Basic Ideas from the Good Book That Dr. Bob Considered “Absolutely Essential”
A Study of Basics in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13 that appear to be directly related to the essentials in A.A.’s spiritual program of recovery developed in Akron between 1935 and 1938
Both of A.A.’s founders said that the Sermon on the Mount – (found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7) – contained the underlying philosophy of A.A. Moreover, Dr. Bob stated many times that A.A.’s basic ideas came from their study of the Bible and that the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James, and 1 Corinthians 13 were “absolutely essential” to the early A.A. spiritual program of recovery.
In the years since A.A.’s founding in 1935, there have been endless attempts to compare A.A.’s Twelve Steps with any number of verses in the Bible—often verses that were neither mentioned nor studied by the Pioneer AAs. Yet, while he said he did not write the 12 Steps and had nothing to do with writing them, Dr. Bob said the basic ideas came from the Bible. And again and again, Dr. Bob mentioned James, Corinthians, and the Sermon as containing the heart of the A.A. program. Despite these statements, I have seen no study of the principles or basic ideas in the three mentioned segments of the Bible that attempts to correlate them with the Twelve Steps themselves.
For me, as one who has poured over A.A. history dozens of times in the past fourteen years, who has studied and practiced the Twelve Steps, and who has taught the Big Book Step instructions to at least 100 men, the parallels with the Big Book fairly leap from the Bible to the Big Book. I can’t say that the following verses were ever quoted in one place by either founder in connection with all the Steps; but I can say that the verses were quoted many many times by those pioneers and later AAs who mentioned the Bible in connection with the Steps and, with Dr. Bob, declared the verses to be “absolutely essential” to the pioneer A.A. program.
I believe you can get the real Biblical flavor of the Twelve Steps as they originally flowed from the Bible-studying Christians in Akron and from the lips of Reverend Sam Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York. I also believe the verses will put to rest much of the private interpretation and speculation as to what the Steps really mean.
[Because the following verse quotations were prepared for, and used by some authors who wished me to present the verses from the New American Standard Version of the Bible, the language is that of the NAV, except where otherwise indicated. This is done even though the King James Version was used almost universally in early A.A.]
The Twelve Steps and the Correlative Bible Verses from James, Corinthians, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount
Step One – Temptation (the problem); Defeat (the cry for help); Resistence (the solution); and Abstinence (the “must”)
From the Book of James:
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
[See also 1 Peter 5:8-10: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you”]
An Early A.A. Description of Defeat by Bill Wilson:
“No words can tell of the loneliness and despair I found in that bitter morass of self-pity. Quicksand stretched around me in all directions. I had met my match. I had been overwhelmed. Alcohol was my master. Trembling, I stepped from the hospital a broken man. Fear sobered me for a bit. Then came the insidious insanity of that first drink, and on Armistice Day 1934, I was off again” (Big Book, 1st ed., p.17)
Step Two – Believing in, asking of, and receiving from, our Creator: His Help and Healing!
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
“Is any among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Matthew 7:7-8, 11 – (a part of the Sermon on the Mount):
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Bill Wilson (who began as a self-described conservative atheist) describing his willingness to believe and his own “leap of faith.”
“Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend [Bill’s friend Ebby Thacher, glowingly sober, ‘made the point blank declaration to Bill that God had done for him what he could not do for himself.’ His human will had failed. Doctors had pronounced him incurable. Society was about to lock him up. Like myself he had admitted complete defeat]. Would I have it? Of course I would! Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want him enough. At long last I saw, I felt, I believed. . . . How blind I had been” (Big Book, 1st ed., pp. 20-22).
“I remember saying to myself, ‘I’ll do anything, anything at all. If there be a Great Physician, I’ll call on him.’ Then, with neither faith nor hope, I cried out, ‘If there be a God, let him show himself.’ The effect was instant, electric” (Bill W. My First Forty Years, Hazelden, p. 145).
Step Three – The Decision to Entrust your life to God’s care
Matthew 6:9-13 – (part of the Sermon on the Mount):
“Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
Matthew 6:25, 31-33 – (part of the Sermon on the Mount):
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . . . Do not worry then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
Bill Wilson’s “surrender” to God as Bill understood Him:
“There I humbly offered myself to God, as I then understood Him, to do with me as He would. I placed myself unreservedly under His care and direction” (Big Book, 1st ed., p 22).
