The Biblical Roots of Early A.A.’s Twelve Steps

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

Part Two:
Steps Four, Five, and Six

By Terry D.

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

As explained in Part One of this series, the Twelve Steps were heavily influenced by early A.A.’s Christian-based ideals and principles. There are many sources which provide adequate evidence that the Twelve Steps had biblical origins. Part Two of this four part series will explain, with verifiable and trustworthy evidence, the biblical roots and ideals of Step Four, Five, and Six. As we will soon discover, the methods used by early A.A.’s had produced success rates that were well over 75%. I will now reveal the important information that early A.A.’s lived by, which, eventually, cured them of alcoholism.

According to Dick B. [the worlds most recognized A.A. Historian], in his book titled, By the Power of God, he explains:

…Wilson [A.A. Number One] adopted several important Oxford Group ideas [see to learn more]. The first was that (whether they be called “sins,” “shortcomings,” “character defects,” “wrongs,” or simply falling short of Jesus’ standards of perfection) man was engaged in behavior that blocked him from God and from his fellow men. The second was that the behavior or “sins” had to do with “immortality” and man’s breach of “moral” standards. Man needed to make the “moral test.” Third, in order to have the “blocks” removed, man had to search honestly and fearlessly for them.1

As a result, Step Four was established to be an action step to carry out these beliefs. Step four says,


[Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.]


According to Dick B., “A.A.’s root sources were concerned with taking a moral inventory. By this, they meant examining one’s life in terms of how it measured up to the Oxford Group’s ‘Four Absolutes’ –honesty, purity, unselfishness and love.”2 In Dick B’s, Turning Point, he explains the Four Absolutes:

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

Biblical standards of the Four Absolutes are as follows:

Honesty. Luke 16:10-11: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?”

Unselfishness. Luke 9:23-24: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”

Purity. Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

Love. Matthew 25: 41-43, 45: “…Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: Naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not…. Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.”3

Many of us who are in recovery have spent most of our lives in the shadows of self-induced loneliness. We would continually drown our sorrow and regret with alcohol or drugs so we wouldn’t have to face reality and the truth. By doing a personal moral inventory, as suggested by the Forth Step, we can finally expose and reveal the things that we’ve been hiding. This simple fact has been explained in the Bible, and I’d like to mention an important scripture that states: “…First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matthew 23:26). As we start to make our moral inventory, we start to “wash the inside,” and we begin to uncover the hidden aspects of our lives. Doing a personal moral inventory is necessary for us to reveal everything about ourselves, so we work on our character defects and shortcomings.

When we begin to encounter the pain and sadness of completing our moral inventory, we will need encouragement, joy, and strength from God. We must recognize the fact that God has the ability to help heal our pain and regret, and He cares for us while we’re on our journey towards personal growth and self-improvement.

Rev. Sam Shoemaker [dubbed as a co-founder of A.A. by Bill Wilson] spoke about Step Four’s self-examination when he writes:

We must get to the point whether the man is “willing to do his will” in all areas. Take the four standards of Christ: Absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love. When people’s lives are wrong, they are usually wrong on one or more of these standards.

There is a moral obligation to be as intelligent as you can. Turn over the possibilities in your mind. Face all the facts you can find, honestly and fearlessly.4

In Dick B’s book titled, New Light on Alcoholism, he further explains that “…Concerning a moral inventory (Step Four), Sam said if we take the Ten Commandments, or Jesus’ commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, we shall see a vast difference between what they enjoin and what we are and do. Then he said: The place to begin spirituality is not with our virtues—that makes us prigs and Pharisees; it is with our sins and needs, for that gives us an honest basis on which to proceed.”5

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

A.A. venerable pioneer Clarence S. [see for more information] used the following moral checklist as a guideline for conducting Step Four’s moral inventory:

1. Self-pity;
2. Self-justification;
3. Egotism (self-importance);
4. Self-condemnation;
5. Dishonesty;
6. Impatience;
7. Hate;
8. Resentments;
9. False Pride (phoney);
10. Jealousy;
11. Envy;
12. Laziness;
13. Procrastination;
14. Insincerity;
15. Negative thinking;
16. Vulgar-immoral thinking;
17. Criticizing;
18. Lying;
19. Fear;
20. Greed6

The official Alcoholics Anonymous book says the following about Step Four:

First, we searched out the flaws in our make-up which caused our failure (p.64).

Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s (p.67).7

According to Dick B’s book titled, Utilizing Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots for Recovery Today, the biblical root of Step Four is revealed:

[Self-examination] “And why beholdest thou the mote [speck] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam [log] that is in thine own eye? Or wilt thou say to thy brother, ‘Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye’; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam our of thine own eye; and then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).8

While working Step Four, it is very important to realize that our Heavenly Father will lend a helping hand to release our suffering and pain. In the book titled, Why Early A.A. Succeeded, Dick B. brings to light some very important scriptures that we all can truly rely upon as we start our self-examination. The following are a few examples:

Release from Fear

The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord [Yahweh] shall be safe (Prov. 29:25).

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).

Release from Anxiety

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

Be careful for [or “anxious about”] nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil.4:6-7).

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33).

Release from Shame

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love (Eph. 1:4).

Release from Confusion

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful (Col. 3:15).

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee (Isa. 26:3).

Release from Weakness

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph. 6:10).

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13).

Release from Doubt

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, and intuitive though or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for a while (Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd ed., p.86).

Commit thy works unto the Lord [Yahweh], and thy thoughts shall be established (Prov. 16:3).

A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord [Yahweh] directeth his steps (Prov. 16:9).

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).

Trust in the Lord [Yahweh] with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Prov.3:5-6).

Release hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).

Release from the Devil’s Fiery Darts

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you (1 Pet. 5:8-10).

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:18).9

An ever-abundant amount of opportunities for positive alteration, growth, and development await us as we are honest about our weakness, our addictive behaviors, and our addiction or alcoholism. As we conduct the searching and fearless moral inventory of Step Four, not only do we list our character defects and shortcomings, but we should also include all the good characteristics that we wish to keep and build upon that could include: love, faith, sincerity, kindheartedness, consideration, endurance, stamina, and so on. The whole idea of a moral inventory is to bring to light our character defects and personality flaws that bring us fear, resentment, guilt, or anything that can hold us back or obstruct our forward progress in recovery. When that is complete, then we’re ready to move on to Step Five.


[Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.]


Acknowledgement of our sins will guarantee us God’s forgiveness, thereby enabling us a safe, protected passage down the path of ongoing recovery. For us to disclose to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the precise nature of our wrongs will necessitate an act of proper humility on our part; however, humbling ourselves brings us superior attentiveness and candidness that will unquestionably bring us liberation of the bondage of our past sins.

After writing down our personal moral inventory in Step Four, we are now ready to mend our past wounds through confession and humility. This confession process is truly life-giving. Once this act has been accomplished, a new source of guidance and protection will thrive in our journey. All obstructions are set aside from our path, and we obtain complete insight, understanding, and direction from our Heavenly Father. We will get more in touch with our spirituality and sense of purpose that will provide us with the additional drive that we need to excel.

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

In regards to the Fifth Step, Rev. Sam Shoemaker writes:

Many quite respectable people have hidden things in their past and their present that need to come out in confidence with some one. A sin often does not appear in all its “exceeding sinfulness” until it is brought to light with another; and it almost always seems more hopelessly unforgivable, and the person who committed it more utterly irredeemable, when it remains unshared. The only release and hope for many bound and imprisoned and defeated people lies in frank sharing. It is not only costly to share our problems, or even our comfortable sins, but it is costly to share the worst thing we ever did, the deepest sin in our life, the besetting temptation that dogs us.

