William M. Branham
|William M. Branham|
William Branham at the Sam Houston Coliseum, January 24, 1950
April 6, 1909|
Cumberland County, Kentucky
|Died||December 24, 1965
|Cause of death||Car accident|
|Spouse(s)||Amelia Hope Brumbach
Meda Marie Broy
|Parent(s)||Charles C. E. Branham
Ella Rhee Harvey
William Marrion Branham (April 6, 1909 – December 24, 1965) was an influential American Christian minister and faith healer who initiated the post-World War II healing revival. He is recognized as the "principle architect" of modern restorationist thought, leaving a lasting impact on televangelism and the modern charismatic movement. The first American deliverance minister to successfully campaign in Europe, his ministry reached global audiences with major campaigns held in North America, Europe, Africa, and India. At the time, his meetings in the United States were the largest religious meetings ever held.
He claimed to have received an angelic visitation on May 7, 1946, commissioning his worldwide ministry. He launched his campaigning career during the summer of 1946. His fame spread rapidly and crowds were drawn to his stories of angelic visitation and reports of miracles happening at his meeting. His ministry spawned many emulators and set in motion the broader healing revival that subsequently transitioned into the modern evangelical and charismatic movement. His campaigning and popularity gradually began to decline beginning in 1955 as the Pentecostal churches began to withdraw their support from the healing campaigns for primarily financial reasons. By 1960, Branham transitioned into a teaching ministry.
Whereas his evangelical contemporaries followed doctrinal teachings known as the Full Gospel tradition, Branham developed an alternate theology that was primarily a mixture of Calvinist and Arminian doctrines, with a heavy focus on dispensationalism and Branham's own unique eschatological views. His divergent teachings were deemed increasingly controversial by his charismatic contemporaries and Pentecostal denominations who subsequently disavowed his teachings as "revelatory madness." Many of his followers however accepted his sermons as oral scripture and refer to his teachings as "The Message." In 1963 Branham preached a sermon indicating he was a prophet with the anointing of Elijah who had come to herald Christ's second coming. The followers of his teachings placed him at the center of a "cult of personality" during his final years and continue to promote his teachings through the William Branham Evangelical Association. Branham died in a car accident in 1965.
- 1 Early life
- 2 The healing revival
- 3 Later life
- 4 Legacy and influence
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 Footnotes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
William Branham was born near Burkesville, Kentucky, on April 6, 1909, the son of Charles and Ella Harvey Branham, the oldest of ten children.[note 1] He claimed that at his birth a "Light come [sic] whirling through the window, about the size of a pillow, and circled around where I was, and went down on the bed." Branham reported to his publicist, Gordon Lindsay, that he had mystical experiences from an early age. He told Lindsay that at age three he heard a "voice" speaking to him from a tree informing him that "he would live near a city called New Albany". According to Branham, they moved the same year to Jeffersonville, Indiana. In another of Branham's reported experiences, he said that at age seven God told him to avoid smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages. Branham stated he never violated the command.
Branham's father was an alcoholic and he grew up in "deep poverty", much like the rest of their neighbors. As a child, he would often wear a coat, held closed by safety pins, without a shirt underneath. Branham's neighbors reported him as "someone who always seemed a little different", but that he was a dependable youth. Branham's tendency toward "mystical experiences and moral purity" caused misunderstandings with his friends, family, and other young people even from an early age making him a "black sheep." In reflecting back on his childhood, Branham called it "a terrible life."
He left home seeking for a better life at age 19 and journeyed to Phoenix, Arizona, where he worked for two years on a ranch and began a successful career in boxing. He returned to Jeffersonville when his brother died in 1929. Branham had no experience with religion as a child and recalled that the first time he heard a prayer was at his brother's funeral. Soon after, while working for the Public Service Company of Indiana, Branham had an accident and was almost killed when he was overcome by gas. While recovering from the accident, he claimed to have heard a "voice" again, leading him to begin seeking God. Branham began attending an independent Baptist church, the First Pentecostal Baptist Church of Jeffersonville, where he converted to Christianity. Six months later he was ordained as an Independent Baptist minister. His early ministry was an "impressive success" and he quickly attracted a small group of followers who helped obtain a tent where he could hold a revival.
The First Pentecostal Baptist Church he attended at the time of his conversion was a nominally Baptist church that observed some Pentecostal doctrines, including divine healing. As a result, Branham appears to have been exposed to some Pentecostal teachings from his conversion. He was first exposed to a Pentecostal denominational church in 1936, where he was invited to join them, but refused.[note 2]
During June 1933, Branham held revival meetings at his tent. A report appeared in the Jeffersonville Evening News on June 2, 1933, which indicated that the Branham campaign reported 14 converts. His followers believe his ministry was accompanied by miraculous signs from its very beginning, and believe that as he was baptizing converts on June 11, 1933, in the Ohio River near Jeffersonville a bright light descended over where he was and that he heard a voice say, "As John the Baptist was sent to forerun the first coming of Jesus Christ, so your message will forerun His second coming." Belief in the baptismal story is a critical element of faith among Branham's followers. Branham initially interpreted this as a reference to the restoration of the gifts of the spirit to the church and made regular references to the baptismal story from the earliest days of the healing revival. In later years, Branham also connected the story to his teaching ministry. Baptist historian Doug Weaver theorized it is possible that Branham later embellished the baptismal story when he was achieving success in the healing revival.
