Alcoholics Anonymous History: Are the Creator and His Son Jesus Christ Just Some “higher power?”

Aloha to you, William, from Maui, Hawaii!

Thank you for your question about whether it is appropriate to “use the phrase Christ is my Higher Power.”

There are very simple answers to your question in the Bible, in the Big Book, and in A.A. history.

1. The Bible: The phrase “higher power” in the singular does not occur in the King James Version of the Bible. All you need to do to verify that is to use the Blue Letter Bible available online: http://www.BlueLetterBible.org. Use “higher power” as your search term. If you put quotes around the phrase “higher power,” you will get the following result:

“higher power”

occurs in 0 verses in the KJV (see Primary Results).

[“higher power,” http://www.BlueLetterBible.org: http://mcaf.ee/b7cqy; accessed 4/6/13]

There are a number of descriptive words and phrases used of Jesus in the Bible. For example, “Christ” [which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah” and means “anointed (one)”] and “Son of the living God”:

He [Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

I suggest you consider sticking with the language of Scripture.

2. Alcoholics Anonymous (“the Big Book”). The phrase “Higher Power” occurs two (2) times in pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book. You may verify that using the “164 and More” Big Book search tool available online: http://www.164andmore.com:

His defense must come from a Higher Power. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 43)

Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances! (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 100)

As to the occurrence of the phrase “Higher Power” on page 43, it is interesting to note:

1. The letter “h” in the phrase “Higher Power” (as it appears in the fourth edition) was not capitalized in the first printing of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. The phrase was written:

. . . higher Power.

2. Taking the page 43 “Higher Power” in context, let’s look at pages 45 and 46 of the fourth edition:

And, it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed, 45]

We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 46]

3. In the paragraph just before the paragraph in which the phrase “Higher Power” occurs on page 43 of the fourth edition, we find the following language:

As to two of you men, whose stories I have heard, there is no doubt in my mind that you were 100% hopeless, apart from divine help. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 43]

As to the occurrence of the phrase “Higher Power” on page 100, it is interesting to note:

1. In the same paragraph in which the phrase “Higher Power” occurs on page 100, the previous sentence reads:

When we look back, we realize that the things which came to us when we put ourselves in God’s hands were better than anything we could have planned. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 100]

2. In the paragraph immediately preceding the paragraph in which the phrase “Higher Power” occurs on page 100, we find the following two sentences:

Remind the prospect that his recovery is not dependent upon people. It is dependent upon his relationship with God. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 100]

When it comes to sharing your personal experience (or “personal story”), page 29 of the fourth edition of the Big Book offers a good starting point:

Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God.

And stick with the facts! Here are some facts about the word “God,” capitalized pronouns, and biblical descriptions as they are used of the Creator of the heavens and the earth on pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book:

• The word “God” occurs 135 times on pages 1-164. [This figure includes related word-forms, including “God-consciousness” (p. 13), “God’s” (pp. 24, 25, etc.), “God-sufficiency” (p. 52), “God-given” (p. 69), and “God-conscious” (p. 85).] If one chooses to omit/disqualify “for God’s sake” (p. 24) and “the God of reason” (p. 54), that would leave 133 occurrences of the word “God” which fairly clearly refer to the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

• Capitalized pronouns referring to the Creator of the heavens and the earth (i.e., God) occur 81 times on pages 1-164; i.e., “He,” “His,” “Him,” “Thou,” “Thy,” and “Thee.”

• Biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth (i.e., God), other than the word “God,” occur 16 times on pages 1-164–i.e., “Creator,” “Maker,” “the Father,” and “the Father of Light.”

(Please see the three attached files about occurrences of the word “God,” capitalized pronouns, and biblical descriptions of the Creator of the heavens and the earth in pages 1-164 of the fourth edition of the Big Book for the documentation.) [And to the reader, you may obtain copies of the three files by emailing dickb@dickb.com]

3. Alcoholics Anonymous history. Here is the message A.A. cofounder Bill W. said that Ebby carried to him:

“I’ve got religion.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9]

Bill then stated:

[Ebby] . . . did no ranting. In a matter of fact way he told how two men had appeared in court, persuading the judge to suspend his commitment. They had told him of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action. . . . [T]he result was self-evident. It worked! [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 9]

Bill continued:

. . . [M]y friend sat before me, and he made the point-blank declaration that God had done for him what he could not do for himself. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 11]

And Bill declared:

Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 12]

A.A. Number Three, Bill D. of Akron, had this to say about the message Bill W. carried:

Bill [W.] was at my house talking to my wife and me. We were eating lunch, and I was listening and trying to find out why they had this release that they seemed to have. Bill looked across at my wife and said to her, “Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 191]

A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob had this to say about Bill W. following their first, six-hour meeting on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1935, in Akron:

. . . [T]his was a man . . . who had been cured by the very means I had been trying to employ, that is to say the spiritual approach. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 180]

And what message was Dr. Bob carrying?

“Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181]

What message was A.A, Number Three, Bill D., carrying?

“I thought, I think I have the answer. Bill was very, very grateful that he had been released from this terrible thing and he had given God the credit for having done it, and he’s so grateful about it he wants to tell other people about it. That sentence, “The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep telling people about it,” has been a sort of a golden text for the A.A. program and for me.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 181]

There is, of course, much more to be found in A.A. history about the roles played by God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Bible in early A.A.’s astonishing successes. You might look, for example, at page 131 of DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers. There you will find a seven-point summary of the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program by Frank Amos, the agent of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. No “higher Power” or “Higher Power” there. Just God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. As Ebby shared with Bill W. at Towns Hospital in December 1934 shortly after Bill W.’s hospital room had “blazed with indescribably white light” and Bill had sensed the presence of God:

My friend promised when these things were done I would enter upon a new relationship with my Creator; that I would have the elements of a way of living which answered all my problems. Belief in the power of God, plus enough willingness, honesty and humility to establish and maintain the new order of things, were the essential requirements. [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 14]

Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!

Thank you for writing to Dick B.

In GOD’s love,

Dick B.’s son, Ken

For further information, see Dick B., God and Alcoholism: Our Growing Opportunity in the 21st Century. Available right now on Amazon.com.

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About mauihistorian

Uses pen name Dick B.: Writer, Historian, Retired attorney, Bible student, CDAAC, and active and recovered A.A. member with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. Published 42 titles and over 650 articles on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Christian Recovery Movement. www.dickb.com
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