A.A. Big Book and 12 Step Sources
© 2011 Anonymous. All rights reserved
[Identifying the Roots and the References; my 2004 article is revised based on more recent discoveries, research, suggestions, and careful reflection on all of these]
Summary of the Identifiable Sources
My materials, which have covered in much detail the major Bible sources, will be
Referenced in this article. Those which cover the other sources will refer to my own
Writings, to other studies, and to the areas where further research and writing are
Appropriate and very much needed.
Circumstances and resources are far different in 2011 from what they were in the 1970’s and even in 1990 when I began my research, investigation, and travels. Today, the identifiable sources, in substantial totality, are the following. And most had never been researched or made the subject of explanatory exposition. Even today, many writers, archivists, and 12-Step members seem loathe to discuss or even recognize the plain and obvious items we know about for sure today:
The Major Bible Roots:
♦ The Bible (King James Version) - which early AAs called the “Good Book” at a time when the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians 13 were deemed “absolutely essential” to the original “old school” A.A. program in Akron, Ohio.
See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible (www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml); The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials (www.dickb.com/JamesClub.shtml)
♦ Quiet Time – the period of prayer, Bible study, seeking of guidance, reading from sources such as Anne Smith’s Journal and devotionals such as The Upper Room and The Runner’s Bible, and discussion of thoughts and ideas.
See Dick B., Good Morning!: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation and Early A.A.
♦ Anne Smith’s Journal – a booklet written between 1933 and 1939 in the hand of Dr.
Bob’s wife (and partially typed for her by her daughter Sue), with discussions of Bible, Oxford Group, recommended literature, and practical ideas for Christian living. Whose contents Anne Smith shared many mornings at the Smith home with AAs and their families.
See Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success
♦ The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor – an organization that eventually grew world-wide to a membership of 4.5 million, which had a group in Dr. Bob’s church in St.
Johnsbury, Vermont, and in which both Dr. Bob and his parents were active. Its program was confession of Jesus Christ, conversion meetings, prayer meetings, Bible studies, Quiet Hour, reading of Christian literature, and topical discussions (as well as its motto of “Love and Service”—one to which Dr. Bob alluded in his talks to AAs). And that program epitomized the now well-known practices that took place in the original Akron A.A. Christian Fellowship.
See Dick B. and Ken B., Dr. Bob of Alcoholics Anonymous: His Excellent Training in the Good Book as a Youngster in Vermont (www.dickb.com/drbobofaa.shtml) and Dick B., Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed. (www.dickb.com/drbob.shtml); The 14 Specific Practices of the Akron A.A. Christian Pioneers: Pages 56-58 of The Dick B. Christian Recovery Guide, 3rd ed., 2010 discuss in some detail the 14 actual practices employed by the Akron pioneers in their implementation of the original, seven-point, A.A. Program documented by Frank Amos
♦ Oxford Group Principles and Practices – some twenty-eight biblical ideas that impacted on
the A.A. fellowship, were codified into its Big Book and 12 Steps, and are contained
primarily in a large number of writings by various Oxford Group activists—beginning
with the book Soul Surgery published in 1919, and including the works of Rev. Shoemaker.
See Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living that Works (www.dickb.com/Oxford.shtml), Turning Point: A History of the Spiritual Roots and Successes of Early A.A. (www.dickb.com/Turning.shtml)
♦ The Teachings of Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. – Rector of Calvary Episcopal
Church in New York in A.A.’s formative years, head of Calvary Mission where Bill Wilson made his decision for Jesus Christ at the altar, close friend, and teacher of Bill
Wilson, who helped Bill Wilson shape the Big Book manuscript and the language of the Twelve Steps. Shoemaker was called a “Bible Christian” and was author of over 30 titles, many sermons, and frequently published articles. His language, words, and phrases can be found in the Big Book, Steps, and fellowship jargon. He addressed two A.A. International Conventions and wrote articles for the A.A. Grapevine. Bill Wilson dubbed him a “cofounder of A.A.”