Following his June tent meeting, Branham's supporters helped him to organize a new church, the Branham Tabernacle in Jeffersonville. Branham served as pastor from 1933 to 1946. The church flourished at first, but because of the Great Depression, was often short of funds and Branham served without compensation. He moonlighted as a game warden to earn an income. Branham believed the growth of the church had stagnated because God was punishing him for his failure to embrace Pentecostalism. Branham married Amelia Hope Brumbach (b. July 16, 1913) in 1934 and they had two children together, William "Billy" Paul Branham (b. September 13, 1935) and Sharon Rose Branham (b. October 27, 1936). Branham's wife died on July 22, 1937, and their daughter died four days later (July 26, 1937), shortly after the Ohio River flood of 1937. Branham interpreted their deaths as God's punishment for his continued resistance to holding revivals for the Oneness Pentecostals, something he felt God had wanted him to do.
Branham married his second wife Meda Marie Broy in 1941, and together they had three children: Rebekah (b. 1946), Sarah (b. 1950), and Joseph (b. 1955).
The healing revival
Branham is known for his role in the healing revivals that occurred in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s, and most participants in the movement viewed Branham as its initiator. The period of revivals was described by Christian writer John Crowder as "the most extensive public display of miraculous power in modern history." Some, like critic and radio personality Hank Hanegraaff, rejected the entire healing revival as a hoax, and condemned the subsequent evangelical and charismatic movements as a cult. Divine healing is a tradition and belief that has been held by a majority of Christians in all ages, but became increasingly associated with Evangelical Protestantism. The majority of American Christianity's fascination with divine healing played a significant role in the popularity and inter-denominational nature of the revival movement.
Branham held massive inter-denominational meetings from which came reports of hundreds of miracles. Branham and Oral Roberts are described as the two giants of the movement by historian David Harrel, who called Branham the movement's "unlikely leader." His preaching style was described as "halting and simple", and crowds were drawn to his stories of angelic visitation and "constant communication with God."
Branham's first meetings as a faith healer began in 1946. His healing services are well documented and he is regarded as the pacesetter for those who followed him. At the time they were held, Branham's revivals were largest religious meetings most of the cities he visited had ever seen. Reports of 1,000 to 1,500 converts per meeting were common. Historians mark his June 1946 St. Louis meetings as the inauguration of the modern healing revival. Branham uniquely stood out from his contemporaries through the use of what his fellow evangelists called a word of knowledge gift. Branham said he had received an angelic visitation on May 7, 1946 commissioning his worldwide ministry. In his later years, in an attempt to link his ministry with the "end time", he connected his vision with the establishment of the nation of Israel, at one point mistakenly stating the vision occurred on the same day.[note 3][note 4]
His first revival meetings were held over 12 days during June 1946 in St. Louis. His first campaign manager, W.E. Kidston, was editor of The Apostolic Herald and had many contacts throughout the Pentecostal movement. He was instrumental in helping get his early revival meetings organized. Time magazine carried an article on his St. Louis campaign meetings. According to the article, Branham drew a crowd of over 4,000 sick people who desired healing, and recorded Branham diligently praying for each. Branham's fame began to grow as a result of the publicity and reports covering his meetings. Following the St. Louis meetings, Branham launched a tour of small oneness Pentecostal churches across the Midwest and southern United States from which stemmed reports of healing, and even one report of a resurrection.
After having a "spectacular success" holding a revival meeting in Shreveport during the summer of 1947, Branham began assembling the evangelical team that stayed with him for most of the revival period. The first addition to the team was Jack Moore who assisted him in managing his meetings periodically throughout his career. Following the Shreveport meetings, Branham scheduled and held a series of successive meetings in San Antonio, Phoenix, and at various locations in California. The same year, Moore invite his friend Gordon Lindsay to join the campaign team beginning at a meeting in Sacramento, California in the fall of 1947. Lindsay was a successful publicist and manager for Branham, and played a key role in helping him gain national and international recognition. Branham and Lindsay founded The Voice of Healing magazine in 1948, which was originally aimed solely at reporting Branham's healing campaigns.[note 5] "Impressed by Branham's emphasis on unity and humility," Lindsay also proved instrumental in helping Branham gain acceptance among both Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostal groups by expanding his revival meetings beyond the United Pentecostal Church to include all the major Pentecostal groups.
The first meetings organized by Lindsay were held in northwestern North America during the autumn of 1947. At the first meeting of the series, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadian minister Ern Baxter joined Branham's team. Lindsay reported 70,000 attendees to the fourteen days of meetings and long prayer lines as Branham prayed for the sick. In January 1948 meetings were held in Florida. F.F. Bosworth met Branham at the meetings and subsequently joined his team. Bosworth was among the preeminent ministers of the Pentecostal movement and lent great weight to Branham's campaigning team. Bosworth remained a strong Branham supporter until his death in 1958. Bosworth endorsed Branham as "the most sensitive person to the presence and working of the Holy Spirit" that he had ever met. During the spring of 1947 a major campaign was held in Kansas City where Branham and Lindsay first met Oral Roberts. Roberts and Branham had contact at different points during the revival. Roberts said Branham was "set apart, just like Moses."