Yes, sharing is just simple honesty with those who deserve to know the truth. We all need to share. When we say we do not need it, we are displaying a perhaps unconscious pride which makes us the neediest of all people. We ought to find a person whom we can fully trust, who is spiritually sound and mature, and with such a person in full confidence to talk out our sins and problems through to the bottom. That will not only help in solving the immediate difficulty, but it may make the first real assault on our pride, which is often so subtle that we do not know we have it.10

The biblical roots of Step Five is explained by Dick B. in his book, By the Power of God, when he writes, “It is commonly acknowledged that A.A.’s Fifth Step had its biblical origins in James 5:16:

Confess your fault one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.11

In early A.A., sharing and confession was an integral part of recovery for alcoholics. Both Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob truly believed that the Fifth Step was absolutely necessary if an alcoholic was to be cured. Even Anne Smith, commonly referred to as the “Mother of A.A.,” believed that confession, or sharing of wrongs, was vital. Anne Smith wrote about sharing in her journal. The following are her thoughts:

Positive reasons why we should share. 1. As we live a spiritual life, sharing becomes natural. 2. There is no adequate presentation of Christ without sharing our own sins. 3. We share because common honesty demands it. 4. Maximum usefulness demands it. Begin with known, and go on with the unknown. 5. It’s the answer to loneliness. As we take down walls, we begin to give ourselves to others. 6. Because it’s the basis of spiritual teamwork. The only answer to jealousy is to own up to it. Keep free of mental reservation and you begin to trust each other and because a spiritual power house for the community.

Kinds of Sharing. 1. Sharing for cure. 2. Sharing for release (confession). 3. Sharing for action. 4. Sharing for witness. 5. Sharing to build up fellowship in a team. 6. As restitution and a basis for honest living.

Principles of Sharing. 1. All sharing must be under guidance. 2. You do not tell everybody everything every time but you are ready to tell anybody anything at any time under guidance. 3. There is nothing in our lives that we are not willing to share. It is the quality of willingness. 4. Never betray a confidence. 5. Never share anybody else’s sin. 6. Never involve another against his wishes. 7. No detailed confessions in public. 8. The extent of sharing in public should be co-extensive with the wrong done. If you have wronged a community, you must share in a community. 9. It is not enough to share the truth, but share truth in love. Ephesians 4:5. 10. Share specifically, uncomfortably so. 11. Sharing in love without truth, sentimentality. Sharing truth without love brutality. 12. Pray before you share, quietly. 13. We can make sharing with God alone a loophole, it may be too general. It is more definite with a person. 14. Sharing is a matter of being free from our own problems in order to be used by God. 15. Share your life completely with one person at a time, so that there is nothing that you have not shared with someone at some time.12

If we decline to follow through with this step, our un-confessed sins will haunt us, resulting in the demise of our body and spirit. We will have to continue paying the penalty of our wrongdoings. We will be deficient of strength and peace of mind, leaving us feeling feeble and depressed. We will lose all sense of joy and completeness. We will become perturbed and besieged with the dishonor and guilt caused from our un-confessed sins. That is why I listed the vital principles of sharing and confession written by the Mother of A.A. If we follow Anne Smith’s suggestions, then we can have the opportunity to be freed from the burden of our past sins.

By completing the Fifth Step, we gain God’s forgiveness, supervision, and strength. We obtain complete forgiveness, clearing our debt from precedent wrongs. We become open to receive God’s safe and sound refuge. We gain God’s cautious counsel. We receive God’s unconditional love and support in our recovery and daily lives. And, foremost, we choose God’s blissful victory as an alternative to sin’s catastrophic demise. Finally, we are ready to move forward to Step Six.

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

[Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.]