See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed., and Real Twelve Step Fellowship History: The Old School A.A. You May Not Know (www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml) and (http://dickb.com/realhistory.shtml)
♦ Religious literature widely circulated among and read by Pioneer AAs — books,
pamphlets, and articles, primarily Christian and Protestant. They were published by such popular authors as Henry Drummond, Oswald Chambers, Glenn Clark, E. Stanley Jones, Charles Sheldon, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Emmet Fox, James Allen, Harold Begbie, Samuel Shoemaker,
Victor Kitchen, Stephen Foot, and A. J. Russell. Also, daily devotionals such as The
Upper Room, My Utmost for His Highest, The Runner’s Bible, The Meaning of Prayer,
Victorious Living, Practicing the Presence of God, and the Imitation of Christ
See Dick B., The Books Early AAs Read for Spiritual Growth, 7th ed. (http://dickb.com/bks_read.shtml) and Making Known the Biblical History and Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Eleven-Year Research, Writing, Publishing, and Fact Dissemination Project (http://dickb.com/makingknown.shtml)
Other Significant Influences Largely Impacting on Bill’s Big Book and Twelve Steps:
♦ William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. — the psychiatrist in charge of Towns Hospital in
New York, who frequently treated Bill Wilson for alcoholism, seems to have fostered
A.A.’s “obsession and allergy” theories about the so-called “disease” of alcoholism, and
who wrote the Doctor’s Opinion contained in each edition of Bill’s Big Book. Silkworth has recently been found to be the person who advised Bill Wilson—shortly before Bill’s trip to the altar at Calvary Mission and almost immediate “White Light” Experience at Towns Hospital—that Jesus Christ, the “Great Physician” could cure Bill of his alcoholism—which cure Bill later acknowledged, particularly in his comments on page 191 of the latest Big Book edition. See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (http://dickb.com/conversion.shtml); Dale Mitchel, Silkworth The Little Doctor Who Loved Drunks: The Biography of William Duncan Silkworth, M.D. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2002); Bill W. My First Forty Years: An Autobiography By the Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2000).
♦ Carl Gustav Jung, M.D. — the world-renowned Swiss psychiatrist who treated
Rowland Hazard, recommended affiliation with a religious group, and opined there was
no cure for Rowland’s chronic, alcoholic mind, except through a religious conversion
experience—the solution thought by Bill Wilson to have been the source of his own cure
and to be the foundation for the Twelfth Step “spiritual experience” idea in A.A. See Dick B., The Good Book and the Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, 133-139 (www.dickb.com/goodbook.shtml). Taking, Believing, and Understanding the Twelve Steps (http://www.dickb.com/articles/AA-Twelve-Steps.shtml)
♦ William James, M.D. –- called by many the father of American psychology, long dead
before A.A. was founded, a Harvard Professor whose focus was on psychology,
experimental psychology, and philosophy, whose work impacted the writings and beliefs
of Reverend Sam Shoemaker, Jr. and whose book The Varieties of Religious Experience was,
to Bill Wilson, a validation of his “white light” experience, and also a foundation of Bill’s
First Step idea about “deflation in depth.” Bill credited the long dead James as an A.A. founder whose theories pointed to the necessity for the Twelfth Step idea of a “spiritual experience” needed to overcome the ravages of alcoholism. See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (NY: First Vintage Press/The Library of America Edition, 1990); Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. (www.dickb.com/newlight.sthml), The Conversion of Bill W., Real Twelve Step Fellowship History; The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’s Grapevine Writings (NY: The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., 1988), 297-98.
♦ Richard Peabody – an alcoholism therapist whose title The Common Sense of
Drinking was owned by both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob and who, though he did not teach
reliance on God and died drunk, appears to have influenced Bill’s writings and language
with such ideas as “powerlessness,” “once an alcoholic always an alcoholic,” “no cure for
alcoholism,” “surrender, “half measures availed us nothing,” and a few other therapeutic
ideas. Possibly the best information on Peabody will be found in Katherine McCarthy, Early Alcoholism Treatment: The Emmanuel Movement and Richard Peabody. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Vol. 45, No.1. 1984.
Other significant religious influences on either Akron A.A. or Wilson’s Big
♦ The New Thought Movement –a unique spinoff from conventional Christian denominations that include Christian Science, Unity, Science of Mind, Divine Science, Religious Science, Psychiana, Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion, and Process New Thought. These ideas seem very probably to have contributed to unusual “spiritual” words in A.A.
language such as “Higher Power,” “Fourth Dimension,” “Universal Mind,” and other
metaphysical terms differing substantially from Biblical words studied by A.A. pioneers
in their King James Version Bibles--words such as “Creator,” “Maker,” “Father of
light,” “God of our Fathers,” “Heavenly Father,” the “Master,” and “Our Father.”
♦ New Age Ideas – though identification of “New Age” as a “Movement” is difficult and
controversial, the movement is said to focus on “One World Government” and “One
World Religion” substituting its apparent new definitions for words that have long
established biblical meaning—words “Jesus” and “Yahweh” changed to “the Christ,” “the Lord,”
and “the One;” then creating a new theology that tells us we all have Christ in us, that
there is “a new god,” and that man can be “saved” by a “message” in which he “believes”
rather than by believing on Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Just read certain Big Book language
that implies that “faith” in the “idea of God” can be found deep within us; or the
contemporary writing that fashions “spirituality” out of a “not-god” thesis, and adds that “Something” saves, but not Jesus Christ.
