While somewhat pejorative, the term Branhamite adequately distinguishes a small sect of Pentecostals dedicated to the life work and mission of William Marrion Branham. Like Apostolics, they embrace holiness and share some of the core doctrines of other Oneness Pentecostals. However, their devotion to Branham and the eccentric ideas that he embraced and propagated places them a world apart from Apostolic orthodoxy.
William Marrion Branham was born on April 6, 1909 to an impoverished young couple in Berksville, Kentucky. Branham claimed that at his birth, a large halo appeared above him and his 15-year-old mother (Dyck 3). This was the first of several “signs” that included angelic voices, heavenly visions, lights, and whirlwinds. This uneducated, self-styled prophet became the leading evangelist in the Healing Movement and developed a large, international following from his base church, Branham Tabernacle, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. His ministry began in his early twenties, and in 1936 he encountered a group of Oneness Pentecostals while vacationing with his wife. While he was impressed by the group’s sincerity and revivalism, he was reluctant to associate himself with “holy rollers”. In 1937, his wife and daughter were killed in the Ohio River flood, and Branham interpreted the loss as a divine punishment for rejecting the Pentecostals (Weaver 34-35).
His healing ministry was precipitated by a purported angelic visit on May 7, 1946. The luminescent messenger informed Branham: “God has sent you to take a gift of divine healing to the people of the world. If you will be sincere, and get the people to believe you, nothing shall stand before your prayer, not even cancer” (qtd. in Weaver 36).
His first healing revival was conducted at Bro. Robert Daugherty’s church in St. Louis. The success of the meeting led to other invitations, and Bro. W.E. Kidson, editor of The Apostolic Herald, began promoting Branham’s ministry, and he enjoyed relative success in many small Apostolic works in the south (Weaver 45).
Bro. Jack Moore, a Oneness pastor from Shreveport, Louisiana, joined the Branham team in 1947, and Gordon Lindsay, a prominent Assemblies of God minister from Ashland, Oregon, paired with Moore in June of that year. This unlikely union made Branham a favorite amongst Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostals, and several campaigns were held tenuously uniting both factions behind the ministry of William Branham. Bro. Kidson, however, distanced himself from this ecumenical effort and refused to continue advertising Branham’s meetings in his publication.
Branham’s success was primarily attributable to his pinpoint accuracy demonstrated in his meetings. He repeatedly performed feats of incredible discernment, diagnosing diseases and miraculously intimating personal facts. In his first year of ministry, he claimed 35,000 healings (Weaver 47). In the 1950s, Branham traveled the globe holding campaigns in Finland, Norway, Europe, South Africa and India and enjoyed immense acclaim (Weaver 55).
Branham inconsistently emphasized the Oneness doctrines that he embraced. While he held Acts 2:38 to be the plan of salvation, he did not accept speaking in tongues as the sole initial evidence of Spirit baptism. He did, however, strongly advocate the Oneness of the Godhead and baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ. In his treatise An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages, he repeatedly castigates trinitarians. He rails against them as believers in “three Gods” calling the doctrine “a gross error” (Branham 18). Concerning the historical move from singular to trine baptism, Branham says: “While the many apostatized and embraced a trinity and baptized using the titles of Godhead, the Little flock still baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ and so held to the truth” (Branham 178-179). Throughout his writings and recorded sermons, he upholds these biblical doctrines.
Unfortunately, Branham also advanced many strange notions. His reworking of the Genesis account of the Fall stretches beyond all reason. He believed that the two trees in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, were Jesus and Satan respectively (Branham 102). He also taught a doctrine called “Serpent’s seed”, the idea that Eve was seduced by the serpent, an apelike creature, and bore Cain as the descendant of Satan (Branham 98-99). The resulting race mingled with the human line of Seth but bred hypocrisy and wickedness in the world. There exists a dual lineage from Eve, righteous and unrighteous. Additionally, he believed in the annihilation of the wicked, the ultimate destruction of Satan, and that the earth would be destroyed in an explosion in 1977.
When he died in a tragic car accident in December 1965, his most devoted followers believed that he would resurrect. His wife, who survived the accident, refused to inter her husband and delayed burial until April 11, 1966 (Dyck 6). He is buried in Jeffersonville beneath a large pyramidal stone, with an eagle, Branham’s prophetic symbol, atop it.
William Marrion Branham’s legacy is one of doctrinal confusion and noxious ideas. Any early successes as he moved toward truth are skewed by his gross theological, soteriological, and eschatological errors. As Hoosier Apostolics with a significant amount of Branham’s followers in our State, it is important to recognize the vast differences between Branhamism and Pentecostal truth. The Apostle John warned: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I Jn. 4.1). This verse is aptly applied to William Marrion Branham, a false prophet and a purveyor of false doctrine.
Branham, William Marrion. An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages. Jeffersonville, IN: Voice of God Recordings, 1965.
Dyck, Carl. William Branham: the Man and His Message. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Western Tract Mission, Inc., 1984.
Weaver, C. Douglas. The Healer-Prophet, William Marrion Branham: a Study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987.