Branham spent long hours ministering and praying for the sick during his campaigns, and like many other leading evangelists of the time, suffered exhaustion as a result of his constant ministering. After just one year on campaign his exhaustion began leading to health issues. Attendees reported him "staggering from intense fatigue" during his last meetings. Just as Branham began to attract international attention in May 1948, he announced that due to illness he would have to halt his campaign. Branham's illness shocked the growing movement. Leaving the field so abruptly caused a rift between Branham and Lindsay over the Voice of Healing Magazine. Branham insisted that Lindsay take over complete management of the publication. Branham eventually came to criticize the magazine as a "massive financial organization" that put making money ahead of promoting good. With the main subject of the magazine no longer actively campaigning, Lindsay was forced to begin seeking other ministers to promote. Lindsay decided to publicize Oral Roberts during Branham's absence, and Roberts quickly rose to prominence in the interim in large part due to Lindsay's coverage.
Branham partially recovered from his illness and resumed holding revival meetings in October 1948 with a series of meetings around the United States, but without Lindsay's support. Branham's return to the scene led to his resumed leadership in the movement. In November 1948, Branham met with Lindsay and Moore and told them he had received another angelic visitation instructing him to hold a series of meetings across the United States, and then to begin holding meetings internationally. As a result of the meeting Lindsay rejoined Branham's campaigning team.
Whereas most revivalists of the era were flamboyant, Branham was usually calm and spoke in a quiet manner, only occasionally raising his voice. He refused to discuss controversial doctrinal issues during the early years of his campaigns, and issued a policy statement that he would only minister on the "great evangelical truths." He insisted his calling was to bring unity among the different churches he was ministering to, and to urge the churches to return to the roots of early Christianity.
Branham would first have one of his companion evangelist preach a sermon during the first phase of the meeting. Ern Baxter or F. F. Bosworth usually filled this role, but various other ministers also participated over the years of the campaign. Baxter generally focused on bible teaching, while Bosworth would counsel those who had come for healing on faith and doctrine of divine healing. Following their build up Branham would take the podium. He would begin by delivering a short sermon. The sermons were usually stories about his personal life experiences. After completing his sermon, he would proceed with a prayer line where he would pray for the sick. Branham would often request God to "confirm his message with two-or-three faith inspired miracles. His campaign manager organized the prayer line sending candidates forward to be prayed for on stage, one at a time. Branham generally prayed for only a small number of people each night and believed that witnessing the results on the stage would inspire faith in the audience and permit them to experience similar results without having to be personally prayed for. Bosworth described the method Branham used when he prayed for the sick:
He does not begin to pray for the healing of the afflicted in body in the healing line each night until God anoints him for the operation of the gift, and until he is conscious of the presence of the Angel with him on the platform. Without this consciousness he seems to be perfectly helpless.
Branham told audiences that the angel which commissioned his ministry had given him two "signs" by which we could prove his commission. He described the first "sign" as vibrations in his hand which he felt when he touched a sick individual's hand and that the vibrations communicated to him the nature of the illness, but did not guarantee healing. The second "sign" he described to his audiences as a gift of knowledge. This second did not appear in his campaigns until after he recovered from his illness in 1948, and was used to "amaze tens of thousands" at his meetings. Bosworth described it as giving Branham the ability "to see and enable him to tell the many events of [people's] lives from their childhood down to the present." This caused many in the healing revival to view Branham as a "seer like the old testament prophets." Branham amazed even fellow evangelists, which served to further push him into a legendary status in the movement. At the peak of his popularity in the 1950s, Branham was widely adored. Branham's audiences were often awestruck by the events during his meetings.
Branham faced criticism and opposition from the early days of the healing campaign. In 1947 Rev. Pohl, a minister in Saskatchewan, Canada, stated that many Branham pronounced as healed later died. A year later, W. J. Taylor, a district superintendent with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, raised the same concern and asked for a thorough investigation. Taylor presented evidence that claims of the number of people healed were vastly overestimated. He stated that "there is a possibility that this whole thing is wrong." The number of people who claimed to be healed in Branham's campaign meetings "is impossible to approximate," and the numbers greatly vary between sources. According to historian Ronald Kydd, by watching films of the revival meetings "the viewer would assume almost everyone was healed," but the results proved otherwise the few times follow-up was made. There was no consistent record of follow-up with the people Branham pronounced healed making analysis of the claims difficult to subsequent researchers. Some attendees of Branham's meetings believed the healings were a hoax and accused him of selectively choosing who could enter the prayer line. Many people left his meetings disappointed after finding Branham's conviction that everyone in the audience could be healed without being in the prayer line proved incorrect. Branham generally attributed failure to receive healing to lack of faith.
The "word of knowledge" gift was subject to much criticism. According to Kydd, Branham evoked a strong opinion from people who he came into contact with; "most people either loved him or hated him." Pentecostal Historian Walter Hollenweger investigated Branham's use of the "word of knowledge gift" and could find no instances where Branham was mistaken in his often detailed pronouncements. Criticism of Branham's use of this gift was primarily around its nature; some accused Branham of witchcraft and telepathy. Branham was openly confronted by similar criticisms and rejected their assertions.
In January 1950 Branham's campaign team held their Houston campaign, one of their most significant series of meetings of the revival. Their first meeting location proved too small for the crowds of up to 8,000 attendees, and they had to relocate to the Sam Houston Coliseum. On the night of January 24, 1950, a photograph was taken of Branham during a debate between Bosworth and local Baptist minister W. E. Best regarding the theology of divine healing. Bosworth argued in favor, while Best argued against. The photograph showed a light above Branham's head, which Branham and his associates believed to be supernatural. The photograph became well-known in the revival movement, and is viewed as an iconic relic among Branham's followers. Branham believed the light was supernatural and was a divine vindication of his ministry. Others believed it was merely a glare from overhead lighting.
