Monday, August 31, 2015

Christ, the Cross, and the Holy Ghost in the Big Book? Yep.

By Ken B. (based on research by Dick B.)
© 2015 Anonymous. All rights reserved

Did you know that there have been at least five (5) versions of A.A. cofounder Bill W.’s personal testimony known as “Bill’s Story” in the current (fourth, 2001) edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”)?

1.      Bill Wilson, “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story.”[1]

2.      “Another ‘pre-original manuscript’ draft of chapters [one and two] in the Big Book.”[2]

3.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in what Bill W. called the “prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories,” also known as the “Multilith Edition” and as the “Original Manuscript.”[3]

4.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in the printer’s manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous.[4]

5.      “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism (New York City: Works Publishing Company, 1939).[5]

A number of people have pointed to Bill W.’s mention of Christ in the current (fourth, 2001) edition of the Big Book:

To Christ I conceded the certainty of a great man, not too closely followed by those who claimed Him. His moral teaching—most excellent. For myself, I had adopted those parts which seemed convenient and not too difficult; the rest I disregarded.[6]

But they have often failed to note several important points relating to Bill’s comment about Christ: (1) The context of Bill’s statement; (2) Bill’s Christian upbringing and the Christian training he experienced in common with Ebby T. at Burr and Burton Seminary during Bill’s senior year there (1912-1913); and (3) Bill’s life experiences up to the time of his late-November 1934 meeting with his old school friend Ebby.

As to the context of Bill’s statement, on page eight, Bill discusses his release from Towns Hospital after his third stay there in September 1934 for treatment of alcoholism by Dr. Silkworth. He then moves on to “the end of that bleak November [in 1934],” when he received a telephone call from his “old school friend,” Ebby T. And Bill continues writing about his late-November 1934 interaction with Ebby until page 13, at which point Bill moves on to discuss his fourth and final stay “at the hospital” for treatment of alcoholism by Dr. Silkworth—an event which took place from December 11-18, 1934, at Towns Hospital. His discussion of his interaction with Ebby and his (Bill’s) thoughts about that meeting occupy about one-third of “Bill’s Story.” His reunion with Ebby and what they discussed made up a very important part of what Bill hoped to get across through his story about A.A.’s proposed solution for overcoming the problem of alcoholism.

As to Bill W.’s Christian upbringing, see, for example: Dick B.’s The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator's Role in Early A.A.[7] As to some of the Christianity in Ebby’s upbringing and family, see Mel B., Ebby.[8] And as to Bill’s life experiences up to the time of his meeting with his friend Ebby, it is important to remember that—despite Bill’s Christian upbringing—after the unexpected death of his Burr and Burton Seminary school mate, and “girl friend,” Bertha Bamford, in November 1912 during Bill’s senior year at Burr and Burton, Bill blamed God for Bertha’s death and turned his back on God. And, with the exception of Bill’s brief-but-profound spiritual experience with God at Winchester Cathedral in England in August 1918 on his way to fight in France during World War I, he had not really thought much about God since. That is, until Dr. Silkworth had discussed with Bill during Bill’s third stay at Towns Hospital for treatment of alcoholism in September 1934 that the Great Physician (Jesus Christ) could cure Bill of his alcoholism.[9] And then, about two months later, his friend Ebby showed up sober at Bill and Lois’s house at 182 Clinton St. in Brooklyn talking about how he (Ebby) had been saved (Ebby said, “I’ve got religion.”[10]) and that God had done for him what he could not do for himself.[11]

Now let’s look at an earlier version of Bill W.’s discussion of Christ found in “W. G. Wilson’s Original Story,” an account which would seem to be the earliest version of what has come to be known as “Bill’s Story” in the Big Book.

Late one afternoon near the end of that month of November I sat alone in the kitchen of my home. As usual, I was half drunk and enough so that the keen edge of my remorse was blunted. . . . Just as I was trying to decide whether to risk concealing one of the full ones within easy reach of my side of the bed, the phone rang.

