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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.":

    Most basic of all the biblical ideas that reached A.A. were those which described God and His characteristics. In A.A.'s Big Book, meetings, literature, and articles, Bill W., Dr. Bob, Anne Smith, Clarence S. and many others referred to God in biblical terms. They called Him God (Genesis 1:1); God of our fathers (Exodus 3:13; Acts 3:13); Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 43:15); Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:1); Maker (Psalm 95:6); Father (Matthew 5:45); Father of Lights (James 1:17); Spirit (John 4:14); Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:32); the living God (Matthew 16:16; Acts 14:15); God Almighty (Genesis 17:1); God, our Father (Romans 1:7); and a loving God (1 John 4:8, 16). In sum, then, early AAs spoke of the God of the Bible!

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:

  1. "Search the scriptures," said Jesus (John 5:39). "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God," he taught (Matthew 22:19). The believers of Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and then searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so (Acts 17:11-12). "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. . ." (2 Timothy 2:15-16). Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. . ." (James 1:21-22). All these verses can be found with great frequency in The Upper Room, The Runner's Bible, Victorious Living, The Meaning of Prayer, or My Utmost For His Highest and, in most cases, in all these daily devotionals early AAs used. The verses underline the stress that early AAs placed on Bible study; and they were cited to that end.

  2. God's particular directions for man can be received through meditating in His word (Psalm 119:148); praying to Him, particularly in the morning (Psalm 5:1-3); and listening for His "voice" (Psalm 36:7; Proverbs 3:5-6); Psalm 130:6, 1 Kings 19:12). Then, doing God's known will was believed to produce knowledge of God's particular will. This basic action idea, which was so often espoused by the Reverend sam Shoemaker, came from John 7:17. It was the foundation for A.A.'s own "experiment of faith" and "act as if" ideas found in A.A.'s Second Step--"Came to believe. . . ."

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:

  1. "If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well" (James 2:8).

  2. "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace. . . notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead also" (James 2:15-16).

  3. "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).

  4. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" (James 4:3).

  5. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).

  6. "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). "Speak not evil one of another, brethren" (James 4:11).

  7. "Be patient therefore, brethren" (James 5:7).

  8. "Grudge not one against another" (James 5:9).

  9. "Blessed are the meek. . . they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness. . . the merciful. . . the pure in heart. . . the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

  10. "Whosever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:22).

  11. "Agree with thine adversary quickly" (Matthew 5:23).

  12. "Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne; Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool" (Matthew 5:34-35).

  13. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

  14. "But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness" (Matthew 6:23).

  15. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

  16. "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).

    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:

  1. Man is wretched, without God and without hope, when separated from the Heavenly Father (Romans 7:24-25; Psalm 42:1; Ephesians 2:12). Both Shoemaker and the First Edition of the Big Book referred to Romans 7:24-25. Shoemaker several times wrote on the subject of finding God; and the Big Book itself speaks of this necessity. In fact, the multilith Big Book manuscript stated: "You must find Him now!" The manuscript also spoke on page 13 of the multilith of the individual stories and how each individual describes "the way he found or rediscovered God."

  2. The original form of the Second Step spoke of believing that God could restore sanity. The "came to believe" idea rested on Sam Shoemaker's teaching that finding and knowing God would occur if one believed God is (Hebrews 11:6); became willing to act in accordance with as much of God's will as he knew (John 7:17); and sought God first (Matthew 6:33).

  3. As Shoemaker taught the principle of surrender, the action to seek God and follow His will began with a decision. The decision, taught Shoemaker, was marked by giving in, admitting that God is God, and surrendering to God's will (Shoemaker cited: Psalm 46:10; Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:42).

  4. Next, the person was to begin changing his or her life by bringing it into harmony with God's will. The person was to look for his or her own shortcomings or faults (Matthew 7:3-5); and measure conduct in terms of the Four Absolutes (Honesty--John 8:44; Unselfishness--Mark 10:45; Purity--Mark 7:15; Love--John 13:34); or by the "negative absolutes" (Resentments--James 5:9; Fears--2 Timothy 1:7 and 1 John 4:8; Selfishness--1 Corinthians 13:4, 5; Dishonesty--Philippians 4:8; and harms unresolved--Numbers 5:6-7). All these verses from the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and elsewhere were frequently mentioned in connection with the process of self- examination.

  5. Then the person was to confess his faults (James 5:16). And this verse from James was universally acknowledged as the prime source of Step Five.

  6. Then the person was to become convicted of that person's "sins" or "shortcomings" and resolve to forsake them (Psalm 51:4 and Proverbs 28:13 were foundational verses).

  7. Next, the life-change prospect had to be reborn, humbly ask God's help in removing faults, and resist further wrong-doing (John 3:3, 5, 7; James 4:7; James 4:10).

  8. The renewed life, as it affected others, was to begin with reconciling with one's adversaries and loving enemies (Matthew 5:25; Matthew 5:44-45) both ideas coming directly from the Sermon on the Mount.

  9. Reconciliation involved restitution and restoration (Matthew 5:23-24; Numbers 5:6-7; Luke 15; Luke 19:1-10).

  10. Having learned the principles, the changed person was to carry them into daily action (Matthew 16:41).

  11. That person must believe that prayer worked (James 5:16; 1 John 5:14-15). At the close of the day, if he had sinned, he was to confess and receive forgiveness (James 5:15; 1 John 1:7, 9). In the morning, he was to seek God's guidance (Psalm 5:3; James 1:5; Psalm 32:8; Psalm 37:5). He was to grow in the knowledge of God through study (2 Timothy 2:15). And he was to seek God's will and the peace of God when agitation, doubt, or anger occur (Philippians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:25, 32-33; Isaiah 26:3).

  12. Finally, having endeavored to conform his life to God's will, he would find himself a new creature, with God's power and grace, with the ability to renew his mind to God's will, and the recipient of benefits beyond his ability to ask or think (Acts 1:8; 4:31, 33; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 3:20). He then had a duty to pass this message on to others (Matthew 4:19; James 2:20; Acts 26:22-23; 2 Corinthians 5:20. And he was to live in fellowship with others, practicing the spiritual principles he had learned, particularly from the Four Absolutes, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, the Ten Commandments, and other parts of 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.

Copyright 1997 by Dick B.

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