In a January 1951 event that further fueled Branham's fame, U.S. Congressman William Upshaw, who had been crippled for fifty-nine years as the result of an accident, said he was miraculously healed and had regained the ability to walk in a Branham meeting. Upshaw sent a letter describing his healing claim to each member of Congress. Among the widespread media reports was a story carried in the Los Angeles Times that described it as "perhaps the most effective healing testimony this generation has ever seen." Upshaw died in November 1952.
Branham's meetings were regularly attended by journalists. They wrote articles on the miracles reported by Branham and his team throughout the years of his revivals, and claimed that patients were cured of various ailments after attending prayer meetings with Branham. The Durban Sunday Tribune and The Natal Mercury reported wheelchair bound cripples rising and walking. The Winnipeg Free Press reported a girl cured of deafness. The El Paso Herald Post reported hundreds of attendees at one meeting seeking divine healing. The Logansport Press reported a father claiming his four year old son who suffered from a "rare brain ailment" benefiting from Branham's meetings. Despite occasional glowing reports, the majority of the press coverage Branham received was negative.
According to the Hollenweger, "Branham filled the largest stadiums and meeting halls in the world" during his five major international campaigns. Branham held his first series of campaigns in Europe during April 1950 with meetings in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Attendance at the meetings generally exceeded 7,000, despite resistance to his meetings by the state churches. Branham was the first American deliverance minister to successfully tour in Europe. A campaign in South Africa during 1952 had the largest attendance in Branham's career. One altar call at his Durban meeting received 30,000 converts. During international campaigns again in 1954, Branham visited Portugal, Rome, and India. Branham's final major overseas tour in 1955 included visits to Switzerland and Germany.
In 1955, Branham's campaigning career began to slow following financial setbacks. Even after he became famous, Branham continued to wear cheap suits and refused large salaries; he was not interested in amassing wealth as part of his ministry. During the early years of his campaigns, donations had been able to cover costs; but beginning in 1955 three successive campaigns fell short of the donations needed to cover their costs. The campaign was left with a $15,000 deficit. Some of his business associates felt Branham was partially responsible because of his lack of interest in the financial affairs of the campaigns and tried to hold him personally responsible for the debt. Branham briefly stopped campaigned and lamented that he would have to take a job in order to repay the debt, but the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International ultimately covered the debt. The Full Gospel Businessmen became the primary financier for Branham's campaign meetings as the Pentecostals denominations began to withdraw their financial support.
Finances became an issue again in 1956 when the Internal Revenue Service charged Branham with tax evasion. The American government targeted the other leading revivalists with lawsuits during the same time period including Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, and A. A. Allen. The IRS asserted income reported by the ministers as non-taxable gifts was taxable. Except Allen, all evangelists settled their cases out of court; Allen ultimately won his legal battle. The IRS investigation showed that Branham did not pay close attention to the amount of money flowing through his ministry. It also revealed that others were taking advantage of him. While his manager received an annual salary of $80,000, Branham himself only earned $7,000. Oral Roberts comparatively earned a salary of $15,000 in the same years. The case was eventually settled out of court with the payment of a $40,000 penalty. Branham labored under the debt for the rest of his life, never able to completely pay it off.
End of the revival
By the mid-1950s, dozens of the ministers associated with Branham and his campaigns had launched their own similar healing campaigns. In 1956, the healing revival reached its peak number of evangelists holding campaigns, as 49 separate evangelists held major meetings. Through the Voice of Healing magazine, Branham and Lindsay ineffectively attempted to discourage their activities by saying Branham wished they would help their local churches rather than launch national careers. The swelling number of competitors and emulators further reduced the attendance at Branham's meetings. His correspondence also sharply decreased. Where he once had received "a thousand letters a day, his mail dropped down to 75 letters a day, but Branham thought the decline was only temporary. Branham continued expecting something greater, something he said "nobody will be able to imitate." He reported a vision in 1955 of a renewed tent ministry and a "third pull which would be dramatically different" than his earlier career.
Among Branham's emulators was Jim Jones, the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple. Seeking a means to catapult his fame and earn followers, he invited Branham to a religious convention organized by Jones' church and held at the Cadle Tabernacle auditorium in Indianapolis from June 11 through June 15, 1956. Jones counted on Branham's wide popularity to draw a large crowd to help launch his own career. Branham critics, Peter Duyzer and John Collins, reported that Branham "performed numerous miracles" drawing a crowd of 11,000. Jones became later known for the mass murder and suicide at Jonestown in November 1978. According to Collins, Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer were influenced to move to South America by Branham's 1961 prophecy concerning Armageddon. Collins and Duyzer concluded that Jones did not "see eye-to-eye" with Branham, and that Jones believed Branham was dishonest.[note 6]
By 1960 the number of evangelists holding national campaigns dropped to less than a dozen. Several perspectives have been offered regarding the decline of the healing revival. Crowder suggests that Branham's gradual separation from Gordon Lindsay played a major part in the decline. Harrell attributed the decline to the increasing number of evangelists crowding the field. Weaver stated that Pentecostal churches gradually withdrew their support of the healing revivals, primarily over the financial stresses put on local churches by the healing campaigns The Assemblies of God led the way, being the first to openly repudiate the healing revival in 1953. Weaver pointed to other factors which may have played a role in destroying the initial ecumenism of the revival: tension between the independent evangelists and the Pentecostal churches caused by the evangelists' fund-raising methods; denominational pride; sensationalism; and doctrinal conflicts, particularly between the Oneness and Trinitarian factions within Pentecostalism.
