Bill Wilson often said: A.A. was
not invented. He added: Each of
A.A.ís spiritual principles was
borrowed from ancient sources. Regrettably,
he provided very few specifics as
to those A.A. sources, or how they
reached the A.A. fellowship.
Today, we can supply specific details.
They have been gathered over a period
of ten years from archives, interviews,
historians, and the study of much
literature. Those who did the A.A.
borrowing and fashioning were A.A.ís
founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob. But
one historical fact has been commonly
lacking in discussions of the contributions
of these two men. Their sources,
spiritual infusions, and beliefs
were totally different. Bill was
a self-proclaimed "conservative
atheist," had never belonged
to a church, and never studied the
Bible until after he met Dr. Bob
in Akron. Dr. Bob, on the other
hand, was a longtime Christian believer,
church member, and Bible student.
And most histories ignore these
differences and their A.A. impact.
Distinctly Different Spiritual Roots
One A.A. root might properly be
called the "Carl Jung/Sam Shoemaker
Source." It led to the "New
York Genesis of A.A." Its ingredients
are well-known and legendary, though
inaccurately reported. Unfortunately,
the incorrect legend has become
doctrinal. A.A.ís other root could
properly be called the "Bible/Dr.
Bob Source." It led to the
"Akron Genesis of A.A.."
Unfortunately, the facts about this
root have been virtually buried..
New York Genesis and Jung/Shoemaker
We will dwell little on A.A.ís New
York beginnings because they have
so often been recorded, albeit misreported
and distorted. To repeat,
Bill Wilson, a Brooklyn resident,
was a self-proclaimed "conservative
atheist." He was never a church
member, and had never "looked
in the Bible at all" until
he came to Akron in 1935.
The Bill Wilson picture
as to A.A.ís spiritual beginnings
begins as follows.
An East Coast businessman named
Rowland Hazard sought help for his
alcoholism from Dr. Carl Jung in
Switzerland. After treatment and
then relapse, Rowland was told by
Jung that he needed a conversion
experience to recover. Jung defined
such conversions as "union
with God." He suggested Rowland
seek religious association.
Rowland therefore joined "A
First Century Christian Fellowship"
also known as the Oxford Group.
Rowland followed its precepts; recovered
from alcoholism; helped rescue a
New Yorker named Ebby Thacher from
alcoholism; taught Ebby the Oxford
Group ideas; and later also spent
substantial time with Bill Wilson
inculcating Wilson with Oxford Group
precepts. Ebby Thacher visited and
convinced his suffering friend Bill
Wilson that he (Ebby) had "got
religion," that "God had
done for him what he could not do
for himself," and that he had
been to Rev. Sam Shoemakerís Calvary
Rescue Mission in New York.
A drunken Bill Wilson then went
to Shoemakerís Rescue Mission, made
a decision for Christ, believed
he had really found something, and
checked into Towns Hospital in New
York. There Bill heard from Ebby
some key Oxford Group principles.
Bill also then had what he often
called his "hot flash"
conversion experience. On release
from Towns Hospital, Bill was totally
unsuccessful either in converting
anyone else or even in getting anyone
But he assimilated some major Oxford
Group life_changing principles such
as the Five Cís, Four Absolutes,
Surrender, Restitution, Guidance,
and Witnessing. He endeavored to
carry to drunks his version of the
recovery message. And he finally
carried it to Dr. Bob in Akron,
Ohio, where an entirely different
chain of events had been in progress.
Akron Genesis and Bible/Dr. Bob
A.A.ís Akron Genesis began with
Dr. Bob, his Christian church activities
as a youngster, and his excellent
Bible training in that church and
in Christian Endeavor..
Dr. Bob was born and raised in St.
Johnsbury, Vermont. His parents
were pillars of the North Congregational
Church in St. Johnsbury. From childhood
through high school, Bob each week
attended the Congregational church,
its Sunday School, evening service,
Monday night Christian Endeavor,
and sometimes its Wednesday evening
prayer meeting. These likely at
the insistence of his mother. Yet,
Bob continued membership in Christian
churches most of his life: St. Johnsbury
Congregational in his youth. Possibly
St. Lukeís Protestant Episcopal
Probably the Church of Our Saviour
in Akron, where his kids attended
Sunday School. Then Akronís Westminster
Presbyterian Church where Dr. Bob
and Anne Smith were charter members
from June 3, 1936 to April 3, 1942.
Finally, a year before his death,
Dr. Bob became a communicant at
St. Paulís Episcopal Church in Akron.
Dr. Bob told AAs he had nothing
to do with writing the Twelve Steps.
