The Life and Legacy of C.I. Scofield
Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843–1921) was a significant American theologian, writer, and pastor who is best known for his Scofield Reference Bible, one of the most influential theological works of the 20th century. In it, he popularized Dispensationalism, which uses the literal, grammatical, and historical system of biblical interpretation and, therefore, separates Israel and the church. Because of this hermeneutic, Scofield saw in God’s Word a resurrection for the nation of Israel long before there was any hope of a modern Jewish state.
Scofield’s work spread systematized Dispensationalism like no other. In addition to producing the Scofield Reference Bible, Scofield is known for cofounding Philadelphia School of the Bible (now Cairn University) and founding the Central American Mission (now Camino Global).
Scofield was born in Clinton Township, Michigan, on August 19, 1843. His mother died soon after his birth, leaving him the youngest of seven children. When he was a boy, his father moved his family to Lebanon, Tennessee.
Scofield received no formal education, but since he and his family were nominal Episcopalians, his local rector encouraged him to do personal study. He was to enter the University of Virginia in 1861, but the Civil War interrupted those plans.
In 1861, when he was 17, Scofield joined the Confederate Army. He served the army well and received the Confederate Cross of Honor in 1862 for a special feat of bravery in the Battle of Antietam.
After the war, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he became a clerk at the assessor’s office in 1867 to study law. In 1869 he moved to Atchison, Kansas, finished his law studies, was admitted to the Kansas Bar Association, and became involved in politics. Twice he was elected as a representative to the Kansas Legislature. On June 9, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him U.S. district attorney for the District of Kansas. Scofield was only 29, making him the youngest district attorney in the nation. He resigned six months later after rumors spread that he had accepted bribes.
He returned to St. Louis in 1874 and reentered the law practice there. By 1879, he had begun to drink heavily, ruining both his law practice and himself. A friend, Thomas S. McPheeters, became concerned about Scofield’s heavy drinking and was determined to lead him to Christ.
So one day in September 1879, McPheeters went to Scofield’s office and asked him why he was not a Christian. Scofield replied he was a nominal Episcopalian. McPheeters pressed him until Scofield admitted he did not know how to become a Christian. They knelt and prayed, and Scofield gave his life to the Lord. Christ changed him dramatically, delivering him from all desire for alcohol. He was a new man.
Soon afterward, someone introduced Scofield to James H. Brookes, pastor of the Compton Avenue Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Brookes began discipling Scofield, instructing him in the Bible.
In 1880, Scofield began preaching. He organized and pastored the Hyde Park Congregational Church of North St. Louis. In the spring of 1882, the superintendent of the Congregational Home Missionary Society for the southwest invited Scofield to become the pastor of a small church in Dallas, Texas. Only 12 members attended, 11 of them women.
In Dallas, the 39-year-old Scofield started to hold prayer meetings in homes. Many people became saved. The church ordained him on October 17, 1883, and by January 1884, the church had grown to 75 members and had sent a missionary to India.
In March 1886, Scofield extensively helped Christian evangelist Dwight L. Moody in his revival campaign in Dallas. The men had become close friends during one of Moody’s campaigns in St. Louis years earlier.
By October 1886, Scofield had become well-known as a gifted Bible teacher and was in great demand as a speaker. He published his first book, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, in 1888. The following year he began a monthly journal called The Believer and also started the Comprehensive Bible Correspondence Course, which he turned over to Moody Bible Institute in 1914.
In 1888, Scofield met Hudson Taylor, a Christian missionary to China. Taylor’s passion for the mission field increased Scofield’s interest in missions, and he became specifically burdened for Central America. With the support of three of his church members, he founded the Central American Mission in 1890. Scofield became the secretary. The mission is still thriving today as Camino Global (formerly CAM International).
By 1893, Scofield headed the Southwestern School of the Bible in Dallas, was president of the board of trustees at Lake Charles College, and was superintendent of the American Home Missionary Society in Colorado and surrounding areas. He was spending about five months per year away from his church in Bible conferences and at speaking engagements. Yet his church continued to grow—reaching 550 members by the end of 1894.
As the result of another Moody campaign in Dallas in February 1895, the Trinitarian Congregational Church of Northfield, Massachusetts (Moody’s home church), called Scofield as pastor and as president of Northfield’s two prep schools founded by Moody. When Scofield left Dallas in 1895, his church had grown to 826 members.
In July 1901, Scofield joined the first of a new series of annual Bible conferences in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. There he met Arno C. Gaebelein, Bible teacher and editor of Our Hope magazine. Scofield told Gaebelein about his plans to publish a reference Bible, and Gaebelein volunteered to help him find financial support.
In 1902, the Dallas church called Scofield back as pastor. He accepted, thinking he would have more time for his Bible project. But his attention was divided, so he left the church for Europe in 1904 to work on the Bible.
While in England, he met the head of Oxford University Press who became enthusiastic about the project. A year later, Scofield returned to America, signed a contract with Oxford University Press, and returned to pastoring his Dallas church.
Several consulting editors helped Scofield with his reference Bible. They included Gaebelein; James M. Gray, president of Moody Bible Institute; William J. Erdman, Presbyterian minister and author; Arthur T. Pierson, author and editor; William G. Moorehead, president of Xenia Theological Seminary; Henry G. Weston, president of Crozer Theological Seminary; and Elmore Harris, president of Toronto Bible Training School. The Bible was officially published in January 1909 as the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield then published a revised version in 1917. Today Oxford University Press still publishes the Scofield Reference Bible.
The Scofield Reference Bible remains one of the most influential Christian works of all time. In it, Scofield annotated many portions of Scripture, which made it the first Bible to include a commentary within the same book since the Geneva Bible in 1560. He created cross-references to tie together verses with the same themes. And in his 1917 edition, Scofield added dates to certain biblical events, such as creation in 4004 BC.
But the Scofield Reference Bible is best known for popularizing Dispensationalism and its literal, grammatical, and historical system of biblical interpretation. Scofield defined a dispensation as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”1 Theologian Charles C. Ryrie said Dispensationalism possesses three distinct characteristics:
- It keeps Israel distinct from the church.
- It distinguishes between Israel and the church based on a literal interpretation of Scripture.
- It views God’s underlying purpose in the world as displaying His glory, rather than merely saving humanity.2
The same year he published his Bible, Scofield resigned as pastor of the Dallas church, today known as Scofield Memorial Church, to serve as editor of Oxford University Press’s tercentenary (300-year) edition of the English Bible scheduled for publication in 1911.
For many years, Scofield dreamed of establishing a Bible school on the East Coast. That dream was finally fulfilled in 1914 when he and William L. Pettingill founded Philadelphia School of the Bible. It opened on October 1 with evening classes, and Scofield served as its first president.
Scofield died quietly on Sunday morning, July 24, 1921. He was buried in Flushing, New York, and Pettingill conducted the service. But his legacy did not end in 1921. Scofield’s life of obedience to the Lord’s calling continues to impact the lives of countless Christians today.
- Scofield Reference Bible (New York, NY: Oxford, 1909), 5.
- Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 46–48.