Bible – Alcoholics Anonymous – Refresher
Dick B.
© 2008 Anonymous. All rights reserved

What the Bible has to do with Alcoholics Anonymous

What documented relationship does the Bible (which early AAs affectionately called the Good Book) bear to the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous (which AAs still call the Big Book). It was that question which prompted me to research and write The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible (

Unlike a number of recovery and other writings, my Good Book study simply points to what A.A. founders said about the Bible, to the verses they actually adopted in their basic text (the Big Book), and to the sources of the basic ideas they used to develop the pioneer spiritual program of recovery in Akron. The Good Book and The Big Book does not attempt to cram the Big Book or the Twelve Steps or A.A. language into the Bible. Nor does claim that all of the diverse ideas Bill Wilson put in his Alcoholics Anonymous First Edition in 1939 came from the Bible; are reflective of Bible teachings; or can be consistent, squared, or compatible with Biblical truths They didn’t. They aren’t. They can’t. But that’s not the point at all.

What, then, is the purpose of inquiring about A.A.’s very real Bible connections? First of all, it is to serve A.A.’s primary purpose – carrying a truthful message of recovery to still suffering alcoholics. Second, it is to invite inquiry into just how much the Bible influenced the first, original, A.A. recovery program. Third, it is to let the still afflicted see there is still a place for the Bible, for Christians, for God, for Jesus Christ, and for healing by the power of God in the A.A. and 12-Steps fellowships, groups, meetings, and individual quests for healings today. Fourth,, it certainly was not and is not to establish that A.A. is still—as it was in the beginning—a Christian Fellowship. Nor the support any thought that A.A. can still claim to be Christian. Nor to suggest that today’s heterogeneous individual AAs widely embrace God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or Biblical ideas in their recovery quest and talk today. They don’t. Finally, it was and is to tell clearly any Christians in A.A.; any AAs who want to become Christians in A.A.; and any AAs who want to share their experience and belief about God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christian healing, that there is plenty of room and need for them today. That these fellowship members have every right and reason to learn and know where their fellowship came from and how successful it was between 1935 and 1938. Also to learn and know that this pioneer period really marked the end of the Christian tenor of “official” A.A. recovery principles and practices in early A.A..

The Undisputed Evidence of What A.A. Cofounder Dr. Bob Said about the Bible and A.A.

The most accurate, reliable, and seemingly unedited version of Dr. Bob’s remarks can still be found in an A.A. “Conference Approved” Pamphlet that contains the entirety of Dr. Bob’s last major talk to A.A. members in Detroit in 1948. Pertinent among his remarks are these:

In the early days. . . our stories didn’t amount to anything to speak of. When we started in on Bill D., we had no Twelve Steps, either; we had no Traditions.

But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James. . . .
It wasn’t until 1938 that the teachings and efforts and studies that had been going on were crystallized in the form of the Twelve Steps. I didn’t write the Twelve Steps. I had nothing to do with the writing of them. . . . We already had the basic ideas, though not in terse and tangible form. We got them, as I said, as the result of our study of the Good Book

See The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 13-14.

Prior to about 1990, very little effort had been made to investigate and report the full details about what the early AAs really studied, learned, and adopted from the Book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. And that void caused me to continue researching and later to write The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolutes Essentials. This James Club title, along with several others I have recently published, looks carefully at the three Bible segments, verse by verse, and compares them with A.A. language and ideas. That James Club book is now in wide use by A.A. and other recovery study groups. But that is not the subject of this basic refresher article.

The Residuals of Exact Bible Quotes in A.A.’s Big Book and Literature Today

In the interest of brevity, I will simply refer to the Fourth Edition pages of the Big Book and to the correlative verses in the King James Version of the Bible (the version that the A.A. pioneers used and quoted.)

The Frequent Appearances of Biblical Words Specifically Describing Almighty God

Several writers have counted the usage of the word “God” in the Big Book’s Third Edition. The total count is 277 references to “God;” 107 references to God by pronouns used as substitutes for the word “God;” and at least 17 references to Biblical words referring to God. These add up to more than 400 specific references to Almighty God, Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Dick B., The Good Book and The Big book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 49-50. In addition, there are the following references:

“Creator”: Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 43:15; Romans 1:25; 1 Peter 4:19. Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 13, 25, 28, 56, 68, 72, 75, 76, 80, 83, 158, 161.

“Maker”: Psalm 95:6; 4th ed., 57, 63.

“Father”: Matthew 5:45; 4th ed., 62.

“Father of Light”: James 1:17 (rendered “Father of lights); 4th ed., 14.

“Spirit”: John 4:24; 4th ed., 46, 66, 84, 85. 164.

“Heavenly Father”: Matthew 6:32; 4th ed., 181; cf. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 234.

“the living God”: Matthew 16:16, Acts 14:15, Romans 9:26, 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6:16, 1 Timothy 3:15, 4:10, Hebrews 9:14, 10:31, Revelation 7:2. Bill wrote, in an early draft of the Big Book about: “the way in which he happened to find the living God.”

“Trust in God”: Jeremiah 46:25; Daniel 3:28; Matthew 27:43; 4th ed. 98.

