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This heading should explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the section. This may include issues that prompted the section, its subsequent implementation, and the extent of circulation through its first inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Received: February 27, 1833
- Previous section in chronological order: D&C 88
- Next section in chronological order: D&C 90
- Brigham Young's statement about the origins of the Word of Wisdom is the most famous and oft-quoted: "When [the elders] assembled together in this room [the School of the Prophets] after breakfast, the first 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." (See Journal of Discourses, 12:158.) Not entirely dissimilar is Zebedee Coltrin's brief recollection: "When the Word of Wisdom was first presented by the Prophet Joseph (as he came out of the translating room) and was read to the School, there were twenty out of the twenty-one who used tobacco and they all immediately threw their tobacco and pipes into the fire." (See the October 3, 1883, minutes of the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets.) David Whitmer, who was skeptical about the Word of Wisdom (among the infractions that cost him fellowship in 1838 were Word of Wisdom infractions), gave a somewhat similar, but obviously less felicitous, account: "A little party of the brethren and sisters . . . assembled in the Smith’s house. Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed [tobacco], 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 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 form tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter dig at the sisters. Sure enough the subject was afterward taken up in dead earnest, and the 'Word of Wisdom' was the result." (See the Des Moines Daily News, October 16, 1886.)
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This revelation straightforwardly divides itself into five differentiable parts:
- Verses 1-3 - An introduction to the revelation.
- Verses 4-6 - Instructions regarding wine in (and out of) the sacrament.
- Verses 7-9 - A list of prohibitions for the Latter-day Saints.
- Verses 10-17 - Counsel concerning the consumption of plans and animals.
- Verses 18-21 - A postscript outlining promises (perhaps particularly associated with verses 10-17).
There is some evidence that what is now D&C 89 began, actually, as three distinct revelations that either were quickly assembled into a single document (the textual evidence for this is sketchy, and the documentary evidence is sketchier) or were given all together in the first place and originally (though with three distinct concerns and three distinct audiences). Key to this interpretation is the triple indication of audience in verse 1: "for the benefit of  the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland,  and the church,  and also the saints in Zion." There are good historical reasons to suspect that (1) what is now verses 4-6 was originally addressed to concerns raised by the Kirtland leaders about the continuing relevance of D&C 27:1-4, that (2) what is now verses 7-9 was originally addressed to the whole church in response to questions raised generally about the growing temperance movement and a variety of strange health practices then in vogue, and that (3) what is now verses 10-21 was originally addressed specifically to the saints in Zion, who had received very similar counsel regarding the good things of the earth in D&C 59:15-20.
Whether this is exactly right (see the details in the articled linked to below), it is probably best nonetheless to divide the revelation up into these several parts.
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- The oldest surviving copy of D&C 89 is hard to determine. There are three contenders: the handwritten copy Wilford Woodruff produced and inserted into his own copy of the Book of Commandments, the copy included in the manuscript Book of Commandments and Revelations see here, and the copy to be found in book B of the Book of Laws and Commandments.
- D&C 89 was first published in December 1833 or January 1834, in the form of a broadside.
- D&C 89 was first included in the Doctrine & Covenants in the 1835 edition.
- The text of D&C 89 in significant editions of the Doctrine & Covenants can be found at:
- Changes to the text of D&C 89:
Related passages that interpret or shed light on D&C 89.
Doctrinal references cited on this page.
Historical references cited on this page.
- For a sermon on the Word of Wisdom by Hyrum Smith in 1842 see Times and Seasons Volume 3 Number 15.
- See Clyde Ford's essay on the historical origins of D&C 89 (pp. 129-154) for a most helpful contextualization of the several parts of the revelation.
- See Thomas Alexander's essay on the transition to the normativity of the Word of Wisdom.
- See Lester Bush's historical contextualization of D&C 89.
- See Robert McCue's essay on the status of the Word of Wisdom in the early Utah period.
- See Paul Peterson's master's thesis on the history of the Word of Wisdom.
- See Paul Peterson and Ron Walker's essay on Brigham Young and the Word of Wisdom.
- See Paul Hoskisson's 2009 article, "Different and Unique: The Word of Wisdom in the Historical, Cultural, and Social Settings of the 1830s," in Mormon Historical Studies (10.2, pp. 41–61).
- See Paul Hoskisson's 2012 article, "The Word of Wisdom in Its First Decade," in The Journal of Mormon History (38.1, pp. 131-200).
- See Steven Harper's book on the Word of Wisdom.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.