As we become accepting and humble by becoming entirely ready to have God remove our defects of character, we learn that patience is a virtue. Gradually, we become open-minded, and willing to apply Spiritual Principles to our daily lives. As we learn to live in humility, and to become vigilant and honest in our daily endeavors, positive change transforms us into whole, spiritual beings. No longer does a negative mindset have to control us and hinder our forward progress. A new sense of hope and courage propels us forward, and we obtain the direction that we need to live anew, to continuously move onward in our recovery, and to attain the spiritual enlightenment that we seek.

To abide in patience and faith while working the Sixth Step will ensure a complete release of our defects of character. Our attentiveness should be focused upon a strong and confident mindset toward God, and God’s will for us. The Sixth Step is explained by Dick B. when he explains that “…the Big Book sets forth the actual Sixth Step process:

We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all—every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us to be willing (p.76).13

According to Dick B., “The Oxford Group formulated the ‘Five C’s.’ They are mentioned in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers and other books about early A.A. They—Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance—were the heart of the Oxford Group’s life-changing art. And A.A.’s Sixth Step concerned ‘repentance,’ or ‘willingness to be changed.’ Some… believe that the Oxford Group’s ‘Conviction’ idea was codified in A.A.’s Sixth Step,”14 including Dick B.

In Dick B’s book titled, Utilizing Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots for Recovery Today, he explains that the biblical roots [Principles] of the Sixth Step is the following:

[Conviction] “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight..” (Psalm 51:4); “Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away” (Psalm 65:3).15

There are so many biblical principles and ideals associated with Step Four, Five, and Six. The information presented in this article only scratches the surface. As you have noticed by now, I will only reveal historical information that has indisputable evidence to support the claims. I feel that this information is very important. I also believe that this vital information should be used in recovery today. There’s an enormous difference between the success rates of today, and the success rates of the early A.A. Pioneer’s. I now feel obligated to share this information with everyone who is in recovery today, so you too can be cured of alcoholism. So let’s step forward and live by the Christian-based ideals and principles of early A.A. Let’s courageously step forth to receive proper guidance and direction on our road to recovery.

As we honestly seek to obtain the knowledge and awareness necessary to rise above the challenges of our present and future, we will be guided in the right direction as we search our newfound inner voice within—where the Holy Spirit dwells—for the knowledge essential for victory. We finally can become aligned to our true paths. Gratitude will overwhelm us with joy. We will continue to strive forward in faith that only good will prevail. We take personal inventories to commence the removal process of our character defects. We follow the 12 Steps in order to reach our destination. As we apply the many principles of the program, opportunities to excel launch us into a new realm of victorious achievement. Our lives become more enriched with life and enjoyment. Our relationships grow, and we grow mentally and spiritually. It is essential that we believe in ourselves, and never lose faith in our ability to accomplish our goals, while maintaining confidence and persistence, knowing that through God ANYTHING is possible. Good luck to all, and to all a good recovery.


1 B., Dick, By the Power of God, pp. 93, 94.

2 .B., Dick, Turning Point, p. 255.

3 B., Dick, Turning Point, p. 257, 258.

4 B., Dick, By the Power of God, p. 95.

5 B., Dick, New Light on Alcoholism, pp. 346, 347.

6 B., Dick, That Amazing Grace, pp. 69, 70.

7 B., Dick, The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 308, 309.

8 B., Dick, Utilizing Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots for Recovery Today, p. 16.

9 B., Dick, Why Early A.A. Succeeded, pp. 158-167.

10 B., Dick, By the Power of God, pp.98, 99.

11 B., Dick, By the Power of God, pp. 99, 100.

12 B., Dick, Anne Smith’s Journal, pp. 37, 38.

13 B., Dick, The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 313.

14 B., Dick, Anne Smith’s Journal, p. 42.

15 B., Dick, Utilizing Early A.A.’s Spiritual Roots for Recovery Today, p. 16.

12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

*A special thanks to Dick B. and his great research on the early biblical roots of A.A.











12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps


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12 Step History, History of 12 Steps, Biblical Roots of 12 Steps

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