The most overlooked aspect of the Word of Wisdom

Over at By Common Consent, there’s a new Q&A series leading off with the question “is arby’s jamocha shake against word of wisdom?”

Mostly, the commenters have debated over various definitions of what exactly constitutes a “hot drink”, which the word of wisdom prohibits. Others argue that any obviously unhealthy thing is against the WoW, like High Fructose Corn Syrup. All-in-all, one very important facet of this law hasn’t received much attention.

Dietary laws are not peculiar to this generation; the Law of Moses forbade the eating of certain foods, such as pork. In time, the Lord removed this law as the gospel was taken to the gentile nations. Did the nutritive and chemical properties fo pork magically change around 40 A.D.? Obviously not. Did the Lord stop caring about the health of His children? No way!

Thus, the question we need to ask is, “why did the Lord forbid certain foods at some times and not others?” The only answer that sits right with me is that the purpose of dietary restrictions is not health-related, but rather a cultural tool.

In ancient times, the Jews were known, in large part, because of their dietary restrictions. This marked them as a different sort of people and kept them, in some ways, culturally divided from others. Is it possible that this is the same purpose in the Lord’s restricting certain foods among Latter-day Saints?

In light of this idea, passing on the Jamocha shake is a simple decision. True, it may not be exactly the same as drinking coffee outright, but to the outside world, would they see any real difference? Probably not. So, in order to maintain this aspect of Mormon identity, it’s probably better not to add to, or take away from, the Word of Wisdom.



  • Anonymous

    Interesting idea. Thank you! :-D

  • Deborah Goodwin

    I think the reason that aspect of it is overlooked is because so many of the blessings listed in 89 are physical blessings, so it’s easy to tie that back to the work of wisdom being a law of health for our bodies because as LDS people we have a very different view of the importance of our bodies. Also it says multiple times that such and such is ‘not for the body’ or ‘belly’ which again, makes it seem strictly tied to physical health. Also I think that’s the reason everyone wants to scientifically ‘prove’ the word of wisdom. Anyway, it’s an interesting idea you propose and I am willing to say I agree in some degree. You were really looking for my vote, right? =)

  • Aaron L. M. Goodwin

    That’s a very good point, and I think the health issues shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s obvious that the Lord is trying to save us from “evil and conspiring men”. However, the promises made in verses 18-21 are at least as spiritual as temporal. Furthermore, the last promise, a reference to the destroying angel of the first passover, seems to support the notion of the Word of Wisdom being a sign rather than a diet program. The lamb’s blood on the door frames wasn’t magical, but rather, it was a sign of obedience and separateness.

  • Alison Day

    Interesting thought. There is probably some truth in your idea. However, the fact that porcine products were laden with trichinosis back in the day, and modern pork product preservation [alliteration point!] has significantly reduced this problem shows a significant change in health protection… Who knows, perhaps there is some treatment of the coffee bean/tea leaf that can reduce whatever health problems are present there. FWIW, the CDC recently released a list of harmful substances consumed daily by Americans and coffee and black tea both appeared as having relatively high carcinogenic affects.

  • Aaron L. M. Goodwin

    Thanks for your comment Alison! From my understanding, trichinosis is always killed with significant heat in cooking, so I’m not sure that would be such a huge problem in ancient times. As well, from my cursory study, it seems that forms of preservation actually don’t kill Trichinella. Either way, it’s hard to argue that combining milk and meat is unhealthy, scaleless fish are unhealthy, etc. I just think that the focus on the health reasons are distracting from the *point*, like spending all our time figuring out _when_ the second coming is going to happen by scouring texts while ignoring the real preparation of living as a disciple. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

    If it turns out that the prohibitions ARE in the best interest of our health, then great! I just don’t see that as an excuse to decide to keep the law.

  • Aubree Shelley

    I disagree. What really needs to be looked at is the amount of meat we consume vs what is recommended (ie “sparingly”.