Whoso Forbiddeth to Abstain from Meats

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Abstract: The double negative phrase “forbiddeth to abstain” as found in D&C 49:18 can be confusing and syntactically challenging for readers. While some have argued that the phrase should be read and understood literally, the Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints indicates that a literal reading is not correct. In this article I demonstrate that the phrase “forbid to abstain” was an accepted English idiom prior to and for a few decades following the receipt of D&C 49, even though it has vanished from contemporary usage completely. The meaning of this idiomatic expression was “command to abstain,” in opposition to its literal meaning. The probable origin of this expression is the Greek text of 1 Timothy 4:3, which in English partially reads “commanding to abstain from meats.” However, in Greek the phrase “commanding to abstain” would be rendered more correctly as “forbidding to abstain.” I conclude that the proper reading of “forbiddeth to abstain” in D&C 49:18 is the idiomatic rather than the literal one and that it should be understood as “commandeth to abstain.”

The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains a syntactically challenging and often confusing verse: “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God” (D&C 49:18). This revelation, given to Joseph Smith Jr. and others on May 7, 1831, was specifically directed at some of the incorrect beliefs and practices of the Shakers, including a belief in abstaining from animal flesh by some of their members.1

The principal reason why this verse is so difficult to understand is that it contains the double negative forbiddeth to abstain. The New Oxford American Dictionary states that:

[Page 18]According to standard English grammar, a double negative used to express a single negative, such as ‘I don’t know nothing’ (rather than ‘I don’t know anything’), is incorrect. The rules dictate that the two negative elements cancel each other out to give an affirmative statement, so that ‘I don’t know nothing’ would be interpreted as ‘I know something’ [emphasis in original].2

Applying this double negative rule to D&C 49:18, the two negative elements (forbiddeth and abstain) should “cancel each other out,” resulting in an affirmative statement. In other words, the double negative phrase forbiddeth to abstain could be reworded as the affirmative commandeth to use. This literal reading of the verse suggests that we should not require others to eat meats. By the same token, we should not prohibit others from adopting a food-restricted lifestyle, such as vegetarianism. In blogs and discussion forums on the Internet, there have been many members of the LDS Church who have discussed and argued for such a literal interpretation of this verse.3

Using Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language to help us understand the meaning of words at the time that Section 49 was given, we learn that to forbid meant very much what it means today “To prohibit; to interdict; to command to forbear or not to do.”4 Webster defined abstain as, “In a general sense, to forbear, or refrain from, voluntarily; but used chiefly to denote a restraint upon the passions or appetites; to refrain from indulgence.”5 Finally, Webster defined meat as, “Food in general; anything eaten for nourishment, either by man or beast.”6 So, recast into more modern language, a literal reading of the verse could be: And whoever prohibits others to voluntarily refrain from foods, that they should not eat them, is not ordained of God. Understood literally, then, this verse appears to censure anyone preaching against [Page 19]abstinence from certain foods, a rebuke toward anyone who criticizes a vegetarian diet or other voluntary food-restricted lifestyle.

But, is the literal meaning the correct one? In the footnote to verse 18, the LDS Church has replaced the phrase “forbiddeth to abstain” with “biddeth to abstain.”7 According to Webster, to bid meant, “To ask; to request; to invite.”8 Introducing this definition into our modern language version, we could then read, And whoever asks others to voluntarily refrain from foods, that they should not eat them, is not ordained by God. Read this way, the verse takes on a nearly opposite meaning from the literal one and appears to disapprove of anyone who encourages others to limit their diet to only certain foods, including those who persuade others to follow a vegetarian diet or other food-restricted lifestyle.

This same verse in the Spanish language Doctrine and Covenants has been translated by the LDS Church as, “Y quién manda abstenerse de la carne, para que el hombre no la coma, no es ordenado por Dios.” Translated back into English, the verse could be faithfully rendered as “And who commands to abstain from meat, so that man does not eat it, is not ordained by God.” In addition, the LDS Church has translated the Portuguese and French versions of this verse in the same manner as the Spanish, demonstrating that this was an intentional wording by the Spanish language translators. All three of these foreign language translations agree very closely with the footnoted version found in the English language Doctrine and Covenants but stand in opposition to the literal reading of the verse in English.

Given these divergent interpretations of this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants, it is apparent that the key to unlocking the intended meaning of the words lies in correctly understanding the phrase “forbiddeth to abstain.”

Idioms

Not all phrases can or should be understood literally. For example, the affirmative words yeah and right, when used sarcastically — yeah, right! — project an opposite meaning to that of the individual words. Friendly, as defined by Oxford, primarily means “kind and pleasant.”9 In that sense, friendly fire is never friendly. Even if during wartime one mistakes one’s friends for enemies, shooting at them could never be construed [Page 20]as kind and pleasant. These two phrases are called idioms, “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”10 Idioms are found in all languages and are not to be understood literally at the risk of serious miscommunication.

The purpose of this article is to show that the phrase “forbiddeth to abstain” was an accepted English idiom prior to and during the time that Section 49 was received, and its idiomatic meaning was “commandeth to abstain,” which is similar to “biddeth to abstain,” but even stronger.

Idiomatic Usage of “Forbid to Abstain”

Cited below are 12 examples in which the phrase forbid to abstain was used by its authors as an idiomatic expression with the intended meaning of command to abstain. The original citations range in date from the 16th century to the mid-19th century and have been arranged chronologically.11 While most of the referenced citations originated in England, one had its origin in the United States, and at least two of the English citations were subsequently reprinted in New York. I was unable to identify any usage of this idiomatic expression post-1866. All sources that I was able to locate, from the late nineteenth century to the present, used the phrase strictly in the literal sense.

