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I think I’ll just have water

October 6, 2009

One time I tried to get Boyd K. Packer’s grandson to eat my coffee-laced brownies.  He didn’t know about the forbidden substance inside.  Later I felt horribly guilty about my deception and would never do the same thing again.

When you live in Mormon Country you become very self-aware of your own caffeine use and that of others around you.  I found myself a little startled when I was drinking pop late at work one night to stay awake and my coworker good-humoredly asked me if “good Mormon girls drink diet Pepsi.”  I notified him that I wasn’t Mormon, but then pondered how much what we drink says about us.

This last summer I ordered Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith by LDS apologist Michael Ash.  In his book, Ash presents evidences for the scientific legitimacy of the Word of Wisdom saying,

The Word of Wisdom contains a plan for healthy living by proscribing certain vices, such as tobacco, alcohol, and “hot drinks” (which have been defined by the Church as coffee and tea), while advising the consumption of other foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains (p. 164).

Certainly no sane person would argue that tobacco is not harmful.  Similarly, alcoholism also causes a myriad of diseases.

Doctrine and Covenants section 89 discusses this issue in detail—prescribing the drinks and food appropriate for Latter-day Saints.

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.

While not addressing tobacco, coffee or tea specifically, the Bible does discuss alcohol (at least in the form of wine).  The Bible, however, emphasizes different reasons for moderation than does the Word of Wisdom.  Although wine is occasionally related to health (Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake,” for example) the New Testament mostly focuses on it being a personal conscience issue. Clearly, Timothy was abstaining from drinking wine for some type of conscience reason–despite the fact that “a little wine” would have helped his infirmities–for Paul knew that he drank only water.  Likewise, Paul encourages the Roman believers to show temperance for a conscience reason: preventing a brother from stumbling.

It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak (Rom. 14:21).

If my conscience permits me to drink wine, but my Christian brother or sister’s does not, I could actually cause them to stumble.  I have known former alcoholics who later became Christians.  Even after becoming a Christian these believers struggled with the issue of alcohol—for some it remains a temptation for the rest of their life.  I would never want to offend one of my dear brothers or sisters who have to maintain strict sobriety by drinking alcohol in their presence.  It is for this reason that I don’t drink.

The Scripture makes it quite clear that drunkenness should be avoided by leaders of the church.  The deacons (1 Tim. 3:8) and bishops (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:2-3) are both commanded to be “not given to wine.”  Other New Testament passages indicate that the call for sobriety went beyond the leadership of the church to all believers (Titus 2:3; Eph 5:18).

The Bible doesn’t indicate that there is anything intrinsically sinful about wine.  After all, Jesus Himself drank wine!  In contrast, the Word of Wisdom advocates abstinence from these substances not for conscience reasons, but for health reasons.  Clearly excessive caffeine use, excessive alcohol intake and tobacco use are harmful to health.  Since the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit” we should take care of our health—exercise, diet, and avoiding harmful substances are part of doing this.  But does the “health reason” for abstaining from coffee and tea really hold water?

Health versus conscience

For Michael Ash the subject is quite concrete—to the point that medical science has proved his disuse of coffee and tea.  I had no problem accepting Ash’s indictment of tobacco and, to some degree, of alcohol.  Yet, he lost me on the coffee and tea condemnation when he relied on research published in the 1980s (his book was printed in 2008).

In one recent study coffee—not caffeine—was linked to lung cancer.  Dr. Leonard Schuman , an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota said that “this is the first time that coffee has been implicated by itself” (p. 167).

Coffee causing lung cancer?  Where did Ash find this little nugget?  In a recent peer-reviewed journal?  No.  It was found in the June 23, 1985 edition of the Colorado Spring Gazette Telegraph. Unfortunately for the indiscriminate reader, one would only discover this by referring to the small print end-notes at the close of the chapter.  Perhaps Ash has a different definition of “recent” than I do, but surely he knows the maxim that “if you don’t like what one study says, wait a week.”  Medical research is a booming field—I cannot imagine how many studies Ash had to dig through to get back to one that confirms his opinion.

