I run a Word of Wisdom Commentary website, and as a result I occasionally receive emails with questions regarding the Word of Wisdom.
A common theme in these emails is caffeine, and specifically President Hinckley’s mention of caffeine in a 1998 interview on Larry King Live. In it, this discussion ensued:
Gordon B. Hinckley: The word of wisdom covers many things. It covers the excessive use of meat, as I see it. It covers, in a very particular way, the use of tobacco and alcohol.
Larry King: By saying no?
Gordon B. Hinckley: By saying, by proscribing those things.
Larry King: No to caffeine?
Gordon B. Hinckley: No to caffeine, coffee and tea.
Proponents of the word of wisdom including caffeine use this as proof that it is church policy that we not partake of caffeine. All arguments aside of using a television show in a single country to introduce new policy, there is one thing to consider when reading this transcript.
You see, when President Hinckley spoke, he did not indicate what punctuation he was using. As a result, all punctuation found in the transcript was introduced by CNN staff. Let’s look at the last statement of that quote with CNN’s punctuation:
No to caffeine, coffee and tea
See, this makes it seem like President Hinckley is listing off things we’re not supposed to consume. In other words, we proscribe caffeine, we proscribe coffee, and we proscribe tea.
Consider alternate punctuation.
No to caffeine: coffee and tea
In this case, President Hinckley is saying coffee and tea to quantify or clarify what he meant when he said caffeine.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what punctuation President Hinckley meant, so we have to make an assumption. Personally, I think the latter example makes a lot more sense.