Published in 1648 in London, a book entitled The Theatre of Gods [sic] Judgements [sic] explained that “it is to good reason, that Scripture forbids us to abstain from the lust of the flesh and the eyes, which is of the world and the corruption of mans [sic] own nature”12 [emphasis added]. It is obvious from the context of this passage that the intended meaning of “forbids us to abstain” cannot be the literal one, which would prohibit us from refraining from the lusts of the flesh. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). Instead, the intended meaning of “forbids us to abstain” in this passage must be “commands us to abstain.” Otherwise, read literally, the passage would be affirming [Page 21]that the scriptures encourage us to follow the lusts of the flesh and our own corrupt nature.

In a work published in London in 1653 by Thomas Taylor, coauthor of the previous work, Dr. Taylor tells us of Paul’s “predictions of men in the last times, broaching doctrines of divels [sic], forbidding to marry, and forbidding to abstain from meats as unclean”13 [emphasis added]. Dr Taylor was apparently referencing, at least in part, 1 Timothy 4:3. This verse in the 1560 Geneva Bible reads:

“Forbidding to marie [sic], and commanding to absteine [sic] from meats which God hathe [sic] created to be receiued [sic] with giuing [sic] thankes [sic] of them which beleue [sic] and knowe [sic] the trueth [sic]” [emphasis added].

The King James Bible contains similar language:

“Forbidding to marry, and commanding to absteine [sic] from meates [sic], which God hath created to bee [sic] receiued [sic] with thankesgiuing [sic] of them which beleeue [sic], and know the trueth [sic]” [emphasis added].

Both of these editions of scripture contain the phrase “commanding to abstain,” but Dr. Taylor rendered the phrase as “forbidding to abstain.” It is apparent that Dr. Taylor considered “forbidding to abstain” and “commanding to abstain” to have equivalent meanings.

A little over a century later, The Gentleman’s Magazine, published in London in January 1777, wrote upon the subject of vengeance, especially as it related to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, who was defiled by Shechem. The author, Sylvanus Urban, wrote, “Yet where, except in the sword of a parent, or a brother, where is redress for this grievance?”14 Urban’s answer was:

“The arm of Vengeance! And yet, are we not forbidden to abstain [emphasis added] from blood, on any provocation? We are, and we should [emphasis in original] be: A moment’s reflection is founded in the law of eternal rectitude. It is man’s to err, and to mend; be it God’s to punish and to pardon.”15

[Page 22]As Urban explained, only God is entitled to vengeance. Man’s responsibility lies in mending one’s own errors and not in avenging the wrongs of others. As in the two previous examples cited, Urban used the phrase “forbidden to abstain” to mean “commanded to abstain.” This same article by Urban was reprinted in its entirety in a book entitled The Sublime and Beautiful of Scripture, in 1795, in New York.16

John Jay was one of the founding fathers of the United States and its first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Recorded on April 22, 1793, under the caption of “Draft of John Jay’s Charge to the Grand Jury of the Circuit Court for the District of Virginia,” are Justice Jay’s notes on a legal matter. Those notes read:

would not the Laws of Reason and Morality direct them to behave to each other with Respect, with
Justice, with Benevolence, with good Faith_ Would

direct

not those laws forbid them to abstain in from violence to abstain from interfering in their respective domestic Governmt [sic] and arrangements, to abstain from causing Quarrels and Dissentions [sic] in each others [sic] families, to abstain from seducing the Individual Members of those Families into17 [emphasis added].

In the original draft, the word “forbid” was crossed out, and the word “direct” was written above the line, demonstrating that this change was made only after the subsequent words had been written. In contrast, the word “in” was crossed out in-line and replaced by the word “from,” showing that this change was made immediately. This tells us that Justice Jay most likely felt comfortable with the usage of “forbid them to abstain” and only on reflection decided that the phrase needed more clarity, so he replaced “forbid” with “direct.” Since the rest of the paragraph addressed abstinence from interference, quarrels and dissensions, it seems clear that Justice Jay’s original meaning of “forbid them to abstain from violence” could not possibly have been to encourage violence, which would be the literal interpretation, and would place it in opposition to the rest of the paragraph. Rather, it is apparent that the original meaning [Page 23]of “forbid them to abstain” must have been to “direct them to abstain,” as he subsequently reworded it.

In A History of Conferences and other Proceedings Connected with the Revision to the Book of Common Prayer, published in 1811 by the Oxford University Press, Edward Cardwell cited a letter by Edmund Guest, the bishop of Rochester in the 16th century. Guest, among other things, commented on the teachings of Paul. He wrote, “Paul forbids us to abstain not only from that which is evil, but also from all that which is not evil, but yet hath the appearance of evil”18 [emphasis added]. Guest most likely was referring to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which in part reads, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thes 5:22). Clearly, Guest’s usage of “forbids us to abstain” cannot be understood in the literal sense. His meaning is undoubtedly the idiomatic one – to command or direct us to abstain not only from evil, but also from the appearance of evil.19

Printed in 1822 in London, the writings of the late William Gilpin were recorded in Sermons Preached to a Country Congregation. In Sermon XX he stated that “it is not only forbidden to abstain [emphasis added] from all outward acts [emphasis in original] of revenge, but to abstain from all inclination [emphasis in original] to it.”20 Gilpin’s usage of “forbidden to abstain” is in agreement with prior citations and should be understood in the idiomatic sense as “commanded to abstain.”

In A Complete Course for Englishmen to Obtain the French Language at Home, printed in 1827 in London, the author provided translations of many French words into the English language. Se garder was translated by the author as “to keep, to forbid to abstain from, to take care not”21 [emphasis added]. In an English-French dictionary from the same time period (1833) and also published in London, the following was given for the definition and translation of to forbear:

[Page 24]To FORBEAR, anciently FORBARE. [To cease from anything, to intermit, to omit voluntarily, to abstain] Cesser de, interrompre; omettre, s’abstenir, se garder, s’empêcher, se retenir, s’arrêter, se contrindre. To FORBEAR oneself from [to withhold] s’abstenir, se garder de22 [emphasis added, brackets in original].

