D&C 89:10-17

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Doctrine & Covenants > Section 89

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Lexical notes

Verse 10

  • Wholesome - This word appears only two other times in scripture, in Prov 15:4 and 1 Tim 6:3, neither of which associates "wholesome" with physical health. Importantly, though, the first definition in the 1828 Webster's dictionary for this word reads: "Tending to promote health; favoring health; salubrious; as wholesome air or diet; a wholesome climate." "Wholesome herbs," it would seem, are herbs (see below) that tend to promote health.
  • Herbs - Although the word "herb" is often used today to refer to plants used specifically for the purposes of seasoning food or of tending to the ill, its foremost meaning in the early nineteenth century was broader and included vegetables. The first definition in the 1828 Webster's dictionary reads: "A plant or vegetable with a soft or succulent stalk or stem, which dies to the root every year, and is thus distinguished from a tree and a shrub, which have ligneous or hard woody stems." A similar definition appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, going back into early English. Moreover, given the parallel use of "herb" and "fruit" in verse 11, it would seem that "herb" should be read here as meaning, simply, "vegetable." Similar usage can be found in the King James rendering of the Bible (see Gen 1:11-12, 29-30, where "herb" and "fruit" are similarly parallel; or Ex 9:25; 10:15, where "herbs" are distinguished from "trees"; and Rom 14:2, where eating "herbs" clearly means eating vegetables, as opposed to meat). It might be further noted that the word "herb" appears in two other places in the Doctrine and Covenants. The first is in D&C 42:43, where it refers specifically to medicinal herbs (the sick should be "nourished with all tenderness, with herbs and mild food"). The second is in D&C 59:17, where it appears in a passage that is clearly connected with verses 10-17 here in D&C 90 (see the discussion below).
  • Constitution - The relevant definition of "constitution" here is the following from Webster's 1828 dictionary: "The state of being; that form of being or peculiar structure and connection of parts which makes or characterizes a system or body. Hence the particular frame or temperament of the human body is called its constitution." Incidentally, this is the only time in scripture the word "constitution" appears with this meaning.
  • Nature - This word is notoriously difficult to interpret in any setting, and its presence here is perhaps especially peculiar.
  • Use - Although the meaning of "use" seems straightforward enough, it is important to note that there are some special uses of this word in scripture. Paul, for instance, distinguishes between "using" and "using up" (see 1 Cor 7:31), employing the legal terms in Roman society to distinguish between usufruct and real right—between, that is, between use without ownership (the granted right to enjoy the fruits of something one does not own) and use due to ownership (the real right to do with the fruits of something owned whatever one desires). According to Paul, the Messiah inaugurates an era in which the faithful relate to all things only in terms of use, never in terms of ownership. In the language of the Doctrine and Covenants, Paul essentially says that those faithful to the Messiah are stewards of the earth, rather than owners of land (see especially D&C 42). That this distinction is relevant to the word "use" here in D&C 89 is suggested by its deployment in the clearly-related text of D&C 59: "all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart . . . ; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion" (D&C 59:18-20). To say that herbs are "ordained for the . . . use of man" is, at least implicitly, to say that they are "to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion." Latter-day Saints, it seems, have a steward's, rather than an owner's, relationship with wholesome herbs.


The Logic of Verses 10-17

Verses 10-17 form an isolable sub-section of this revelation, one focused on what human beings should use (rather than on what they should not use, emphasized in verses 7-9). Is there an identifiable logic at work in these verses? If there is, it seems it hinges on the repeated use of the formula "x is ordained for the use of y." Looked at through this lens, the passage is organized as follows:

  (a) vegetables are ordained for the use of human beings (vv. 10-11)
  (b) meat is ordained for the use of human beings (vv. 12-13, briefly reiterated in v. 15)
  (c) grain is ordained for the use of human beings and animals (v. 14, carefully analyzed in vv. 16-17)

Each of these three "ordinations" is associated with a set of qualifications:

  (a) ordination of vegetables: (i) not just for "use" but also for "constitution" and "nature"; (ii) to be used with "prudence" and "thanksgiving"
  (b) ordination of meat: (i) to be used with "thanksgiving" and "sparingly" (rather than "with prudence"); (ii) best if used only in winter and famine
  (c) ordination of grain: (i) for the use of beasts as well; (ii) to be "the staff of life"; (iii) further qualified according to varieties

It should be noted that all of these qualifications are qualifications of use. Each of the things "ordained" is specified according to its ordained "use."

