Question 8 (ABM) - The 1933 Ohio River Baptismal experience
The following are a series of questions and answers between one of our editors (referred to as BTS) and an anonymous Branham minister (referred to as ABM). This series of Q&A relates to William Branham's credibility. The full text of this question and its answer is below.
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Question 8 - The 1933 Ohio River Baptismal experience
This issue again relates to William Branham's credibility and specifically, the veracity of his story about what happened on the Ohio River in 1933.
In the Tract, "Jesus Christ the Same, Yesterday, Today and Forever", William Branham first tells of a light appearing on the Ohio River in 1933:
- One day at the foot of Spring Street, Jeffersonville, Indiana, after a two week's revival, I was baptizing 130 people. It was a hot August day and there were about three thousand people present. I was about to baptize the 17th person when all of a sudden I heard that still, little voice again and it said, "Look up." The sky was like brass on that hot August day. We had not had any rain for about three weeks. I heard the voice again, and then again the third time it said, "Look up."
- I looked up and there came from the sky a big bright star which I had seen many times before but that I had not told you about...After a few seconds had passed, I screamed and many people looked up and saw the star just over me. Some fainted while others shouted and others ran away. Then the star returned back into the sky, and the place where it had left was about fifteen feet square, and this place kept moving and churning about or as though waves were rolling. There had formed in this place a little white cloud and the star was recieved up in this little cloud.
In his book, Twentieth Century Prophet, Lee Vayle writes:
- It was during June of 1933 that as he was baptizing the converts in the Ohio River that a most amazing and well-documented phenomenon occurred. As he was baptizing the seventeenth person before a crowd estimated at about 4000 there appeared a blazing whirling star out of heaven with the sound of rushing wind audible to all, and it came and hovered over him. As many ran in fear, and others knelt in prayer, a voice spoke out of the pillar of fire to him and said...
- "As John the Baptist was the forerunner of the first coming of Christ, so your message is the forerunner of the second coming of Christ."
- Of course, he alone heard the words though others heard the sound. This is exactly as it was when Paul was blinded by God and heard His voice. Others heard a sound but not the actual voice or the words of the voice.
Concerns with the experience
William Branham retells this story many times. Each time he tells the story, a light always appears when the 17th person is being baptised, and a voice says "Look up". However, there are some differences in each retelling. Originally, 130 people came to be baptized in August 1933 while 3,000 people watched. In later retellings, 500 people came to be baptized in June 1933 while 10,000 people watched.
And the critical "prophecy" that all message followers focus on was not told by William Branham until August 1952, which was after Gordon Lindsay published his book. William Branham, in his first telling of the voice which spoke, says that it said the following:
- "As John the Baptist was sent to warn the people of the first coming of Christ, so is this Message to warn the people of the second coming." (52-0817E - Do You Now Believe?)
John the Baptist
Both Gordon Lindsay's book, 'A Man Sent From God', and Julius Stadsklev's book, 'A Prophet Visits South Africa' record the light appearing during the baptism, but omit the voice. It is obvious that they received this information directly from William Branham without any checking of the facts.
However, Gordon Lindsay's book does include the following similar prophecy:
- The next incident was a stirring message given in the Spirit and interpreted, almost identical to two others which were to be given in other Branham meetings in different places, a sure testimony of the authenticity of this anointed ministry. It was uttered with such rousing force that it almost seemed unearthly, and this was the gist of the message… that as John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner of the Lord’s first coming, so was He sending forth this evangelist and others like him to move the people and prepare them for His second coming. Months later we heard this same message interpreted amidst a large crowd of people attending the Branham meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Sister Anna Schrader whom we later learned to appreciate deeply. Truly, these words penetrated our hearts.” (Gordon Lindsay, A Man Sent From God)
The prophecy as retold by Gordon Lindsay refers to "this evangelist and others like him", while the prophecy as retold by William Branham only refers to himself.
It is also interesting to note that the person that gave the prophecy, Anna Schrader, also prophesied William Branham's death in 1965.