Just in case you think that this is his only old “research,” you should know that he cites several other studies that pre-date my birth.  “Xanthines:  Coffee, Cola, Cocoa, and Tea,” BYU Studies, (Summer 1980).  “What Can We Learn About Health From the Mormons?” Family Circle (January 1976).  “Health Statistics Favor Mormons,” Ensign (July 1975).  If Ash would have presented a case based upon conscience, he would not have needed to use science.  Yet, in his attempt to show that science proves the Word of Wisdom, he simply shows how far back a person has to dig in order to find supportive research.

It appears to me that the LDS have claimed that coffee and tea are to be not used for “health reasons.”  And yet, in abandoning these drinks members have substituted hot chocolate or sodas that are arguably just as unhealthy as coffee or tea.

Just like Michael Ash, I am also able to come up with research proving that hot chocolate is a dangerous substance indeed.  With 113 calories/1 oz packet, hot chocolate contains 18.6 grams of sugar!  (Tea and coffee, on the other hand, have zero calories).  Consumption of sugary drinks can lead to obesity.  Multiple studies have shown an increased rate of breast cancer among the obese. 1 2 3 The general rational for this is that adipose tissue secretes estrogen.  Another study showed an, “Increased risk was observed for high intake of a food group composed of sweet items, particularly sodas and desserts.”  Prenatal doses of aspartame (an artificial sweetener) caused an increase of malignant tumors in rats.  Regular soda consumption increases the risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes.  Regular and diet soda both contain phosphoric acid which may cause bone loss—leading to osteoporosis.  The list could go on and on.

It appears to me that haggling over the nutritional value of coffee and tea versus hot chocolate or soda pop is not the real issue.  Science has not been able to prove that moderate amounts of tea or coffee are harmful to health.  It leads me to ask, if there is no valid health reason for abstaining from coffee and tea, what about the conscience reason?  Is there something more intrinsically moral about diet Pepsi or Coke?  What makes hot chocolate a more moral choice for a hot drink than coffee or tea?

Law versus grace

The Old Testament dietary laws were profoundly strict.  So much so that Peter struggled with the concept of adapting to the grace of the New Covenant.  Jesus had fulfilled the law and the restrictions applied no longer.  One evening Peter was praying on a housetop and had a vision of animals being lowered before him.  He was very hungry and he heard a voice call out, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (Acts 10:13).  Peter’s response arose from his deep Jewish dietary tradition,

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.

And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common (Acts 10:14-15).

In a similar vein of argument, the Apostle Paul urged the Colossian believers to

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days (2:16).

Jesus taught, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matt. 15:11).  How easy it is for anyone of us to self-righteously claim total abstinence from certain foods or drinks and yet allow the most filthy, vile conversation, gossip and lies to proceed out of our mouths.  Surely this is the hypocrisy that Christ said would “defile a man.”

Be sober

While the Bible offers no injunctions on specific foods or drinks that we should avoid, it does indicate the spirit which we should have.  Over and over in the New Testament is the command to “be sober” (1 Tim. 3:2, 11; Titus 2:2-4, 6).  This shouldn’t be understood as the opposite of “being drunk” for it is not simply used in the context of alcohol.

Are we to assume that by being “sober” God is telling us not to drink wine, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or caffeine?   Based upon the previous passages which show that we are living in an age of grace, I think not.  There is nothing intrinsically evil about any of these beverages.  It is the manner in which we consume them that we must judge ourselves.  We have been commanded to “stand guard” over our mind.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

It is so easy to quickly judge others for their liberty or temperance.  But it is to God alone that we will ultimately answer for our conscience (Rom. 14:10-12).

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17).

Are you able to honestly agree with this verse or have you allowed yourself to be trapped under the law and missing out on the grace that is so free in Christ?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. faithoffathers permalink
    October 8, 2009 3:03 am

    The revelation on the Word of Wisdom begins: “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.”

    I believe it is safe to say that of all periods in the history of the world, there has never been a more sophisticated, well-orchestrated campaign to entice God’s children to ingest addictive substances than is seen in our day. Consider the marketing campaigns for alcohol or the now exposed corrupt practices of the tobacco industry. How about the drug cartels south of the border or the gangs who sell such destructive drugs here in America? All of these campaigns are well designed, enticing, and employ methods and media never dreamed of in the past.

