May 28, 2009
A.A. History Articles
Basic Ideas Early A.A.s
Took from the Bible
A number of AAs, A.A. historians, and religious groups have assembled lists of Bible verses from time to time verses which they believe are relative to, or explanatory of the Twelve Steps. But the author's particular research focus has been limited, at the outset, to those books, chapters, and verses in the Bible from which A.A. pioneers actually took the basic ideas they fashioned into their spiritual recovery program.
Let's begin with what A.A.'s founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, had to say on the matter. First, both founders Bill and Bob stated many times the A.A.'s underlying philosophy came from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5 to 7). Second, they both made it clear that much of their recovery material was taken from the Book of James and from 1 Corinthians 13 (the so-called "love" chapter). Beyond that, Dr. Bob said A.A.'s basic ideas came from their study of the Bible itself. Both Bill and Dr. Bob agreed upon the tremendous influence the Reverend Sam Shoemaker and the Oxford Group had on A.A. ideas. Shoemaker was known by his associates at Calvary Church in New York as a "Bible Christian." And the Oxford Group frequently stated that its principles were the principles of the Bible.
Today, therefore, if one carefully studies the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, A.A. Conference Approved Literature, and other materials coming from the founders and pioneers, that person can locate the specific biblical materials upon which A.A. ideas were founded. This has been done below with brief citations to Bible and A.A. sources and, at the conclusion, to the very substantial documentation in other reference and source books.
Following are the basic ideas early AAs took from the Bible, which they affectionately called the "Good Book.":
God IS, and He rewards those who diligently seek Him:Bill Wilson (in the Big Book, at pp. 53 and 60), the Reverend Sam Shoemaker, and many Oxford Group writers used language affirming the existence of God and His rewarding nature. They often paraphrased or actually cited Hebrews 11:6. The verses says, in part: "for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." God either is, or He isn't, Wilson and Shoemaker wrote (Big Book, p. 53; Shoemaker, Confident Faith, p. 187). And He rewards those who seek Him. "God can and will," wrote Wilson at page 27 of the original multilith manuscript of the Big Book. Wilson later changed this language to read: "God could and would if He were sought (Big Book, p. 60).
Man's chief end is to do God's will:From Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, to which Bill and Dr. Bob referred, came some oft-quoted basic A.A. ideas about doing God's Will: "Thy will be done" (Matthew 6:10; Big Book, p. 67). Also Jesus's teaching that only "he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" shall enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 6:21; see Big Book, p. 85: "Thy will (not mine) be done"). Acts 13:22 proclaimed that David was a man after God's own heart because he was to fulfill God's will. Jesus said his meat was to do the will of God who sent him (John 4:34); and Jesus also said whosoever did the will of his Father which is in heaven is his brother and sister and mother (Matthew 12:5).
God's Universal Will is found in His Word (the Bible):All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Scripture did not come in old time by the will of man; but holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). And it was such verses declaring that the Bible is the revealed will of God that caused so many religious authorities (Protestant and Roman Catholic alike) to point to the Scriptures as sacred and as containing God's universal or general will (See, for example, Shoemaker, The Conversion of the Church, p. 49; Wright, The Will of God, p. 137; Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, September 30, 1943). Hence, as Dr. Bob's wife put it, the Bible was regarded as "the main source book" in early A.A. It is filled with commandments such as the "Ten Commandments" (Exodus 20:1-17) and the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40) which were often referred to in A.A. literature and which reflected God's will as the pioneers saw it.
God's Particular or Private Will for Man is learned through prayer and listening:Man's necessary posture for "hearing" or receiving "guidance" from God is prescribed in a number of Bible verses often cited by Sam Shoemaker and the daily devotionals early AAs used, and which spilled over into its Eleventh Step language and instructions in the Big Book. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10); "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (1 Samuel 3:9); "Watch and pray" (Matthew 26:41); "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6); "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10); "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5); "Continuing in prayer with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2); Being anxious about nothing (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:6-7). These all were verses and concepts used with great frequency by A.A.'s spiritual sources and reflected in its Eleventh Step emphasis on prayer, meditation, being grateful, seeking guidance, and avoiding agitation and doubt.