Nor did he have much to do with
the writing of A.A.ís basic text,
the "Big Book," other
than to review manuscripts as Bill
Wilson passed them to Bob for
approval prior to publication in
the Spring of 1939. But Dr. Bob
did make some very clear statements
about the Bible and A.A. And it
was in Akron where A.A.ís basic
biblical ideas were honed, tried,
and then later put into terse and
tangible form at Bill Wilsonís hands.
Dr. Bob said A.A.ís basic ideas
came from the Bible. Both Dr. Bob
and Bill often stated that Jesusís
sermon on the mount contained the
underlying spiritual philosophy
of A.A. Bob often read to AAs from
those Bible passages.
He pointed out that the A.A. slogans
"First Things First" and
"Easy Does It" were taken
respectively from Matthew 6:33 and
6:34. When someone asked Dr. Bob
a question about the A.A. program,
his usual response was: "What
does it say in the Good Book?"
He declared that A.A. pioneers were
"convinced that the answer
to their problems was in the Good
Book." He added: "To some
of us older ones, the parts we found
absolutely essential were the Sermon
on the Mount, the 13th chapter of
First Corinthians, and the Book
of James." In fact, James was
so popular with the pioneers that,
according to Bill Wilson, many favored
calling the A.A. fellowship "The
The Biblical emphasis in A.A.ís
Akron Group No. One involved much
more. Meetings opened with prayer.
As mentioned, they were "old
fashioned prayer meetings."
Bible devotionals such as The Upper
Room, My Utmost for His Highest,
and The Runnerís Bible were regular
fare at the meetings, individual
Quiet Times, and Quiet Times with
Anne Smith each morning at the Smith
home. Quiet Time itself had distinct
Biblical roots. Scripture was regularly
read at all meetings. Scripture,
both from devotionals and from actual
reading of the Good Book, was often
the fountainhead for topics discussed
at pioneer meetings. Bible study
itself was stressed. Dr. Bob called
every meeting of early A.A. a "Christian
Fellowship;" and early A.A.
was in fact an integral part of
"A First Century Christian
Fellowship." Also, as will
be detailed in a later article,
every single Twelve Step idea can
be traced to specific Bible verses
and segments. Furthermore, "Surrenders"
were required in early Akron A.A.
This meant accepting on oneís knees
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Older members then prayed with newcomers
in the manner specified in James
And how did all this Bible material
wind up in A.A.? Certainly not from,
nor properly described as through,
Bill Wilson. It was the daily grist
of the Akron experimental work to
There is a final point. One that
really marks the beginning of the
Akron Genesis. Its details were
only recently unearthed in the authorís
research. It has to do with Christian
Endeavor, the Christian church movement
for youth to which Dr. Bob belonged
as a youngster. And that movement,
its practices, and principles can
be seen as having great impact on
many of the basic and unique aspects
of Akron A.A.. These aspects differed
from the Oxford Group approaches
and principles with which Bill Wilson
had been indoctrinated on the East
Coast. They did not involve the
Four Absolutes, 5 Cís, Restitution,
Guidance, Witnessing, and other
distinctly Oxford Group ideas with
which Bob and Bill were both familiar
from their respective Oxford Group
The Akron prayer meetings, Bible
study, devotional literature discussions,
confession of Christ, emphasis on
church affiliation, and Christian
outreach were a distinct characteristic
of the Akron program. They were
not emphasized in New York. They
showed Christian Endeavor influence
on Dr. Bob.
Christian Endeavor was a movement
formed in Williston Congregational
Church in Portland, Maine on February
2, 1881. It was designed to meet
the need of the church for training
young Christians. Activities included
the weekly young peopleís prayer
meeting. Each member promised to
attend and take some part. A Bible
verse or a sentence of prayer answered
the individualís obligation of "taking
some part aside from singing."
In addition to prayer meetings,
there were social gatherings, missionary
committees, music and floral committees,
and committees to visit the sick
and poor and welcome strangers.
The organization endeavored to be
self-governing and self propagating.
It spread to Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, and Vermont. Then to numerous
U.S. churches, to Hawaii, China,
and many parts of the world. In
a few years, nearly 25,000 young
people journeyed across the United
States to attend a convention in
Rev. Francis E. Clark, Founder of
the Christian Endeavor Movement,
said the roots of the Christian
Endeavor tree were: (1) Confession
of Christ. (2) Service for Christ.
(3) Fellowship with Christís people.
(4) Loyalty to Christís Church.
As to the Confession of Christ,
Clark said: "Confession of
Christ is absolutely necessary in
the Christian Endeavor Society.
