Should we eat meat only in winter and famine?

Should we eat meat only in winter and famine?
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Hi Gramps.

Lately I have been contemplating the Word of Wisdom. It seems I and others stop reading at verse 12 of Doctrine & Covenants 89. Because the verse after says, regarding eating flesh of animals, And it is pleasing unto me that they should NOT be used….only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. In verse 15 it says, And these hath God made for the use of man ONLY in times of famine and excess of hunger. The Lord then steers us to Grains, fruits and vegetables in their season. My question is this – why are Mormon’s (gulp, including myself) such meat eaters? I don’t see any emphasis on “healthy eating” rather everyone thinks they’re hunky doory to be just not drinking alcohol, and smoking…. Please let us know your view on this. I’m ready to really cut back, if not cut out my meat consumption, because according to the Lord it would please Him, and I sure want to please him. Thank you kindly,

Melinda

 

Answer

Dear Melinda,

There is an interesting curiosity about verse 13 of Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which revelation is known as the Word of Wisdom. If you were to examine the early copies of that revelation you would find missing the comma after the word “used” in that verse. The present version of the sentence comprising verses 12 and 13 reads as follows:

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

The comma in question renders the meaning of the phrase as that it would be pleasing to the Lord if the flesh of beasts and fowls would not be eaten except during winter, cold or famine.

In the original versions, the last phrase was given as

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

The implication of this rendering is that it is pleasing to the Lord that the flesh of beasts and fowls should not be eaten only in times of winter, cold or famine, but it should be eaten in other times as well. That comma, in effect, reverses the meaning of the sentence. Where did the comma come from? It was added to the section by Elder James E. Talmage, of the Quorum of the Twelve, when he divided the Doctrine and Covenants into columns in 1920.

With the original rendering, the counsel with respect to eating the flesh of beasts and fowls is consistent with the rest of the section, and with the same topic addressed in other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants as well. Looking at verses 14 and 15—

All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth; And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

This sentence clarifies what could be eaten in times of famine and excess hunger. We read here that grain is the staff of life, and that it is good for man and also for beasts of the field, and also for all wild animals. It is critical to the understanding of this passage that we determine the antecedent of the pronoun, these. What does these refer to?–the nominative noun that immediately precedes it–wild animals! And these [wild animals] hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. Now it makes good sense that wild animals may be used for food only when other sources are not available. This is consistent with Section 49 verse 21

And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.

It is also consistent with D&C 49:18-19—

And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God; For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.

Since he whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God, it would be inconsistent to render Section 89 as directing that man should abstain from meats except in the stated emergency situations.

One additional point which is germain to this discussion is to understand that not only in the Doctrine and Covenants, but in the other scriptures as well, the beasts of the field are differentiated from wild animals. (See 2 Nephi 2:15; D&C 59:16; 88:14; 101:42; Moses 5:1; Ex 23:11; Deut.7:22, etc.) Thus, the beasts of the field are domesticated animals.

So, Medinda, you are enjoined to eat meat of domesticated animals sparingly, but at any season of the year. The Saints in those days were instructed to eat herbs and fruits in the season thereof, since because of lack of modern refrigeration or that transporting of fruits from other climates half way around the world in a few hours, they were only available in the season thereof.

 

Gramps

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Why, according to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 89, are we constrained to eat meat only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. - Ask Gramps - Q and A about Mormon Doctrine
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Lately I have been contemplating the Word of Wisdom. It seems I and others stop reading at verse 12 of Doctrine & Covenants 89. Because the verse after says, regarding eating flesh of animals, And it is pleasing unto me that they should NOT be used….only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
  • http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/ Jane Birch

    Melinda: You are to be commended for desiring to do what is pleasing to the Lord! I will not be too critical of the reply you got from Gramps because he is following in a long tradition of people who have written on this topic based solely on prejudice and without the perspective of scholarly research.

    1. As to the comma added to D&C 89:13 in 1921. There is no evidence that the comma changed the meaning of the verse. Rather, the meaning of the word “only” has changed over time. In 1833, it was more clear than it is today that the word “only” in this verse meant “except.” Elder Talmage most likely added the comma to help modern readers not misunderstand this verse. Both before and after 1921, all Church leaders interpreted this verse in the same way we do today with the comma. For a scholarly examination of this topic, see “Questioning the Comma in Verse 13 of the Word of Wisdom” in http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/questioning-the-comma-in-verse-13-of-the-word-of-wisdom/.

    2. As you correctly interpreted, the Lord is “pleased” if we do not eat meat, except in times of need (winter, cold or famine). This is in line with vs. 15 which emphasizes not using “the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals” except in times of famine and excess of hunger.

    3. This interpretation is also in line with D&C 49:21, which Gramps quotes, “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”

    4. Note that this does not contradict D&C 49:18, “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God.” The Lord is not forbidding us from eating meat. He ordains meat for our use, but as you point out, the Lord is “pleased” if we do not use it except in times of need. But this is our choice! The dietary counsel in D&C 89 is given “not by commandment or constraint” (see v. 2). We are not commanded to abstain and of course we should not forbid others from eating meats. See also: http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/about/the-word-of-wisdom/wow-faqs/command-to-abstain/

    5. Finally, there is also no evidence that the Lord gave the counsel in D&C 89:13 because the Saints lacked refrigeration. Humans have known for thousands of years how to eat meat safely during warm weather without refrigeration. While of course there are important challenges with temperature, they are not insurmountable by any means, and this is just one factor in food safety. See also “Was lack of refrigeration the reason God advised meat for winter only?” (D&C 89:13) in http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/about/the-word-of-wisdom/wow-faqs/refrigeration-theory/.

    For a scholarly examination of most of the various interpretations of D&C 89:13, see “Getting into the Meat of the Word of Wisdom” in http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/getting-into-the-meat-of-the-word-of-wisdom/

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