In the first example cited above, one of the translations of se garder is to forbid to abstain from. In the second example, se garder is interpreted as to forbear, or to abstain. On the surface these two definitions seem to contradict one another. Se garder cannot mean to forbid to abstain and to abstain unless forbid to abstain was intended to be understood as the idiomatic expression. Additionally, since se garder was also translated as to take care not in the first citation, it fits that the author intended forbid to abstain as command to abstain.

In his Short Lectures on the Church Catechism, printed in 1845 in London, Augustus O. FitzGerald, rector of Fledborough, Nottinghamshire, published lectures on various topics. In Lecture XXIX he stated:

As we are forbidden to abstain from whatever is likely to lead to the shedding of blood, it is our duty to keep away from all places where our bad and angry passions may probably be excited; and in particular from those ill-ordered public houses, where the loose and profligate assemble with the purpose of tempting the less wary visitor to drink and gamble.23 [emphasis added]

Again, “forbidden to abstain” can only be properly understood as “commanded to abstain” in this context.

Printed in Edinburgh in 1851, a translation of John Calvin’s preaching about the evils and idolatry of the “domain of the Pope” was reproduced in a book entitled Calvin’s Tracts: Tracts containing Antidote to the Council of Trent. In reference to the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from eating flesh on Fridays, Calvin wrote:

[Page 25]To interdict the Eating of Flesh under the name of Religion, and bind the consciences of believers by such an interdict, was plainly tyrannical, and as the Apostle expresses it, (1 Tim. iv. 1–3,) “devilish.” And seeing the Lord had left it optional to eat flesh daily, or abstain for a lifetime from eating it, nothing forbids you to abstain on particular days. For why may not that be occasionally lawful which is at all times free? Thus you may without sin obey an iniquitous command, provided your intention be to make a concession to the ignorance of the weak, and not also to enthrall your mind by those fetters of tradition.24 [emphasis added]

As the English translation of Calvin’s writing explained, the Scriptures do not forbid [command] us to abstain from eating flesh on particular days of the week. We can eat flesh any time that we want, or we can choose to abstain for a lifetime. But, if we choose to obey the “iniquitous command” of the Pope by abstaining from flesh on a particular day (Friday, for example), we can do so without committing sin so long as our intent is to not offend the weak. Caution, however, needs to be observed so that we are not enthralled in the “fetters of tradition.” As with the prior examples, the only proper way to understand this passage is in the idiomatic sense.

An article appearing in The United Presbyterian Magazine in 1856 laid out its arguments for abstinence from intoxicating liquors:

Since our use of intoxicating liquors, however lawful, leads by the force of example to abuse on the part of others, we are bound to abstain. That is the principle on which we take our stand, and we would earnestly exhort our Christian brethren to consider, whether it is possible to evade its force. The utmost you can plead is, that the Bible allows you to use intoxicating liquors; you cannot pretend that it commands you to use them; you cannot pretend even that it forbids you to abstain from their use.25 [emphasis added]

It is this author’s belief that the most that one can reason from the Bible is that it allows the use of intoxicating drinks. One cannot, in the [Page 26]author’s opinion, claim that the Bible “commands you to use them,” nor can one argue that the Bible “forbids [commands] you to abstain from their use.” Again, it is apparent that the author intended the phrase “forbids to abstain” to be used as the idiomatic expression meaning “commands to abstain.”

In another article from the same year, The Bristol Temperance Herald encouraged its readers to practice abstinence from intoxicating drink:

The utmost that you can plead as to intoxicating drink, is that the Bible admits [emphasis in original] the use of it; you cannot shew [sic] a single passage which, directly or by inference, commands its use, or forbids you to abstain [emphasis added]. There is much to urge to self denial [sic] for the sake of others—the very spirit of the gospel and of its founder is such.26

This article, like the previous, contrasted “commands its use” with “forbids you to abstain,” leading us to the same conclusion that the author’s intended meaning of “forbids you to abstain” is actually “commands you to abstain.”

Although additional examples could be given, one final example will suffice to demonstrate the broad and prevalent usage of the idiomatic expression forbid to abstain. In The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, printed in London in 1866, Sylvanus Urban reminisced on some of the changes that had come upon the church over the centuries:

Happily, no longer is there danger of the Dean of Lincoln, as in the fifteenth century, entering the chapter-house with armed retainers; nor is a vicar, if below the order of priest, liable, as formerly, to be chastised on his bare back; ecclesiastics of every grade may now with impunity wear chequered [sic] hose, may keep dogs within the precincts, may ask friends to dinner without notice to the cook of the common table, may even stay out of close after curfew bell, although not disposed to wear a sword. They need not now, let us hope, as they formerly were at Exeter, be forbidden to abstain from keeping public banquetings in the church, “especially in the choir;” nor is there much danger of their being guilty of indecent gestures [Page 27]during divine services, or before performing miracle plays.27 [emphasis added]

In the citation above, Urban listed a series of prohibitions to which clerics were subjected in earlier times, which appeared to have changed by the time of his writing. One of those changes was that they were no longer “forbidden to abstain from keeping public banquetings in the church, ‘especially in the choir’.” Urban’s source for at least some of this material appears to be a book printed a year earlier in London, entitled Cathedralia: A Constitutional History of Cathedrals of the Western Church. The author of this work, Mackenzie Walcott, wrote that members of the clergy in Exeter, “were forbidden to keep public banquetings and drinkings in the church, specially [sic] in the choir, and to talk during divine service.”28 Walcott’s “forbidden to keep public banquetings” and Urban’s “forbidden to abstain from keeping public banquetings” are opposite statements if interpreted literally. Urban’s usage, though, was undoubtedly the idiomatic rather than the literal one, which aligns the two statements with each other.

