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Word of Wisdom/Hot drinks
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- Question: Why are "hot drinks" forbidden by the Word of Wisdom?
- Revelations in Context: "The Word of Wisdom rejected the idea of a substitute for alcohol. “Hot drinks”"
- Question: Do Mormons really believe that drinking tea (or alcohol, etc.) is "morally wrong"?
- Question: Why did Joseph Fielding Smith say that the consumption of tea may bar someone from the celestial kingdom?
Question: Why are "hot drinks" forbidden by the Word of Wisdom?
Members of the Church keep the Word of Wisdom because they are obedient to the commandments of God
Members of the Church keep the Word of Wisdom because they are obedient to the commandments of God. The Word of Wisdom is one sign of their membership in the covenant.
Historical circumstances at the time of Joseph Smith may have given a wider application to cautions against "hot drinks" than the current policy
Historical circumstances at the time of Joseph Smith may have given a wider application to cautions against "hot drinks" than the current policy. If true, this demonstrates the pattern by which Joseph claimed the Church should always be governed: "by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed."
According to the Church Administration Handbook:
The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee. Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.
—Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Handbook 2: Administering the Church—2010 (Intellectual Reserve, 2010). Selected Church Policies and Guidelines 21.3.11
The only revealed answer to the question of why hot drinks (interpreted at present as coffee and tea) are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom is "because God told us they are"
The only revealed answer to the question of why hot drinks (interpreted at present as coffee and tea) are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom is "because God told us they are." Faithful members of the Church accept the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture, as sustained by a personal witness of the Holy Spirit.
Some members have pointed out that caffeine is contained in both coffee and tea, and that this substance has potential harmful effects.
While the only official application of the term "hot drinks" is to tea and coffee, an official statement of policy from the First Presidency is available, in which the use of any habit-forming drug is discouraged:
With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.
Such principles have led some members to include other caffeine-contained substances, such as cola drinks, in their application of the Word of Wisdom. But, use of cola products does not result in a restriction of Church privileges, while the use of coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs certainly would.
It is a common misconception, among both members and non-members, that the Word of Wisdom exists primarily, or only, to promote the health of the members
It is a common misconception, among both members and non-members, that the Word of Wisdom exists primarily, or only, to promote the health of the members. Health protection is an important "side benefit," one might say, but arguably the most important reason for the Word of Wisdom is the promise given in the last verse of D&C 89, in which the members are told:
And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.(D&C 89:21)
This refers to the last curse put on the Egyptians prior to the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites were to mark their houses with lamb's blood at the first Passover. Houses so marked were protected from the "destroying angel." (See Exodus 12:1-30.)
Is lamb's blood "magic?" Does it repel angels like garlic does vampires? Hardly. Rather, we understand the blood to be a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel, and Christians understand it to be a foreshadowing of the culmination of that covenant as the blood of Jesus Christ protects from sin and destruction those who enter into a covenant with Him.
Thus, the Word of Wisdom functions in a similar way—it "marks us" as people under covenant to God. Consumption of coffee and tea is a common practice in many cultures—when others notice a member of the Church abstaining, it sets them apart as willing to forgo something that is culturally popular. This reinforces our duty to keep our covenants in both our own minds and in the eyes of others.
Some historical factors provide grounds for speculation about possible health and non-health reasons for the scripture's "hot drinks" prohibition
Orthodox medical care in Joseph Smith's day was based around what was called a "heroic" tradition. This school of thought went back to Galen, and invoked the four humours of yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. Disease was thought to be caused by an "imbalance" in these humours, and treatment aimed to restore the balance. In practice this was often done through blood-letting (bleeding) and purging (inducing vomiting and/or diarrhea).
The agent of choice for the orthodox physicians was calomel, or mercurous chloride. This treatment was popularized by Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who treated victims of a yellow fever epidemic with it. When some patients survived both the yellow fever and Rush's misguided attmept to "treat" them with calomel and bleeding, he wrote a book that influenced medical practice in the United States for over a century. This doctrine was firmly in place in Joseph Smith's day.
A heroic physician treated Joseph's older brother, Alvin, for an attack of "bilious colic" (likely acute appendicitis). Lucy Mack Smith recorded the outcome:
Alvin was taken very sick with the bilious colic. He came to the house in much distress, and requested his father to go immediately for a physician. He accordingly went, obtaining one by the name of Greenwood, who, on arriving, immediately administered to the patient a heavy dose of calomel. I will here notice, that this Dr. Greenwood was not the physician commonly employed by the family; he was brought in consequence of the family physician's absence. And on this account, as I suppose, Alvin at first refused to take the medicine, but by much persuasion, he was prevailed on to do so. This dose of calomel lodged in his stomach, and all the medicine afterwards freely administered by four very skillful physicians could not remove it. On the third day of his sickness, Dr. McIntyre, whose services were usually employed by the family, as he was considered very skillful, was brought, and with him four other eminent physicians. But it was all in vain, their exertions proved unavailing, just as Alvin said would be the case--he told them the calomel was still lodged in the same place, after some exertion had been made to carry it off, and that it must take his life.