One must conclude that the since the voice was not mentioned in William Branham's own early retelling of the story that it is likely that it never occurred and that he simply used the language from the Lindsay book.
William Branham initially said he didn't know what it meant!
The third time William Branham relates this story, (1951) he says that a voice spoke and that “many asked me what it meant. And I said, "I do not know.” If William Branham did not know what it meant in 1951, why then does he know exactly what it means in August 1952?
What was reported in the newspapers
William Branham said that the story was carried by a paper (1950), the "Courier Journal" (1951), the "Sunday Visitor" (1954), the "Louisville Herald", and the "Associated Press" (1961). We have conducted numerous searches in online newspaper archives. Microfiche sources in Indiana have also been searched. However, we have been unable to find any references to William Branham in 1933 other than an article from the Jeffersonville Evening News on June 2, 1933. It should be noted that this article does not mention a light or the Ohio River and casts serious doubt on the number of people that William Branham claims to have baptized.
We must reasonably conclude that the story of the light appearing on the Ohio River was never reported in any newspaper. We must also conclude that William Branham estimates of numbers were wildly exaggerated.
How do you justify believing in the 1933 baptismal experience as told by William Branham when there are so many discrepancies?
Thank you for your continued dialogue.
To the best of my knowledge, everyone who was present at the 1933 baptism has passed away. There are no eye witnesses we could ask. I have only ever known of three people who were present at the time baptism. The last one to pass was a lady who died in the 1970s who was still in attendance at the tabernacle at the time of her passing. She is the one from whom I received the most detailed second-hand account, so I will rely on what she said in my response. I have her testimony in writing. As people began to pass away, in the 1970s and 1980s we took care to get people to put their testimonies in writing. These have been published and can be found online, and were issued in print at the times they were published. I would share them with you freely, but that would certainly break my anonymity.
Bro. Branham's exaggerations
According to the witness, the crowd was a few hundred people. Bro. Branham tended to exaggerate. He did this often, especially with numbers. This is something he openly admitted from the platform, and more than once asked forgiveness and prayer for. So, while it is true he did exaggerate numbers and stretch some things to the point they were no longer true, this was not a hidden thing and something he was self conscious about. This was his only earthly flaw that I know of, and I can find precedence for this in other prophets of the bible, and within the Elijah anointing prophets too. For example, Elijah the prophet in 1 King 19:10, he says " I, even I only, am left". He is exaggerating the situation. There are more left than him, and God even confirms this saying in verse 18 "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel". God corrected Elijah's exaggeration.
This is where many people began to lose the message, because they are too busy focusing on Bro. Branham. Bro. Branham was not the message. Jesus has to say the same thing to the apostles concerning John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7. John the Baptist was appearing shaky, unstable, and inconsistent. John the Baptist had said and done things that had caused people to doubt. Jesus says "What went ye out to see? A reed shaking in the wind?", meaning John the Baptist. Did they just go out to see a man? Then in Matthew 11:9, Jesus begins to give the answer. They went to see "more than prophet" - they went to see a messenger for his message. It was the message they went out to see him for. And Jesus is cautioning them to quit looking at the man, but to look at the message. Because a man will disappoint you.
So since I can see exaggeration in Elijah, and making up stories in Elisha, and inconsistencies in John the Baptist, I can thus scripturally see that men can have personal failings but still have a genuine gift and message.
This is not an answer acceptable to those who believe Bro. Branham to be infallible. But it is a true answer. Do you really think that people sat all through his ministry all those years and never noticed any of this or tried to find an explanation? Some people were mind numbed idolaters. But some people had and have the spirit of God and sought understanding.
Inconsistencies in baptismal account
I will go on to try and answer your question more directly now as to why there are inconsistencies.
According to the eye witness who related to me her experience, there were several hundred people there. She herself heard no voice, but she said there was sound like thunder or crackling. Some people did run away at the sound because it scared them. She did see an unusual brightness, but she did not see things unfold like Bro. Branham described it. In the interpretation of this event which is widely accepted in the churches in fellowship with us, we compare this event to John 12:29, or to Paul on the Damascus road. Not everyone saw or experienced the same thing. To Bro. Branham, he saw and heard in detail. Other people heard and saw less. So for this discrepancy we find scriptural precedence.