1 Timothy 4:3 and Greek – The Probable Origin of the Idiom

William Thomson, in his book published in 1816 and entitled The New Testament Translated from the Greek, provided us with a possible explanation for how the phrase “forbid to abstain” became an English idiom with a meaning opposite to the literal one. The King James Version of 1 Timothy 4:3 currently reads:

Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

Thomson stated that this verse could be translated from the Greek into English as, “Who command not to marry, to abstain from meats, &c.”29 [emphasis in original]. Thomson continued:

The words κωλυόντων ἀπέχεσχαι, though, when literally rendered, are forbidding to abstain, yet according to Greek [Page 28]idiom, two negatives, which are implied in the above mentioned words more strongly deny; therefore they are to be rendered commanding to abstain, or forbidding to use; because in English two negatives amount to an affirmative.30 [emphasis in original]

According to Thomson, “forbidding to abstain,” the literal translation from the Greek, had the effect of more strongly denying the use of something. But since the rules of grammar are not the same in English, 1 Timothy 4:3 was written “commanding to abstain” by the English translators. This creates the strong possibility that “forbidding to abstain” became an English idiom for “commanding to abstain” due to the Greek version of 1 Timothy 4:3, and its English adaptation.

Ernest De Witt Burton, in his book entitled Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, published in Edinburgh in 1898, wrote, “When a negative is followed by one or more similar compound negatives or by the double negative οὐ μή the effect is a strengthened negation.”31 This supports Thomson’s claim that two or more negatives in the Greek “more strongly deny,” and do not, as in the English “amount to an affirmative.”

A.T. Robertson wrote the following in his book from 1919 entitled A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research:

The compound negatives [in the Greek] merely strengthen the previous negative. This emphatic repetition of the compound negative was once good vernacular in both English and German, but it gave way in literary circles before the influence of the Latin. It was always good Greek.32

ο is a Greek word that, according to Strong’s Concordance (3756), is the absolute negative and can mean no, not, nay, neither, never or none.33 μή, according to Strong’s Concordance (3361), is “a primary particle of qualified negation (whereas 3756 expresses an absolute denial),” and can mean no, not, neither, never not or nothing.34 However, Strong’s [Page 29]Concordance also assigned a separate number to the combination of these two Greek words:

3364, oὐ μή (from 3756 / oὐ, ‘not a fact’ and 3361 / μή, ‘not a possibility’) – a double negative which emphatically conveys, ‘not a fact … not even a possibility!’ – literally, ‘no, no!’35

The author of Hebrews in the New Testament wrote, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5) In the Greek, the final part of that verse, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” is written “οὐ μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδ’ οὐ μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω.” A literal translation into English could be rendered:

o μή σε ἀνῶ οὐδοὐ
μή σε ἐγκαταλίπω.

Never not you will I leave nor never
not you will I forsake.

This verse is unusual in the New Testament in that it contains a double negative phrase (oὐ μή) and a triple negative phrase (οὐδ’ οὐ μή). But, the force of both of these phrases in the Greek is to amplify the negative meaning. So, in order to agree with the Greek, when translated into English both phrases are expressed with only one negative each: I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

Protestants, Catholics, and Shakers

The Reformation brought many disagreements on points of doctrine and interpretation of scripture between Protestants and Catholics. One of those disagreements centered around Paul’s prophecy in 1 Timothy:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith … forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1, 3)

Just as differences exist today about how D&C 49:18 should be understood, similar disagreements have existed between Protestants and Catholics around the correct reading of these verses from 1 Timothy. [Page 30]Protestants, who have translated this verse in the idiomatic sense due to the differences in Greek and English grammar, have claimed that the Catholics were the target of Paul’s prophecy since Catholic clergy were forbidden to marry, and since all members of the Catholic Church were forbidden to eat meat, other than fish, on Friday. Catholics, on the other hand, by literally interpreting the verse from the Greek have accused the Protestants of apostasy because they refused to ever abstain from meats.

The Reverend Edward Burton, in his book from 1829 entitled An Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age, in Eight Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, provided his commentary on 1 Timothy 4:3. He said that “it will be observed that the words and commanding, in v.3. are not in the Greek”36 [emphasis in original]. He continued,

But it is easy to see, as many commentators have pointed out, that some word equivalent to commanding must be supplied. Fr. Costerus, a writer of the Romish church, takes a very different view of the passage; and by interpreting it literally, without supplying any other word, he thinks that the protestants, who [literally] forbid to abstain from meats, may have been intended by St. Paul.37 [emphasis in original]

Burton acknowledged that a literal translation of 1 Timothy 4:3 from Greek to English, as suggested by Costerus, would provide the opposite meaning of “command to abstain from meats.” But Burton argued that:

Such an argument as this is beneath criticism, and can only provoke a smile where we ought to be serious: but I mention it, to shew [sic] how cautious we ought to be in interpreting scripture; and how easy it is to become ridiculous, when we follow party feeling rather than charity and sound reason.38

In his book Stromata Procatholica; A Series of Papers Principally Procatholic, or Antidotal to Antichristianism, printed in London in 1864, E.W. Attwood argued, as did Costerus, for a literal interpretation from the Greek of the verse from 1 Timothy. In his argument, he accused the Protestants of fulfilling Paul’s prophecies of apostasy, just as the Protestants had accused the Catholics. Attwood wrote:

[Page 31]Has it ever occurred to you [Protestants] that the word commanding [emphasis in original], in the second clause of the sentence in your translation [kjv], is an interpolation on the original; so that the force of forbidding [emphasis in original] in the first, a word that is not an interpolation, may apply not only to the expression “to marry,” but to the following one, “to abstain from meats?” It is already shown that you [Protestants] often virtually abstain to marry by your luxurious and popular idea of economy, that is, of sufficiency for a household: as to meats you actually and notoriously forbid to abstain from them [emphasis added], pronouncing it an absurdity to decline the supplies of the Creator from whatever motive, whether restraint of the flesh or obedience to the Church, and those fools or mad who do so from either motive.39

Attwood did not set forth any evidence to back a literal interpretation from the Greek for the clause “forbidding to abstain,” although he does appear to support its literal use. His primary argument seems to be that the Protestant Bible introduced the word “commanding” as an “interpolation,” a “spurious word or passage inserted in the genuine writings of an author.”40 Protestants, on the other hand, while agreeing that the word command is not in the Greek, believe that its inclusion is necessary to correctly understand the original intent of the Greek.

