression.' The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter ‘dig' at the sisters.” (Des Moines Daily News, 16 Oct 1886:20)
It does need to be noted that this is a late account long after the revelation took place, but it definitely fits the pattern of how Joseph Smith received revelation in a way that took care of the problems of the moment. In our polygamy overviews we cover how Joseph Smith was able to recite a 3,200 word revelation off the top of his head to provide Hyrum Smith with a revelation to present to Emma, and the Word of Wisdom is again a revelation that was born out of a request from Emma to address a problem that she was dealing with.
Of course that alone wouldn't be proof that the revelation is not from God, but when you add all of the issues together it becomes clear that not only is the revelation by Joseph Smith, but that the contents simply would not have been written in any time period except Joseph Smith's lifetime. That's again a problem we've illustrated with the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and other revelations from Joseph Smith.
And back to the video:
The revelation helped the saints navigate many of the issues debated by reformers and also addressed Emma's specific concerns. For example, the Lord warn against consumption of strong drinks, which Latter-day Saints understand to mean alcohol. Also, the Lord cautioned that hot drinks, understood as coffee and tea, were not for the belly. In other words, not to be consumed. Neither was tobacco, which was better used as an herb for sick cattle. Also at the time, some groups like the Shakers, advised against eating meat, while other groups advocated no restrictions at all. However, in the Word of Wisdom, the Lord revealed that he ordained meat both beast and foul for the use of man on condition that it be eaten sparingly.
The Word of Wisdom, given in its early American context, did not specifically mention many substances that have since become common. As the world's industries began mass production of such substances, church leaders encouraged Latter-day Saints to use common sense and stay away from harmful habit forming substances. For example, recreational drugs should be avoided, while the authorized and correct use of prescription drugs is okay. In the word of wisdom, the Lord also warns against conspiring men with evil designs foreshadowing a surge of substance abuse, addiction and death.
This is where I have some real issues with the video and how the church interprets the Word of Wisdom today, and it's because it glosses over some really big problems with the Word of Wisdom as it was originally interpreted.
First, the idea that D&C 89 is understood to mean coffee and tea for hot drinks is nonsensical. This is what D&C 89 states: "And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly." Early church members took this to not only mean coffee and tea, but also to mean hot soups, which we know today can be quite healthy along with coffee and tea. It also would have meant hot chocolate, which today is enjoyed by many members and is no way a disqualification for a temple recommend, even though it is a hot drink that would contain some caffeine.
The Word of Wisdom is just not a logical revelation. For example, we are told that hot drinks are in reference to coffee and tea, but you still can not drink iced coffee or tea and keep a temple recommend. Some apologists state that it is about caffeine, except that not only can you drink caffeinated soft drinks now, but BYU made a big pubic relations move in selling Coke products on campus in the last year. It just makes no sense.
There is no revelation that clarifies that "hot drinks" means just coffee, but even if that were true, why is iced coffee not OK? It just does not add up, and the fact that all of this references the ideas of Joseph's time strips the Word of Wisdom of any sense of revelation. And there is no better proof of that than God (through Joseph Smith) neglecting to tell the early members to boil their water.
You can read about this in Saints (Chapter 19), but a cholera outbreak sickened over sixty people and took the lives of over a dozen early members of the church. This outbreak happened the year after the Word of Wisdom was recorded -- what better way to show that Joseph Smith was receiving real truth from God than to learn such a basic necessity as boiling their water before consuming it?
I can not stress this enough: Every concept in the Word of Wisdom was known to Joseph Smith through outside movements such as the temperance movement, yet the most important revelations that were unknown to people at the time, such as boiling water, were left unsaid. For me that is a red flag that can not be overlooked, because just as in the Book of Mormon, the revelations and prophecies end exactly when the material was written.
Second, while it is convenient to say that the revelation foreshadowed substance abuse, one has to remember that in Joseph Smith's time they believed the world was ending in a matter of years. The reference to the "consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days" has to be taken in the context that they believed they were already in the last days, and that the specific substances that were detailed immediately after this statement were what Joseph Smith was referring to.