Gordon Lindsay's: A Man Sent From God - It is not a secret that Gordon Lindsay thought Bro. Branham's doctrine was a wreck. Gordon Lindsay, from the early days of knowing Bro. Branham, tried to keep Bro. Branham's more controversial aspects hidden from the public because of how it would negatively impact the healing revival. It is completely fair to assume that he amended the baptismal account in his book to make it more palatable to the attendees of the healing revival. He certainly did this other aspects, and admitted to doing so.
Varying numbers of attendees and baptisees: Bro Branham exaggerated numbers. But so did Elijah.
William Branham initially said he didn't know what it meant
You have not provided any direct quotes, so I will not linger long on this. But when Peter had his vision in Acts 10:7, he did not know what it meant. But thereafter the meaning of it became clear. Perhaps Bro. Branham truly did not know what it meant in 1951. I cannot take his own words and prove he did know what it meant in 1951, so to say otherwise is a guess.
However, I suspect you believe he did know what it meant. I believe he did too and was being coy. But that is a guess. However we see Elisha doing the same thing, being coy when he really knew the truth. We likewise find examples of men in the bible claiming to not know something, which they actually did know. This does not necessarily make it right, but it gives us a biblical precedence to see that men of God have done these kind of things. Peter ever denied knowing the Lord.
Why did he say it was in the newspapers?
It was because people told him they saw it in the newspapers that he made this claim. Pearry Green is an excellent example of someone who told Bro. Branham he saw it the newspaper, and Bro. Branham repeated Green's lie. Multiple people misled Bro. Branham in this way in order to try and impress him or get closer to him. Yes-men would be a good word for it. Does Bro. Branham bear some responsibility for this? Yes. But we also find scriptural precedence for this as well. You find that a "sons of the Prophets" appear to be misguided followers of Elijah. You see in 2 Kings 2:17 how they refused to accept that Elijah left them and sent people to search for him. You see how they convinced Elisha to do something he knew was wrong. Yet we see in 2 Kings 6, Elisha sticks with those people and even lives with them. You see in 2 Kings 20:35-43 the treachery of the sons of prophets. They had some right, but they had alot wrong. 2 Kings 5:15-27, there you again see the flawed and deceitful character of the sons of the prophets that Elisha and Elijah had been associated with. Other examples are also plentiful in the scripture, but I do my best to use those applicable to the Elijah anointing as it seems to be the most relevant to our discussion.
I find in these things many things which are comparable to Bro. Branham and the segment of the men who abused their relationship with him and misled him. This does not absolve Bro. Branham, but it gives scriptural insight and precedence to what happened.
You ask: "How do you justify believing in the 1933 baptismal experience as told by William Branham when there are so many discrepancies?"
Answer: Something happened that day at the river. That much I am sure of. Because as I said, I have personally known three witnesses, and one who went into detail to describe it. I can find scriptural precedence for varying accounts of the same supernatural occurrence, I can find scriptural precedence for men of the Elijah anointing exaggerating, and I can find scriptural support for the Elijah anointing being caught up with unscrupulous men who influenced the man to do things that were wrong. Many people were left with a quandary when Bro. Branham died. Do we reject what he taught because of his personal failings? That is the question. And were do we look for answers? The bible. The bible shows us over and over again the exact same personal failings in the other men of the Elijah anointing. So instead of viewing these personal failures as a reason to disbelieve, they are in fact further proof that he was indeed fulfilling the type of the Elijah anointing. That does not make the wrong right, but reinforces it. Then it is up to us separate out the wrong by the spirit of God.
Should the truth abound because of a lie? (Rom 3:7) Of course not. I have no problem addressing this honestly. But Pearry Green could never have said this, because he would have to admit himself to be a liar. The same is true with the other idolatrous men who never were interested in the message, but only the glory, fame, wealth, or power they could amass through their connection with Bro. Branham.