Episode 25: Changes to the Big Book an Interview with Jerry F.

This November at WAAFT IAAC, Jerry F. from Gilbert, Arizona will give a presentation about ongoing changes that have been made to the Big Book, and how he was able to get the General Service Conference to take up the issue with AA World Services, ultimately resulting in a revision to the fourth edition. This is a story with a little bit of everything. It’s an AA history story, it’s a lesson in General Service, and it has all the mystery and intrigue of a detective story. When Jerry first told me about this, I knew it would make for a great podcast. He was kind enough to oblige and to give us all a preview of what he will be presenting in Austin this November.

The story began shortly after Jerry was getting sober and his sponsor had him read the Big Book, and as he read it he came upon this passage on page 114 in the third edition:

Since this book was first published, AA has released thousands of alcoholics from asylums and hospitals of every kind. The majority have never returned. The power of God goes deep!

This would seem to suggest that the Big Book wasn’t a static text, frozen forever in time, but it was a fluid document with updates made to subsequent printings and editions. In this instance the book has clearly been changed since the first printing, yet Jerry was always told by his sponsor and others that there were never any changes made to the first 164 pages, and the written statements from AA World Services would lead one to believe that no changes have been made.

Because this book has become the basic text for our Society and has helped such large numbers of alcoholic men and women to recovery, there exists a sentiment against any radical changes being made to it. Therefore, the first portion of this volume has been left untouched in the course of revisions made for both the second and third editions.

(Alcoholics Anonymous, Preface to the Third Edition, p. xi)

Why was AA World Services claiming that no changes had ever been made to the first 164 pages of the Big Book, when clearly changes had been made? Jerry needed to know so he started upon a project to identify the changes that were made to various printings and editions of the Big Book. He found a total of 401 changes to the first 164 pages.

Many of these changes were to style and punctuation in an effort to keep the book stylistically current. However, many other changes were very significant, which leads one to ask why were they made. For example, in every instance “ex-alcoholic” was changed to “ex-problem drinker. The third pertinent idea was changed, the 12th Step was changed, the Doctor’s Opinion was repeatedly changed, yet AA World Services maintained that no changes were made to our basic text.

Jerry wanted to know why AA World Services was making this claim when obviously it was false, so he sent them his research and asked for an explanation. He never received a response so he took the matter to his Area Assembly, and from there the Area Delegate took the matter to the General Service Conference in New York. As the other delegates became aware of the changes, and the deliberate deception perpetrated by AA World Services, they demanded that the lies in the preface to the fourth edition be corrected—and so it was.

Attached to this post is a copy of the document that Jerry prepared for his presentation in Austin.


About Jerry F.

Jerry is one of the founding members of We Agnostics in Tempe, AZ and was the instigator of the WAAFT-AZ Convention last November in Phoenix. He has served in many positions in his 27 years in AA and is currently treasurer of his traditional AA group, coffeemaker of his secular group, and is beginning a term as a board member of WAAFT-IAAC. He considers his greatest achievement as being responsible for a change to the Fourth Edition of the Big Book and his greatest asset as being relentlessly anal.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



  1. Chip Bowdren March 4, 2019 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Always amazed at what drives people…  kind of sounds like the warring factions s between CNN and FOX…. or… The Jerry Springer Show.

    I’m trying as hard as I can to find the importance got. Besides the fact of the claim of the conspiracy theory World service’s to deny any changes like that. But I also realize that the major point in the argument is to get you to come over to my side and believe what I believe. If that wasn’t the purpose there be no argument

  2. Madeline R. August 28, 2016 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    I really appreciate the information I’ve been reading.  I would like to know more clearly about the changes in the 164 pages of the Big Book.  I’m 11 years sober and take women through the Big Book.  It concerns me that I just don’t know what’s going on with our Big Book.

  3. Tommy H July 19, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    From a friend on the history lovers’ site:

    If one wishes to save on the cost of air fare and hotel room, you can enter “big book changes” in Google or Bing:
    From: AAHistoryLovers@yahoogroups.com [mailto:AAHistoryLovers@yahoogroups.com]



    • Jerry F July 23, 2016 at 1:17 pm Reply

      Thank you, Art. Still hard at work I see.

      Those are all good sites and I know of five or six more. Isn’t it interesting that, while all list some BB changes, none contain all of them?

      And I will belabor the point. It isn’t the changes but rather the outright denial that they exist.

      • Louis Sorrentino January 11, 2019 at 1:28 pm Reply

        Imagine a non-American reading the BB for the 1st time.

        How can we begin to have the words in There Is A Solution (“We are all average Americans”)  updated to be welcoming to all people ? (i.e., “We are all average people.)

        Lou S.

  4. Tom R July 19, 2016 at 9:26 am - Reply

    How can I get a copy of the list of changes compiled by Jerry F? I have thought about making a list of them myself, but if he’s already made one I would like to save myself the work.

  5. Laurie A July 17, 2016 at 11:53 am - Reply

    ‘First there was the fire; then the words about the fire – then the arguments about the words about the fire.’ (Richard Rohr). In the archives room at GSO I recall seeing a copy of the Big Book with the word experience in Step 12 crossed out in pencil and the word awakening replacing it in the margin. We were told the amendment was made by Bill W.

    word a

    • Bill P. July 17, 2016 at 2:54 pm Reply

      Good work! From the glacial pace exhibited by the General Services Administration and the “Higher Powers” in AA, as well as the lack of candor, symptoms even of “denial”, it the AA program itself has developed “character defects” interfering with its ability to reach out to all alcoholics, regardless of religious belief or the absence thereof. The late Ernie Kurtz rightly pointed out that Bill W, particularly in his later years, grew increasingly skeptical about organized religion fearing that the AA program might become too susceptible to its dogma. He considered each of the steps to be voluntary and if alive today would probably welcome the possibility that there may be several paths up the mountain of recovery. He was not given to dogma and, in grateful memory of him, respect for him, dogma is ill suited to this society.