The Bill Wilson Legacy
Bill Wilson was the author of the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous and of the Twelve
Steps of recovery suggested therein. Questions have been raised about the authorship of
the chapters “To Wives” and “To Employers” in the Big Book; but Wilson said he had
asked Dr. Bob’s wife to write the chapter to the wives, that Anne Smith declined, that
Lois Wilson (his wife) was angry about the slight, and that he wrote the chapter. As to the
“To Employers” chapter, I leave that authorship quandary to someone else’s research and
Some A.A.-related shibboleths to be discarded.
♦ The first, that there were “Oxford Group Steps.” No! Non-existent! Both Bill Wilson
and his wife Lois suggested that the Oxford Group (an A.A. source) had six steps (. But
the Oxford Group did not have “six steps.” They had no steps at all, no six steps, and no
twelve steps, whatever you may have heard. See Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous (www.dickb.com/Akron.shtml) and A.A.’s own “Pass It On.”
♦ The second, that the Twelve Steps were derived from the Exercises of St. Ignatius
Exercises or John Wesley’s Principles of Holiness. No. Not involved. Father Ed
Dowling met Bill Wilson after the Twelve Steps were written. According to one writer,
Dowling “was interested in the parallels he had intuited between the Twelve Steps of
Alcoholics Anonymous and the Exercises of St. Ignatius. . . . That . . . Wilson wearily
confessed ignorance of the Exercises at once endeared the diminutive cleric to Bill”
(Kurtz, Not-God, p. 88). Parallels. But not a product. And the same may possibly be said of
some of Wesley’s ideas on works, grace, and mercy. But I have found nothing in the
accounts of A.A. or its Biblical progenitors that suggests any significant relationship at all
between early A.A. and either Ignatius or Wesley. In fact, as we will point out, the Steps
bear an unmistakable Oxford Group imprint and more precisely the imprint and language
of Rev. Sam Shoemaker, who, Bill said, had taught Bill almost every step idea.
♦ The third, that A.A. originally had an alleged six “word –of-mouth” steps. Bill
suggested that there were six word-of-mouth “steps” being used before the Twelve Steps
were written (Pass It On, p. 197). That’s possible; but these steps, if there were any, were
certainly not well defined, were varied in language, and were not consistently described— especially in the three different ways “God” was described. Lois likened them to a supposed six
Oxford Group steps (Lois Remembers, pp. 113, 92). Today, it’s quite clear that the
Oxford Group had no such six steps (Pass It On, pp. 197, 206 n. 2). Moreover, there is no
convincing evidence to support Bill’s assertion of a supposed six steps. Sometimes, they
were referred to as the Oxford Groups six steps—which, as we have said—did not exist.
On other occasions, Bill described these “word-of-mouth” steps in varying and
inconsistent ways (See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 160; The Language of
the Heart, p. 200; Lois Remembers, p. 113; and my review in Dick B., The Akron
Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., pp. 256-260). Moreover, Bill himself added his own
disclaimer by admitting specifically that the six were subject to considerable variation—which they were (The Akron Genesis, supra, p. 256). In fact, long after Bill’s death, his secretary and long-time aid Nell Wing personally handed me one of the versions in Bill’s own handwriting. But this version in no way resembled Bill’s other descriptions.
♦ The final myth about the “six steps” seems to stem from a personal story in the Big Book’s later edition which purportedly was the story of Earl Treat of Chicago. There is a description there of a supposed six steps used by Dr. Bob (Alcoholics Anonymous 3rd ed., p. 292; Alcoholics
Anonymous Comes of Age, pp. 22-23). However, Dr. Bob was then dead and the
procedure attributed to him uses words like “Complete deflation” and “Higher Power”
that were simply not characteristic of the descriptive words such as “God” and “Heavenly
Father;” the need for abstinence; and the references to “sins” accurately attributed to Dr.
Bob and his technique by Frank Amos (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 131). I
therefore strongly believe, that the descriptive words were not those of Dr. Bob and that
that portion was most probably written or edited and changed by someone other than Earl
Treat. Even a cursory glance shows that Treat himself spoke in that story of a number of other
Supposed “Oxford Group” procedures that Dr. Bob used in Bob’s session with Earl in Dr. Bob’s
office. And the first two of the supposed Bob Smith six steps employ language that I have
never found in any records of what Dr. Bob said in those days—deflation in depth and
“higher power.” These were phrases and ideas that came from Bill Wilson, and they were
used by Wilson long after the early Akron days in which Dr. Bob and Bill formulated the
seven-point program reported to John D. Rockefeller by Frank Amos and specifically set
forth in A.A.’s Conference Approved biography of Dr. Bob.