Third, and this is along the lines of defining what "hot drinks" are: The Word of Wisdom says that beer is OK. From D&C 89: "Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain."
The description of mild drinks using barley points directly to beer, which the church members continued to drink for long after the Word of Wisdom was recorded. That's not to say that the church should all start drinking beer today, but to point out the absurdity in trying to unravel a revelation made using both the mindset and influences of the 1830s.
“At one, p.m., I rode out with Dr. Richards and O.P. Rockwell. Called on Davis at the Boat. Paid Manhard $90. Met George J. Adams, and paid him $50. Then went to John P. Greene’s, and paid him and another brother $200. Drank a glass of beer at Moessers. Called at William Clayton’s, while Dr. Richards and O.P. Rockwell called at the Doctor’s new house. Returned home at 4 ½ p.m.” Joseph Smith’s Journal, 1 June 1844)
Ironically enough, just as I covered in the polygamy overview, this journal entry was scrubbed for the History of the Church. Note how this entry was changed:
“At one, P.M., I rode out with Dr. Richards and Orrin P. Rockwell. Called on Davis at the boat. Paid Manhard $90. Met George J. Adams, and paid him $50. Then went to John P. Greene’s, and paid him and another brother $200. Called at William Clayton’s, while Dr. Richards and Orrin P. Rockwell called at the doctor’s new house. Returned home at 4:30 P.M.” (History of the Church, Volume 6, Page 424)
The reality is that Joseph Smith claimed to receive the Word of Wisdom and yet continued to drink until his death, even to the point of writing down in his journal that he stopped for a glass of beer. Not only is it completely dishonest for the church to alter the entry for the History of the Church, but Joseph Smith was following the Word of Wisdom in that beer is entirely OK under the text of the revelation.
While we have come to learn that tobacco is incredibly unhealthy from long term smokers, we have seen many studies showing the healthy effects of mild coffee and tea consumption. And on the flip-side, we are beginning to learn that coffee is way healthier that soda drinks such a caffeinated Coke products that are now proudly served at BYU.
What I'm trying to say is that the Word of Wisdom is both inconsistent and contradictory, and when you actually look at the revelation compared to how the church interprets it today, there is just no way to reconcile it in a way that makes any logical sense.
And if that's not enough, the church didn't even require the Word of Wisdom to be obeyed as a temple requirement until 1902. In fact, the Word of Wisdom itself specifically states that it is not a commandment: "To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint." It was not until 1851 that Brigham Young considered it a commandment, but it was not enforced and Brigham Young himself both owned and profited from the Salt Lake City distillary.
This is why church members continued to drink and smoke for 70 years after the revelation was recorded. For a slew of quotes about members (and leaders) who drank alcohol, coffee, tea and smoked and chewed tobacco for almost 100 years after the Word of Wisdom, just check out Mormon Think's collection of quotes.
So what we're left with is a revelation that is not a commandment, is very contradictory in terms of how the church views it today, and wasn't even adhered to by Joseph Smith or early church leaders until the 1920s when it became a temple recommend question. Which brings us to the last part of the video:
But Latter-day Saints see the word of wisdom as more than just a health code. Adherence to the word of wisdom not only teaches members how to control appetites and guard their health, it is also part of what makes him eligible for temple worship and promises spiritually benefits.
Most importantly, following the word of wisdom helps engender greater receptivity to personal revelation through the spirit of the Lord. As Boyd K. Packer, an apostle of the Lord in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once said, "A fundamental purpose of the word of wisdom has to do with revelation. If someone under the influence can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the word of wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically."
So let's review: What is the word of wisdom and why is it important to Latter-day Saints? The word of wisdom is a revelation. In it, the Lord promises that those who follow his guidelines will have better health. But he also promises greater happiness, wisdom and spiritual blessings, too. Most of all the word of wisdom shows us that God loves us. He wants us to be healthy and spiritually receptive to his words. Now, you know.