“There was utter confidence. I felt lifted up, as though the great clean wind of a mountain top blew through and through. God comes to most men gradually, but His impact on me was sudden and profound” (Big Book, 1st ed., pp. 23-24).
“I’d been incapable of faith and so, God’s help. . . out of no faith, faith had suddenly appeared. No blind faith either, for it was fortified by the consciousness of the presence of God. Despair had turned into utter security. Darkness was banished by cosmic light. For sure I’d been born again” (Bill W. My First 40 Years, supra, p. 147).
Step Four – Examining Yourselves for Sins Committed (Where did you fall short?)
Matthew 6:43-48 (Love even your enemies – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 7:3-5 (Look for your own faults first – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your eye. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
James 4:11-12 (God is the lawmaker and is the only judge of conduct, not you):
“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”
James 5:9-11 (Bear no grudges):
“Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”
Description of the moral inventory taken by Earl T. with sponsor Dr. Bob:
“Dr. Bob led me through all of these steps. At the moral inventory, he brought up several of my bad personality traits or character defects, such as selfishness, conceit, jealousy, carelessness, intolerance, ill-temper, sarcasm, and resentments. We went over these at great length.”(Big Book, 4th ed., p. 263).
Step Five – Admitting your sins to God, Yourself, and Another Person
James 5:16 (Getting your sins on the table and praying for forgiveness and healing):
“Therefore, confess yours sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
Wilson’s description of the Oxford Group/Book of James source of this step:
“Agreeing with James in the New Testament, they thought people ought to confess their sins “one to another.” Heavily emphasizing this wholesale sort of personal housecleaning, they called the process ‘sharing.’ No only were things to be confessed; something was to be done about them” (Bill W. My First Forty Years, supra, p. 127).
Step Six – Declaring your willingness to have God’s Help in abandoning sins you have confessed.
James 4:8 (Draw near to God, clean house, and purify your hearts):
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.”
James 2:14-17 (Accompany your faith with deeds-“faith without works is dead”):
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
James 1:22-25 (To be blessed, when you “hear” God’s Word, “do it!”):
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and no merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
Wilson’s parallel language about “conviction” of sins and having them purged:
“Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house” (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 98).
“Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to His Maker-then he knew. Even so has God restored us to our right minds. To this man, the revelation was sudden. Some of us grow into it more slowly. But He has come to all who have honestly sought Him. When we drew near to Him, He disclosed Himself to us!” (Big Book, 4th ed., p. 57).
Step Seven – The conversion process of rebirth and establishment of a new relationship with God, as one of His children
Matthew 6:10 (It is God’s will that marks the starting point – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 7:21 (Jesus taught that only those who did the will of his Father would enter the kingdom of heaven – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, :Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (Faith and works must be accompanied by love):
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
James 1:17-21 (By grace, souls are saved as a gift—when you receive God’s word of truth):
“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will he brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
[1 Peter 1:17-23 show the nature of a rebirth where you may become God’s child by believing what the word of God tells you about Christ’s paying for your sins in giving His life for you:
“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with the perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.”
Romans 10:6-14, 17 show exactly what to do: You hear the word; you confess and believe what it says; and you are “saved,” made “righteous,” and you are thereby born again—this birth being a birth that comes from receiving the spirit of God:
“But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: ‘Do not say in your heart, who will ascend to heaven’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say” ‘The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’-that is the word of faith which we are preaching. That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. . . . for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved,; How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?. . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Three early AAs attest to the conversion to Christ that was required of them:
Clarence Snyder—who was sponsored by Dr. Bob, was one of the 40 pioneers, and got sober in February, 1938—described in detail the “surrender process” by which he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour (Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 193-196).
Larry Bauer of Cleveland—who told the author that he was in and out of A.A. between 1939 and 1944—said, in a telephone call and in correspondence of his surrender, “They took me and that man upstairs to be a born again human being and be God’s helper to alcoholics” (Dick B., The Akron Genesis, supra, p. 196).
