Word of Wisdom Promises

In Sunday School today I stumbled across a familiar phrase in an unexpected place. I recognized the wording from the LDS scripture passage D&C 89:18, but here I was reading it in Proverbs 3:8: “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”

In both places, it is given as a blessing coupled with a commandment. This spurred me on to a wider study of the Word of Wisdom1 and the promises it offers for obedience to its principles. As it happens, each of the Word of Wisdom promises can be found in the Bible with no apparent connection to any health regulations.

The Word of Wisdom promises

Here are the direct promises attached to the Word of Wisdom as listed in D&C 89:18–21:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. 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. Amen.

The same promises in the Bible

Here are some alternate means of obtaining the same promises in the Old and New Testaments:

Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8, emphasis added)

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3, emphasis added)

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, emphasis added)

Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said unto them, Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you. (Exodus 12:21-23, emphasis added)

As I read them, all of these promises are connected to various forms of faith or trust in the Lord, especially the last one in connection with the idea of Christ being our passover lamb according to 1 Cor. 5:7.

What does this mean?

Believing as I do that Joseph Smith was either a great deceiver or was himself deceived, it would be easy for me to jump to the conclusion that he (or whoever had deceived him) was trying to replace trust in Jesus with adherence to health regulations, something that is patently dangerous when you consider Paul’s counsel in Colossians 2:16-23.

I hate jumping to conclusions, though, and would much rather give people the benefit of the doubt, so let’s think about this critically for a moment. We should all be familiar with the famous passage in D&C 130:20, which states, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

In light of the above, I’d like to ask some open-ended, honest questions about this passage and the LDS belief regarding it: Is there a one-to-one relationship between these blessings and the laws upon which they are predicated? Could there be multiple laws leading to the same blessings? If so, would I need to keep all the laws in order to reap the blessing, or would only keeping one or the other be sufficient? These questions may seem nit-picky, but I think they deserve some serious thought. Whether you are LDS or not, I’m very interested to hear your views. End mark


  1. If this is unfamiliar to you, see the LDS Church’s official information regarding the Word of Wisdom at Mormon.org. You may also wish to read all of D&C 89, where the principle can be found in LDS scripture. 
  • Joey, If you truly believe that Joseph Smith was either deceived or a deceiver, then you have “poisoned the well,” and you will completely undervalue the words that follow. If you wish to understand my viewpoint, please assume while reading it that Joseph Smith was actually a prophet of God.

    Joey asked:

    Is there a one-to-one relationship between these blessings [i.e. the blessings mentioned in the Word of Wisdom and also in the bible] and the laws upon which they are predicated?

    My short answer: No. The relationship is one-to-many.

    Joey asked:

    Could there be multiple laws leading to the same blessings? If so, would I need to keep all the laws in order to reap the blessing, or would only keeping one or the other be sufficient?

    My short answer: More likely there is a single law leading to multiple blessings. One must keep the entire law in order to obtain all of the promised blessings.

    Now that I’ve given the short answers, allow me to expound further.

    One Law, Many Blessings

    The blessings mentioned in the scriptures do not have a one-to-one relationship with certain laws. They have a one-to-many relationship with one law. In other words, there is one law that we must obey in order to obtain all of the promised blessings.

    I refer you back to the verse in D&C 130:

    There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated– And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
    (Emphasis added.)

    The One Law

    What is the one law upon which all blessings are predicated? What one law must we obey in order to obtain all blessings?

    Some call it, “God’s law,” “the law of the gospel,” or “the eternal plan of salvation,” among other things. One could easily argue that these represent the same single law, which encompasses all of the commandments.

    I believe that the foundation of the one law is “Faith in Jesus Christ.” If we truly have faith in our Savior–if we truly trust in Him and none else–then we obey God’s law, the law of the gospel. Eventually, we will receive all of the promised blessings, whether in this life, or the life to come.