As the healing revival began to wane many of Branham's contemporaries transitioned into the emerging charismatic movement; Branham instead began to transition to a teaching ministry. Branham began speaking on the controversial doctrinal issues he had avoided for most of the years of the revival. By the 1960s, Branham came to be seen as an extremely controversial teacher by his contemporaries and the Pentecostal denominations who had supported his campaigns. The leadership of the Pentecostal churches pressed Branham to resist his urge to teach and to instead focus on praying for the sick. Branham refused, arguing that the purpose of his healing ministry was to attract audiences, and having thus been attracted, it was time to begin teaching them the doctrines he claimed to have received through supernatural revelation. Branham argued that his entire ministry was divinely inspired and could not be selectively rejected or accepted, saying "It's either all of God, or none of God."
At first, Branham only taught his controversial doctrines within his own church at Jeffersonville, but beginning in the 1960s he began to preach them at other churches he visited. His criticisms of Pentecostal organizations, and especially his views on holiness and the role of women led to his rejection by the growing charismatic movement and the Pentecostals from whom he had originally achieved popularity. Branham acknowledged their rejection and claimed their organizations "had choked out the glory and Spirit of God". As a result of his controversial teaching, many Pentecostals judged that Branham had "stepped out of his anointing" and had become a "bad teacher of heretical doctrine".
Despite his rejection by the growing charismatic movement, Branham's followers became increasingly dedicated to him during his later life. Some even claimed he was the Messiah. Branham quickly condemned their belief as heresy and threatened to quit ministering, however the belief persisted. Many followers moved great distances to live near his home in Jeffersonville, and subsequently set up a colony in Arizona following Branham's move to Tucson in 1962. Branham lamented the fact, and worried that a cult was potentially being formed among his most fanatical followers.
Branham continued to travel to churches across North America during the 1960s preaching his doctrine. Branham held his final set of revival meetings in Shreveport at the church of early campaign manager Jack Moore in November 1965.
Branham developed a unique theology and placed emphasis on a few key doctrines including his eschatology views, annihilationism, oneness of the Godhead, predestination, eternal security and the serpent's seed. His teachings are collectively referred to as "The Message" by his followers. With few exceptions, the majority of Branham's teachings had precedence within sects of the Pentecostal movement or in other non-Pentecostal denominations. The unique combination of doctrines Branham espoused led to the widespread criticism from the Pentecostal churches and charismatic movement because of doctrines Branham imported from non-Pentecostal denominations. His unique arrangement of the doctrines coupled with the highly controversial nature of the serpent seed doctrine alienated many of his former supporters.
The Full Gospel tradition, which had its roots in Wesleyan Arminianism, is the theology generally adhered to by the charismatic movement and the Pentecostal denominations. Branham's doctrines however, were a blend of both Calvinism and Arminianism, which are considered contradictory by many theologians, and as a result, his theology seemed complicated and bizarre to many people who had came to admire him personally during the years of the healing revival. Many of his followers however regard his sermons as oral scripture and believed Branham had rediscovered the true doctrines of the early church.
Branham taught a doctrine of faith healing throughout his ministry, and it was often the central teaching he espoused during the years of the healing campaign. He believed healing was the primary focus of the ministry of Jesus Christ and advocated for a dual atonement: "salvation for the soul and healing for the body." He believed and taught that miracles reputed to the Christ in the New Testament were also possible in modern times. Branham believed all sickness was a result of demonic activity and could be overcome by the faith of the person desiring healing. Branham argued that God was obligated to heal when faith was present. This led Branham to conclude that individuals who failed to be healed lacked adequate faith. Branham's teaching on divine healing were within the mainstream of Pentecostal theology and echoed the doctrines taught by Smith Wigglesworth, Bosworth, and other prominent Pentecostal ministers of the prior generation.
Annihilationism was a pre-existing doctrinal conflict within Pentecostalism; the doctrine dated to at least the time of Charles Fox Parham who was a supporter of the doctrine, but not all sects accepted the teaching. Prior to 1957, Branham taught a doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. However, by 1957 Branham adopted the annihilationist position in keeping with Parham's teachings. He began promoting the belief that punishment of the damned in Hell would not last for eternity, and that eventually the damned would cease to exist.  He believed that "eternal life was reserved only for God and his children." In 1960 Branham claimed that the Holy Spirit had revealed it to him as one of the "end-time" mysteries. Promoting annihilationism led to the alienation of Pentecostal groups who had rejected Parham's teaching on the subject.
Like other doctrines, the Godhead formula was a point of doctrinal conflict within Pentecostalism. As Branham began offering his own viewpoint, it led to the alienation of Pentecostal groups adhering to Trinitarianism. Branham shifted his theological position on the Godhead during his ministry. Early in his ministry, Branham espoused a position closer to an orthodox Trinitarian view. By the early 1950s, Branham began to privately preach the Oneness doctrine outside of his healing campaigns. By the 1960s Branham had changed to openly teaching the Oneness position, which holds that there is one God who manifests himself in multiple ways, as opposed to the Trinitarian view that the Godhead is made up of three distinctly different persons.