Such failures of heroic medicine predisposed the Smiths (with many of their contemporaries) to skepticism about orthodox "heroic" medicine.
Another medical system arose in the early 1800s: Thompsonian herbalism. Thompson patented his system, and opposed the heroics' measures—however, in many cases, his treatments were little better. Rather than using calomel, he used lobelia, or "wild Indian tobacco" as a cathartic and purgative. One could become a Thompsonian "doctor" simply by paying a $20.00 license fee to use Thompson's patents. Prominent Thompsonian physicians associated with the Latter-day Saints included Frederick G. Williams, Thomas B. Marsh, Sampson Avard, and Willard, Levi, and Phineas Richards.
Joseph tended to use the Thompsonian physicians more than the orthodox, but he preached caution in the use of both calomel and lobelia:
Calomel doctors will give you calomel to cure a sliver in the big toe; and they do not stop to know whether the stomach is empty or not; and calomel on an empty stomach will kill the patient. And the lobelia [herbal] doctors will do the same. Point me out a patient and I will tell you whether calomel or lobelia will kill him or not, if you give it.
Furthermore, many of the orthodox physicians in the Church—including John C. Bennett, William Law, and Robert Foster—were eventually to attack Joseph. And, Thompsonian opposition to the use of such drugs as quinine prevented an effective remedy from being used by the Saints.
The herbal medications of the Thompsonians and orthodox physicians were generally administered by "percolating one pound of crude botanical with one pint of alcohol; teas were similarly prepared."
Some have suggested, then, that the Lord's caution against "hot drinks" was a warning against the use of some of the extreme treatments advocated by the Thompsonian herbalists. The presence of Thompsonianism can be noted in the Word of Wisdom, which remarks that "tobacco is not good for the belly." This strikes the modern reader as strange—who would actually eat tobacco? But, in Joseph Smith's day, large doses of lobelia teas were consumed in order to induce purging.
This reading is perhaps supported by the fact that a Times and Seasons account of a discourse by Hyrum Smith said:
Again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly. There are many who wonder what this can mean, whether it refers to tea or coffee, or not. I say it does refer to tea and coffee.
If there was confusion about the meaning of "hot drinks," it may be that at least some members understood the caution against hot drinks to extend to other beverages prepared hot, such as the infusions or teas of the heroics or Thompsonians.
On the other hand, Thompson himself sometimes referred to tea and coffee as "hot drinks," so the choice of wording may simply reflect common "medical" terminology in Joseph Smith's environment.
In any case, the understanding that tea and coffee were intended by the term "hot drinks" is evident in the historical record by 1833 and 1834.
Revelations in Context: "The Word of Wisdom rejected the idea of a substitute for alcohol. “Hot drinks”"
Revelations in Context on history.lds.org:
American temperance reformers succeeded in the 1830s in no small part by identifying a substitute for alcohol: coffee. In the eighteenth century, coffee was considered a luxury item, and British-manufactured tea was much preferred. After the Revolution, tea drinking came to be seen as unpatriotic and largely fell out of favor. The way was open for a rival stimulant to emerge. In 1830, reformers persuaded the U.S. Congress to remove the import duty on coffee. The strategy worked. Coffee fell to 10 cents a pound, making a cup of coffee the same price as a cup of whiskey, marking whiskey’s decline. By 1833, coffee had entered “largely into the daily consumption of almost every family, rich and poor.” The Baltimore American called it “among the necessaries of life.”  Although coffee enjoyed wide approval by the mid-1830s, including within the medical community, a few radical reformers such as Sylvester Graham and William A. Alcott preached against the use of any stimulants whatsoever, including coffee and tea. 
The Word of Wisdom rejected the idea of a substitute for alcohol. “Hot drinks”—which Latter-day Saints understood to mean coffee and tea19—“are not for the body, or belly,” the revelation explained (see D&C 89:9).  Instead, the revelation encouraged the consumption of basic staples of the kind that had sustained life for millennia. The revelation praised “all wholesome herbs.” “All grain is ordained for the use of man and beasts, to be the staff of life … as also the fruit of the vine, that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground, or above the ground.” In keeping with an earlier revelation endorsing the eating of meat, the Word of Wisdom reminded the Saints that the flesh of beasts and fowls were given “for the use of man, with thanksgiving,” but added the caution that meat was “to be used spareingly” and not to excess (see D&C 89:10-12).
Question: Do Mormons really believe that drinking tea (or alcohol, etc.) is "morally wrong"?
The abstinence from tea and coffee is not a moral issue: It is a sign of covenants and promises they have made with God
Mormons don't drink tea regardless of temperature, because they believe God's prophet and the authoritative interpreter today says, "Don't drink tea." It is a sign of covenants and promises they have made.
There is likely nothing inherently morally wrong with drinking tea or cold tea
There is likely nothing inherently morally wrong with drinking tea or cold tea. We could categorize it as a malum prohibitum instead of a malum in se, that is, it's not inherently "evil," only prohibited. Tea and coffee were identified very early on as what was meant by "hot drinks"; temperature was not really the issue.
