The heading of Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) 89 states that the revelation was received as a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings. The story goes, that Emma was tired of cleaning up the mess left by a room full of men chewing tobacco. She asked Joseph to seek the will of the Lord and D&C 89 was received. D&C 89 is often referred to as The Word of Wisdom, as the first verse begins: “A word of wisdom…”. However, in light of modern scientific evidence and even within the historical context, was it actually wisdom to follow this section in the D&C?
Verse 9 states: “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” Hot drinks are generally interpreted as Tea and Coffee. For a period of time hot drinks also included soups. Part of creating a hot drink is boiling water. In the 1830s germ theory had not yet been discovered nor had the full benefits of boiling water been realized. These wouldn’t be discovered by scientists until the 1850s-1860s. Therefore, unbeknownst to the prophet Joseph Smith, introducing a diet that eliminated the boiling process from liquid consumption likely introduced diseases like Typhus. This in addition to Malaria in Nauvoo was lethal.
The LDS Church today prescribes the avoidance of all alcoholic drinks as part of the word of wisdom. However, according to D&C 89:6,17, mild barley drinks and homemade wine are actually acceptable:
6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
17 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.
Mild barley drinks are actually a reference to beer. At the time beer was considered a healthful drink, and considering the purification capabilities of alcohol this was actually true. With unknown microbial risks in water, drinking alcohol and boiled water would literally have prevented disease. So–as a struggling believer–who should I follow, the will of the Lord as stated in canonized scripture or Pharisaical interpretation of that scripture.
In summary, the word of wisdom really wasn’t wise. While coffee and tea aren’t great for you when drunk in excess, they also provide a number of health benefits. At the time, the number one benefit would have been liquid sanitation and disease prevention. Considering the revelation was revealed by an all-knowing God, wouldn’t God have realized the risk of bacterial infection? Additionally, during this same time, Joseph began revealing the practice of polygamy on threat of an angel with a drawn sword. Why would God reveal a marriage practice that included Joseph marrying two 14 year old girls, but miss the importance of microbial infection? This prompts me to believe that God was not directly revealing any of this to Joseph, but instead Joseph, like other religious leaders at the time was tapping into the local culture and combining with his personal intuition and desires to create a new religion.