Branham came to believe that trinitarianism was tritheism and insisted that members of his congregation be re-baptized in Jesus's name in imitation of the example of the Apostle Paul. Branham openly argued that he was not a proponent of Oneness Doctrine even to the end of his ministry. He distinguished his baptismal formula from the Oneness baptism formula in the name of "Jesus" by teaching that the baptismal formula should be in the name of the "Lord Jesus Christ". He argued that there were many people named "Jesus", but only one "Lord Jesus Christ". By the end of his ministry his message required an acceptance of the oneness of the Godhead and baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Branham adopted and taught a Calvinistic form of the doctrine of predestination and openly supported Calvin's doctrine of Eternal Security, both of which were at odds with the Arminian view of predestination held in Pentecostalism. Unlike the Godhead and Annihilationism, there was no precedence for his predestination views within Pentecostalism, and opened him to widespread criticism. Branham lamented that he was criticized by Pentecostals for his predestination teachings more so than any other teaching. Branham believed the term "predestination" was widely misunderstood and preferred to use the word "foreknowledge" to describe his views.
Opposition to modern culture
As Branham's ministry progressed, he increasingly condemned modern culture. According to Weaver, his views on modern culture were the primary reason the growing charismatic movement rejected him, and prevented him from following the path of his contemporaries who were transitioning from the healing revival to the new movement. He taught that immoral women and education were the central sins of modern culture, and were a result of the serpent's seed. Branham viewed education as "Satan's snare for intellectual Christians who rejected the supernatural" and "Satan's tool for obscuring the 'simplicity of the Message and the messenger'". According to Weaver, Branham held a "Christ against Culture" viewpoint. The viewpoint is not unique to Branham, and holds that loyalty to Christ requires rejection of non-Christian culture.
Pentecostalism had inherited the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification and holiness from its founders who came from Wesleyan influenced denominations of the post-American Civil War era. The rigid moral code associated with the holiness movement had been widely accepted by Pentecostals in the early decades of the twentieth century. Branham's strict moral code hearkened back to the traditions of early Pentecostalism, but became increasingly unpopular as he refused to accommodate mid-century Pentecostalism's shifting viewpoint. As a result of his viewpoint on the subject, he denounced cigarettes, alcohol, television, rock and roll, and many forms of worldly amusement.
Branham strongly identified with the lower-class roots of Pentecostalism and advocated living an ascetic lifestyle. When he was given a new Cadillac as a gift, he kept it parked in his garage for two years out of embarrassment. He openly chastised other evangelists who seemed to be growing wealthy as a result of their ministries and opposed the prosperity messages being taught. Branham did not view financial prosperity as an automatic result of salvation. He rejected the prosperity gospel, which originated in the teachings of Oral Roberts and A. A. Allen. Branham condemned any emphasis on expensive church buildings, elaborate choir robes, or ministers taking large salaries, and instead insisted the church should focus on the imminent return of Christ.
Branham's opposition to modern culture emerged most strongly in his condemnation of the "immorality of modern women". He taught that a woman with short hair was breaking the commandments of God and "ridiculed women's desire to artificially beautify themselves with makeup." Branham believed that under clothed women were guilty of committing adultery because their appearance motivated men to lust. He viewed a woman's place as "in the kitchen." Citing the creation of Eve when she taken from Adam's side, Branham taught that woman was a byproduct of man. According to Weaver, "his pronouncements with respect to women were often contradictory" and he regularly offered glowing praise of women. Weaver stated that Branham "once told women who wore shorts not to call themselves Christians," but qualified his denunciations by affirming that obedience to the holiness moral code was not a requirement for salvation. While Branham did not condemn to Hell the women who refused the holiness moral code, he did insist they would not be part of the rapture.
According to Weaver, Branham's attitude towards women was misogynistic, covering physical appearance, sexual drive, and marital relations. According to Weaver, Branham saw modern women as "essentially immoral sexual machines who were to blame for adultery, divorce and death. They were the tools of the Devil." Branham was accused of being a "woman hater" by some contemporaries, but he insisted he only hated immorality. According to Edward Babinski, the women who follow the holiness moral code Branham supported view it is "a badge of honor."
Branham taught an unorthodox doctrine of the source of original sin. He believed that the story of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden was allegorical. He interpreted the allegory to mean that the serpent had sexual intercourse with Eve and Cain was their resulting offspring. "Consequently every woman potentially carried the literal seed of the devil," according to Weaver's analysis of the doctrine. Branham taught that Cain's modern descendants were masquerading as the educated and the scientists, and that Cain's descendants were "a big religious bunch of illegitimate bastard children". He believed that the serpent was the "missing link" between the chimpanzee and man. He speculated the serpent was perhaps a giant and looked like man. He viewed the serpent's transformation into a reptile as a result of the curse placed on him by God.
Branham's first spoke on the topic in 1958, in which he rejected the orthodox view of the subject and hinted at his own belief that there was a hidden meaning in the story. In subsequent years he made his conviction concerning the sexual nature of the fall fully known. Weaver theorizes that Branham may have become acquainted with serpent seed doctrine as a result of his Baptist roots; Daniel Parker, an American Baptist minister from Kentucky, promulgated a similar doctrine in the mid-1800s. According to Pearry Green, Branham's teaching on serpent seed was viewed by the broader Pentecostal movement as the "filthy doctrine ... that ruined his ministry." No other mainstream Christian group held a similar teaching, and Branham was widely criticized for spreading the doctrine. Branham's followers, however, view the doctrine as one of his greatest revelations.
