The Basic Twelve Step Ideas from the Good Book—The Sources Dr. Bob Considered “Absolutely Essential”
[Many additional facts and sources can be found detailed in two of my latest titles, Twelve Steps for You and The James Club]
A Study of Some 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 the early A.A. program of recovery developed in Akron
Both of the A.A. founders said that the sermon on the mount – 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 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.
You can, we believe, readily identify the basic A.A. ideas taken from the Sermon, James, and Corinthians. Compare the following brief review of the ideas in each of the Twelve Step ideas in light of correlative passages in the Sermon, James, and Corinthians, together with an occasional item from the Book of Acts and the Gospels—also recommended reading by Anne Smith. Quotations here are not necessarily from the King James Version, but are from other versions used today.
Step One – Defeat (the admission); Temptation (the problem); Resistence (the solution); 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, God: His 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:
“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!”
[A description by Bill Wilson, the self-proclaimed conservative atheist, of 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 “made the point blank declaration 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 – Entrusting your life to God’s care
“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:
“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.”
Step Four – Examining Yourselves for Sins (Where did you fall short?)
Matthew 6:43-48: (Loving even your enemies)
“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: (Looking for your own faults first)
“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.”
Step Five – Admitting your faults to God, Yourself, and Another
James 5:16: (Getting the 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.”
Step Six – Declaring your willingness to ask God’s Help in abandoning the sins you have identified.
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)
“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.”
Step Seven – Acquiring a new birth and sonship with God
Matthew 6:10: (It is God’s will that is to be obeyed and done)
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 7:21: (Entering the kingdom of heaven requires doing God’s will)
“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: (Souls are saved as a gift by receiving 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.”
[See also: 1 Peter 1:17-23–Becoming God’s child by believing what the word of God tells you about Christ’s paying for your sins by 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.”
And Romans 10:6-14, 17—Having heard the word; you confess and believe what it says; and you are “saved” (made “righteous” before God) because you have been born [born again, and this time] of 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.”]
Step Eight – Becoming willing to reconcile and restore
Matthew 6:25-26: (Agree with your adversary quickly)
“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 Give Restitution if needed
Matthew 6:23-24: (Before you “worship,” remember your amends, and make them)
“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.”
Step Ten – Loving and serving God and your neighbor are a continuing obligation of the changed life [Love and Tolerance are the Code]
Matthew 7:12 (The “Golden Rule” – Do unto others)
“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. ”victed by the law as transgressors. and the Prophets.”
Matthew 5:43-44 (Love even your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you)
“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, Knowledge of the Word, Seeking God’s Guidance, Overcoming anxiety by putting your trust in God
James 5:13-16 (Pray and give thanks, praying to overcome suffering and sickness, and receive forgiveness. Effective prayer by a righteous man works!):
“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 perfect the belief 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):
“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 – (1) Experiencing a Changed Life in Christ. (2) Carrying a Message that gives proof of the fruits of Obeying God’s Will. And (3) Practicing an obedient life founded on God’s Word and acting on Christ’s teachings of love and service.
(1) Experiencing the changed life—the way to that life and the result as described in the Sermon on the Mount:
[In 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 life is founded on a Rock.]
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth, not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:18-21).
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:14-25).
[Shoemaker and many pioneers also added from Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me. . . unto the uttermost part of the earth.”]
(2) Witnessing to the experience so as to help others
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food. And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; 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, being alone” (James 2:15-17)
“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-14)
“Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20)
[Oxford Group writers and pioneers sometimes used these verses:
“Having therefore obtained the help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing. . .” (Acts 26:22-32)
“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8)
On the last page of his basic text, Bill wrote in part of the conclusion: “Give freely of what you find and join us” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 164)]
(3) Practicing the Principles in your life:
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.
“Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:3-6)
“If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8)
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. . . . But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy, and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:13, 17-18)
“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)
[Love and service:
In the 4th edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson’s writings on love and service are still quoted as part of the program of recovery: “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us” (p. 77). “Love and tolerance of others is our code” (p. 84). “Patience, tolerance, understanding and love are the watchwords” (p. 118). “Then you will know what it means to give of yourself that others may survive and rediscover life. You will learn the full meaning of ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’.” (p. 153).
In his Farewell Address to AAs, Dr. Bob said: “Our Twelve Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words ‘love’ and ‘service.’ We understand what love is, and we understand what service is. So let’s bear those two things in mind” (DR. BOB and the Good Oltimers, p. 338)
And with characteristic humility and simplicity, Dr. Bob was fond of making this point from Mark 10:43-44: “And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
It’s quite clear that both Bill and Bob put great store in practicing the Biblical principles of love and service which had, from the days of Dr. Bob’s participation in United Christian Endeavor as a youth, long been a part of Bob’s credo.
A great deal of understanding and amplification of the Biblical and other specific roots of the Twelve Steps can be found in my titles: Twelve Steps for You; The Book of James; and When Early AAs Were Cured and Why.