A.A. Founders’ Descriptions of God Before the 1939 Compromise
As Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson described it, a battle took place over the wording of Bill’s proposed Twelve Steps. It occurred as the Big Book manuscript was being readied for the printer. Four people were present: Bill Wilson, Bill’s partner Henry Parkhurst, John Henry Fitzhugh Mayo, and the secretary Ruth Hock.
Cofounder Bill and the other Cofounder Dr. Bob Smith had consistently and many many times described Almighty God in terms that plainly came from the Bible, the Bible that both men had studied as youngsters in Vermont, and the Bible that was taught to them in their Sunday schools, daily chapel, and the Vermont Congregational Churches of their youth.
Dr. Bob quite simply had referred to God as God, Creator, and Heavenly Father.
Bill had frequently referred to God as Almighty God, Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, Father of lights, as well as the “God of the Scriptures” and the “God of the preachers.”
In fact, before the battle in the office and the adoption of compromise language, Bill said he had consistently used the word “God” without qualification in all of the manuscripts. But Bill’s partner argued, pleaded, even urged that Bill must take out the word “God.” Even then, Bill retained the unqualified Scriptural references to “God” over 200 times.
The Manuscript Compromise that Purported to “Change” the “god” of the Twelve Steps
However, Bill then deleted the word “God” from the Second Step language and replaced the word with the phrase “Power greater than ourselves”—language frequently used by Oxford Group writers and leaders like Rev. Sam Shoemaker. In Steps Three and Eleven, Bill changed the word “God” to “God as we understood Him.” And that ended the battle.
Later, Bill explained in some detail that there had been a “compromise.” He claimed that “God” was still there, but in terms that anyone could understand. He said the language was substituted to accommodate the atheists and agnostics in A.A. Lois Wilson said the change was agreed to because “not all drunks were Christians.”
The Inept Attempt to Attract Atheists and Agnostics
So. What did this newly coined phrase “God as we understood Him” really refer to? The fact is that Bill had used the phrase in his own surrender story in the Big Book. He also said that Ebby had suggested he do so. The phrase was to the effect that Bill humbly surrendered to his Maker as Bill then understood Him. And this was language that Bill’s mentor Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Jr., had suggested in many writings. Shoemaker contended that one could begin his quest to find and establish a relationship with God by surrendering as much of himself as he understood to as much of God as he understood. You can find the statements in Shoemaker’s book Children of the Second Birth. That idea wasn’t from the Bible. It was from Sam Shoemaker.
In all the earlier descriptions, the Cofounders, and their mentor Sam Shoemaker, were referring to “the God of the Scriptures” as they spoke of God, Creator, Maker, Heavenly Father, and God of our fathers.
The New Names Confused, But Did Not Enlighten
Was Bill therefore introducing some new kind of “god” into his program and manuscript as he substituted the Oxford Group phrases after the compromise battle of 1939? There is no definitive answer; but we do know that it was not until Dr. Bob was long dead that Bill surprisingly added in his Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that a person could, if he chose, make an A.A. group his “higher power.” Some may do that today, but they certainly don’t pray to the A.A. group. In fact, the Traditions that Bill wrote suggested that their ultimate authority was a loving God as He might express Himself to a group conscience.
The Creator Did Not Change, But the Language Did
The Creator, Almighty God, did not change between 1939 and the 1950’s. The two Cofounders had often described Him as He is described in the Bible both had studied and which was stressed as reading matter in the early program.
In fact, Bill said that the Book of James was a favorite; and you can find the “God of the Scriptures” described there as “God” (James 1:1, 1:5, 1:13, 1:27, 2:5, 2:19, 2:23, 3:9, 4:4, 4:7, and 4:8). The “God of the Scriptures” was also there described as “God and the Father” (James 1:27); “God, even the Father” (James3:9); and “the Father of lights” (James 1:17). The same Book of James describes the Son of God as “the Lord Jesus Christ” and “our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1, 2:1). Nowhere does the Bible leave the reader in doubt or lack of understanding as to who God, the Father, was and is, or who His Son Jesus Christ was and is.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which the Cofounders considered absolutely essential to their program and said that it contained the underlying spiritual philosophy of A.A., there are the same consistent and frequent references to “God,” “Father,” “heavenly Father,” and “Father which is in heaven.”
A.A.’s Bible Roots Never Condoned an Idolatrous Deity
There is nothing in these Scriptures to suggest that “God” was or is a “Power greater than ourselves”—a substitute “god” that would satisfy atheists and agnostics. The Bible is clear that there is only one God—the Creator of the heavens and the earth. There is nothing in these Scriptures to suggest that “God”—the Creator of the heavens and the earth– is merely “a” god, or some newly conceived deity. Nor that God—the Creator of the heavens and the earth– was understood to be an A.A. group.
God did not change in 1939, or ever. See Malachi 3:6: “For I am the LORD, I change not.” Also, Psalm 102:24-27: “I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundations of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”
Groups may and do change; higher powers change and are given some new name like radiator or the Big Dipper with more and more frequency today. The named higher powers (light bulbs, door knobs, rocks , chairs, and radiators) change. But Yahweh, the Creator does not change—and certainly did not change between 1939 and the date Dr. Bob died. No! Until Bill substituted his compromise “god” in 1939, the Creator did not change then or thereafter. God was and is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.