Branham, William Marion

Branham, William Marion (1909–1965)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

William Marion Branham, a mid-twentieth-century healing evangelist, was a major force in the development of healing ministries in the Pentecostal movement worldwide. At the same time, his own doctrinal differences with many of his Pentecostal colleagues caused him to be alienated from the mainstream of Pentecostalism toward the end of his life, and he became an object of eschatological belief by his closest followers.

Branham was born April 6, 1909, in Burkesville, Kentucky. He dated his dedication to God, in the midst of a family soaked in poverty and alcoholism, to a mystical experience at the age of seven during which he heard a voice say to him, “Never drink, smoke or defile your body in any way for I have a work for you to do when you get older.” As a young adult, he joined the emerging Pentecostal movement and experienced a call to the ministry that was tied directly to a healing. He was twenty-four years old when he launched an independent tent ministry that soon led to the establishment of the Branham Tabernacle in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Because of their low social status, Branham left the Pentecostal community and identified himself as a Baptist. As he emphasized healing and miracles, however, he was soon alienated by his Baptist colleagues. He eventually found a home among the non-Trinitarian Pentecostals, who had an early center in Indianapolis.

It was not until after World War II that his ministry took off. While he had been preaching about God’s healing, he had not himself received a healing gift. However, in an encounter with an angel, the gift was passed to him. The healing of the daughter of a fellow evangelist brought him a new set of contacts, and he began to travel the country speaking in Pentecostal churches. He did not emphasize his doctrinal differences and was widely heralded throughout the Pentecostal movement. In the early 1950s he toured Europe and Africa, and a future generation of healing evangelists associated with him, including A. A. Allen (1911–1970), Morris Cerullo (b. 1931), and Oral Roberts (b. 1918).

In the 1960s Branham began to speak about his nonbelief in the trinity and his understanding that denominationalism was a basic evil. His stance alienated many of the people who had promoted him in the 1950s, such as Gordon Lindsey, who had edited Branham’s magazine, not to mention the members of the various Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God. Branham’s following shrank to those independent churches whose members were oriented on his healing work. In 1963 he began to suggest that he was the end-time messenger spoken of in Malachi 4:5. This assignment of a biblical role served to identify his following as a distinct and very different subgroup within the Pentecostal community.

Those who believed in Branham as the endtime messenger founded The Voice of God Recordings and Spoken Word Publications to preserve and publish Branham’s writings and sermons in both printed and audio formats. They continue to circulate Branham’s material and await the endtime. Since Branham’s death on December 24, 1965, the leadership of the movement that had grown around him continues to nurture the movement, and they have turned the land associated with him in Jeffersonville, Indiana, into a shrine to Branham’s ministry. Visitors may see the original tabernacle, Branham’s grave, and tour the offices where his work is perpetuated.

Sources:

Harrell, David Edwin. All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.
Lindsey, Gordon. William Branham: A Man Sent from God. Jeffersonville, IN: Spoken Word, 1950.
Stadsklev, Julius. William Branham: A Prophet Visits South Africa. Minneapolis, MN: privately printed, 1952.
Vayle, Lee. Twentieth Century Prophet. Jeffersonville,IN: Spoken Word, 1965.
Weaver, C. Douglas. The Healer-Prophet, William Marion Branham: A Study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987.