    Joey, you have argued that all of the blessings in the Word of Wisdom can be achieved simply through faith in Christ. I second your argument and submit that the Word of Wisdom does not suggest otherwise.

    In fact, following the Word of Wisdom is simply another way that Saints should demonstrate their faith in Christ, just as the Children of Israel demonstrated their faith by placing lamb’s blood on the door. You would never think that Moses had replaced faith in Christ with painting your doorway red. Why do you think that Joseph Smith replaced faith in Christ with health regulations? Jesus Christ revealed both of these commandments to His holy prophets, and those who have the faith to trust Him and obey His law will be blessed.

    The Word of Wisdom

    The Word of Wisdom does not claim to be the one law ensuring these marvellous blessings. In fact, you quoted verse 18:

    And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive…[the blessings].
    (Emphasis added.)

    A person cannot expect to receive the promised blessings simply by following the Word of Wisdom. She must walk in obedience to all of God’s commandments. In other words, she must obey God’s law — His one law.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, all of God’s commandments and blessings are part of His one law. Throughout history, He has revealed this law — the “law of the gospel,” “the plan of salvation,” — to His children through prophets. The purpose of God’s law (or plan) is to glorify God by giving His children everything He has, all of the blessings He enjoys. God irrevocably decreed this plan (His law) “before the foundations of this world,” and all blessings we receive are predicated on our obedience to this one law.

    The blessings described in the Word of Wisdom are found throughout the holy scriptures and in holy temples. I find it wonderful that God has used the same language in many ages, with many nations, and in many places to describe His one law and the blessings appertaining to it. He truly is one God, revealing Himself uniformly to all nations and now restoring His one gospel to the earth in the last days.

    I return now to the issue of whether or not Joseph Smith was decieved or a deceiver. If Joseph Smith were guilty of replacing faith in Christ with health regulations, then he truly would not have been a prophet.

    However, anyone who believes that Joseph Smith meant to supplant faith in Christ with anything else has not understood the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price. He has ignored the powerful testimony of Christ found in these and the Prophet Joseph’s other “fruits.” Joseph Smith gave his own life for his faith in Christ.

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  • Steve said:

    Joey, If you truly believe that Joseph Smith was either deceived or a deceiver, then you have “poisoned the well,” and you will completely undervalue the words that follow.

    I knew I had gone too far with that paragraph. I only meant to illustrate how easy it would be for people to jump to conclusions; I never meant to jump to those conclusions myself, as should be evident by my last two paragraphs and honest questions. I’m more apt to believe that Smith was himself deceived and, therefore, a sincere believer in the doctrines he taught. A lot of good has come from his life (whether others agree or disagree) and I find it difficult to believe he was deliberately misleading people.

    Yes, I bring this belief to the table as a presupposition, but I think you’ll agree that none of us are without those. However, I never intended this as an ad hominem or well-poisoning tactic, and I regret that my statements were unclear enough that you were able to interpret them that way. I’ll be more careful in the future.

    Steve said:

    More likely there is a single law leading to multiple blessings. One must keep the entire law in order to obtain all of the promised blessings.

    A refreshing interpretation quite different from what I always understood. It’s apparently also different from the way Aaron understands things. Aaron posted over on his blog about obedience to laws and promised blessings from the standpoint that there are multiple laws and multiple blessings. He even seems to imply a one-to-one relationship between laws and blessings. I’m not sure whether I’m interpreting his views correctly or not, but they are certainly closer to how mine were when I was LDS.

    Steve, have you always understood D&C 130:20–21 in the way you’ve explained, or did you revisit the passage and study it further in light of the Bible passages in my post? I’m interested to know if you ever held to Aaron’s (and my former) views and if you think they are widely held within the church.

  • Joey said:

    Steve, have you always understood D&C 130:20–21 in the way you’ve explained, or did you revisit the passage and study it further in light of the Bible passages in my post? I’m interested to know if you ever held to Aaron’s (and my former) views and if you think they are widely held within the church.