In 1960, Branham preached a series of sermons on the seven church ages based on chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation. The sermons closely aligned with the teachings of C. I. Scofield and Clarence Larkin, the leading proponents of dispensationalism in the preceding generation. Like Larkin and Scofield, Branham described each church as representing a historical age. Branham uniquely taught that the angel of each age was a significant church figure. The message included the description of a messenger to the Laodicean Church age, the age Branham believed would immediately precede the rapture. The characteristics of the Laodicean age were all similar to the modern era. Branham claimed the messenger to this last age would come in the spirit of Elijah the prophet. He cited Malachi 4:5-6 as the basis for claiming the Elijah spirit would return. His belief in a "seventh church age messenger" came from his interpretation of Revelation 3:14-22.
Branham preached another sermon in 1963 further indicating that he was a prophet who had the anointing of Elijah and was a messenger heralding second coming of Christ. Branham however did not directly claim to be the end time messenger in either of his messages. Weaver believed Branham desired to be the eschatological prophet he was preaching about, but had self-doubt. Branham left the identity of the messenger open to the interpretation of his followers who widely accepted that he was that messenger.
Branham regarded his series of sermons on the Seven Seals in 1963 as a highlight of his ministry. According to Weaver's analysis of the sermons, they were primarily "a restatement of the dispensationalism espoused in the sermons on the seven church ages." The sermons focused on the Revelation 6:1-17, and provided an interpretation to the meaning of each of the seals. Branham claimed the sermons were inspired through an angelic visitation.
Another contributor to the controversy surrounding Branham in his later ministry was that he believed that denominationalism was "a mark of the beast".[note 7] Branham was not opposed to organizational structures themselves. His concern focused on the "road block to salvation and spiritual unity" he believed denominations created by emphasizing loyalty to their organization.
Branham's doctrine was similar to the anti-Catholic rhetoric of classical Pentecostalism and Protestantism, which commonly associated the mark of the beast with Catholicism. Branham, though, uniquely associated the image of the beast with Protestant denominations. In his later years, he came to believe that all denominations were "synagogues of Satan". A key teaching of Branham's message was a command to true Christians to "come out" of the denominations and accept the message of the Laodicean messenger who had the "message of the hour". He argued that continued allegiance to a denomination was to take the mark of the beast, which would mean missing the rapture.
Branham issued a series of prophecies during his ministry. He claimed to have had a prophetic revelation in June, 1933 that comprised seven major events that would occur before the Second Coming of Christ. His followers believe he predicted several events, including the 1937 Ohio River Flood. In 1964 Branham issued the most dire prophecy he had yet pronounced, he warned that judgement would strike the west coast of the United States and Los Angeles would sink into the ocean. Following both the 1933 and 1964 prophecies, Branham predicted the rapture would happen by 1977, preceded by various world-wide disasters, the unification of denominational Christianity, and the Pope rising to world power.
Peter Duyzer, among other Branham critics, asserts that none of Branham's prophecies came to pass, or that they were all made after the fact. Weaver believed Branham tended to embellish his initial predictions over time.[note 8] Branham's followers believe his prophecies successfully came to pass, or will come to pass in the future.
Branham's teachings on Christian restorationism have had the most lasting impact of all his teachings on modern Christianity. Branham taught the doctrine widely from the early days of healing revival, in which he urged his hearers to come together in unity and restore a form of church organization like the primitive church from early Christianity. The teaching was accepted and widely taught by many of the evangelists of the healing revival and transitioned with them into the subsequent charismatic and evangelical movement. Paul Cain, Bill Hamon, and other "restoration prophets" cite Branham as a major influence and they played a critical role in introducing Branham's restoration views to Apostolic-Prophetic Movement, the Association of Vineyard Churches, and other large charismatic organizations. The Toronto Blessing, the Brownsville Revival, and other nationwide rivals of the late 20th century all have their roots in Branham's restorationist teachings.
On December 18, 1965, Branham and his family (except his daughter Rebekah) were returning to Jeffersonville, Indiana from Tucson for the Christmas holiday. About three miles east of Friona, Texas (about 70 miles south-west of Amarillo on U.S. Highway 60), just after dark, a car driven by a drunk driver traveling west in the eastbound lane hit Branham's car head-on. He was rushed to the hospital in Amarillo, Texas. He remained comatose for several days and died of his injuries Christmas Eve, December 24, 1965.
The initial reaction of Branham's followers to his death was one of shock. His death also stunned the Pentecostal world. His funeral was held on December 29, 1965, but his burial was delayed. He was finally buried on April 11, 1966, the day after Easter Sunday. Most eulogies only tacitly acknowledged Branham's controversial teachings, but instead focused on his many positive contributions. Gordon Lindsay's eulogy stated that Branham's death was the will of God and privately, he accepted the interpretation of Kenneth Hagin, who claimed to have prophesied Branham's death two years before it happened. According to Hagin, God revealed that Branham was teaching false doctrine and God was removing Branham because of his disobedience.
In the confusion immediately following his death, expectations developed among his followers that he would rise from the dead. Most believed that he would have to return to fulfil a vision that he had regarding future tent meetings. Weaver attributed the belief in Branham's imminent resurrection to Pearry Green, though Green denied it. Even Branham's son, Billy Paul, seemed to expect his father's resurrection and indicated as much in messages sent to Branham's followers where he communicated his expectation for Easter 1966. The expectation of his resurrection remained strong into the 1970s, in part based on Branham's prediction of a potential for the rapture to happen by 1977. Following 1977, some of his followers abandoned his teachings.