    As a physician, I cannot overstate the degree and amount of destruction I have witnessed in personal, professional, and family lives as a result of such substances. Of course there have always been examples of people in every age who have destroyed themselves through alcohol. But our day is without question unparalleled in this regard.

    If God had a prophet in the last days, it makes sense to me that He just might warn people about a coming flood of propaganda and trickery intended to destroy their bodies and souls. You can nit-pick over some smaller elements of the Word of Wisdom that may not make complete sense at this point in time. But can anybody really argue against the timing and value of the warning in the Word of Wisdom?

  2. Stephanie permalink
    October 8, 2009 3:50 am


    It is nice to hear from you again. 🙂

    But can anybody really argue against the timing and value of the warning in the Word of Wisdom?

    I believe it is possible that you may be confusing the temperance movement in the US with the LDS campaign against tobacco and alcohol. The temperance movement was started in large part by the Second Great Awakening. This would have pre-dated the Word of Wisdom. Charles Finney, one of the revivalists of the time period, was an avid spokesman against tobacco and alcohol.


  3. faithoffathers permalink
    October 8, 2009 7:06 pm


    You bring up a valid point. But mine is that the whole stated reason for giving the Word of Wisdom is that there would be forthcoming conspiring men with evil designs- new cunning campaigns and substances never imagined when the WOW was given. My point is that Joseph Smith hit the nail on the head in that one prophetic verse. Any in the temperance movement make such statements?


  4. Soy Yo permalink
    October 8, 2009 9:44 pm

    It was always my understanding that the Word of Wisdom came about because Emma got tired of cleaning up the tobacco juice and other unsavory leftovers from the Mormon leadership when they had meetings in an upstairs room in her house. She complained enough to Joseph that he finally went and ask for a “revelation” about the problem and then came back with D&C 89. I think it actually says why and how he came up with this in the intro to the chapter.

    To me, that looks more like an answer to a current problem and a way to pacify his wife than it does a forward-looking warning about evil-doing men.

    I personally agree with the main premise of the post. The Bible states that it is a personal choice that each person should keep between us and God (Rom 14:22). I really don’t have a problem with LDS who choose to follow the WoW. What they decide to put (or not to put) in their mouths is up to them. My issue comes from the times I am chastised by LDS members or my LDS family for drinking my morning cup of coffee or having a beer with my dinner.

    Romans 14:3
    The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

  5. faithoffathers permalink
    October 9, 2009 1:55 am

    Soy Yo,

    Yes- the issue came about as you describe. That all led up to the inquiry and the subsequent revelation. Circumstances and situations always surround revelations- that does not negate what God says. Were God’s revelations to Moses fake because Moses appealed to God as a result of circumstances and situations (like the Egyptian bondage, the need for water and bread, etc)?

    Again- read the revelation. God says “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.”

    God is saying in essence “because of those things that are coming, I am giving you these guidelines.” The circumstances that led up to the revelation may be interesting, but in no way negate the relevance of the Word of Wisdom.

    The widespread difficulty with alcoholism, crystal meth, cocaine, heroine, prescription drugs, marijuana and the glamorization of “the buzz” is just a tad different than New Testament days. Can you see the need for any additional light? you may say no- anybody with the Spirit and the desire to apply the Word of God to their lives wouldn’t need such a revelation. Again, read it- it says it was given “for the weakest of saints.”

    I never hold non-LDS people to this law. That makes no sense. Of course I think people should be intelligent in avoiding alcoholism, drug abuse, smoking, etc. But I don’t expect others to have the same perspective on the matter. And I do not think I am unique among LDS in this regard. Sorry if some have been too preachy with you- did you used to be LDS? If so, I can see how that would be a different context with the family and all.


  6. Stephanie permalink
    October 9, 2009 3:25 am


    It seems that you are misapplying the WoW to recreational drugs–a topic that was never addressed in D&C 89. I checked just to make sure I wasn’t out to lunch (always a distinct possibility) and found this article.

    Although harmful drugs are not mentioned by name in Doctrine and Covenants 89, modern-day prophets have warned against them repeatedly. President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Stay away from illegal drugs. They can absolutely destroy you. They will take away your powers of reason. They will enslave you in a vicious and terrible way. They will destroy your mind and your body. They will build within you such cravings that you will do anything to satisfy them.”