. . . Every week comes the prayer
meeting in which every member who
fulfills his vow must take some
part. . . . The true Christian Endeavorer.
. . .does take part to show that
he is a Christian, to confess his
love for the Lord. . . . The covenant
pledge. . . secures familiarity
with the Word of God by promoting
Bible reading and study in preparation
for every meeting.
Rev. F. B. Meyer, who later was
to have a substantial influence
on the Oxford Group and on early
A.A. ideas and was president of
the British Christian Endeavor Union,
said Christian Endeavor stood for
five great principles: (1) Personal
devotion to the divine Lord and
Saviour, Jesus Christ. (2) The covenant
obligation embodied in our pledge.
(3) Constant religious training
for all kinds of service. (4) Strenuous
loyalty to the local church and
denomination with which each society
is connected. (5) Interdenominational
The C.E. founder, Rev. Francis
Clark, summarized the C.E. covenant
as follows: "Trusting in the
Lord Jesus for strength, I promise
him that I will strive to do whatever
He would like to have me do; that
I will pray and read the Bible every
day; and that, just so far as I
know how, I will endeavor to lead
a Christian life. I will be present
at every meeting of the society,
unless prevented by some reason
which I can conscientiously give
to my Saviour, and will take part
in the meeting, either by prayer,
testimony, or a Bible verse. As
an active member of this society,
I promise to be faithful to my own
church, and to do all I can to uphold
its works and membership."
Amos R. Wells, Editorial Secretary
of the United Society of Christian
Endeavor, asked: (1) What are the
results we may gain from the prayer
meeting? They are five: original
thought on religious subjects; open
committal to the cause of Christ;
the helpful expression of Christian
thought and experience; the cultivation
of the spirit of worship through
public prayer and singing; the guidance
of others along these lines of service
and life. (2) How can we get original
thought on the prayer meeting topics?
Only by study of the Bible, followed
by meditation. First, the Endeavourer
should read the Bible passage; then
he should read some good commentary
upon it; then he should take the
subject with him into his daily
life. (3) Are we to read Bible verses
and other quotations? Yes, all we
please, if we will make them the
original expression of our own lives
by thinking about them, and adding
to them something, if only a sentence,
to show that we have made them our
If you read A.A.ís DR. BOB and the
Good Oldtimers, as well as our own
titles on early A.A., you will see
unique Christian Endeavor parallels
and practices in what was called
the Akron "Program." In
fact, if you read the personal stories
of the pioneers in the First Edition
of A.A.ís Big Book, you will see
the practices in action. To be sure,
the Akron pioneers called themselves
the alcoholic squad of the Oxford
Group. But their unique meeting
structure was not like that of most
Oxford Group meetings or "house
parties." Moreover, the Akron
practices were not familiar to eastern
Oxford Grouper Bill Wilson when
he came to Akron. For Akron meetings
resembled Christian Endeavor meetings
in a number of ways: As stated,
the Akron A.A. meetings were called
"old fashioned prayer meetings"
and "Christian Fellowships."
Group study of the Bible, meditation.
reading of Bible literature, and
discussion of topics from the Bible
as they impacted on the memberís
life all contained ingredients different
from those at Sam Shoemakerís Calvary
House. So too Akronís mandatory
surrender to Jesus Christ, self_support
and self_propagation, emphasis on
church religious training, fellowship
with like_minded believers, service,
These Akron elements caused it to
be described as first century Christianity
such as that found in the Book of
Acts, and these elements were the
heart of Akron A.A.
Most assuredly, common spillovers
from Oxford Group life changing
techniques were present in both
New York and Akron A.A. beginnings.
But the Akron Genesis was biblical.
the Roots was a Bill Wilson Project
In the midst of substantial controversy,
Bill Wilson obtained a split vote
in Akron that authorized him to
write a basic text describing the
steps pioneer AAís had taken to
achieve their astonishing successes,
which were said to be seventy_five
Bill took some basic medical facts
about alcoholism and the alcoholic
that he had learned from his own
physician Dr. William D. Silkworth.
Though he mentioned neither the
Bible nor Jesus Christ, he adopted
much from the Akron surrenders.
From the Oxford Group, Wilson codified
in A.A. the OG life_changing techniques.
To this mix, he added (using Oxford
Group terms like spiritual experience
and later spiritual awakening) his
own recovery experience, calling
it the finding or rediscovering
of God. He left the unearthing of
details to others, and the digging
goes on to this day.
Dick B. is a retired attorney, living
in Hawaii and student of the bible.
He has more than 15 published titles
to his name including Courage to
Change The Christian Roots of the