Occupying a somewhat peculiar position in this logic is "fruit," the one food source mentioned in this passage without being attached to any one specific ordination. It appears first in verse 11, coupled with vegetables (appearing almost as if it were a sub-category of "herbs"). It appears subsequently in verse 16, coupled with grain (clearly distinguished from grain, however). It isn't entirely clear what role fruit is playing in this text.

The Relation between D&C 89:10-17 and D&C 59:15-21

The possible relationship between D&C 89:10-17 and D&C 59:15-21 has been noted above. What evidence is there that there really is such a relationship? Actually, there are a startling number of connections. Here, for instance, are similar phrasings found in each of the passages:

  "all wholesome herbs" (89:10); "every herb" (89:11)
  "the herb" (59:17)
  "ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man" (89:11); "ordained for the use of man" (89:12); "ordained for the use of man and of beasts" (89:14); "these hath God made for the use of man" (89:15)
  "unto this end were they made to be used" (59:20)
  "in the season thereof" (89:11)
  "in the season thereof" (59:18)
  "with prudence and thanksgiving" (89:11); "with thanksgiving" (89:12); "nevertheless they are to be used sparingly" (89:12); "they should not be sued, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine" (89:13); "only in times of famine and excess of hunger" (89:15)
  "with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance" (59:15); "with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion" (59:20)
  "of beasts and of the fowls of the air" (89:12); "the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth" (89:14)
  "the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth" (59:16)
  "it is pleasing unto me" (89:13)
  "it pleaseth God" (59:20)
  "good for the food of man" (89:16)
  "for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul" (59:19)
  "that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground" (89:16)
  "the good things which come of the earth" (59:17); "all things which come of the earth" (59:18)

These connections indicate clearly that there is some kind of relationship between the two passages. The question, though, is exactly what kind of relationship holds between the two.

Before asking that question, though, it may be important to note also the possible relation between these verses in D&C 89 and an article published in the June 1833 edition of the Church's Jackson County-based newspaper, The Evening and the Morning Star. Here is an excerpt from that article, published at about the time the saints in Zion would have first become aware of the revelation we know as D&C 89:

  In the beginning, after man was created, the Lord spake unto him, saying, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which shall be the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for meat; and to every beast of the earth; and to every fowl of the air; and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein I grant life, there shall be given every clean herb for meat: and it was so. And he looked upon all things which he had made, and they were good.
  But, before the flood, God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt: for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth, and he destroyed all flesh except what was preserved in the Ark with Noah and his family.
  Soon after the flood, flesh began to corrupt his way again upon the earth, men again became wicked, and departed from the law of the Lord, by defiling themselves in his sight, and lest they might be scattered abroad upon the whole earth, began to build a city and a tower, to make them a great name. And the Lord divided the earth, came down and confounded the language of men, and scattered them upon the face of all the earth.
  Let us leave men scattered upon the face of the whole earth for many generations, and see what the Lord says shall come to pass in the last days . . . . When these days come, every thing will be in its place. The beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air, instead of feeding upon flesh, will feed upon the herb and the grain, as was given them in the beginning. Then man will not shed the blood of his fellow man, nor beast the blood of its fellow beast, nor fowl the blood of its fellow fowl; but the Spirit of the Lord will be poured out upon all flesh, the curse be taken from off the earth, when it will become an inheritance for the poor and the meek, when their will be peace thereon and good will towards man.

This article, brief as it is, bears an obvious relation to both D&C 59 and to D&C 89. What's to be learned from all these connections?

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