Word of Wisdom

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The phrase Word of Wisdom is used at least two different ways in religion.


In Mormonism the "Word of Wisdom" is the prophecy made by Joseph Smith, Jr. that alcohol, tobacco, and "hot drinks" such as coffee are not to be consumed. The Word of Wisdom is found in Doctrine and Covenants 89:4-9:

4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: 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—
5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

It does seem to allow the use of "strong drinks" for the washing of the body, and tobacco as an herb for bruises and sick cattle. It also appears to allow the use of homemade wine as a sacrament in church services, although the Mormon church uses water in their services for communion. It draws a distinction between wine and strong drink, so presumably the latter refers to distilled liquor, and beer is not off-limits at all. Instead Mormons interpret "strong drink" to mean any alcoholic beverage. (This might be because to teetotalers, with no built-up tolerance for alcohol, anything alcoholic would be perceived as strong.)

The Word of Wisdom was originally not a set-in-stone commandment but rather a general health guideline; even Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were known to enjoy wine now and then, Brigham Young discussed his whiskey distillery in Journal of Discourses Vol. 10, and tobacco chewing was apparently common enough during church services in Salt Lake City that Brigham Young had to issue an instruction on how to properly chew tobacco in church, and later, complain about "GREAT QUIDS OF TOBACCO, AND PLACES ONE OR TWO FEET SQUARE SMEARED WITH TOBACCO JUICE" (all caps his, not ours) on the tabernacle floor. The prohibition on "hot drinks" was originally understood to mean coffee and tea containing caffeine. Some Mormons got around this by drinking tea made from ma huang, which contains the natural stimulant ephedrine and became known as "Mormon tea". It has since been expanded to include cola and anything else containing caffeine, and for some, any hot drinks at all. The Word of Wisdom has since evolved from a health guideline to a commandment.

In order to obtain (and retain) their Temple Recommend, good members of the church must obey the above commmandment (amongst others). Less virtuous members simply lie through their teeth and remember to hide the evidence.

Additional verses in Doctrine & Covenants 89 list allowable foods, such as grains, fruit, and meat. Interestingly the reference to meat in verses 12 and 13 says that meat is to be used "sparingly" and "only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine". Mormons seem to pay far less attention to this than they do to the sections about strong and hot drinks.


The "word of wisdom" is listed as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in I Corinthians 12:8-10 which Pentecostals believe are in operation in the church today:

8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues

Usage by Pentecostal evangelists seems to be in the "hearing voices from God" category. Pat Robertson has often devoted a segment of The 700 Club to announcing that God has given him a "word of wisdom" concerning various ailments among members of his viewing audience that God was about to heal. "Word of knowledge" is also used in this way, and the distinction between the two is unclear.