1933 Baptismal Service

William Branham baptized in the Ohio River in 1933
Photo from the 1933 Baptismal Service

In recent years, critics have claimed the story Bro. Branham told concerning a supernatural event that occurred while he was baptizing converts during June 1933 was a hoax. In 2000, Prof. Doug Weaver, a Baptist historian wrote in his book The Healer-Prophet that it was likely that Bro. Branham “exaggerated” the story concerning the baptism when he began to gain acclaim in the mid-1940s. More recent critics go a step farther to suggest the story was a complete fabrication.

What happened according to witnesses

There is to our knowledge, no written or recorded account of the event by any witness, besides Bro. Branham. However, multiple saints associated with this website, including ministers and saints who attended the Branham Tabernacle, personally knew several witnesses who were once in attendance at the Branham Tabernacle and other message churches. This article relies on our recollections of the accounts of Doc Branham (Bro. Branham’s brother) and Fannie Wilson who were both present.

According to the witnesses at the baptismal service, the crowd was only a few hundred in size. The number being baptized is uncertain, but it was only a few. (The newspaper article says 14, and that fits with the eyewitness accounts.) While baptizing one of the converts, a loud noise like a clap of thunder or a sonic boom occurred. It was so loud that it frightened the crowd and shocked some of the onlookers and causing some to scrambled to take cover. There were no other visible or audible signs seen by the witnesses we have known.

This is quite different from Bro. Branham’s version of the story. Neither Doc Branham nor Fannie Wilson reported hearing a voice. They also said no one in the crowd saw a bright light descend. Additionally the witnesses reported the crowds were not as big as Bro. Branham sometimes claimed.

Could there be witnesses with recorded testimonies supporting Bro. Branham’s version of the event? It is possible, but we are unaware of any. So we do not dismiss it as impossible, but it does not match our own knowledge of the event through the witnesses we have known. Note: We include in our assessment the witnesses Bro. Branham referenced on tape. We have personally known these people.

Exaggerated or faked?

It has been known since Bro. Branham was still living that he had exaggerated this story. Adult witnesses to the baptismal service were still in fellowship with us as late as the 1970s. The witnesses we were acquainted with (Doc Branham and Fannie Wilson) were very open about what they witnessed, and it was apparent that their accounts differed from the story Bro. Branham told. To our knowledge, there are no living witnesses of the 1933 baptismal service at the time we are writing this article. The last living witness of the baptismal service we are aware of was Fannie Wilson who died about 1979.

How do we interpret this discrepancy?

Bro. Branham exaggerated, more than a little. Bro. Branham exaggerated alot. You should read our article on Elijah Waffles for more on that topic. Bro. Branham exaggerated this story repeatedly.

It is our belief that Bro. Branham personally saw a light and personally heard a voice. We do not believe that anyone else saw the light or heard the voice. This is not very different from John 12:29 wherein God spoke from heaven, but most of the crowd did not hear the voice, but instead heard a loud noise like thunder. This is also similar to the calling of the apostle Paul in Acts 9 & 26. Paul saw Jesus appear before him, but the men traveling with him and standing beside him saw nothing.

Why did Bro. Branham say it was carried in newspapers all over the country?

After gaining popularity in the mid-1940s and sharing the baptismal story during some of his sermons, a man in Canada told Bro. Branham he had personally read about the 1933 baptismal story in a Canadian newspaper. This man lied to Bro. Branham. Bro. Branham believed him and repeated the man’s lie publicly many times.

Does his exaggeration of this story matter?

Bro. Branham did mention the baptismal the event many times during his ministry. The exaggerations do matter. They have always mattered, because the gospel cannot profit from a lie. And an exaggeration is a form of dishonesty. We have to always be willing to look at things honestly. We have a responsibility to not continue to repeat things that are dishonest, and we have a responsibility to not build our hopes and faith and doctrines are things that are not true. Sadly, many people in the message have done just that. Rather than listen to those who have been honest about these things for decades, they have chose rather to turn all of Bro. Branham’s words into scripture. Unfortunately, when they are confronted with the truth, it reveals to them they have built on sinking sand and their entire system of belief begins to crumple. So in this way, it matters that Bro. Branham has exaggerated, and we need to take care to look at things in a honest way.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, what was Bro. Branham trying to convey by telling the baptismal story? Why did he tell the story?

In our review of his statements, he only seems to ever use it to make two different points. 1) To say he was supernaturally called, and 2) to connect his ministry to the Elijah anointing.

Judge a ministry by its fruits

Bro. Branham’s used the story to state that something supernatural occurred early in his ministry as a means to explain what he believed he had been called for. The experience was primarily a sign to him personally. God telling a minister his calling is personal. For the rest of us, it just lets us plainly know what the minister is claiming to be. For us, it is just a claim. It is not proof of a claim. Anybody could make up any story and claim to be anything. We cannot judge a minster by the story he tells concerning his calling and purpose. We must judge his calling by the fruit of his ministry.

Bro. Branham relates through the story what he believes his calling and purpose are. He also relates it though other similar stories of supernatural experiences. It is up to us to judge if that is true based on the fruit of his ministry, not on our ability confirm the supernatural experience of his calling.

As a comparison, it is very clear when reading Act 9 that the men with Paul on the Damascus road did not see Jesus, but Paul did. Their testimony of what they witnessed on the Damascus road was quite different from the testimony what Paul claimed to have witnessed. Yet we accept Paul at his word, because his life came to prove the claim he made. Just as only Paul saw Jesus, it is perfectly plausible and scriptural that only Bro. Branham heard the voice and saw the light. Critics attacking this topic ignore biblical precedence.

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