. . . Over the wire came the voice of an old school friend and drinking companion of boom times. By the time we had exchanged greetings, I sensed that he was sober. This seemed strange, for it was years since anyone could remember his coming to New York in that condition. I had come to think of him as another hopeless devotee of Bacchus. Current rumor had it that he had been committed to a state institution for alcoholic insanity. I wondered if perhaps he had not just escaped. Of course he would come over right away and take dinner with us. A fine idea that, for I then would have an excuse to drink openly with him. . . .

The door opened and there he stood, very erect and glowing. His deep voice boomed out cheerily - the cast of his features - his eyes - the freshness of his complexion - this was my friend of schooldays. There was a subtle something or other instantly apparent even to my befuddled perception. Yes - there was certainly something more - he was inexplicably different - what had happened to him?

We sat at the table and I pushed a lusty glass of gin flavored with pineapple juice in his direction. . . .

"Not now", he said. I was a little crest fallen at this, though I was glad to know that someone could refuse a drink at that moment - I knew I couldn't. "On the wagon?" - I asked. He shook his head and looked at me with an impish grin.

"Aren't you going to have anything?"- I ventured presently.

"Just as much obliged, but not tonight" I was disappointed, but curious. What had got into the fellow - he wasn't himself.  

"No, he's not himself - he's somebody is else - not just that either - he was his old self, plus something more, and maybe minus something". I couldn't put my finger on it - his whole bearing almost shouted that something of great import had taken place.

"Come now, what's this all about", I asked. Smilingly, yet seriously, he looked straight at me and said "I've got religion".  

So that was it. Last summer an alcoholic crackpot - this fall, washed in the blood of the Lamb. [H]eavens, that might be even worse. I was thunderstruck, and he, of all people. What on earth could one say to the poor fellow.

So I finally blurted out "That's fine", and sat back waiting for a sizzling blast on salvation and the relation of the Cross, the Holy Ghost, and the Devil thereto. Yes, he did have that starry-eyed look, the old boy was on fire all right. Well, bless his heart, let him rant. It was nice that he was sober after all. I could stand it anyway, for there was plenty of gin and I took a little comfort that tomorrow's ration wouldn't have to be used up right then.

Old memories of Sunday School - the profit temperance pledge, which I never signed - the sound of the preacher's voice which could be heard on still Sunday mornings way over on the hillside beyond the railroad tracks, - My grandfather's quite scorn of things some church people did to him - his fair minded attitude that I should make up my mind about these things myself - his convictions that the . . . spheres really had their music - but his denial of the right of preachers to tell him how he should listen - his perfect lack of fear when he mentioned these things just before his death - these memories surged up out of my childhood as I listened to my friend. My own gorge rose for a moment to an all time high as my anti-preacher - anti-church folk sentiment welled up inside me. These feelings soon gave way to respectful attention as my former drinking companion rattled on. Without knowing it, I stood at the great turning point of my life - I was on the threshold of a fourth dimension of existence that I had doubtfully heard some people describe and others pretend to have. 

He went on to lay before me a simple proposal. It was so simple and so little complicated with the theology and dogma I had associated with religion that by degrees I became astonished and delighted. I was astonished because a thing so simple could accomplish the profound result I now beheld in the person of my friend. To say that I was delighted is putting it mildly, for I realized that I could go for his program also. Like all but a few . . . human beings I had believed in the existence of a power greater than myself. True atheists are really very scarce. It always seemed to me more difficult and illogical to be an atheist than to believe there is a certain amount of law and order and purpose underlying the universe. The faith of an atheist in his convictions is far more blind then that of the religionist for it leads inevitably to the absurd conclusion that the vast and ever changing cosmos originally grew out of a cipher, and now has arrived at its present state through a series of haphazard accidents, one of which is man himself. . . .

Such was the picture I had of myself and the world in which I lived, that there was a mighty rhythm, intelligence and purpose behind it all despite inconsistencies. I had rather strongly believed.