    To say that the WoW was forewarning us about recreational drugs seems a bit of a stretch. The WoW addressed hot drinks, alcohol and coffee. Why would President Hinckley have needed to address the issue if it was already covered in Scripture? And, what makes President Hinckley any different than Christian leaders, pastors and laypeople who look on and realize the devastating results of addiction? I hate to state the obvious, but it doesn’t take a religious person to realize that substance abuse almost always results in a bad outcome.

    But mine is that the whole stated reason for giving the Word of Wisdom is that there would be forthcoming conspiring men with evil designs- new cunning campaigns and substances never imagined when the WOW was given. My point is that Joseph Smith hit the nail on the head in that one prophetic verse.

    The verse does not state that new substances were going to be coming forth. Do you see this in verse 4? Perhaps I’m missing something but I only take this to mean that men are and will be evil. If Joseph Smith new about new substances why didn’t he warn us about them?

    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

  7. October 9, 2009 5:32 pm

    Stephanie, nice post. I prefer the Word of Wisdom the way it was originally given: as a guide, NOT a “commandment.” It makes much more sense that way. Indeed, it is appropriate to moderate one’s use of coffee, tea, and alcohol: an addiction to alcohol can ruin your life, while an addiction to caffeine can undermine your ability to experience true physical wellness. Having said that, I don’t think coffee, tea, or alcohol in moderation ever did anyone any harm–and can even enhance one’s enjoyment of life when used appropriately (or so I’m told). 🙂 Therefore, I’ve got no beef with the WoW as a common-sense suggestion and warning.

    It’s when you start elevating it to the level of law that I think you run into trouble, and you make of it something it was never intended to be.

    I’d also note that, as I understand it anyway, the WoW was given primarily for the conscience reasons you state–“for the weakest of saints.”

    I think the desire to “prove” the health benefits of the WoW arose once church leadership mandated that all members in good standing had to follow it, and so now many seek to justify the practice. That’s just a guess, though.

  8. faithoffathers permalink
    October 9, 2009 8:41 pm


    Thanks for the reply. Please, then, provide an explanation for the statement in the beginning of the revelation “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.”

    The WOW is a code of health with dos and don’ts. Since the WOW was given, there have been many concerted, clever, and organized attacks on individuals health by people who are seeking to make a dollar off of selling harmful substances. Are you honestly saying you see no connection or correlation.

    Did the Lord need to provide the chemical formulas, structural details, or slang names of the dangerous substances that would be peddled in the future? My reading of history in scripture suggests to me the Lord doesn’t exactly work like that.



  9. Stephanie permalink
    October 9, 2009 11:16 pm


    I guess I see big problems with statements like this:

    The WOW is a code of health with dos and don’ts.

    I cannot see anything other than law in this statement. Where is the freedom found in Christ? This is not reconcilable with the words of Paul, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink” (Col. 2:16). This is the same Paul who actually encouraged another believer to drink wine for his health. How contradictory it would be of Paul to assert that we shouldn’t judge and we shouldn’t be legalistic about drinks if, in fact, there were a “code of health” restricting those drinks from believers.

    I think that Katie made a good point when she said, “I think the desire to “prove” the health benefits of the WoW arose once church leadership mandated that all members in good standing had to follow it, and so now many seek to justify the practice.”

    I don’t demand that the WoW provide us with the chemical formulas of future substances. 🙂 Regarding verse 4, again, I do not see any mention of “substances.” The subject of the verse is evils and designs of wicked men in the last days. I just don’t see any suggestion of newfangled drugs yet to be used and abused. Furthermore, it would be out of place to even address such an issue in the D&C. What about substances that are used therapeutically as well as illegally? How would that be phrased, “Use narcotics under the direction of your physician only”? Or, “Anxiolytics up to two times a day only–no more” You would scoff at such an idea. Of course the WoW would never say something so ridiculous about substances that are not harmful to people when used appropriately and with discretion. To make a law about how morphine or valium are used would be incomprehensibly legalistic and following the letter of the law and not the spirit of it. Yet, what you have just suggested in calling the WoW a “code of health” seems the exact same to me.

    I believe that the Scripture does address the problem of addiction and dependency.

