The Origins of the Scofield Reference Bible

The Scofield Reference Bible has proven to be an immeasurable aid in guiding generations of serious Christians into a greater understanding of God’s word. Within 30 years of its issurance Oxford University Press reported that 1,925,000 copies had been published; and in our own day, the Scofield Bible remains one of the most popular reference study bibles available. Who was C. I. Scofield? How did this Reference Bible originate? Cyrus Ingerson Scofield was born August 19, 1843. During the Civil War he served with distinction as a Confederate soldier, earning the Confederate Cross of Honor. After the war he studied law in St. Louis, Missouri, and was later admitted to the Kansas bar. In 1873 he was appointed to the United States Attorney for Kansas by President Grant. He was converted in 1879 through the efforts of a Y.M.C.A. worker named Thomas McPheeters. Not long after his conversion, he made the aquaintance of James H. Brooks. Brookes helped him in his study of the Bible and introduced him to dispensational teaching.

Early Ministry in Dallas, Texas

While serving at the First Congregational Church (Independant) in Dallas, Texas, Scofield deepened his understanding of the Scriptures. This congregation numbered only 14 members when he came to teach the Word of God in 1882. When he left, after 13 years of faithful ministry, this church numbered 814 members. On the last Sunday of ministry at this church the members presented him with a letter of commendation which reflected the depth of his Christian character. This letter contained the following, “We commend him to you as one who delights to hide behind the uplifted cross of Jesus; one who will preach a full and free salvation through the shed blood of God’s Lamb; one who will lead you into the deep things of the Word of God, and one who preaches the whole truth of God.” During this time C. I. Scofield became a popular speaker and in demand at Bible conferences throughout the country. In 1903 he began to work on the Reference Bible. The idea of a reference Bible had been growing in his mind for some time; he was already busy writing a Bible study course. In 1902, he had receieved encouragement in this work from Arno C. Gaebelein, and later from three men who organised the Sea Cliff Bible Conference in Sea Cliff, NY - Alwyn Ball, Jr., John Pirie and Francis Fitch. All three of these men fellowshipped at so-called “Brethren assemblies” in the New York City area. Francis Fitch had a printing establishment that printed the New York Stock Exchange lists, and he acted as publisher of the Scofield Bible Course in its first years. John Pirie was a partner in Chicago’s large department store, “Carson, Pirie and Scott”. Alwyn Ball, Jr., a successful real estate broker, was a partner in the New York firm “Southhack and Ball”.

The Beginning of the Reference Bible

From 1901 to 1906, Bible Conferences were held on Pirie Green, also called “Reservoir Park” because the water tower was located there. John Pirie, who owned the water company, erected a tent for the conferences, which seated 600 people. Later the conference grew to attract 5,000. Some early speakers were Richard Hill, John Hill, Arno Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield and William Issac, in whose home the Sea Cliff assembly began. At one of these conferences, C. I. Scofield, while walking along the Sea Clif shoreline with Arno Gaebelein, discussed this desire to produce a reference Bible that would help readers understand the Bible more clearly. To give him time and the facilities for this work, John Pirie and Alwyn Ball financially supported him. Much of the study and final drafts were completed in the home of John Pirie, “Greyshingles”, in Long Island, NY. This Bible edition, named the Scofield Reference Bible, was published by the Oxford University Press in 1909, followed by revised editions in 1917 and 1967. This monumental work received world-wide recognition. The Scofield Reference Bible reflected the dispensational distinctives, prophetic highlights, and New Testament church truth of those known as “Plymouth Brethren”. In the first edition in a note explaining the nature of the local church, we read, “A local church is an assembly of professed believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, living for the most part in one locality, who assemble themselves together in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, prayer, testimony, the ministry of the word, discipline, and the furtherance of the gospel. Such a church exists where two or three are thus gathered. Every such local church has Christ in the midst, is a temple of God, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When perfected in organisation a local church consists of saints, with elders and deacons.” (annotation for Philippians 1:1) This appreciation for the “Brethren” was the result of an intimate acquantance with their writings and an abiding friendship with many of their leading Bible teachers. Mr Scofield greatly valued the writings of the early Brethren, and often shared the conference platform with Assembly Bible teachers such as Walter Scott, F. C. Jennings, and W. W. Fereday. He fellowshipped between the years 1902-1909 in an assembly in Oxford, England while researching material for the reference Bible. One of Scofield’s most valued editors, Arno C. Gaebelein, once wrote concerning his appreciation of “Brethren” writers, “I found in Darby’s writings, in the works of William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, F. W. Grant, Bellet and others, soul food I needed. I esteem these men next to the apostles in their sound and spiritual teaching.” Mr Scofield appreciated the editorial help he receieved from those in assembly fellowship in the United States and Great Britian.