But this was as far as I had ever got toward the realization of God and my personal relationship to Him. My thoughts of God were academic and speculative when I had them, which for some years past had not been often. That God was an intelligence power and love upon which I could absolutely rely as an individual had not seriously occurred to me. Of course I knew in a general way what theologians claimed but I could not see that religious persons as a class demonstrated any more power, love and intelligence than those who claimed no special dispensation from God though I granted that Christianity ought to be a wonderful influence I was annoyed, irked and confused by the attitudes they took, the beliefs they held and the things they had done in the name of Christ. People like myself had been burned and whole population put to fire and sword on the pretext they did not believe as Christians did. History taught that Christians were not the only offenders in this respect. It seemed to me that on the whole it made little difference whether you were Mohammedan, Catholic, Jew, Protestant or Hotentot. You were supposed to look askance at the other fellows approach to God. Nobody could be saved unless they fell in with your ideas. I had a great admiration for Christ as a man. He practiced what he preached and set a marvelous example. It was not hard to agree in Principle with His moral teachings but like most people, I preferred to live up to some moral standard[s] but not to others. At any rate I thought I understood as well as any one what good morals were and with the exceptions of my drinking I felt superior to most Christians I knew. I might be weak in some respects but at least I was not hypocritical. So my interest in Christianity other than its teaching of moral principles and the good I hoped it did on balance was slight.

Sometimes I wished that I had been religiously trained from early childhood[12] that I might have the comfortable assurance about so many things I found it impossible to have any definite convictions upon. The question of the hereafter, the many theological abstractions and seeming contradictions - these things were puzzling and finally annoying for religious people told me I must believe a great many seemingly impossible things to be one of them. This insistence on their part plus a powerful desire to possess the things of this life while there was yet time had crowded the idea of the personal God more and more out of my mind as the years went by. Neither were my convictions strengthened by my own misfortunes. The great war and its aftermath seemed to more certainly demonstrate the omnipotence of the devil than the loving care of an all-powerful God

Nevertheless here I was sitting opposite a man who talked about a personal God who told me how he had found Him, who described to me how I might do the same thing and who convinced me utterly that something had come into his life which had accomplished a miracle. The man was transformed; there was no denying he had been reborn. He was radiant of something which soothed my troubled spirit as though the fresh clean wind of mountain top blowing through and through me I saw and felt and in a great surge of joy I realized that the great presence which had made itself felt to me that war time day in Winchester Cathedral had again returned.

As he continued I commenced to see myself as in as in an unearthly mirror. I saw how ridiculous and futile the whole basis of my life had been. Standing in the middle of the stage of my life's setting I had been feverishly trying to arrange ideas and things and people and even God, to my own liking, to my own ends and to promote what I had thought to be true happiness. It was truly a sudden and breath-taking illumination. Then the idea came – “The tragic thing about you is, that you have been playing God.” That was it. Playing God. Then the humor of the situation burst upon me, here was I a tiny grain of sand of the infinite shores of God’s great universe and the little grain of sand, had been trying to play God. He really thought he could arrange all of the other little grains about him just to suit himself. And when his little hour was run out, people would weep and say in awed tones—“How wonderful.”

So then came the question – If I were no longer to be God than was I to find and perfect the new relationship with my creator – with the Father of Lights who presides over all ? My friend laid down to me the terms and conditions which were simple but not easy, drastic yet broad and acceptable to honest men everywhere, of whatever faith or lack thereof. He did not tell me that these were the only terms – he merely said that they were terms that had worked in his case. They were spiritual principles and rules of practice he thought common to all of the worthwhile religions and philosophies of mankind. He regarded them as stepping stones to a better understanding of our relation to the spirit of the universe and as a practical set of directions setting forth how the spirit could work in and through us that we might become spearheads and more effective agents for the promotion of God’s Will for our lives and for our fellows. The great thing about it all was its simplicity and scope. [N]o really religious persons belief would be interfered with no matter what his training. For the man on the street who just wondered about such things, it was a providential approach, for with a small beginning of faith and a very large dose of action along spiritual lines he could be sure to demonstrate the Power and Love of God as a practical workable twenty four hour a day design for living.