Old-timer Ed Andy of Lorain, Ohio told the author in a telephone conversation: “They would not let you in unless you surrendered to Jesus Christ on your knees” (Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A., p. 31).
Step Eight – Becoming willing to reconcile with those you’ve hurt and restore to them what you’ve wrongfully taken
Matthew 6:25-26 (Agree with your adversary quickly – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”
Step Nine – Then Make an Amend and Also Make Any Needed Restitution
Matthew 6:23-24 (Before you worship, remember your uncompleted amends, and make them – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
This quotation from the Sermon on the Mount was so commonly used that it was included in A.A.’s own Grapevine Memorial pamphlet published at the time of Dr. Bob’s death.
Step Ten – Loving and serving God and your neighbor are a continuing obligation of the changed life [A.A.’s Big Book declares that Love and Tolerance are its Code]
Matthew 7:12 (The “Golden Rule” – Do unto others – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
James 2:8-10 (The “Royal Law” – Love thy neighbor):
“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
Matthew 5:43-44 (Love even your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
James 3:13-18 (The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace):
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonably, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
1 Corinthians 13:2, 4-8 (I am nothing without love. Love is defined, and it never fails):
“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. . . . Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. . . .”
Step Eleven – Prayer, Seeking God’s Guidance, Studying and Applying God’s Word, and Overcoming anxiety by turning first to God
James 5:13-16 (Pray and give thanks, praying to overcome suffering and sickness, and to receive forgiveness):
“Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. . . . The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
James 2:21-24 (Believe Scripture, and also perfect that believing by obedient action):
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called a friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
James 1:22 (Thus be a doer of the Word, and not just a hearer):
“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
James 1:5-6 (If you need wisdom, ask of God, believing, without doubting):
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord.”
Matthew 6:24-25, 31-34 (God knows your needs, seek Him first and you will receive; so there is no need to worry – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . Do not worry then, saying, ‘what will we eat?’ or “What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Step Twelve – Experiencing a Changed Life in Christ. Carrying a Message that demonstrates the fruits of Obeying God’s Will. And Practicing an obedient life founded on God’s Word and perfected by acting on Christ’s teachings of love and service.
Matthew 7:13-14, 18-21, 24-25 (The wise man experiences the fruitful life—based on hearing Christ’s words and acting in obedience to God’s will; for that man’s life is founded on the “Rock” – from the Sermon on the Mount):
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on a rock.”
[2 Corinthians 5:17 was one of the most frequently quoted verses by pioneer AAs and was intended to describe the end result of the conversion process:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”]
James 1:26-27 (Describing the real witness of one who is “doing” the word):
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
James 2:15-17 (An illustration of “giving it away to keep it”):
“If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Fellowship with God and Other Believers
1 Corinthians 13:3-6 (Practicing the principles in love and service):
“And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.”
Other “principles” from the Bible that are mentioned throughout Early AA Literature:
The “Ten Commandments” (See Exodus 20:3-17; Deuteronomy 5:7-21)
The two “Great” Commandments as taught by Jesus (See Matthew 22:36-40)
The “Beatitudes” taught by Jesus in his “Sermon on the Mount” (See Matthew 5:3-12—Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Ripley Smith, recorded in her journal and shared with AAs and their families that these beatitudes were Christian virtues to be cultivated. For example, see “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” – Matthew 5:8; and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” – Matthew 5:9)
The “Four Absolutes” – Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, Absolute Love – extracted from the teachings of Jesus, by Dr. Robert E. Speer; published in his title: The Principles of Jesus; and adopted as the four “standards” of the Oxford Group and the four “yardsticks” for measuring moral behavior in early AA.
There are many other verses which impacted on A.A. and which are covered in my titles The Good Book and The Big Book ; The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous;
New Light on Alcoholism ;
Good Morning: Quiet Time, Morning Watch, Meditation, and Early A.A.; and
Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.s Spiritual Roots and Successes .
In addition to the specific verses mentioned in the foregoing titles in connection with A.A. itself, there certainly are the four sets of verses that Dr. Robert E. Speer believed were representative of the absolute moral standards and teachings of Jesus Christ.