By Rev. Charles Paisley
This tract is the product of a broken heart. A lifetime spent in the Message of William Branham, deeply loving its teachings, and trusting deeply the leaders who preached it. The writer of this article has been a message minister living his life in the Jeffersonville Indiana area. The sorrow with which these things are wrote cannot be overstated.
Several years ago, a website called SearchingForVindication.com published a copy of a newspaper article about William Branham’s June 1933 tent meetings. The newspaper article was the first I ever saw to give any details about the baptismal service that is so famously known to message believers.
According to William Branham, on a Sunday during June 1933, he was baptizing his first converts at the Ohio River in Jeffersonville. He said it was the first time he ever baptized anyone. Just after baptizing his seventeenth convert, a supernatural experience occurred. A mystical light descended from heaven over William Branham and a voice said “As John the Baptist was sent to forerun my first coming, so you have been sent with a message that will forerun my second coming.” William Branham explain that this happened in front a large crowd. In some stories he said there were as many as 10,000 witnesses. He also explained that the event was reported in newspapers around the United States and Canada, and he quote the newspaper article saying, “a mystic light” appeared over him while he was baptizing.
Growing up around Jeffersonville at a large message church, surrounded by a multitude of witnesses of William Branham’s ministry, including people who were acquainted with William Branham all the way back to the 1930s, it never occurred to me that William Branham’s story could be anything besides the truth. I was surrounded by witnesses, so I thought. My own family had attended the Branham Tabernacle while William Branham was still living. I gladly accepted the story of the baptism as it was often repeated and told to me. So, I was quite perplexed when I read the newspaper article discovered by SearchingForVindication.com.
According to the researchers, they had reviewed every newspaper article from the month of June and July 1933 from every significant newspaper in our region. They successfully located every newspaper from that period, and all were searched. In all of them, the only report of William Branham’s baptismal service was this one single article.
What became immediately noticeable to me was that the article made no mention whatsoever of the supernatural experience William Banham had told us about, despite his assurance that the newspaper had carried articles of it. Let me share a couple of William Branham’s quotes of what happened.
It was seen on the river there when I was just a boy, baptizing my first group in the Baptist church: Five hundred, one afternoon, at the foot of Spring Street in Jeffersonville. The newspapers packed an article of it: A Mystic Light Appears Over Local Baptist Minister While Baptizing At The River.The Angel Of The Covenant preached in Phoenix, Arizona on March 1, 1954
I went down then to baptize a bunch of people on the river. When I was baptizing there, where about five thousand people standing on the bank; right in the middle of the day, two o’clock in the afternoon; hot, they hadn’t had a rain for a week or two; and standing on the bank. Here come that Pillar of Fire whirling out of the air, coming down where I was standing, and the Voice saying, “As John the Baptist was sent, and to forerun the first coming of Christ, your Message will forerun the Second Coming of Christ.
The newspapers packed it, and it swept into Canada on the Associated Press, around the world, “A local minister, Baptist minister, baptizing , and,” said, “a mystic Light appears over him.” The very One that they caught the picture of here, and done it in Germany and–and everywhere. And it’s done. My pastor said to me, he said, “Billy, what kind of a dream did you have? Why, you know you didn’t see…” I said, “There were hundreds standing there, witnessed It.” And they’d come down, said, “Oh, that’s a mental delusion.” Trying his best, that’s old man Unbelief and Mr. Skeptic.A Trial preached in Louisville, Mississippi on April 5, 1964
There were several advertisements in the newspaper before William Branham’s baptism service. The healing campaign was being sponsored by Roy Davis’s Pentecostal Baptist church. Here is one example of the advertisements.
And here is the follow-up report by the newspaper on the results of the meetings.
Searching For Witnesses
Confronted with an accusation that William Branham had misled us about the 1933 baptism, I immediately set out to find evidence of the truth. I personally repeated the search made by the researchers at SearchingForVindication and reviewed all the newspaper articles from June and July 1933 for newspapers in our region. I was surprised to reconfirm the results of their search: I was able to locate copies of every issue from that period, and the only articles covering the baptism were the ones they had already identified.
From there I decided I would review all our archived material at the church to locate evidence. As one of the oldest message churches and perhaps the closest to the actual site of the event, we had a substantial number of old tracts and records. We even had a scrap book of newspaper articles of notable events related to the message. But in searching all of our records, I found no evidence to support William Branham’s baptismal story, but I did stumble across something surprising. We had several recorded accounts of people sharing their testimonies of William Branham’s ministry. In reading and listening to their testimonies, I noticed that several of them related the 1933 baptismal story quite differently than William Branham did. I thought that was unusual and decided to take my search to another level: I would inquire of the old timers to try and piece together their testimonies.
In my efforts, I spoke with every single person in our fellowship who was acquainted with William Branham while he was still living. On the topic of the baptism, I asked them if they knew eyewitnesses of the 1933 baptisms, and I asked for them to relate the story of the baptism they heard from the eye witnesses. I assumed I would find many people who had been witnesses or knew eyewitnesses.
To my great surprise, besides William Branham, there were only three known actual eye witnesses to the baptism. Of the hundreds of people William Branham said were on the bank of the river that day, it appears that by the mid 1950s, only three of them had continued on to be Message believers.