This is what my friend suggested I do. One: Turn my face to God as I understand Him and say to Him with earnestness - complete honesty and abandon that I henceforth place my life at His disposal and direction. forever. . .  [13]

It is intriguing to note Bill W.’s references in his personal testimony to “the blood of the Lamb;” “salvation and the relation of the Cross, the Holy Ghost;” “Christianity;” “the name of Christ,” and “Christians” that did not make it into later versions of “Bill’s Story.” But their presence in this very early—perhaps “original”—version of his personal story begins to make sense once one has an understanding of Bill W.’s and Ebby’s shared Christian experience at Burr and Burton Seminary during Bill’s senior year there in 1912-1913. During that school year:  

1.     Bill and Ebby attended Burr and Burton Seminary’s required Bible study course;[14]

2.     Bill and Ebby attended Burr and Burton Seminary’s required daily chapel (which included hymns, prayers, Bible reading, and sermons);[15]

3.     Bill was president of the seminary’s Young Men’s Christian Association;[16]

4.     Bill’s “girl friend,” Bertha Bamford, was president of the seminary's Young Women’s Christian Association;[17] and

5.     Ebby lodged for the entire school year with Rev. Sidney K. Perkins, minister of the First Congregational Church in Manchester, Vermont (where Burr and Burton Seminary was and still is located).[18]

In closing this article, it is also important to remember that A.A.’s cofounders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, were Christian laymen, not ministers or theologians.