This last section really hits the main point of the Word of Wisdom: it is now used as a law of obedience. At the end of the day, we have health studies that show coffee and tea have health benefits and we have no consistency when it comes to banning coffee as a hot drink but also banning it as a cold drink, that the Word of Wisdom allows for beer, or that it isn't a commandment in the first place. But since 1919, the Word of Wisdom has been a condition of a temple recommend, so even if it doesn't make logical sense, it is a law that must be obeyed or your exaltation will be lost.
Some apologists argue that the reason it was not considered a temple recommend question until 1919 was because church members needed time to get away from the addiction of these substances, but again we have almost 90 years between when it was recorded and when it became a requirement for a temple recommend - anyone using these substances when the revelation was recorded would have been long gone. Another argument is that Brigham Young declared it to be a commandment in 1851, but again that opens the door to all of the other things that Brigham Young declared as prophet including the ban on blacks, Adam-God, blood atonement, and other teachings that the church wants no part of today.
One other element to this being a law of obedience is that the Word of Wisdom became a requirement for temple recommends shortly after the church released the second manifesto ending polygamy for time (it's still doctrine for the eternities). That caused a lot of uproar within the church since polygamy had been a foundational practice of the church and the "new and everlasting covenant." There is a case to be made that a reason for the Word of Wisdom becoming a rule and not a suggestion was to give the church members something new to rally around and identify themselves with. Again, this is something we can only speculate on, but it would be a possible explanation as to why the church clamped down around 1919 as they did.
The most likely reason that the church decided to clamp down on the Word of Wisdom in 1919 is because prohibition was ratified in January 1919, just months before an October 8, 1919 letter from the First Presidency making it a temple worthiness requirement. Since it became illegal to purchase alcohol in 1920, it makes sense that the church would use that opportunity to make sure members were obeying the laws of the land considering that tensions were high with the government over polygamy just years earlier. Again, it is interesting that another major change in church doctrine/policy occurred due to outside forces - just as polygamy was ended and just as we've seen in the present day with temple changes, the LGBT policies, and the ban on blacks being lifted in 1978.
With regard to Packer's quote from the video, I do agree that if you're drunk you will have a difficult time making good decisions, but as I mentioned earlier many of the early church events where many members were having spiritual visions or speaking in tongues just happened to come after taking the sacrament as prepared by Joseph Smith. I'm not saying that the alcohol or any other added substances caused those visions, but I am absolutely saying that having alcohol (combined with fasting) certainly would heighten their spiritual beliefs of those events.
The problem is that the Word of Wisdom is not in any way being used in the way it was written, and that really comes down to the very clear fact that the Word of Wisdom is, speaking in terms of its accuracy with regards to health and nutrition, a complete mess. Look at the specifics of the Word of Wisdom with regards to what members should and should not partake of:
Wine and other strong drink should not be used except in the case of the sacrament as well as the washing of the body
Tobacco should not be used by men, but as an "herb for bruises and all sick cattle"
Hot drinks (coffee, tea, soup, etc) are not for the body or belly
All herbs and fruits are ordained to used by God, and should be used with prudence
Meat is to be eaten sparingly... only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine
All grain is to be used by both man and beasts
Barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks (beer), as also other grain
When you look at this list, it really in no way matches what the church teaches today. By the wording of D&C 132, the church should allow any iced coffee or tea drinks, beer, and wine for the sacrament. Furthermore, this again is being written without any foresight or prophetic knowledge, leaving out any mention of boiling water, avoiding sugary foods, or that everything should be partaken of in moderation.
There is no mention of caffeine, recreational drugs, or any other modern problem. In fact, the Word of Wisdom stating that all herbs and grains are ordained by God certainly gives more legitimacy to marijuana use as it is an herb. Again, I'm not saying that marijuana is good for you or should be used (I have never tried it myself), but just pointing out that the Word of Wisdom is a revelation that can dated to exactly Joseph Smith's time because every concern and recommendation dates to the 1830s.
