The making of amends and restoring for things wrongfully taken are rooted in the Bible. And there are particular verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Luke, and from the Book of Numbers that provided what Dr. Bob was later to state were the basic ideas studied by A.A. co-founders long before the Steps were written and the Big Book was published.1
Making Amends and Restitution Is a Vital Part of Recovery Fellowships
You can see from the basic Bible sources about to be listed that God’s will, as expressed in the Old Testament and in the words of His Son Jesus Christ, required reconciliation with, and amends to, a wronged adversary. And the intensive training in the Bible that Dr. Bob received as a youngster in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, is now well documented. As of late, the same is true of Bill Wilson’s Bible study as a boy in East Dorset, Vermont, and in his four-year Bible course at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont. The commandments of God and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ teachings were not news to these co-founders of A.A.
The original Akron Christian fellowship that Bill and Bob founded in 1935 embraced the requirement of restitution.2
So did the six so-called “word-of-mouth ideas” that Bill Wilson and his wife Lois described as existing prior to the publishing of the Twelve Steps in 1939.3
A.A.’s Big Book added Steps Eight and Nine to the process and gave explicit instructions as to how amends were to be made. Moreover, the same “continuance” process was involved in the instructions for taking and practicing Step Ten.
And, as a personal note, I can say that taking Steps Eight and Nine and practicing Step Ten became important elements in the new life I was able to establish after attaining sobriety in 1986.
They were involved in restoring relations with my family, my minister, my friends, my former law associate, the Internal Revenue Service, and the criminal court in which I not only pleaded guilty but made a very substantial restitution to the entity harmed. It is my belief that the new life in sobriety does not really begin until the old wounds are bandaged and healed.
And here, for what assistance it may render to Christians and other Bible students in understanding what God’s Word had to say to the pioneers who studied it, are the verses specifically and frequently mentioned in the materials they used.
The Basic Amends Ideas Early AAs Studied in the Bible
Matthew 5:23-24 (part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount):
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee: Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.4
Matthew 5:25 (part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount):
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.5
Luke 15:11-31, 19:1-10 (Jesus’ accounts of the Prodigal Son and of Zacchaeus, the tax collector)
In the early 1930’s, the British journalist, A.J. Russell, wrote For Sinners Only.6 Russell wrote an entire chapter on “restitution” and much on Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr. Russell covered all sets of verses we have covered here, and his book was very popular in among Oxford Group adherents, was widely circulated among Akron AAs, was often recommended by Bill Wilson’s mentor Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., and was specifically suggested by Dr. Bob’s wife Anne Smith for reading by AAs and their families.7
For Sinners Only referred to Jesus’ Prodigal Son story in Luke, Chapter 15. And Russell wrote: “Sending prodigal sons back to the earthly as well as their Heavenly Father is a specialty of the Oxford Group.”8
For Sinners Only also cited the conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus recorded in
Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus had told Jesus that if he had taken anything from any man by false accusation, he had restored the man fourfold. Jesus responded approvingly, “This day is salvation come to thy house.”9
Numbers 5:5-7 (“he shall make restitution for his guilt in full, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him in respect of whom he hath been guilty”)10
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: “When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged.”11
1 There are many sources which relate restitution, restoration, and amends to the Bible. But the following are more directly relevant to our simple presentation here. See Dick B., The Good Book and the Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible, Bridge Builders ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1997), 159-60; The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Design for Living that Works, new rev. ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 315-17, 349. The relevance of the Bible passages we mention is also discussed in two of the recovery Bibles cited in detail below—The Life Recovery Bible and Celebrate Recovery Bible. Similar but less adequate recognition and discussion can also be found in Dr. Robert Hemfelt and Dr. Richard Fowler, Serenity: A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993), Recovery Devotional Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 149, 1039-40, 1143-44. The difficulty with all four, viewed from my standpoint, is they fail to recognize the historical significance at A.A.’s beginnings of the verses they cite. The reason may well be that none of the writers was sufficiently conversant with the Original A.A. program founded in 1935, and which considered the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13, and the Book of James to be absolutely essential to the success of the early program. See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 71, 96-97, 144, 151, 183, 213, 228, 310-11.
2 Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939:A,A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 109; DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 75.
3 Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, Newton ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 256-59.
4 Specifically learned and followed by Dr. Bob in making amends. See DR, BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 308. Quoted in The Runner’s Bible, comp. and ed. by Nora Holm (Lakewood, CO: Acropolis Books, Publisher, 1998), 136—this being a daily devotional widely used by Dr. Bob and circulated among early AAs. Quoted on the dedication page of RHS, the memorial AA Grapevine issue at the time of Dr. Bob’s death. For a thorough review of the many other sources of this verse, read by AAs, from the writings of Oswald Chambers, E. Stanley Jones, Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., Leslie D. Weatherhead, and others, see Dick B., The Good Book and the Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible. Bridge Builders ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1997), 159-60. For the quotation and handling of these verses in popular recovery Bibles, see The Life Recovery Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992), 1009-11; Celebrate Recovery Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 1142-43; Recovery Devotional Bible, 1039-40; Serenity: A Companion for Twelve Step Recovery, Matthew, p. 5.
5 Holm, The Runner’s Bible, 108; Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (New Jersey: Barbour and Company, 1963), 182—a devotional used in early Akron A.A. and by Bill and Lois Wilson; The Upper Room for 1/12/36 or 1/12/39—the devotional most in use in the early Akron A.A. See also, Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, 159; and The Life Recovery Bible, 1011; Celebrate Recovery Bible, NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 1142-43; Recovery Devotional Bible, 1040; Serenity, Matthew, p. 5.
6 A. J. Russell, For Sinners Only (London: Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1932).
7 Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal, 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 83.
8 Russell, For Sinners Only, 129; Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, 160; Celebrate Recovery Bible, xxxiii-iv; 1280, 1282; The Life Recovery Bible, 1118-19; Serenity, 111; Recovery Devotional Bible, 1136-37..
9 Russell, For Sinners Only, 135; Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, 160; The Life Recovery Bible, 1124-15; Recovery Devotional Bible, 1143-44; Serenity, 115-17; Celebrate Recovery Bible, 1124-25.
10 Russell, For Sinners Only, 19. The language is as rendered in Russell’s book.
11See Dick B., The Good Book and The Big Book, 160. The translation above can be found in Recovery Devotional Bible: New International Version, 149. See also Celebrate Recovery Bible, 164; The Life Recovery Bible. 152.