As examples, early AAs studied Scripture to learn God's general will as to health, prayer, meditation, and listening; and then sought His particular will through an experiment of faith involving the actual doing of God's known general will:
God expects His people to write down luminous thoughts, check them, and obey those that are from Him:
While one may question the applicability and relevance of the verses, the following were cited in Oxford Group writings for the foregoing proposition. They state: "Write thee all the words that I have spoken thee in a book" (Jeremiah 30:2). "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it" (Habakkuk 2:2). "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you" (Jeremiah 7:3). From these verses came the long-standing Oxford Group and early A.A. practice of holding a Quiet Time to listen for thoughts from God, write down all the thoughts, check out those felt to be from God and in line with Scripture, and then obey the latter.
When people learn God's will and pray in accordance with it, they can expect, by their believing, to have such prayers be effective and be answered:
"The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24). "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him" (1 John 5:14-15). These verses were often mentioned by early A.A. spiritual sources to show the effectiveness of prayer, the importance of believing, and the necessity for asking in alignment with God's will.
God's will is for every person to enter into a relationship with Him through a rebirth that enables that person to become God's child:
While the focus in A.A. has shifted from the necessity for being born again of the Spirit to a supposed factual status as children of God, the early A.A. focus was upon the necessity for finding and being born of the Spirit of God through the work of His son, Jesus Christ. The following verses were much in evidence: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23). "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). "For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). "Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:7).
When a person is reborn in Christ, that person has a new creation and is freed from sin and endued with the power of God:
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 4:17. This particular verse was emphasized by pioneers William V. H. and Clarence S. as well as by other early literature). "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1). "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all. . . are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33).
God has, along with many others, specified the following behavioral commands to guide His children in a walk of love:
The student of A.A. history and of the Big Book will notice the relevance of the foregoing verses to A.A. ideas and also the fact that all the verses came either from the Book of James or the Sermon on the Mount both highly favored in early A.A. In fact, the Book of James was so much favored that many in early A.A. wanted to call the Fellowship the "James Club."
God loves, heals, forgives, delivers, and guides:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies" (Psalm 103:2-4). "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Twenty-third Psalm). "I will say of the Lord. He is my refuge and my fortress; my god; in him will I trust" (Ninety-first Psalm). These verses describing God as a loving, forgiving, healing, delivering, guiding God were not only immensely popular in early A.A. and in the books early AAs read; they found their way into A.A.'s own language, whether verbatim or by concept.
In His Word, God specifies the meaning of "love":
"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children: And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" (Ephesians 5:1-2). "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2-3). The spectrum of love, as Henry Drummond laid it out in The Greatest Thing in the World--from 1 Corinthians 13 involves patience, kindness, generosity (does not envy), humility (put a seal on your lips and forget what you have done), courtesy (love in little things), unselfishness (does not seek its own), good temper (is not easily provoked), guilelessness (trusting others), and sincerity (rejoicing in the truth). All these love ideas were much in evidence in early A.A. writings and practices. Drummond's little book on the meaning of love was not only widely read in early A.A.; it sold in the millions and is quite popular to this very day.
The Twelve Steps then rested, as Dr. Bob said, on some basic ideas from the Bible:
Sources: Alcoholics Anonymous, 1st and 3rd ed.; DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers; AA of Akron: A Guide to the Twelve Steps, Spiritual Milestones, Second Reader, A Manual for Alcoholics Anonymous; Lean, On the Tail of a Comet; Walter, Soul Surgery; Streeter, The God Who Speaks; Day, The Principles of the Group; Russell, For Sinners Only; Buchman, Remaking the World; Harris, The Breeze of the Spirit; Begbie, Life Changers; Foot, Life Began Yesterday; Almond, Foundations for Faith, 2d ed; What Is the Oxford Group?; Weatherhead, Discipleship; Thornton-Duesbury, Sharing; C. Rose, When Man Listens; H. Rose, The Quiet Time; Forde, The Guidance of God; Viney, How do I begin?; Phillimore, Just for Today; Brown, The Venture of Belief; Shoemaker, Realizing Religion, Religion That Works, Twice-Born Ministers, Children of the Second Birth, Confident Faith, The Conversion of the Church, National Awakening, The Gospel According to You; Dick B., Turning Point, Design for Living, New Light on Alcoholism, Anne Smith's Journal, That Amazing Grace, Good Morning, The Good Book and The Big Book, The Books Early AAs Read, 5th ed.; Dr. Bob's Library; Holm, The Runner's Bible; The Upper Room (1935 to 1939); Fosdick, The Meaning of Prayer; Jones, Victorious Living; Tileston, Daily Strength for Daily Needs; Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest; Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World; Fox, The Sermon on the Mount.
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