Question: Is it true that Almon Babbitt "followed Joseph" in violating the Word of Wisdom?

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Question: Is it true that Almon Babbitt "followed Joseph" in violating the Word of Wisdom?

We often employ "presentism"—judging historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day

It is claimed that Joseph Smith violated the Word of Wisdom, and that another member (Almon W. Babbitt) followed his example. However, the Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today. It was not the strict test of fellowships that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application

Almon Babitt was tried by the high council for much more than Word of Wisdom violations

On the 19th, a charge was preferred before a council of the Presidency, against Elder Almon W. Babbitt, for not keeping the Word of Wisdom; for stating the Book of Mormon was not essential to our salvation, and that we have no articles of faith except the Bible.

Elder J. B. Smith testified that Elder Babbitt had assumed the prerogative of dictating to him in his preaching; and that he was not keeping the Word of Wisdom.

Elder Babbitt said that he had taken the liberty to break the Word of Wisdom, from the example of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and others, but acknowledged that it was wrong; that he had taught the Book of Mormon and Commandments as he had thought to be wisdom, and for the good of the cause; that he had not intended to dictate to Elder J. B. Smith, but only to advise with him.

The council reproved Elder Babbitt, and instructed him to observe the Word of Wisdom, and commandments of the Lord in all things;....[1]

The more serious charges against Babbitt were:

  • claiming the Book of Mormon was not essential
  • claiming the Church had no teachings or beliefs outside the Bible
  • failure to follow lines of priesthood government.

It seems likely that Babbitt would not have been charged if his sole difficulty was the Word of Wisdom

Given the serious variety of charges against him, however, this was likely seen as one more sign of his unreliability and dangerous lack of orthodoxy.

It is also not clear what action of Joseph's Babbitt took liberty from—there were cases in which Joseph used substances normally forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, but under conditions in which use was probably appropriate. In any case, Babbitt readily admitted that this was no excuse, and no one seems to have been too shocked by the charge that Joseph's observance wasn't perfect. If the members at the time were not dismayed, this should be a good hint that the critics are hoping we over-react without the perspective of those "on the scene" at the time.

In any case, leaders of the Church were clear that while the Lord expected perfect adherence to the Word of Wisdom as an ideal, he was also patient and understanding of everyone—leader and member—who struggled to alter their habits.


  1. History of the Church, 2:252. Volume 2 link