In describing his actual writing of the Twelve Steps, Bill spoke of six ideas he said were then in use, and he and Lois both indicated he expanded the six to twelve so that there would be no “wiggle room” for those taking the steps. The problem is that all of the major ideas that Bill incorporated into the twelve steps were already long stored in Bill’s reservoir from what his own sponsor Ebby Thacher had taught him in 1934—at least four years before the steps were written. (See Alcoholics Anonymous 4th ed., pp. 13-16; also my extended treatment and review of the Stepping Stones manuscripts and what Bill originally wrote about the Oxford Group teachings
from Ebby and others, as found in my title, Dick B., Turning Point: A History of the
Spiritual Roots and Successes of Early A.A. They were also in Bill’s reservoir of what the
Oxford Group had been teaching since 1919—the five C’s of “Soul Surgery;” the “Four
Absolutes” borrowed from Dr. Robert E. Speer; the moral inventory ideas that came from
the Oxford Group and Matthew 7:1-5 of the Sermon on the Mount; the confession ideas
that came from James 5:16; the restitution ideas that came from many parts of the Bible,
particularly the Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Numbers; the Quiet Time ideas that began in the previous century with the “morning watch” and writings of F. B. Meyer, as well as the materials in the first chapter of the Book of James; the “spiritual experience;” “pass it on;” and
practice of spiritual principles that came at the very least from 1 Corinthians 13, the Ten
Commandments, and portions of the Sermon on the Mount.
Now let’s get down to cases. Let’s see what Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and Dr. Bob’s
wife Anne Ripley Smith had to say about the sources embodied in the Big Book and
Twelve Steps. Then we can get specific about those sources, the documentation, and the
references. And the references to those specifics are described here only in limited and in
Some enlightening statements by A.A.’s “founders” as to sources:
♦ Bill Wilson wrote the following which I have compacted into a paragraph for the sake of brevity:
[I’ve compacted them into the following, though they were written at different points in
time:] (1) A. A. was not invented. (2) Nobody invented Alcoholics Anonymous. (3) Each
of A.A.’s principles, every one of them, has been borrowed from ancient sources. (4)
Having now accounted for AA’s Steps One and Twelve. . . . Where did the early AAs
find this material for the remaining ten Steps. . . . The spiritual substance of the remaining
ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own association with the Oxford Groups,
as they were then led in America by that Episcopal rector, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. (5)
The early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects,
restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and
directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else. (6)
[As to] the “co-founder” tag [Bill wrote Shoemaker] . . . I have no hesitancy in adding
your name to the list. (7) I’m always glad to say privately that some of the Oxford Group
presentation and emphasis on the Christian message saved my life. (8) Now that Frank
Buchman [founder of the Oxford Group] is gone and I realize more than ever what we
owe to him, I wish I had sought him out in recent years to tell him of our appreciation”
(See Dick B. Turning Point, pp. 12-13).
♦ Lois Wilson wrote the following:
[Here again compacted:] (1) Alcoholics Anonymous owes a great debt to the Oxford
Group. (2) Bob already understood the great opportunity for regeneration through
practicing the principles of the Oxford Group. He stopped drinking. (3) God, through the
Oxford Group, had accomplished in a twinkling what I had failed to do in seventeen
years. One minute I would get down on my knees and thank God. . . and the next moment
I would throw things about and cuss the Oxford Group. (4) Finally it was agreed that the
book [Big Book] should present a universal spiritual program, not a specific religious
one, since all drunks were not Christian” (Lois Remembers, pp. 92, 96, 99, 113).
♦ D r. Bob Smith said the following:
[Again compacted] (1) When we [Bob and Bill] started in on Bill D. [A.A. # 3], 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 we found
absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First
Corinthians, and the Book of James. (2) 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.
(3) If someone asked him a question about the program, his usual response was “What
does it say in the Good Book?” (4) 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 a result of our study of the Good Book. (5) Members of
Alcoholics Anonymous begin the day with a prayer for strength and a short period of
Bible reading. They find the basic messages they need in the Sermon on the Mount, 1
Corinthians, and the Book of James.
The foregoing were the meat of what I had to chew on at the time of the A.A. International Convention of 2000. But we have now been able to see—from a number of pieces of evidence—that A.A. had two very distinct programs. The first was the Akron Christian Fellowship program founded by Bob and Bill in June of 1935. The second was the Big Book—Twelve Step program that Bill fashioned much later in 1939. The founders never yielded up their views. Nor did they quarrel. It was virtually a “live and let live” situation between two very good friends—the cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Note to the reader: Though the subjects and content of the foregoing history pieces may seem burdensome and enormous, the fact is that they have been so badly distorted, ignored, omitted, and misstated that no history today can claim success unless it covers at least the points above. And that is why we have now made available at a tremendous bargain the 29 Volume Dick B. Christian Recovery Reference Set. This offer is made so that readers, students, and inquirers can have a life-long and complete resource and still be able to pick out the topics and reading materials one at a time. Please examine the bargain price set forth on our website www.dickb.com.
God Bless, Dick B. firstname.lastname@example.org