The Douay-Rheims [Catholic] Bible from 1850 contains the following for 1 Timothy 3:4, “Forbidding to marry, to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by the faithful, and by them that have known the truth.” Not only are the words “and commanding” not found in this verse, but the word “forbidding” in front of “to abstain from meats” is also not present, consistent with the original Greek wording. Although “forbidden” is omitted in the Greek, Attwood and others would agree that the clause should still be understood as “forbidding to abstain from meats.” However, as previously noted by Thomson and others, two negatives in Greek more strongly deny a statement, while in English two negatives make an affirmative. As such, the clause “forbidding to abstain” should either be written “commanding to abstain” or “forbidding to use” when translated into English.

[Page 32]A Shaker tract printed in 1810 in Albany, New York, entitled Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, and republished in 1856 “by the United Society, called Shakers,”41 asserted that both the Protestants and the Catholics were wrong in their interpretation of this verse from 1 Timothy. The tract acknowledged that “the word commanding in 1 Timothy iv. 3 – is put into the text by the translators”42 [emphasis in original], but it also claimed that “that text of scripture would read with propriety and in harmony with others without the bold ellipsis.”43 In other words, the clause to abstain from meats should be left without the addition of and commanding or any other words, including forbidding. In addition, the Shaker tract made the assertion that,

According to their highest and most approved critics, the word koluo [κωλύω], which the translators have rendered in this place, “forbidding,” originally and radically signified to confine, constrain, bind, or shut up, and that “commanding” is not in the original. Therefore, the text in the original reads literally binding, confining, or constraining to marry, to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving, &c.44 [emphasis in original]

However, Strong’s Concordance gives the following definition for koluo (κωλύω): “2967 – From the base of κολαζω – kolazo 2849; to estop, i.e. prevent (by word or act):– forbid, hinder, keep from, let, not suffer, withstand.”45 As shown, Strong’s definition of κωλύω is in opposition with that provided in the Shaker tract. A possible reason why the Shaker tract gave a differing definition for the word koluo (κωλύω) is that Shakers did not marry, and they “established celibacy as the cardinal principle of the community.”46 So, Shakers preached that apostates were those constraining to marry rather than those forbidding to marry, and [Page 33]supported this preaching with their unique interpretation of Paul’s writing to Timothy.

In yet another deviation from the accepted understanding of this verse, the Shaker tract further claimed that the word “meats,” as used in this verse, had nothing to do with physical food at all.

The meat which Christ Jesus spake of eating, was that of abstaining from his own will, and doing the will of God! “I came not to do mine own will,” are his words – “I have meat to eat that ye know not of – my meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” And the same that was his meat, became also the meat of his followers. Their meat was to take up the cross, and abstain from fleshly lusts, and do the will of Jesus Christ, as he did the will of his Father. This was the true meat, which God had appointed to be received with thanksgiving by them that believed and knew the truth.47 [emphasis in original]

The tract concluded that, as to “abstaining from meats,” neither the Protestants nor the Catholics understood the verse correctly, and that “the Papists and the Protestants may continue to divide between themselves, as they have already practically done, by charging it [apostasy] upon each other.”48

Conclusion

I demonstrated in this article that forbid to abstain was an accepted and broadly used English idiom, especially as it pertained to matters of religious import, and that the meaning of this idiom was in direct opposition to its literal meaning. This idiom first appeared in English literature, no later than the early sixteenth century, and continued in use until at least 1866. As such, the idiom was still in use at the time that section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1831.

As demonstrated by multiple writers, a literal translation from the Greek of forbidding to abstain from meats does not properly express the intent of Paul’s writing to Timothy. In English, his intent would best be written as commanding to abstain from meats. Additionally, it is very probable that this idiom developed as a direct result of the Greek rendering of 1 Timothy 4:3. Because two negatives in Greek more strongly [Page 34]deny, forbidding to abstain in Greek should be rendered commanding to abstain in English.

Accordingly, D&C 49:18 would be best understood if the word forbiddeth were replaced by commandeth, which would give us: “And whoso commandeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God,” which is precisely how the LDS Church has translated this verse in its current Spanish, Portuguese, and French editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. This idiomatic interpretation is given even further strength when read together with verse 19 of the same section. “And whoso [commandeth] 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” (D&C 49:18–19).

1. D&C 49, Section heading.

2. New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., 520, s.v. “double negative.”

4. Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster 1828, Original Facsimile Edition (San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education, 2010), s.v. “forbid.” Webster did not paginate this text, but the volume and signature numbers are printed at the bottom of every fourth leaf.

5. Webster, s.v. “abstain.”

6. Webster, s.v. “meat.”

7. Footnote to D&C 49:18.

8. Webster, s.v. “bid.”

9. Oxford, 694, s.v. “friendly.”

10. Oxford, 864, s.v. “idiom.”

11. The earliest citation is from a letter by Edmund Guest, the bishop of Rochester during the sixteenth century, and published in a work by Edward Cardwell, A History of Conferences and other Proceedings Connected with the Revision to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: University Press, 1811). See note 18.

12. Thomas Beard and Thomas Taylor, The Theatre of Gods Judgements: Wherein is represented the admirable Justice of God against all notorious sinners, great and small, specially against the most eminent Persons in the World, whose exorbitant power had broke through the barres of Divine and Humane Law (London: S.I. & M.H., 1648), 282.

13. Thomas Taylor, The Works of that Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ, not hitherto published (London: T.R. & E.M., 1653), 45.