  6. Tommy H July 17, 2016 at 11:02 am - Reply

    That sounds like a great project.

    Keep us informed on it.


  7. Thomas Brinson July 17, 2016 at 10:49 am - Reply

    Hold the horses, stop the presses, re-record the digital tape, or whatever idiom would be appropriate for the 3rd Millennium !~!~!

    John and Jerry et al, please note that there is a major mistake in the latter part of this delightful podcast regarding Ruth Hock — It was not Ruth Hock that I knew in New York, it was Nell Wing, Bill (and Lois’s) longtime personal secretary, after Ruth Hock left working for AA, that I knew, who  was also the first AA archivist. It was she, not Ruth Hock, that told me about the secular version of the first 164 pages that she and Bill had been working on during the last years of Bill’s life, which I have so far been unable to find any corroborating information about in either the AA Archives or the Stepping Stones Archives.

    Otherwise, Jerry, thanks for this fascinating story, which is so typical of any “Human Powered” organization, most of whom write and rewrite the histories of their seminal texts again and again until they are carved in alleged sacred stone. From my reading of early Christian, Jewish and Muslim history the same process has happened to all so-called “sacred” texts.

    I especially love the point you make that it’s the “cover up,” or the lying about having made the changes, that is more egregious than the actual changes that have been made to first 164 pages. This effectively demonstrates the reality that AA is much more “human powered” than divinely inspired.

  8. life-j July 17, 2016 at 10:27 am - Reply

    A lot of work all right. A related project I’m working on in bits and pieces is an annotated big book (electronic copy) which makes notes of all the logical fallacies as they appear. Logical fallacies are a fascinating study, and I wish I was as sharp as I was 20 years ago.


    The most famous (infamous) one of course is the one which appears several times: It is either my will or god’s will. The whole program is built on this, this being the most important choice for us to make in our life, and there being no other choices which really matter, if they even exist. Well, maybe it’s not even an issue? Maybe it should be the least of our concerns? But once it has been proposed as the one and only issue it’s as if there is no escape from it. Hunh, I guess it better be god’s will then, now where did I put my knee pads?

    But there are hundreds of logical fallacies in the AA literature. I would even propose that that is the genius of the big book, it has gathered more logical fallacies into a coherent hole than one would have thought possible.

    Bill wilson has come upon a way to argue that sounds as if it makes sense all the while he is making leaps of reasoning that are so off the wall they can hardly be processed rationally. I guess that would be the hallmark of an exceptional salesman. A system of argumentation that sounds as if it is based in rationality but really isn’t, will pretty much be impossible to argue against.

    • Tom R July 19, 2016 at 9:31 am Reply

      Well, there are fallacies then there are paradoxes. The Big Book doesn’t claim to be a work of logic, and spiritual experiences (and the experience of a higher power) are necessarily subjective, hence the “as you understand him” part.

    • jen July 17, 2016 at 2:01 pm Reply

      Reply to life-j:

      I’d love to see the results of your work so far.It’s true that there are a HUGE number of logical fallacies in the book .It would take a book to point them all out!

      If one mentions the fallacies,however, one is accused of being “too intellectual” – another logical fallacy,by the way  = it is not good to use one’s intellect to examine arguments!

      This lack of rigorous ,simple logic is my main criticism of the big book. It is not as trustworthy as many of its adherents would like to believe.It is not a reliable text.

      All that being said,however,I enjoy my meetings and friends in AA, participate without hostility in discussion groups and even speak at a speaker meeting when asked. Joining AA has been of enormous benefit to me : I’d even go so far as to say it’s probably the best thing that’s happened in my life.

  9. Tommy H July 17, 2016 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Talking about changes to the first 164pp of the Big Book waves a red flag for me as the material in the first 164pp of editions two, three, and four goes to p. 179 in the First Edition and this illuminates a lack of knowledge of the history of the book.

    Most students of the book realize these changes have been made.  It’s mostly, IMHO at least, the “unwashed” fundamentalist thumpers that make these claims of inerrancy.

    I could nit-pick.  Essentially all of the changes to the First Edition were made during its publication over the years and not when the Second Edition was published.  The First Printing of the First Edition had “former” as well as “ex-alcoholics”.  The Fourth Edition took out reference in Earl Treat’s story “He sold himself short” to Wednesday being Dr. Bob’s day off.  Another arbitrary deletion was made to Bill D’s story “A.A. number three.”  These, of course, are in the stories section, so I digress.

    Discussion of the changes in Step Twelve in the First Edition usually focus on the change of “awakening” to “experience”, but they also changed the wording to “. . . as a result of those steps,” and it stayed that way for a while.

    I have seen minor changes, a word here, a word there, in printings of the Third Edition.  These changes have been discussed over the years on the A.A. History Lovers Forum on Yahoo.  A lot of them appear to be arbitrary.

    These changes are fun to talk about, but I see no conspiracy.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.