The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Alcoholics Anonymous and the James Club (the book of James, Sermon on the Mount, and Love Chapter of 1Corinthians)

The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials

For years, A.A. has quietly acknowledged, primarily through one publication, that the early A.A. pioneers in Akron believed firmly that the answer to all their problems was in the Good Book, as they called the Bible. A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob said that all the basic ideas were taken from their study of the Good Book. And he added many many times that the three parts of the Bible the old timers considered “absolutely essential” to their spiritual program of recovery were: (1) The Book of James. (2) Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew Chapters 5, 6, and 7. (3) 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on “love.”

You can find the foregoing remarks in A.A.’s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, in pamphlets published by Akron AA, and in several talks given through the years by Dr. Bob himself. And it was even his co-founder friend Bill Wilson who spoke of the studies of James, the Sermon, and Corinthians; the reading of these passages by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne to Bill and Bob; and the fact that—as Bill put it—“James was our favorite.” And he added that many favored calling the A.A. fellowship “The James Club.”

All this and much much more is detailed in Dick B.’s 25th published title on the Biblical roots of Alcoholics Anonymous. But this title offers a great deal more. In three major parts, it provides a detailed framework for studying each of the three Bible parts—just as the A.A. pioneers did. The reader can sit with his Bible open beside him, his Big Book available for reference, and Dick’s The James Club title before him. He, the newcomer, and others individually or as a group can study each of the three parts, digest their messages, compare with the A.A. program and its ideas, and then apply these biblical truths in daily life, in practicing the Twelve Steps, and in understanding the miracles that the Creator Yahweh wrought when the pioneers read and believed!

Each of the three parts carries a special message, though all three fit together. Bill W. and Dr. Bob both said that the Sermon on the Mount contained the underlying philosophy of A.A.—perhaps embodying the Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). And Dick’s title explores just how each verse in Matthew illustrates the way in which Jesus said his followers were to “do the will” of his father which is in heaven. You’ll see the many parts of the Sermon that were adopted into the A.A. Steps and Big Book language and ideas.

The title begins with the Book of James, however. Dick details why it has primacy in the study—based in part on its being the AAs’ favorite and in part on the ease with which it can be read and understood. Yet the meat of this wonderful book lies in its explicit formula for cure—especially the cure of the alcoholic. James speaks of patience. He speaks of enduring temptation. He speaks of seeking God’s wisdom without doubting. He speaks of temptation as the enticement which turns into sin and finally death. He strongly suggests that the readers be “doers of the word (the Bible) not hearers only, deceiving themselves. He spells out what “doing” the Word is. It’s about action; it’s about following the “royal law” of loving thy neighbor; its about benevolent giving without respect of persons and with specific aim at the downtrodden; it’s about backing up one’s “faith” with deeds—“works” as James called them; it’s about guarding the tongue and guarding the thoughts and guarding the actions so that devilish thoughts and impulses do not take over; and finally it’s about the importance of prayer, confession of faults and the Lord’s forgiveness, and about prayer for healings. In a nutshell, this book summarizes the whole pioneer approach in Akron; and, of course, it has nothing to do with “steps” or a “basic text” or the “Oxford Group.” It’s about God’s healing ministry, as A.A. old-timer Clarence Snyder put it.

Then there’s the Thirteenth Chapter of First Corinthians. Its relationship to Henry Drummond’s famous treatise and best-selling book The Greatest Thing in the World is made clear to you. It lays out the nine ingredients (as Drummond called them) of love, and illustrates that one can have the power (spoken of in the preceding 12th chapter) and the application (spoken of in the following 14th chapter) and still have nothing—if not accompanied by the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation. It concludes that there are faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.”

You’ll wind up, as Dr. Bob did after 10 years of sobriety, believing that the fundamentals (as he called them) in these three segments will heal you, enlighten you, change you, and make your life the kind of life—the abundant life—that Jesus came to teach about and make available.

To sum up, there are five valuable appendices. The first gives you explicit details on the early A.A. program in Akron. The second explains its roots in United Christian Endeavor and just what the almost-forgotten Christian Endeavor movement taught Dr. Bob and enabled him to bring to the table. The essence was, in Christian Endeavor, as it was seen by Dr. Bob himself. Love and Service. The third appendix explains the vital difference between the Akron program, its founder, and its roots, and the program fashioned four years later by Bill in his Big Book. The fourth dives into the Book of James—its history, its canonical standing, and its author; for James was held, by most, to be the brother of Jesus and the author of the book. The final appendix illustrates how important it is to look to the Bible itself for information about God, Yahweh our Creator. Such information readily builds the readers’ believing and expunges the idea that the false gods in today’s recovery talk have anything to offer but the wrath of God Himself.