14. Sylvanus Urban, The Gentleman’s Magazine (London: D. Henry, 1777), 111.

15. Urban, The Gentleman’s Magazine, 111.

16. Courtney Melmoth, The Sublime and Beautiful of Scripture, Being Essays on Select Passages of Sacred Composition (New York: Tiebout & O’Brien, 1795), 83.

17. Maeva Marcus, The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800, 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 361.

18. Edward Cardwell, A History of Conferences and other Proceedings Connected with the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer; From the Year 1558 to the Year 1690 (Oxford: University Press, 1811), 49.

19. This same passage by Guest was reprinted in New York in 1902, in a book written by Henry Gee and entitled The Elizabethan Prayer Book & Ornaments (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1902), 216–217.

20. William Gilpin, Sermons Preached to a Country Congregation; To which are added a few Hints for Sermons; Intended chiefly for the use of the younger clergy, iii (London: Trustees of William Gilpin, 1822), 224.

21. J. N. Vlieland, A Complete Course for Englishmen to Obtain the French Language at Home (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1827), 88.

22. Joseph Wilson, A French and English Dictionary; Containing full explanations, definitions, synonyms, idioms, proverbs, terms of art and science, and rules of pronunciation in each language (London, Joseph Ogle Robinson, 1833), 216.

23. Augustus O. Fitz Gerald, Short Lectures on the Church Catechism (London: F. & J. Rivington, 1845), 181.

24. John Calvin, Calvin’s Tracts: Containing Antidote to the Council of Trent (Edinburgh, Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 378.

25. The United Presbyterian Magazine, 10 (Edinburgh: William Oliphant & Sons, 1856), 499.

26. The Bristol Temperance Herald, 12, XX (Bristol: Committee of the Bristol Total Abstinence Society, 1856), 179.

27. Sylvanus Urban, The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, II (London: Bradbury, Evans & Co., 1866), 245-246.

28. Mackenzie E. C. Walcott, Cathedralia: A Constitutional History of Cathedrals of the Western Church (London: Joseph Masters, 1865), 163.

29. William Thomson, The New Testament Translated from the Greek; And the Four Gospels Arranged in Harmony, III (Kilmarnock, Scotland: H. Crawford, 1816), 256.

30. Thomson, The New Testament Translated from the Greek, 256–257.

31. Ernest De Witt Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, (Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1898), 186.

32. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, third edition (New York, Hodder & Stoughton, 1919), 1165.

36. Edward Burton, An Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age, in Eight Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford (Oxford: Samuel Collingwood, 1829), 436.

37. Burton, An Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age, 436–437.

38. Burton, An Inquiry into the Heresies of the Apostolic Age, 437.

39. E.W. Attwood, Stromata Procatholica; A Series of Papers Principally Procatholic, or Antidotal to Antichristianism, (London: Waterlow & Sons, 1864), 135.

40. Webster, s.v. “interpolation.”

41. Benjamin Seth Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, Exemplified by the Principles and Practice of the True Church of Christ, fourth edition (Albany: The United Society, 1856), Title page.

42. Benjamin Seth Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, Containing a Statement of all things pertaining to the Faith and Practice of the Church of God in this Latter-Day, second edition (Albany: E. & E. Hosford, 1810), 324.

43. Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, second edition, 324.

44. Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, fourth edition, 285.

47. Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, second edition, 325.

48. Youngs, Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing, fourth edition, 285.

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About Loren Blake Spendlove

Loren Spendlove (MBA, California State University, Fullerton and PhD, University of Wyoming) has worked in many fields over the last thirty years, including academics and corporate financial management. Currently, he and his wife design and manufacture consumer goods. A student of languages, his research interests center on linguistics and etymology.

15 thoughts on “Whoso Forbiddeth to Abstain from Meats

  1. Excellent article, Loren! This awkward phrase has been a source of confusion for some well-meaning members of the Church. I think you have put at least one competing interpretation about this verse to rest. Thanks for sharing your research!

    I find D&C 49 fascinating. There is still much we do not fully understand about this verse. I’ve started to tackle an interpretation in this short article:

    http://discoveringthewordofwisdom.com/about/the-word-of-wisdom/wow-faqs/command-to-abstain/

    • Jane

      Thanks for the link. The China Study book looks interesting. Tina and I lived in China for many years. Once, while returning from a factory by bus, I sat next to a medical doctor whose specialty was diabetes. This was around 2003. He told me that during the 1990s the diabetes rate in China had quadrupled. He blamed it on the western diet (Pizza Hut, McDonalds and KFC) which was readily available throughout China. I just now bought a copy on Amazon and look forward to reading it.

      • The China Study is the best book on healthy plant-based eating in my opinion.

        That Chinese doctor was correct, I’m afraid. As the Chinese have adopted a more Western diet filled with both animal foods and processed foods, the prevalence of diabetes in China has gone from one of the lowest to one of the highest in the world. Less than one percent of the Chinese population were diabetic in 1980, that number rose to 5.5 percent in 2000, 9.7 percent in 2007 and 11.6 in 2010 (Yu Xu, et al., “Prevalence and Control of Diabetes in Chinese Adults,” Journal of the American Medical Association 30, no. 9 (September 4, 2013): 948–958).

        I love China! (I served my mission in Taiwan and then studied Chinese history, so I’m definitely biased.) I wish we were exporting the gospel and not our awful diet to our good brothers and sisters in China.

        I’ve been sharing your excellent article with others on Facebook!

  2. Thanks for this very thorough article.
    Though I am a public advocate against animal abuse (including meat eating), I have always understood D&C49:18 to be mean “Forbid to eat,” so I agree about the double negative (though my analysis was nowhere near as thorough).
    However, what we LDS veggie advocates are doing is not ‘forbidding’ to eat meat, but making an ethical argument against doing so when not necessary. We are not saying that God said that no one ever should be allowed to eat meat. We are saying that in a day in which plenty of plant food is available year round, that it is more ethical not to eat animals.
    In fact, D&C49 says the same thing just three verses later: “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” Which is saying that you ought not to kill animals unless it is necessary. Therefore, if what we are doing in arguing against the needless harm to animals goes against D&C49, then D&C49 goes against itself.
    Therefore, the way I see it, we should understand our ethical argument against unnecessary meat eating (and against animal abuse more generally) to be in harmony with D&C49 as a whole.
    Thanks for sharing this interesting work!