    I’m not sure I always understood D&C 130:20–21 the way I explained, but I know that I have understood it that way for some time. Additionally, I’ve long since recognized that we must “walk in obedience to all of the commandments” and not just the Word of Wisdom in order to obtain the blessings promised in Section 89 of the D&C. Furthermore, I had seen the same promises in other scriptures before you mentioned them, and I had heard many of the same promises in the temple. Before reading your post, I had certainly come to my own conclusion that these blessings are conditional not merely upon our obeying one or two related commandments, but upon our obeying the entire gospel (i.e. having true faith in Christ).

    As for how the rest of the Church believes, I cannot tell you whether the majority of members see the relationship between blessings and commandments the way I have described it or the way you and Aaron have. I know that I did not create the explanation I gave. I have heard other members of the Church emphasize those verses the way I did. I have also, however, heard members speak who believe that every blessing comes to us through obedience to one, single, specific commandment.

    Can anyone believe that there is an exact one-to-one relationship between every blessing and every law? Is there a Church member who actually thinks there is even one commandment we can obey that is guaranteed to bring us a blessing that we can get in no other way? If a person can find one such relationship between a blessing and a commandment, can they really suggest that all blessings and commandments have similar one-to-one relationships?

    I submit that such a philosophy is ridiculous. As you have pointed out, the scriptures clearly show that we can obtain some blessings many ways. Additionally, some people live a long life without obeying their parents; some people gain wealth without paying tithing; and some people retain bodily health, despite smoking all their lives. Furthermore, some righteous, obedient, tithe-paying, word-of-wisdom-following Church members suffer in poverty (like Church members in Argentina), some struggle with cancer or other health problems (like Elder Neal A. Maxwell), and some die young (like Joseph Smith).

    Anyone who thinks that certain blessings are guaranteed to us in this life simply (and only) by obeying a related commandment has missed the larger picture. The scriptures and temple ceremonies are not recipes for worldly blessings. God’s commandments are not a list of suggestions that we can selectively obey, depending upon the blessings we wish to receive. God doesn’t care whether we become as rich as Bill Gates, whether we can bike like Lance Armstrong, or whether we live to be as old as George Burns.

    Instead, God wants us to become as rich as He is, as strong as He is, and as old as He is. If we obtain eternal life, we get all of those blessings. If we do not obtain eternal life, we have no guarantee that we will get any of them.

    In summary, those who are obedient to God’s one law — those who have a perfect faith in Christ — will eventually receive all of the promised blessings; they will receive everything that the Lord has, and they will become heirs of eternal life with Jesus Christ. Those who do not obey God’s one law in its entirety have no promise of any blessings (although they might get lucky or simply receive the good consequences of their actions). Even the scripture that says that God is bound when we do what He says (D&C 82:10) does not say that God is bound when we do anything He says. We must do everything He says in order to truly bind him. God is not bound by anyone who lacks faith in Christ and so fails to fulfill His one law.

  • I firmly believe that commandments and blessings are a one-to-many relationship. Multiple blessings can be, and are in some cases, attached to a single commandment. The Word of Wisdom is a strong example. The same blessings can also be attached to multiple commandments.

    This is by no means to say that people will not be healthy if they do not obey the Word of Wisdom. But the Lord certainly will not “bless” you with it. You are on your own. If you obtain that status of good health, great. I think we can all agree that if we abandon the Lord, we are on our own.

    Also, many people suffer from problems, even after obeying all the commandments from their youth. Neal A. Maxwell unfortunately suffered from cancer- even after being one of the Lord’s chosen. This brings up the question “why do bad things happen to good people?”. I dare not answer other than to say that they are being blessed despite their obvous hardships.

    My whole point in my post was to mention that if you desire any blessing from God, you must learn what command that blessing is attached to and begin obeying. It makes sense that if you desire health, obey health laws, particularly the Word of Wisdom. That is all.

    This definitely is a good topic of conversation, and it is great to see all views regarding the subject.