Contents of The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials


Chap. 1: AA.’s Book of James
Chap. 2: The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in A.A.
Chap. 3: A.A.’s Connection with The Greatest Thing in the World
Appendix 1: Outline of the Original Program

                                The Akron Crucible Where It All Began

                                The Real Program of Early A.A.

                                An Overview of What They Did in Akron

                                The Frank Amos Reports in 1938

                                The Big Book Publication in 1939

Appendix 2: Comparing the Christian Endeavor Root

Appendix 3: The Two Different A.A. Root Streams

Appendix 4: Background on the Bible’s Book of James and James the “Author”

Appendix 5: The Difference an Identification of the Creator Makes

Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 224 pp., 6 x 9; perfect bound; 2006; $23.95; ISBN 1-885803-99-0

The very first, and the most popular, study of A.A.'s roots in the Bible. A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob stated in his last major talk in Detroit, Michigan, in December 1948 that the basic ideas of A.A.'s 12 Steps came from Bill W. and Dr. Bob’s study of the Bible [ The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical Sketches: Their Last Major Talks (Item # P-53), 14]. So too that the Book of James, Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), and 1 Corinthians 13 were absolutely essential to the early program. Dr. Bob also said that he and Bill W. were convinced that the answer to their problems was in the Good Book (as he called the Bible) [ The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (Item # P-53), 13]. The Good Book and the Big Book: A.A.'s Roots in the Bible by Dick B. explores every observable source and appearance of Bible ideas in the Big Book which Bill W. began writing about three years after A.A. was founded in Akron in June 1935. It has become a regular shelf item among those who believe in God, understand the importance of the Bible, diligently seek to apply the teachings of Jesus Christ in the march to sobriety and a life of love of service thereafter. The book is a page-turner for those who, like the author at first, had never realized the specific sources of A.A. in the Bible, and the specific Bible language in A.A.'s basic text, talks, and literature of the early days.

Quotable Quotes for A.A. History Buffs

By Dick B.

You’ve heard it before. Early A.A. had a seventy-five to ninety-three percent success rate among “medically incurable” alcoholics who “really tried.”

Where did you hear that? In the Big Book! Third Edition, at pages xx, 11, 307, and DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 261. The documentation is not difficult. The Akron crew appeared in rosters and pictures. The Cleveland crew appeared in rosters with names and addresses. These names are known. The record is astonishing. And was astonishing to the medical community of the day.

You have probably also read one or more of the many statements by Bill Wilson that nobody invented A.A. That all its ideas were borrowed As Bill Sees It, p. 57. Now, let’s look at some of the quotes we’ve all seen in the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, and Dr. Bob’s comments. You’ll find the quote, the source or sources, and the documentation with each quote.

The Quotables

First Things First: Big Book, p. 135. Dr. Bob pointed out many times that this slogan came from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:33 (“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”). See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 144, 192. The slogan is also mentioned in the Oxford Group books, Soul Surgery. 6th ed., p. 25; and Seeking and Finding, p. 17.

One Day at a Time: Again, Dr. Bob pointed to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:34 ("Take therefore no thought [be not anxious] for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof). See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 282; The Good Book and The Big Book, p. 87.

Creator: See the twelve times God Almighty is referred to as the Creator in our Big Book (you look them up in Poe’s Concordance, or just dig out your Third Edition, and go to work). And see Isaiah 40: 28: “Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” Also, of course, Genesis 1:1!

Faith without works is dead: According to Bill Wilson, early AAs so liked the Book of James that many favored calling our society the “James Club.” See Pass it On, p. 147. (You look up the references to “faith without works is dead” in the Big Book. And see James 2:14, 17_18, 20, 22, 26).

Love thy neighbor as thyself : Plenty of references to this one in the Good Book, but see particularly James 2:8: “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.” And Big Book, p. 153: "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.”

Maker: Oh, Oh, there’s God Almighty, our Creator, again. See Psalm 95:6, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” And Big Book, p. 57: “He humbly offered himself to his Maker then he knew.” And page 63: “We were now at Step Three. Many of us said to our Maker, as we understood Him: God, I offer myself to Thee. . .”

Thy will be done: Bill and Dr. Bob each said many times that the Sermon on the Mount contains the underlying philosophy of A.A. You should have no trouble with this source because you hear it in the Lord’s Prayer at the end of most A.A. meetings. And see Matthew 6:10: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” See also Big Book, pp. 67, 88.

God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be? Sound familiar? Well it was familiar to AAs and their mentors too. See Big Book, p. 53: “Either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” In Confident Faith (a book owned and circulated by Dr. Bob), Rev. Sam Shoemaker, wrote at p. 187: “God is, or He isn’t. You leap one way or the other.” Sam Shoemaker and many others writers, whose books were read by AAs took that idea from Hebrews 11:6 (“But without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him”)

I’ve got religion: The ranting of an alcoholic crackpot? That’s what Bill thought when Ebby used the expression (Big Book, p. 9). But Sam Shoemaker’s disciples used it frequently. See Children of the Second Birth, pp. 118, 165. But Bill used that same expression himself in a letter I found at Stepping Stones when I was doing my research there. It apparently was written by Bill to Dr. Leonard Strong. And the expression was often used the Oxford Group, to which Ebby and Bill both belonged.