Members of the Church follow the Word of Wisdom not because of logical or health reasons, but because God, speaking to prophets, has given these instructions
Members of the Church follow the Word of Wisdom not because of logical or health reasons, but because God, speaking to prophets, has given these instructions. Some LDS are confused at the apparent mismatch between the prohibitions as we follow them today and the text of D&C 89, but the underlying reason has to do with the fact that LDS are not Protestants. We are more like Catholics and Jews, in the sense that authority is not ultimately vested in books, but in living interpreters and the tradition of interpretation. For LDS, these are obviously the prophets and apostles, for Catholics the pope and magisterium, and for Jews, the Rabbis and Talmud. Ultimately, what is binding on LDS is not the text, either of the Bible or uniquely LDS scriptures, but how they are interpreted today by living apostles and prophets.
This perspective is explored in numerous quotations from LDS leaders.
It is refreshing that this point has been understood by at least one Evangelical author:
It is important to underscore here the way in which the Mormon restoration of these ancient offices and practices resulted in a very significant departure from the classical Protestant understanding of religious authority. The subtlety of the issues at stake here is often missed by us Evangelicals, with the result that we typically get sidetracked in our efforts to understand our basic disagreements with Mormon thought. We often proceed as if the central authority issue to debate with Mormons has to do with the question of which authoritative texts ought to guide us in understanding the basic issues of life. We Evangelicals accept the Bible alone as our infallible guide while, we point out, the Latter-day Saints add another set of writings, those that comprise the Book of Mormon, along with the records of additional Church teachings to the canon- we classic Protestants are people of the Book while Mormons are people of the Books.
This way of getting at the nature of our differences really does not take us very far into exploring some of our basic disagreements. What we also need to see is that in restoring some features of Old Testament Israel, Mormonism has also restored the kinds of authority patterns that guided the life of Israel. The old Testament people of God were not a people of the Book as such- mainly because for most of their history, there was no completed Book. Ancient Israel was guided by an open canon and the leadership of the prophets. And it is precisely this pattern of communal authority that Mormonism restored. Evangelicals may insist that Mormonism has too many books. But the proper Mormon response is that even these Books are not enough to give authoritative guidance to the present-day community of the faithful. The books themselves are products of a prophetic office, an office that has been reinstituted in these latter days. People fail to discern the full will of God if they do not live their lives in the anticipation that they will receive new revealed teachings under the authority of the living prophets."
Question: Why did Joseph Fielding Smith say that the consumption of tea may bar someone from the celestial kingdom?
Critics count on "presentism"—they hope readers will judge historical figures by the standards of our day, instead of their day
Critics of the Church wish to emphasize that there is a "contradiction" in which one prophet says tea can prevent exaltation, while another prophet—Joseph Smith—is recorded as drinking tea. However, in contrast with Joseph Smith's day, more than a hundred years has passed since church leaders implemented a more stringent application of the Word of Wisdom. Thus, Joseph Fielding Smith's remarks apply to those under the current standards and laws. D&C 89 was clear that the revelation was from God, but it was not made a commandment or "point of fellowship" until the twentieth century.
The Word of Wisdom was enforced differently in the 19th century than today
The Word of Wisdom was not the strict test of fellowship in the 19th century Church that it is for the modern member. Members and leaders struggled with its application, and 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.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:135. Volume 5 link See also Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 507–508.
- Clifford J. Stratton, "Caffeine—The Subtle Addiction," Ensign (June 1988), 60.
- See, for example, Robert L. Simpson, Conference Report (April 1963), 53.;Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report (April 1963), 107. Early statements available in John A. Widtsoe and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word Of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1937), 28 and Roy W. Doxey, The Word of Wisdom Today (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975),10–13.
- Lester E. Bush, Jr., ed., "Mormon Medical Ethical Guidelines," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Fall 1979), 103.
- Robert T. Divett, "Medicine and the Mormons: a Historical Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Autumn 1979), 16–17. On
- Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 86. AISN B000FH6N04.
- See N. Lee Smith, "Herbal Remedies: God's Medicine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Autumn 1979), 40. See also Robert T. Divett, "Medicine and the Mormons: a Historical Perspective," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Autumn 1979), 18–20.
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:356–357. Volume 5 link
- N. Lee Smith, "Herbal Remedies: God's Medicine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Autumn 1979), 43,46.
- N. Lee Smith, "Herbal Remedies: God's Medicine," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Autumn 1979), 47.
- Hyrum Smith, "The Word of Wisdom," Times and Seasons 3 no. 15 (1 June 1842), 801. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- N. Lee Smith, "Review of Medicine and the Mormons: An Introduction to the History of Latter-day Saint Health Care by Robert T. Divett," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1984), 157–158.
- Paul H. Peterson, "An Historical Analysis of the Word of Wisdom," Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1972, 22-23.
- "Word of Wisdom: D&C 89," Revelations in Context (11 June 2013)
- Richard Mouw, "What does God think about America?," Brigham Young University Studies 43 no. 4 (2004), 10-11. (needs URL / links)