Last I want to show you the image the church used when discussing "conspiring men with evil designs" to show just how cartoony and Disneyesque these videos are, and how strongly this video works to create an “us vs them” mentality when it comes to following the Word of Wisdom or, like 99%+ of the world, ignoring it:
The Word of Wisdom is far from a massive problem when it comes to church history for me, but it gives another glimpse into how Joseph Smith used the sources and movements around him to build theology, and I think that's important in the overall picture of the truth claims of the church.
Joseph Smith was aware of the temperance movement which called for the abstinence of liquor, he had investigated (and possibly joined) the Methodist church which discouraged hot drinks, and then had Emma upset enough to ask for a revelation over tobacco. It is no surprise that these are the main points addressed in the Word of Wisdom, and again it fits a pattern of Joseph incorporating ideas and concepts he learns around him into the church's theology. I've already highlighted Joseph Smith's use of surrounding influences with the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, and the priesthood restoration.
Not only is the Word of Wisdom useful in evaluating Joseph Smith's abilities as a prophet, but it also is helpful when looking at the church beyond Joseph Smith. These overviews for the most part cover just Joseph Smith's founding of the church, but the Word of Wisdom evolved after Joseph Smith, but not in a way that has been proven correct by science and nutrition.
Instead the Word of Wisdom today is not even treated as a health code, but as a law of obedience. Members are not allowed to drink coffee or tea, which have long noted health benefits, but can purchase as much Coke as they want at BYU which is full of both caffeine and sugar. Members are not allowed to drink "hot drinks," but are allowed to drink all the hot chocolate they desire. This allows for another layer of control over the members, but also has led to a lotof virtue signaling and shaming among members who see others drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol.
I want to highlight a video clip from a General Conference talk by Relief Society president Julie B. Beck, because it illustrates how nonsensical the Word of Wisdom is.
The idea that drinking one cup of coffee can keep not just you from exaltation, but your entire family, is the kind of over the top fear that the church uses to keep members from not stepping off the boat. From her talk (in case you don't watch the video clip above):
"Though she knew it was contrary to the Word of Wisdom, she developed the habit of drinking coffee and kept a coffee pot on the back of her stove. She claimed that “the Lord will not keep me out of heaven for a little cup of coffee.” But, because of that little cup of coffee, she could not qualify for a temple recommend, and neither could those of her children who drank coffee with her. Though she lived to a good old age and did eventually qualify to reenter and serve in the temple, only one of her 10 children had a worthy temple marriage, and a great number of her posterity, which is now in its fifth generation, live outside of the blessings of the restored gospel she believed in and her forefathers sacrificed so much for." (Remembering, Repenting, and Changing, April 2007 General Conference)
To me this is such a dangerous teaching, and it stems from a revelation that was never even meant to be a commandment in the first place, is absolutely inconsistent in its rules, and has been disproven as a health code which is why the church has rebranded it as a law of obedience.
These inconsistencies might seem like somewhat small details, but they are really indicative of how disconnected the church's truth claims are from the realities of our advancements in pretty much every field of study. In this case we can show that the Word of Wisdom is a product of beliefs regarding health specfically from the time it was written, the 1830s, and is completely disjointed and inaccurate as a health code in 2021. When the church claims to be led by living prophets, redefining the Word of Wisdom in a way that makes just as little sense as the original revelation is quite telling, but not in the way the church wants us to think it is.
As I said above, this is far from the biggest problem with church history. I do believe is holds tremendous value, however, when looking at how Joseph Smith created revelation, what we can learn from those revelations in the context of his milieu, and how all of these problems with the scriptures and revelations have the same common threads that stem from Joseph Smith being the author of them.
In the next section I want to take this a step further and look at some of the changes that Joseph Smith made to his revelations from God and what those changes teach us about how Joseph Smith both created this material, was willing to change it as his theology changed, and that he was willing to make changes to establish and bolster his authority among the members of the church.