[1] Bill Wilson, W. G. Wilson’s Original Story, no date, typescript, Stepping Stones archive, Katonah, New York. Dick B. was given permission by the Stepping Stones archivist at the time, Paul Lang, to photocopy this unpublished manuscript. Each line in the manuscript is numbered, with the lines numbers going from 1 to 1,180. And Dick B. discussed this document in a number of his published titles, including: (1) Dick B., The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, new, rev. ed./3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1995, 1998), 373 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]; (2) Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1992, 1998), 327-28 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]. Dick B. states in footnote 31 (on page 28) concerning this manuscript: “The author obtained a copy of this manuscript from Bill’s home at Stepping Stones during his October, 1991, visit there.” (3) Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1994, 1999), 580 [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”]. (4) Dick B., Turning Point: A History of Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots and Successes (San Rafael, Calif.: Paradise Research Publications, 1997), 82, fn. 1 (continued from page 81) [called “Bill Wilson’s Original Story”];
Here are two places on the Internet where (purported) reproductions of this manuscript may be seen currently: (1); accessed 8/29/2015; and (2) “Message 6500 . . . Original draft of Bill’s Story; From: bbthumpthump . . . 5/1/2010 3:47:00 PM;; accessed 8/28/2015.”
[2] In this (purported) document, the chapter titled “There Is a Solution”—now chapter two in the book Alcoholics Anonymous—is chapter one. And the chapter titled “Bill’s Story”—now chapter one in the book Alcoholics Anonymous–is chapter two. Bill W. said about these two chapters: “Some time in March or April [1938] I began to work on what was to become the book Alcoholics Anonymous. [—Bill’s wife Lois, who kept a diary, stated in her memoir, Lois Remembers, that the start date for the Big Book was actually in May 1938.] By the time our big money push was under way {“from early summer to early fall [1938]”—page 152 in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age} I had completed my own story and had roughed out what is now the second chapter of the A.A. book. Mimeographed copies of these two chapters were part of the paraphernalia for the money-raising operation, . . .” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957), 153.
This (purported) document—with no accompanying explanation as to where it came from—appears in several places on the Internet; e.g.: (1); accessed 8/29/2015; (2) “Pre-Original Draft of Chapter 1 & 2”:; accessed 8/29/2015; and (3) “‘There Is A Solution’ & the 2nd Draft of ‘Bill's Story’”:; accessed 8/29/2015.
[3] “‘Chapter One: Bill’s Story’ in the ‘Original Manuscript’”:; accessed 8/29/2015. Bill W. stated concerning what he called “a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories”: “By January [1939] the Akronites had produced eighteen fine stories. . . . With somewhat more difficulty the New York group produced ten stories. . . [T]he story section of the book was complete in the latter part of January, 1939. So at last was the text. . . . But someone . . . sounded a note of caution. . . . ‘. . . Had we not better make a prepublication copy of the text and some of the stories and try the book out on our own membership and on every kind and class of person that has anything to do with drunks?’ . . . Four hundred mimeograph copies of the book were made and sent to everyone we could think of who might be concerned with the problem of alcoholism.” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 164-65.
[4] See “Chapter One: Bill’s Story” in The Book That Started It All: The Working Manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2010): For additional information on the printer’s manuscript of Alcoholics Anonymous, see, for example: “The ‘Holy Grail’ of Alcoholics Anonymous”:; accessed 8/29/2015. Bill W. stated about the preparation of the printer’s manuscript: “By now great numbers of the 400 mimeographs which had been sent out had been returned. . . . Nothing now remained except to prepare the printer’s copy of the book. We selected one of the mimeographs, and in Henry’s clear handwriting all the corrections were transferred to it. [“Henry” was Bill’s business partner and first “successful” sponsee in the New York area, Henry (Hank) P., who later got drunk around September 1939.] There were few large changes but the small ones were very numerous. The copy was hardly legible and we wondered if the printer would take it, heavily marked up as it was.” See Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 167, 169.
[5] The first printing of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in April 1939. Its copyright date was April 10, 1939. On April 10, 2014, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., published the 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous , an exact reprint of the first printing of the first edition of the Big Book: See also: Alcoholics Anonymous: “The Big Book”: The Original 1939 Edition, with a new Introduction [23 pages] by Dick B. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2011).
[6] Chapter One, “Bill’s Story,” in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York City: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), 11.
[7] Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.: More on the Creator’s Role in Early A.A. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006).
[8] Mel B., Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W. (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1998).
[9] Dick B., “A.A., Dr. William D. Silkworth, and the ‘Great Physician’”:; accessed 8/30/2015.
[10] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9.
[11] Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 11.
[12] Bill W.’s comment here about his wishing he “had been religiously trained from early childhood” is misleading. Dick B. has written about Bill’s Christian upbringing and training in several of his published titles and in numerous articles. Bill’s Christian upbringing included: (1) Bill’s mother’s recounting to him from his earliest childhood days his paternal grandfather  William C. (“Willie”) Wilson’s religious conversion experience which freed Willie from his alcoholism; (2) Bill’s attendance at Sunday school at East Dorset Congregational Church; (3) Bill’s reading the Bible with his maternal grandfather, Gardner Fayette Griffith; and (4) the various Christian activities in which Bill participated at Burr and Burton Seminary. Here’s just one example: Bill Wilson's pastor, D. Miner Rogers of East Dorset Congregational Church, awarded Bill a New Testament for one quarter-of-a-year’s perfect Sunday school attendance right after Bill and his sister Dorothy returned from Rutland in 1906. There is an inscription in the New Testament Bill received. It reads:  “Will Wilson, for perfect attendance at Sunday School, Fourth Quarter 1906 from his pastor D. Miner Rogers East Dorset Vt. Jan 1, 1907 II Tim.3/14.15.” See: “The Library of Books found at Stepping Stones, the historic home of Bill and Lois Wilson”: [This information is found near the end of the document under the listing for “various” (i.e., miscellaneous/otherwise unclassified items)].
[13] “Bill’s Original Story”:; accessed 8/30/2015. Please note that I have corrected a few obvious typos, but have left several of the typo’s in the text—some of which were in the typed manuscript, and some of which were introduced by the person who attempted to reproduce my dad’s (authorized) copy of the typed manuscript.
[14] Ken B., “A.A. Cofounder Bill W.'s Four-Year Bible Study Course While Attending Burr and Burton Seminary”;; accessed 8/30/2015.
[15] Dick B., “A.A. Cofounder Bill W.: His Younger Years at a Glance”;; accessed 8/30/2015.
[16] Bill W., My First 40 Years (Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2000), 29.
[17] Manchester Journal [Manchester, Vermont], Number 31, Thursday morning, November 21, 1912, Volume LII, page 3 (unnumbered) under “Manchester Center”:; accessed 8/30/2015.
[18] Mel B., Ebby, 51.

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