I stumbled across something in my studies that increased my understanding of the Lord’s warning against “hot drinks” in the Word of Wisdom. I’m sure we’ve all heard the questions, “Well what about hot cocoa? What about Postum? What about decaffeinated coffee? What about other “hot” drinks that don’t contain caffeine like Wheat Tea or Wassail?” The answer we’ve always given or heard is, “The Church does not have a position on this”, or “They aren’t specifically mentioned in the Word of Wisdom.”
On the flip side of the coin, and even more frequently, we hear questions like this one published in the April 2008 New Era:
“Is there anything wrong with drinking sodas with caffeine in them? Is caffeine bad? The Word of Wisdom doesn’t mention it.”
The response in the same New Era to this question states:
“Doctrine and Covenants 89:9 says we shouldn’t drink ‘hot drinks.’ The only official interpretation of this term is the statement made by early Church leaders that it means tea and coffee. Caffeine is not specifically mentioned as the reason not to drink these drinks.”
So regardless of the question asked (whether it is the caffeine in a drink that is bad, or whether it is the hot temperature of a drink that is bad), the answer is almost always the same…namely, “The Church does not have an official position” or “The Word of Wisdom does not specifically mention these things.”
We of course know that both Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and subsequent leaders of the Church, have interpreted “hot drinks” to mean “tea and coffee”. I have always held the view that the problem with “hot drinks” is the caffeine and other drugs in them, and that “hot drinks” were defined by Joseph and Hyrum in the early days of the Church as “tea and coffee” because they (tea and coffee) were essentially the only common drinks at the time that contained caffeine. The drinks of that time just happened to be ingested hot—so that is how the Lord referred to them. In other words, I’ve always thought that by using the term “hot”, the Lord was NOT warning against the physical property—i.e., the heat—of the drink. This is what I have always thought—until now.
It is evident that when the Lord warned against “hot” drinks, he was specifically warning against a physical property of a drink—i.e., its heat. However, as Elder John A. Widstoe explained:
“When the Word of Wisdom was first promulgated in 1833, the question was at once asked: What is the meaning of “hot drinks?” Was it an injunction against consuming beverages so hot as to burn the tongue or mouth? That did not seem reasonable.” (John A Widtsoe, Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, 85)
So, if Elder Widstoe is correct—and I believe he is on this matter—then what is wrong with a drink that is “hot”? This can perhaps be understood by referring to another warning in the word of wisdom—the warning to avoid “strong drinks”. What is meant by “strong”? Was the Lord suggesting that drinks are dangerous if you freeze them and they turn into a “strong” or “hard” solid? Was he simply warning against chomping on “strong” ice cubes? Although trying to drink something that is frozen solid may cause certain problems, it would be silly to suppose that in using the word “strong” the Lord is referring to physical hardness or softness of a liquid. We know from the Book of Mormon (and common sense) that the “strength” of a “strong drink” pertains to the chemical properties of one of its physical ingredients—alcohol (see Alma 55:13-16).
Similarly, the property of “heat” in a “hot drink” has nothing to do with the physical temperature (i.e., degrees Fahrenheit) of the drink. Instead, the “heat” of a “hot drink” is a reference to the chemical properties of some of its physical ingredients—that is, caffeine, theobromine, etc. With that in mind, take a look at these interesting definitions of the words “hot” and “heat” from the Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the dictionary in use at the same time the Lord gave the revelation to Joseph Smith as recorded in D&C 89:
Definition of “Hot” (Webster’s 1828) ·
- Easily excited, eager ·
- Animated, brisk ·
Definition of “Heat” (Webster’s 1828) ·
- Animal excitement; violent action or agitation of the system [or] body ·
- To excite; to rouse into action ·
- Agitate the blood and spirits with action; to excite animal action ·
- Ferment; [i.e.,] to set in motion; to excite internal motion; to heat; as in ferments the blood
It is evident from the above definitions that the word “hot” is probably a reference to the “stimulating” effects of the drugs found in drinks. Using that dictionary, the term “hot drinks” could be re-written as “stimulating drinks” and have the same meaning. So, when Joseph and Hyrum Smith explained that “hot drinks” referred to “tea and coffee”, were they were simply clarifying that the word “hot” was a direct and specific reference to the “hot” stimulants found therein, and NOT the “hot” temperature of the drinks? I think so. Why have we not been taught this proper meaning of “hot”? I’m not sure; it is something of a mystery to me that we haven’t, because it seems to be so simple. Failure to do so has led to confusion, rationalization, and the loss of the Spirit for many. It is true that this was taught by Elder Widtsoe, but I have never heard or seen others quote what he said; and I have never heard anything like it from anyone else. Note what he said:
“Caffeine is not in any sense a food, but, as a stimulant, must be classed with tobacco, opium and other similar substances. Owing to its action on the heart and circulation, the body becomes heated, and in that sense a solution of caffeine is a ‘hot drink’.” (John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist, 91-92)
Elder Widtsoe specifically mentions that caffeine is classed as “hot drink” because of its effects on the heart and body. Not only does this accord with the Webster’s 1828 definitions above, it also coincides with both the letter and the spirit of the Word of Wisdom.
So now a short quiz for you, to test your understanding 🙂
Question—Which of the following beverages is the hottest?
- Starbucks Double Shot Coffee (Superheated to critical pressure of 705 degrees F, and drunk in hell’s fiery furnace from a cup made of molten lava)
- Green Tea (Scalding hot at boiling temperature, about 212° F)
- Mountain Dew (room temperature)
- Iced Triple Latte Coffee (chilled with ice cubes to just above freezing temperature, about 32° F)
- Monster M3 energy drink (Frozen solid; combined with dry ice and dipped in liquid nitrogen; eaten in Antarctica by chewing/chomping using an ice pick and chisel)
The correct answer is “E”. All of these drinks are hot. But such a frozen Monster M3 energy drink, according to the definitions given in Websters 1828 dictionary and Elder Widtsoe above, is most definitely proven to be the “hottest” drink.
As an aside, it is my hope that one day members of the Church will more fully understand that most important side effects of all substances warned about in the Word of Wisdom are spiritual, not physical. I fear that many, perhaps most, do not understand that substances contained in the various drinks and foods prohibited in the Word of Wisdom directly interfere with the strivings of the Light of Christ and the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. However, when asked what is wrong with smoking, the answer is either “it causes cancer”, or “it is addicting”. Rarely do you hear about the spiritual consequences of nicotine. What about Alcohol? “Well, it destroys your liver,” they say. But they say nothing about spiritual consequences. Tea and coffee? Something like, “Well, statistics show that Mormons live 10-15 years longer than the average American, etc. etc.” Every response seems to be of a temporal nature. But the effects that indulging in such substances can have on our ability to receive the Spirit of God is indeed the very “consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” The specific blessings promised in D&C 89 are all spiritual. If the Lord were concerned about our mortal tabernacles only, he wouldn’t have “warned and forwarned” us. For he said:
14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:
15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come [from within] him, those are they that defile the man.
16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable.
18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught [i.e., the sewer], purging all meats?
20 And he said, That which cometh [from within] of the man, that defileth the man.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (Mark 7:14-23)
Those verses in Mark contain the greatest discourse on the “Word of Wisdom” ever given…