The Formation of the Reference Bible

The trusted Bible teacher and author, Mr. Walter Scott, reviewed many of the notes in the first edition. In the preface of that edition Scofield writes, “The Editor’s acknowledgements are also due to a very wide circle of leaned and spiritual brethren in Europe and America to whose labours he is indebted for suggestions of inestimable value. ...Mr. Walter Scott, the eminent Bible teacher…” After the issuing of the first edition, Mr. William Isaac, aleading elder and outstanding Bible teacher in the Sea Cliff assembly , expressed concern as to the accuracy of seventeen of Mr. Scofield’s annotations. He graciously submitted them to Mr. Scofield in writing. The second edition of 1917 included the accepted corrections of Mr. Isaac. When seeking help in the proofreading work of the Reference Bible, Mr Scofield enlisted the services of one of the best, Miss Emily Farmer. In 1907 Miss Farmer moved from Colchester, England to the United States and soon distinguished herself as an accurate and able proofreader with the Loizeaux Brothers Publishers in New York, where she remained until 1947. In 1908 she took a short leave from their employ to dedicate time to the Reference Bible. Miss Farmer was used to give editorial assistance in preparing the notes in their final form. Miss Farmer was also greatly used in editing the commentaries of Mr. H. A. Ironside and in the foreword of Mr. H. A. Ironside’s commentary on Isaiah we read these words of praise, ”...the excellence of the Scofield Bible today is attributable in no small measure to Miss Farmer’s keen disernment of sound doctrine.”

The Oxford University Press and the Reference Bible

Mr. Scofield visited England twice and spent two years in Switzerland while researching material and seeking technical advice concerning the publication of the study Bible. One man who would prove to be invaluable in the latter regard was Mr. Henry Frowde of London. Mr. Frowde fellowshiped all his adult life with those known as the “brethren” and had distinguished himself as an authority in he printing and binding of Bibles. In 1880 he was appointed Publisher to the Oxford University Press and the Clarendon Press. He achieved at the Oxford University Press what was once considered impossible – the distribution of 1,000,000 New Testaments in one 12-hour period. While in England, with the encouragement of Alwyn Ball of NY, Mr. Scofield was introduced to Mr. Frowde. After meeting with Mr. Frowde, Scofield was advised, “there is only one publishing house which can handle your Refernce Bible, and that is the Oxford University Press, and in January of 1909 the first Reference Bible rolled off the presses. Since that time, the Scofield Reference Bible has been published in French, Spanish, Swahili and in ninety other languages. This study help has ably equipped thousands of Christian workers, evangelists, and Sunday School teachers to better understand the word of God and, thereby, serve the Lord more effectively. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, the Reformed preacher and author Montgomery Boice writes, “I am delighted to say that the Scofield Bible was a great influence upon my own studies of the Scriptures. Moreover, I have the deepest respect for these Bible teachers. They were steeped in the Bible – far more than most Bible teachers today.” Only eternity will tell the vast usefullness of this study tool, which has introduced countless numbers into a knowledge of dispensational truth, the prophetic word, and New Testament assembly distinctives.

Sources :
Arno C. Gaeblein, The History of the Scofield Reference Bible, Living Words Foundation, WA, 1991
Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel 1889-1989, A Century of Proclaiming God’s Word, Sea Cliff, NY, 1989
Charles Gallaudet Trumbell, The Life of C. I. Scofield, Oxford University Press: London, 1920
Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992