    • Christopher

      Thanks for your comments. Interestingly, I am mostly in agreement with you on this issue. My wife and I have been vegetarians for more than two decades now and have encouraged our children to be so, with limited success. I guess what I take away from D&C 49:18 is that we cannot claim that God has authorized us to advocate for ANY type of food-restricted diet in His name.

      Having said that, I believe that citing scientific data to promote certain food-restricted diets (like abstaining from sugar, refined flours, and even animal flesh) is fair game. However, if we claim an ethical or moral basis for our advocacy, that could be interpreted by some as suggesting God’s support for our views. So, I try to steer away from ethical or moral arguments in favor of scientific evidence.

      • Joseph Fielding Smith was outspoken regarding the ethical and moral reasons for not killing animals unnecessarily. So were many other prophets in this dispensation. Morals, ethics, and justice are the basis of God’s dietary law, as with all his laws.

        Lorenzo Snow had a love of hunting until one day while walking into the woods to hunt, it occurred to him that the cause of his excitement to hunt was being bought at the expense of innocent creatures that he was about to go and murder. So subdued was he by this realization that he turned around, walked back to his home, put down his gun and never picked it up again. Morality and ethics caused this mighty change in his heart. They are at the heart of this matter for each of us, or should be in part.

        The promise of the peaceable kingdom to come, where none will hurt or destroy on the Lord’s holy mountain…, is based on morality, ethics, justice, and the highest laws of heaven finally coming out into the open. It was this promise of the holy babe in the manger that caused animals and men to rejoice together at his birth. These latent rights of animals cannot always remain forever hidden from the saints.

        Loren, you suggested that according to the true use of this idiom, a person is not ordained of God if he/she “invites” others to abstain from eating flesh. In a 1979 BYU devotional President Benson invited all students to eat like the prophet Daniel of old. Daniel was a vegetarian; therefore, President Benson invited BYU students to become vegetarians. Was he ordained of God?

        Similarly, Lorenzo Snow said, “The day will come when members of the church will abstain from eating flesh.” Was he foretelling of a great apostasy?
        The Lord himself has invited us to abstain from eating flesh, warning us soundly of woes that will come upon those who choose to eat flesh without need. Is the Lord not ordained of God?

        Can the Lord suggest a pleasing path is one that abstains from flesh without inviting us to abstain from flesh? Why does it please him? Ethics, morals, What? Is he not ordained of God, or can we all invite others to eat like Daniel and to please the Lord in our eating habits?

        Vegetarian Facts:
        1. Adam was given a vegetarian dietary law.
        2. Noah was given a vegetarian dietary law, with permission to eat flesh, only to save his life.
        3. Daniel lived a vegetarian law.
        4. The Word of Wisdom is a vegetarian law, with permission given to eat flesh during famines and excess of hunger.
        5. The millennial dietary law is vegetarian.

        Until we become crystal clear regarding God’s dietary law being vegetarian at its core, saints will never strive for obedience, but will forever yield to their addictions toward flesh. And God said, “You want flesh? You can eat flesh until the worms crawl from your nostrils and you say, I’ve had enough flesh; and I want no more.”

        • James

          Perhaps you did not read the article carefully enough. I did not state, as you wrote, that a person is not ordained of God if he/she “invites” others to abstain from eating flesh. Here is what I said:

          “I conclude that the proper reading of ‘forbiddeth to abstain’ in D&C 49:18 is the idiomatic rather than the literal one and that it should be understood as ‘commandeth to abstain’.” In addition, I stated that the word meats could mean any food, not just animal flesh. Perhaps you should reread the article.

          I did write that the current rendering of “biddeth” can be understood as “inviteth,” but that is not the Lord’s original language.

          Personally, I am a vegetarian, and have been for more than 25 years. And, I not only invite, but encourage others to change their meat eating ways all the time. I have also never hunted. But, where we cross the line, I believe, is when we begin to “command,” especially with some supposed authority from God or even his prophets, that people need to abstain from “any” food. Whenever I talk to people about abstaining from animal flesh, I do so from a nutritional/medical point of view. I try to avoid the moral/ethical argument specifically to not appear to be claiming any authority from God to do so. There are plenty of scientific arguments that one can make to advocate for vegetarianism without trying to use God or his prophets as a trump card.

          • These are good points. I, however, think that we can make moral arguments against mistreating animals because 1. Mistreating animals (e.g. factory farming) is unethical (for a wide variety of reasons, very much including unjustified infliction of mass amounts of suffering). These arguments do not depend upon religion at all, but on basic ethics and compassion. 2. Mormon scriptures and prophets do strongly teach that cruelty to animals, including unnecessary killing, is wrong.
            What I don’t do in light of this scripture is claim that the scriptures/prophets say that no one should ever eat animals. They don’t say that, but they do say (repeatedly) that people should not be cruel or kill unnecessarily. If people followed this policy, that would eliminate the vast majority of meat eating (since most of it is unnecessary and most of it involves cruel conditions).
            Those are my thoughts anyway.

          • It was a bit late after I stumbled into my office out of the rain-storm last night. I’ll read your original thoughts more carefully when my mind is a bit sharper.

            I can understand your choice to cite science as one of the primary reasons you employ while inviting others to be vegetarian. I also understand why Chris cites important moral, ethical considerations. It is not right to seek to inflence others to not cite moral and ethical reasons, for they are equally valid, if not more so, and are in fact one of the ways the Lord can use to reach others in this thing.