Pass It On: Ever heard that one? It’s in our Big Book at page 94 and is the title of A.A.'s biography of Bill Wilson. Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, wrote: “The best way to keep an experience of Christ is to pass it on.” See Buchman’s Remaking the World, p. x.

The Four Absolutes: Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness, and Love: That’s just Oxford Group stuff that was abandoned in 1937? Nope. The Four Absolutes were on the Masthead of the Cleveland Central Bulletin in the 1940’s for a long time; and Dr. Bob mentioned them with praise in his last major address in 1948. See Dr. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, pp. 54, 163. Where did they come from? From Dr. Robert E. Speer’s The Principles of Jesus (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1902), pp. 33_36).Think that’s wrong? Here’s what Rev. Sam Shoemaker (whom Bill called a “co_founder” of A.A.) wrote How to Become a Christian at pp. 56_57: “One of the simplest and best rules for self_examination that I know is to use the Four Standards which Dr. Robert E. Speer said represented the summary of the Sermon on the Mount- Absolute Honesty, Absolute Purity, Absolute Unselfishness, and Absolute Love.”

Guarding that erring member the tongue: In his farewell address to AAs, Dr. Bob said: “Let us also remember to guard that erring member the tongue, and if we must use it, let’s use it with kindness and consideration and tolerance.” (See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, p. 338). Was that just an expression Dr. Bob dreamed up in his farewell address? No! Anne Smith had mentioned taming the tongue in her journal. And it came from a major part of Chapter Three in the Book of James. Here are a few lines from James 3:1_13: “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. . . . Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be.”

God as we understood Him: Did this much misunderstood expression come from the atheist Jim Burwell? Jim said so. But Bill Wilson never confirmed that statement and for good reason. Long before there was an A.A. fellowship, Reverend Sam Shoemaker had written: “So they prayed together, opening their minds to as much of God as he understood.” (See Children of the Second Birth, pp. 47 and 25). Sam taught Bill’s sponsor Ebby Thacher and Bill himself. And it is not surprising that, long before Jim Burwell got sober, Ebby told Bill to “Turn my face to God as I understand Him and say to Him. . . that I henceforth place my life at His disposal and direction forever.” (See The Good Book and the Big Book, pp. 65_66). Bill followed that direction and said that at Towns Hospital, long before Jim Burwell got sober, “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.” (See Big Book, First Edition, p. 22; Third edition, p. 13). This simple idea from Sam Shoemaker was set forth in Anne Smith’s Journal and in Oxford Group writings: surrender as much of yourself as you understand to as much of God as you understand. These people (Shoemaker, Ebby, Bill, and Anne Smith) were all referring to our Creator as they understood Him. Not a lightbulb, a radiator, or Gertrude.

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another being the exact nature of our wrongs: Initially, it came from James 5:16 “Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that ye may be healed.” See Pass it On, p.128. But the phrase itself was written by Sam Shoemaker and also by Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Smith, in Anne Smith’s Journal. See Anne Smith’s Journal. One example is at page 32: “I must share to be honest with God, myself & others.”

Father of lights: AAWS, Inc. spelled it wrong at page 14 of our Third Edition in the Big Book (“Father of Light”). But Bill Wilson spelled it right his First Edition of the Big Book, at page 23, though Bill did like to capitalize references to God. Bill wrote: “I must turn in all things to the Father of Lights who presides over us all.” The name and title come from James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Spirit: Bill wasn’t talking about his psychic experiences or spiritualism adventures. Try John 4:24: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

More Quotables

When I was new in sobriety and learning the Big Book, we used to play a game where someone would quote a phrase; and the other person had to locate it in the Big Book. We would know a lot more about our history and sources and words if we spent less time looking in the dictionary and instead turning to the real sources of our basic ideas. Most come from the Bible. Get acquainted with accuracy in talking about the Big Book, the Twelve Steps, and our Slogans. “Let go and let God” refers to our Creator, not Santa Claus. And if you would like to see many more, look them up in The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.'s Roots in the Bible; The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living That Works; and New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A. They can be found on Dick B.'s website on Alcoholics Anonymous History:

Copyright © Dick B.

Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; 808 874 4876;;

In the AA world services book (conference approved) “Pass it On” the psychologist Dr. Carl Jung wrote Bill Wilson (before his ecstatic spiritual experience), stating that the highest religious experience could be described as “the union with God.” Jung quoted psalm 42:1: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Pass It On, pp. 384-385

Here’s Dr. Jung’s letter