Feb 2, 2015
8 min read
 

Examining the Chiastic Structure of the Word of Wisdom

Back when I was studying the Word of Wisdom in depth, I became aware of potential patterns in the text. I began to wonder if D&C 89 was structured in a chiastic form. I printed out a copy and began marking it up.

To my delight, I began to find certain themes repeating themselves in opposite directions off of a central theme. As I analyzed the structure, I decided to try to boil it down to certain themes or principles and I found 3 that appear to be represented strongly in the text: temporal salvation, spiritual blessings, and stewardship over creation.

Theme & Color Key

Temporal Salvation
Health, strength, wellness, energy

Spiritual Blessings
Revelation, clarity, blessings for obedience

Stewardship Over Creation
Respect for life, proper use, peace.
Flesh ordained for use when there is a legitimate need.


Potential Chiastic Structure

The following structure attempts to illustrate parallels with color codes in an attempt to see a bit of the structure based on the three core principles that I am focusing on in the text. It appears that the chiasm centers on the principle of stewardship over creation while building on physical and spiritual blessings. This was quite unexpected, and has some interesting implications.

I’m only indenting part of this chiasm because of the limited horizontal space on my blog.

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A) benefit

B) the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion

C) God

D) salvation

E) promise

F) weak…weakest

G) revelation

H) strong drink

I) sacraments

J) grape of the vine

K) is not good for man

L) to be used with judgment and skill

M) not for the body or belly

N) all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

O) herb in the season thereof

P) fruit in the season thereof

Q) thanksgiving.

R) Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man

Q) thanksgiving

P) they are to be used sparingly

O) they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

N) All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts

M) for man…for the beasts…the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals

L) for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

K) is good for the food of man

J) fruit of the vine

I) wheat for man

H) mild drinks

G) great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

F) weary…faint

E) promise

D) destroying

C) angel

B) the children of Israel

A) slay

Alternate Chiastic Structure

This alternate chiastic structure was proposed by D. Lynn Johnson in his paper Hidden Treasures in the Word of Wisdom which you can download here. I don’t agree with some of his commentary in the full document regarding certain verses being nullified by refrigeration (I’ll leave that for you to decide) but I find the way that he structured the verses below very interesting.

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A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion– to be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom,

A1) showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days–

A2) Given for a principle with promise,

B1) adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

B2) Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation– That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him. And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies. And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

C) And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man– Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

D1) 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,

D2) only in times of

D3) winter, or of cold, or famine.

E) All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life,

D1 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

D2 only in times of

D3 famine and excess of hunger.

C All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground– nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

B1 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings,

B2 walking in obedience to the commandments,

A1 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.

A2 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.


Thematic analysis

The following thematic analysis attempts to focus on the themes as they appear in the context of the entire revelation and all the verses.

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 1 A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—
 
 2 To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—

 3 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—

 5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

 6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

 7 And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
 
 8 And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
 
 9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

 10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

 11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.

12 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;
 
 13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

14 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;
 
 15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

 16 All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

 17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

18 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;

19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

 20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
 
 21 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.


Questions

So what does this all mean? What other patterns are there that we can discover? Why do some revelations and sermons follow this kind of structure, it is coincidence, or is there something about inspiration that ‘completes the circle’ when it comes to ideas?