This article is part of a series on Discovering the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom in Meridian Magazine.
The Ninth Article of Faith proclaims:
We believe [God] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
When I’ve pictured this Article of Faith coming to pass, I’ve always envisioned rather dramatic unveilings:
- A special session of Conference where the Prophet announces spectacular revelations
- The opening of the sealed portions of the Book of Mormon
- The Lost Tribes showing up in Salt Lake City with their ancient scriptures
What I did not imagine was that some of the “great and important things” to be revealed might already be contained in the same set of scriptures I’ve been reading my entire life, just waiting for me to discover them. This is how I now feel about the Word of Wisdom.
What Are Those “Great and Important” Things?
I now believe some of “great and important things” to be revealed can be found inside our scriptures, hiding in plain sight. They are waiting to be fully revealed to us as we lay down our prejudices and take a fresh look at what could be hidden treasures. Take these verses in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89, for example:
Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (D&C 89:12–13)
Here we are told that the flesh of animals is ordained for our use, but it should be used SPARINGLY and it is PLEASING to our Savior that we NOT use it, except under certain conditions: in times of need—winter, cold, or famine. On the one hand, the text is exceedingly clear.
On the other hand, it is very easy to completely dismiss these verses because it is obvious…NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THEM FROM THE PULPIT…so we feel safe in assuming there are no hidden treasures here…right?
Must We Be Commanded in All Things?
The Lord has told us that it is not good for us to be commanded in all things (D&C 58:26). Unlike the Church policy on the Word of Wisdom, which we are asked to obey with exactness, the Lord’s counsel in D&C 89 is expressly given “not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2). But because we have not been commanded to pay attention to these verses, we could well be overlooking some valuable treasure related to something I’m sure we all agree is precious to us: our health.
How important is our health? When we are feeling good, we take our health for granted, but when anything goes wrong with our bodies, we suddenly realize there are very few things in life that we value more than our health. Our bodies are certainly among the most priceless blessings we’ve received from our Father. Just think: our bodies are tabernacles of the Spirit of God. Do we really appreciate what this means?
In the 2013 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson reminded us:
With your body being such a vital part of God’s eternal plan, it is little wonder that the Apostle Paul described it as a “temple of God” [1 Corinthians 3:16; see also 6:19]. Each time you look in the mirror, see your body as your temple. That truth—refreshed gratefully each day—can positively influence your decisions about how you will care for your body and how you will use it. And those decisions will determine your destiny. How could this be? Because your body is the temple for your spirit. And how you use your body affects your spirit.
When we understand that the Word of Wisdom is wise counsel from a loving God about how we should eat to take care of the bodies He gave us, why would we want to overlook any of the counsel simply because we have not been commanded to obey?
What Is Sparingly?
What might the instruction to eat meat “sparingly” mean? Here are some definitions of the word sparingly from the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary:
- Not abundantly.
- Frugally; parsimoniously; not lavishly.
- Abstinently; moderately.
- Seldom; not frequently.
- Cautiously; tenderly.
As a life-long meat eater and meat lover, I had never been very interested in trying to understand what the Lord meant by “sparingly.” (I’ve since come to more fully appreciate the fact that unless we really want to know the truth, we simply cannot see it, even if it is right in front us.)
It was only after I became so convinced of the health hazards of animal foods that I was willing to give them up that I took a very close look at this verse. By this time I was 50 years old, and I had already consumed quite a bit of meat during my life. I realized that if I never ate another piece of meat until I died, the average amount of meat I’d have consumed by the end of my life could never, as a whole, be considered “sparingly,” no matter what definition I used!
Winter, Cold and Famine?
As useful as verse 12 is in helping us understand the role of meat in the Lord’s diet plan, the next verse in Section 89 gives us further insight into the Lord’s intent:
And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (D&C 89:13)
This is reiterated, perhaps even clarified, in verse 15:
And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. (D&C 89:15)
The commonsense meaning of these verses is that we are asked to eat very little meat, and further that it pleases the Lord if we don’t eat meat at all except in times of need, as in times of cold or famine when plant foods are scarce and our survival may depend on eating any source of nutrients we can get. While the word sparingly certainly encompasses “not abundantly,” given verses 13 and 15, I wonder if in this context the word sparingly may mean as little as is needed. If the Lord were to ask us to discipline our children sparingly, we would probably not assume that we had to discipline them at least a little, regardless of their behavior. We would not feel we had to punish them, at least a little, even if they were perfectly obedient. No, we would understand that we should discipline them as little as is needed and, when not needed, not at all.
We are instructed to eat meat sparingly, but we are further told that it is pleasing to the Lord that we not eat meat at all, except under certain conditions. While there have been several suggested explanations of verse 13 since the Word of Wisdom was revealed in 1833, so far none of them stand up to careful analysis. Should we consider taking the Lord at His word?
Next Time in Discovering the Word of Wisdom
In Part II of “The Flesh of Animals,” I’ll address the questions, “Don’t we need animal foods to be healthy?” and “When is it appropriate to eat animal foods?”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective (2013) and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” LDS General Conference, October 2013.
 Webster’s Dictionary (1828), s.v. “sparingly.”
 This is based on my own analysis of the Word of Wisdom literature (published books, articles, and, more recently, websites) from 1833 to the present day. I have published two articles which analyze the various interpretations of D&C 89:13 since 1833. See Jane Birch, “Questioning the Comma in Verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 10 (2014): 133-149 and “Getting into the Meat of the Word of Wisdom,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 11 (2014): 1-36.