            The brethren themselves have cited each of these reasons and much more, as they’ve wrestled to know how to persuade the Lord’s people to obey the Word of Wisdom. We can hardly expect to not be engaged in similar mighty wrestlings before the Lord, especially if our path is in this thing.

            Anyone who is called to this work by the Lord is going to wrestle mightily to know how they are to do the work they that he wants them to do.

            My path, and what he wants me to do, isn’t even remotely close to what I imagined when I began this journey. I’m grateful to all contributions made by others who are also in this path, one way or another.

            The Lord’s dietary law is the same today as it was yesterday, except that it takes into account conditions that exist on this earth, and that will exist, until the earth is redeemed. Today’s conditions sometimes result in the loss of the primary food supply of the earth. Under such conditions God has authorized the use of flesh. If he authorize it for any other use, it will be on a personal basis, according to individual need, and likely not more generally. However, he is a “wild man” and just when we think we have his ways figured out, he teaches us what we never imagined, that we are barely scratching the surface.

  3. I take it to mean that we cannot claim that God says that eating meat is wrong in principle, i.e. that no one should ever eat meat. I do not take it to mean that one cannot make an ethical argument against eating meat given that a) it is unnecessary for survival/health today, and b) the methods in which (the vast majority of) it is raised are abundantly cruel and harmful to animals/environment/health, etc.
    I feel that these arguments are in keeping with not only this section itself (verse 21) but also with other LDS scriptures (e.g. JST Gen 9:10-11, and D&C89, not to mention many prophets (I have a powerpoint all about it, if you are interested).
    By the way, since you mention ANY type of dietary restriction, it is interesting to note that the first time I heard 1Tim 4 explained from a pulpit was at a Christian service that used it to argue against Mormons (because they restrict alcohol, tea, and coffee)!
    Thanks for your interesting follow up.

    • Christopher

      I agree with your ethical argument, even though I choose not to advocate for it publicly.

      And just a small point of clarification. I mentioned “ANY type of food-restricted diet” rather than “ANY type of dietary restriction.” The difference may seem small, but it is noteworthy. Oxford defines food as “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” I would not consider alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee as foods, since none of them provide any physical nourishment, maintenance of life or growth.

      Rather, I would classify them as non-food substances. I have no issue with substance-restricted diets, nor do I believe that the Bible does. 1 Timothy 4 specifically talks about meats (foods) rather than non-food substances. And we know that D&C 89 clearly advises us to abstain from specific non-food substances (alcohol, tobacco, etc.).

  4. I agree with you about that too; I just thought that you might find that little story interesting (there are people who interpret scriptures in all kinds of different ways!). I am glad to know that we are on the same page on the other issues as well.
    For me, the knowledge of how humans treat animals is one of the great sorrows of my life. I didn’t need the gospel to convince me that factory farming is wrong (as Brigham Young taught: “If we maltreat our animals, or each other, the spirit within us, our traditions, and the Bible, all agree in declaring it is wrong.”), but it is very nice to know that there is a harmony there.
    It saddens me to see so many LDS dismiss concern for animals because of cautions like D&C49:18. They should take that and other verses in light of the many pro-animal statements in that (v. 21) and other scriptures and the many statements from prophets as well. I have a compilation of them in my powerpoint.

  5. All my kids are vegetarian/vegan and claim they are living the higher law. I say to them perhaps; however, they have to site a limited selection of obscure writings from men and prophets of the early church to support their claims. I love them and support their choices, but until the scriptures say different and the subject is broached during a modern day general conference I’m going to eat meat sparingly and say yes to the10th temple recommend question “do you obey the word of wisdom” without hesitation and the bishop and stake president will without question grant me a recommend even with full knowledge that I eat meat.

    I have no issue with vegans or vegetarians as I say my children are proponents of that lifestyle. It goes without saying there are many health benefits to eating healthy. And I do believe animal cruelty is wrong…of course it is; however, I don’t think my father in law who used raise the largest seedstock of short horn cattle in the nation at one time was defined as cruel. Do I believe we have become a little extreme on the topic…no question. Especially when I hear vegans say they can cure my dads cancer (which he tried the health route avoiding the doctors advice however ended up dead). And when they say they can cure my daughters cystic fibrosis which is just flat out offensive.

    People get caught up in movements and ride waves of condemnation pointing fingers and forget to heed to the councel given by the prophet and general authorities at general conferences twice a year.

    Great article. Agency is a gift. It’s clear we have been given much agency on the matter for the time being. Learn to love your brother even if he’s 400 lbs and each McDonald’s daily. I suppose that’s a challenge for all of us…and of course that includes myself.

    Respectfully

    • Great comments, Ryan! Agency is key. There is no commandment to abstain from meat, and we can certainly eat meat and be worthy of a temple recommend. But with so much evidence that abstaining from animal foods has many health benefits, I hope no one will hesitate to do so simply because it is not commanded. It is not meet that we be commanded in all things. We also know abstaining from meat except in times of need is pleasing to the Lord. We don’t have to look in obscure places to know this. It is right in the middle of our modern scriptures: D&C 89:13.

      If we want to know how to best care for our body temple, the Lord will lead us. If we prefer to do the minimum required of us, we’ll receive those blessings. Its all good!

      • Thank you Jane. Always support making wise decisions regarding your health. I think abstaining from excessive consumption of meat is more accurate. I think we can all agree there lies a deeper meaning for those who abstain from meat. The vigor and passion put into its cause suggests a far greater purpose than perhaps healthy living, living longer or otherwise being obedient to a higher law. I don’t see many push for more exercise. Again it goes without saying that a diet filled with vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes are better than a diet filled with steaks, bacon and hamburger. Of course it is. The question is will an occasional salmon sandwich make you less healthy or result in less blessed? I believe there are some who believe the Lord blessed this world with animals for us to partake of and to reject the Lords offering is offensive. I really don’t know. But I do know is I eat salads and I do love them. Now I’m rambling…its late. Love your neighbor which ever way they lean. Love them.

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