Legacy and influence
Most doctrines Branham espoused in the closing years of his ministry were rejected by the charismatic movement who viewed the teachings as "revelatory madness."[note 9] Charismatics are more apologetic towards Branham's early ministry. Charismatic author John Crowder wrote Branham's ministry should not be judged by "the small sliver of his later life," but that by the fact that he indirectly "lit a fire" that began the modern charismatic movement. Non-charismatic Christianity completely rejected Branham.[note 10]
Crowder believed Branham was a victim of "the adoration of man" as his followers began to idolize him in the later part of his ministry. Harrell took a similar view, attributing the teachings of Branham in his later career to his close friends who manipulated him and took advantage of his lack of theological training. Weaver also attributed Branham's eschatological teachings to the influence of a small group of his closest followers who encouraged his desire for a unique ministry. According to Weaver, to Branham's dismay, his followers had placed him at the "center of a Pentecostal personality cult" in the final years of his ministry. Author Edward Babinski describes Branham's followers as "odd in their beliefs, but for the most part honest hard-working citizens," and argued that calling them a cult "seems unfair." While rejecting Branham's teachings, Duyzer also offered a glowing review of Branham's followers stating he "had never experienced friendship, or love like we did there."
Though Branham is no longer widely known outside of Pentecostalism, his legacy continues today. Summarizing the different views held of Branham, Kydd stated "Some thought he was God. Some thought he was a dupe of the devil. Some thought he was an end-time messenger sent from God, and some still do. Followers of Branham can be found around the world. In 1986, there were an estimated 300,000 followers of Branham.[note 11]In 2000 the William Branham Evangelical Association had missions on every continent, with 1,600 associated churches in Latin America, and growing missions across Africa. In 2018, Voice of God Recordings claimed to serve Branham related support material to about two million people though the William Branham Evangelical Association.
Branham was the "initiator of the post-World War II healing revival," and along with Oral Roberts, Branham was the most revered leader of the Healing Revival. Branham is most remembered for his use of the "sign-gifts" that awed a generation of "witness who are ready to recount hundreds of tales of Branham's unique powers." The many revivalists who attempted to emulate Branham during the 1950s spawned a generation of prominent Charismatic ministries. One of Branham's most lasting contributions is his status as the "principle architect of restorationist thought" in the modern era. The charismatic viewpoint that the Christian church should return to a form like that of the early primitive Christian church has its roots in Branham's teachings during the healing revival period. The belief is widely held in the modern charismatic movement, and the legacy of his restorationist teaching and ministering style is evident throughout televangelism and the charismatic movement.
- Branham's birthdate has also been reported to be April 6, 1907 and April 8, 1908 (Duyzer, p. 25)
- Pentecostalism is a renewal movement that started in the early 20th century that stresses a post-conversion baptism with the Holy Spirit for all Christians, with speaking in tongues ("glossolalia") as the initial evidence of this baptism. (See Grenz, p 90) Oneness Pentecostalism is a subset of churches within Pentecostalism that adhere to a more modalistic view of God and hold to a baptismal formula in the name of Jesus, rather than the more common Trinitarian formula "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".(See Johns, p 154)
- The United Nations debate on how to treat European Jewry following the Holocaust began in January 1946, with a committee recommending settling Jews in Palestine in April 1946. Britain announced its intention to divide Palestine in February 1947; the partition plan was adopted by the UN in November 1947, and State of Israel formally became a nation on May 14, 1948."Milestones: 1945–1952 - Office of the Historian". history.state.gov. Retrieved July 17, 2017.
- Pre-millennial dispensationalism views the establishing of a Jewish state as a sign of the imminent return of Christ. (Weaver, p. 37)
- Voice of Healing was renamed Christ For the Nations in 1971
- Jones ultimately rejected all of Christianity as "fly away religion" and rejected the Bible as being a tool to oppress women and non-whites, and denounced the Christian God as a "Sky God" who was no God at all. Historian Catherine Wessinger concludes Jones used Christianity as a vehicle to covertly advance his personal ideology (See: Wessinger, p. 217-220)
- Weaver records Branham believed it was "the mark of the beast", whereas Harrell records he believed it was "a mark of the beast."
- In December 1964, Branham prophesied that Los Angeles would sink into the Pacific Ocean when struck by the wrath of God. This was subsequently embellished to a prediction that a chunk of land 1500 miles long, three or four hundred miles wide and 40 miles deep would break loose, causing waves that would "shoot plumb out to Kentucky".(See: Weaver, pp. 103-104)
- Charismatic writer Michael Moriarty stated "Branham's aberrational teachings not only cultivated cultic fringe movements like the Latter Rain Movement and the Manifested Sons of God, but they also paved a pathway leading to false predictions, revelatory madness, doctrinal heresies, and a cultic following that treated his sermons as oral scriptures."(See: Moriarty, p. 55)
- Hanegraaff in Counterfeit Revival condemned the entire evangelical movement as a cult, and singled out Branham saying his "failed prophecies were exceeded only by his false doctrine" in infamy.(See: Hanegraaf, p. 152)
- Weaver based his estimate on numbers reported by Branham's son. The estimate included 50,000 in the United States, with a considerable following in Central and South America (estimated at 40,000 in Brazil alone), India, and Africa; particularly in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (See: Weaver, pp. 151-153)
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