I was curious how so many hundreds of people who witnessed the supernatural event at the river could have left the message after witnessing such a powerful supernatural display. That seemed very unusual.
The first eyewitness, who many people knew, was named Fannie Wilson. She was a resident of Jeffersonville who died in the 1970s. She was referred to on a tape by William Branham as a witness of the baptism. (62-1230E – Is This The Sign Of The End, Sir?) She was well known to the old timers who shared what they knew of her life story with me. Additionally, we had a handwritten copy of her eyewitness account Raymond Jackson had obtained. I soon discovered that her handwritten account was the primary one Raymond Jackson had relied on as evidence of what happened at the baptismal service.
According to everyone who recalled her eyewitness testimony, and her own handwritten account, she never saw a light or a heard a voice the day William Branham was baptizing in June 1933. Her testimony was that on the day of the baptism there was a loud frightening noise, like thunder or an explosion. The loud noise happened during the baptismal service.
The second eyewitness known to the old timers was William Branham’s brother, Doc (Edgar) Branham. Doc Branham’s son had married into a family that attended our church and Doc and his family were in attendance at our church periodically until he passed away. I found a copy of Raymond Jackson sharing an account of what happened at the baptismal service, according to Doc Branham on tape. I also confirmed Doc’s account with the old timers. Doc Branham’s version of the baptismal story matched Fannie Wilson’s. He saw no light and heard no voice, but there was some type of an explosive noise like dynamite that happened during the baptismal service.
The third and most interesting eyewitness known to us was Graham Snelling. Snelling had been a founding member of the Branham Tabernacle and assistant pastor of the Branham Tabernacle in the 1950s when William Branham began to tour away from the church frequently. Snelling later opened a new church in nearby Utica, Indiana and remained in contact with several of the old timers up until his death in the 1980s. According to several of the old timers, Snelling had confronted William Branham during the early 1950s over the baptismal story. Snelling, who had been a witness of the baptism, was upset that William Branham had exaggerated the story to his audiences and in his books. Shortly after the confrontation, William Branham had a vision that indicated Snelling had committed adultery and Snelling and his family were subsequently forced out of the Branham Tabernacle.
As I slowly digested the implications of the eye witness testimonies, I suddenly recalled one of William Branham’s statements:
My pastor said to me, he said, “Billy, what kind of a dream did you have? Why, you know you didn’t see…” I said, “There were hundreds standing there, witnessed It.” And they’d come down, said, “Oh, that’s a mental delusion.”A Trial preached in Louisville, Mississippi on April 5, 1964
According to William Branham’s own words, he confessed to being confronted by other eye witnesses of the baptism who insisted to him that his account of what happened was a mental delusion.
There was not a single witness to what William Branham said happened at the river that day. William Branham was the only one who saw a light or heard a voice.
Is that why there were so few witnesses of the baptismal service who remained Message believers? Because they all believed he made up the story?
The Voice at the River
One final issue with the 1933 Baptism is a detail that was not in the original version of the story. Every single copy of the baptism story from 1933 until 1952 is missing a key detail. There was no mention of a voice. Before 1952, whenever William Banham told the story, he only said there was a light and a noise. In 1952 he started telling his audiences about a voice that spoke at the river that day.
Unfortunately, we have to question whether there was a voice or not. None of the eyewitnesses we have known heard a voice. William Branham himself never said anything about a voice for nearly twenty years afterwards. Was William Branham making that up too? All Message leaders acknowledge that no one else heard the words. But what they don’t tell you is that William Branham didn’t even mention there was a voice until nearly twenty years later. The editor of this article feels safe in making the same assessment as other thorough researchers of this topic: we can conclude with total certainty that William Branham embellished this whole story in such a way that is it full of untruths.
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…Pearry Green, Acts of the Prophet
At the final stage of my investigation, I spoke at length with other Message preachers about this topic, including multiple old timers who had known William Branham personally. They agreed that there were no known eyewitness testimonies that matched William Branham’s version of the story. When talking with the other Message ministers about this issue, we concluded that William Branham must have been the only person who saw the light or heard the voice, similar to the experience of the Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road, or the voice of God speaking in John 12:29.
That is fine for William Branham to put his faith in. But that is no sign that I can put any faith in. Faith cometh by hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) And no witness actually heard God speak… So how do we know that William Branham didn’t just make it up?
I was deeply saddened by my findings. Not only did I fail to validate William Branham’s version of the baptismal story, I had actually uncovered multiple eyewitness accounts indicating the story was false – including someone cited by William Branham on tape as a witness. It was troubling to know Fannie Wilson on tape served a witness, but privately she shared a very different story. It seems like people would agree to anything when put on the spot. If anyone had an incentive to be a witness to William Branham’s version of the story, surely it was Doc Branham, but even he was upfront telling a different version of the story. More troubling was that Rev. Graham Snelling was so concerned about the way William Branham told the story he felt the need to confront him over it. And most troubling of all, I was left wondering, did William Branham purposefully defame Graham Snelling to silence him?
Some of these things are impossible to ever find the answer too, as all the living witnesses are dead and record keeping seems to have been very thin. I have published this tract in hope that it may flush out other witnesses or information to find out more about what happened at the Ohio River that day. One thing is certain though, there is something seriously wrong with William Branham’s 1933 baptismal story.