“God Almighty”: Genesis 17:1, 35:11, Exodus 6:3, Ezekiel 10:5, Revelation 15:3. See Bill Wilson’s remarks to T. Henry and Clarace Williams, Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-13

“God, our Father”: Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 105.

“God is love”: 1 John 4:8, 4:16; 4th ed, 564-65.

“God is.” Hebrews 11:6; 4th ed., 53.

Easily recognized Biblical language:

“Thy will be done”: Matthew 6:10; 4th ed. 67, 88.

“Thy will (not mine) be done”: Luke 22:42; 4th ed, 85.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself”: Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; 4th ed., 153.

Faith without works is dead”: James 2:20, 26; 4th ed., 76, 88.

“Humble yourself”: James 4:7, 10; 1 Peter 5:5, 6.

“Good Samaritan”: Luke 10:33-37; 4th ed., 97

Other traceable Biblical expressions: There many common A.A. ideas that can quickly be traced through A.A. history to their Bible sources. These include “God-sufficiency,” “Honesty,” “Unselfishness;” “Love,” “Tolerance,” “Kindness,” “Forgiveness,” “Restitution.” “Grudges,” “Self-examination,” Admission of shortcomings, setting things straight with one you have harmed, guidance of God, witnessing, drawing near to God, seeking first the Kingdom of God, the “grace of God,” and “taming the tongue.” They are discussed and documented in my titles The Good Book and The Big Book ( and The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous (

The Importance of Learning These A.A. Bible Roots

In my 22 years of sobriety and active A.A. participation, I have run into a wide variety of unbelievers and uninformed doubters when it comes to their mention of the Bible. Sadly, some have never read the Bible. Some haven’t the slightest bit of information about A.A.’s roots in the Book of James, Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and 1 Corinthians 13. Despite the Oxford Group’s contributions to A.A. language, some doubt the relevance of the Oxford Group to A.A. More significantly, they don’t realize how many of Bill Wilson’s Biblical expressions and life-changing ideas can easily be established as Oxford Group expressions. Some attempt to distance “Christianity” from A.A. by pointing to the “Christian” New Thought influence of people like Emmet Fox who simply rejected salvation and many other fundamental Bible teachings. But one will never see the relevance of the Bible in A.A. or learn the complete facts about early A.A.’s Bible roots, or appreciate the importance knowing A.A.’s Bible roots today if such a skeptic builds his concepts about the Bible and A.A. on the shifting sands of criticism, prejudice, and lack of knowledge.

A.A. as it developed after Akron (and even before) has many roots. The major one is the Bible. But many other factors (ranging from New Thought to Carl Jung’s “individuation”) impacted on the writings of Bill Wilson and also on the widespread reading of Dr. Bob.

However, lots of research, evidence, and undiscovered facts have made several things plain about A.A. and the Bible. First, Dr. Bob and Bill W. were both trained in the Bible as youngsters in Vermont. See Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous ( and The Conversion of Bill W. ( Second, both Bob and Bill continued to receive Bible training in their respective Vermont academy days. Fourth, though few mention it, both Bill and Bob turned directly or indirectly to the Bible in the last days of their drinking.

Fourth, both men were converted to Christ. Dr. Bob in his youth, and Bill certainly at Calvary Rescue Mission just before he got sober. Fifth, both men listened to, and intensely studied the Bible in the summer of 1935.

Sixth, the early program was called a Christian Fellowship, stressed Bible study and old fashioned prayer meetings, and encompassed the regular study of a wide variety of acknowledged Christian writings. Books by Oswald Chambers; Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr.; B. H. Streeter; F. B. Meyer; E. Stanley Jones; Glenn Clark; Harold Begbie; Harry Emerson Fosdick; and the editors of the Upper Room and The Runner’s Bible.

Oddly, a few writers promulgate myths claiming neither founder could possibly have been a Christian. I have yet to find one who has investigated the facts about the youth of Dr. Bob and of Bill Wilson, or the Great Awakening of 1875 in St. Johnsbury, or Christian Endeavor, or the YMCA of the those days, or the decision for Christ made by Bill Wilson at Calvary Rescue Mission before Bill’s last trip to Towns Hospital. Yet they assert the founders’ supposed lack of standing as children of the living Creator. This myth despite evidence establishing beyond a doubt that both had accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, believing on God’s only begotten son, confessing him as Lord, and believing God raised him from the dead. These were the precepts of John 3:16 and Roman 10:9—and are not conditioned upon what a child of the living God does after once attaining sonship. Moreover, both Bill and Bob insisted that early Akron AAs make a decision for Christ as a condition of their membership and recovery; and both continued to study and mention the Bible with frequency throughout their lives. Significant as to the errant Bill Wilson, for example, were the frequent pledges he made in the family Bible which is still available to see at Stepping Stones; also Bill’s firm writing that “for sure I was born again.”

To paraphrase what Lt. Col. Oliver North often says in concluding his TV War Stories, “These [the details of A.A. and the Bible] are stories that need to be told.”

Gloria Deo

Author's Bio: 

Richard G. Burns is a writer, historian, Bible student, retired attorney and active, recovered member of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. He has published 33 titles on the subject of A.A.'s spiritual roots and successes