    What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

    For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

    A whole host of issues is addressed in this one passage. I am to glorify God in my body–that means I should wear modest clothing, I should eat healthfully, I should not smoke, I should exercise appropriately. My body is not my own–it is God’s. I should care for it with a certain degree of concern and conscientiousness. To me this is the big picture. Avoiding tea and coffee is not going to keep me out of an early grave if I weigh 400#. But, there is no WoW weight requirement! Therefore I suppose I could gorge myself on ice cream and bon bons all night. Right? Of course not! That is not following the spirit of 1 Cor. 6.

    What makes hot chocolate a better choice over tea or coffee? To me, this seems like legalism. Am I not viewing it correctly?


  10. October 9, 2009 11:50 pm

    “What makes hot chocolate a better choice over tea or coffee?”

    How true! And for that matter, how about the level of chocolate consumption in Utah… Mrs. Fields and See’s Candy sells like crazy! Those evil consipring corporations who take advantage of Mormons by addicting them to chocolate… I wonder when the next revelation will come out outlawing it!



  11. October 9, 2009 11:59 pm


    One of the things that has always bugged me about the WOW is the promise provided at the end in verses 18-20. In Isaiah this promise is tied to “hoping in the Lord,” yet in the WOW it is tied to our “works.” I did a post on this very topic just last week. IMO, it appears as if JS took the promise provided in Isaiah and put a classic “legalistic” twist to it. Here is the link:


  12. October 10, 2009 12:20 am

    I thought I would share a few of the health benefits of coffee from more recent studies… 🙂 Stephanie, I wonder if Michael Ash was aware of these studies when he wrote his book???

    Twenty studies worldwide show that coffee lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes:

    Coffee may help protect against liver cancer:

    and might lower the risk of dementia:

    Latest study – 9/24/09 – Coffee is rich in antioxidants and may slow down the effects of premature aging and may help prevent degenerative diseases:

  13. October 10, 2009 6:23 am

    What makes hot chocolate a better choice over tea or coffee?

    Stephanie, this is an easy one:

    THE TASTE! 🙂

  14. October 10, 2009 7:15 pm

    I just don’t get why hot chocolate is not considered a “hot drink”! 🙂

  15. October 10, 2009 7:30 pm

    Jessica, that makes two of us.

  16. October 11, 2009 1:22 am

    I don’t get why “only use meat in times of famine, cold or winter” is not considered “only use meat in times of famine, cold or winter.” The Brethren really ought to use those modern-day revelation muscles to lay down a new Word of Wisdom section in the D&C that actually commands what’s being practiced in our day and age.

    Not that they care what I think or anything. But I’ll probably keep heckling hapless Mormons on it until it changes.

  17. faithoffathers permalink
    October 11, 2009 8:35 pm


    I still ask somebody to provide an interpretation for the statement: “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.”

    This was a “forewarning” of something to come. To not see any correlation between that statement and the modern trends of substance abuse and the marketing of those substances seems extremely obtuse to me.


  18. Stephanie permalink
    October 12, 2009 12:22 am


    The context dictates the subject. Since the passage never once uses the term “substances” but does address evil men, I am left to conclude that the subject of the passage is evil men and their evil desires. The context has to provide the meaning for the verse. This is the initial verse in a series that is termed the “Word of Wisdom.” The verses that follow this give direction on eating and drinking–no mysterious hidden message that I can see regarding “substances.” The only “prophecy” in this passage is the warning that men will wax evil over time–a message that is also prophesied in the Bible. I noticed that you did not address the fact that the LDS church does not agree with your interpretation (see above quote from Pres. Hinckley).

    I also noticed that you didn’t answer my question, “What makes hot chocolate a better choice over tea or coffee?”

    Hope you are having a great Sunday!


  19. October 12, 2009 1:34 am


    You make a very good point. This supposed “prophecy” of JS is not at all earth shattering. Personally, I find it about as staggering as Nostradamus’s vague so called “prophecies”. The Bible tells us that men will continue to get more and more evil as time goes on. So JS knew the prophecies of The Bible and decided to conflate them with the teachings of temperence movement in order to pacify Emma. All I can say is good for Emma. It is the least he could do for her in light of the fact that he forced polygamy down her throat after practicing it behind her back for years.


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