C.I. Scofield was one of the most influential Bible teachers America has ever produced. Of all the study Bibles and reference Bibles ever printed, none have had the impact of his Scofield Reference Bible. The work first appeared in 1909, and then Scofield himself, with the help of a committee, revised it in 1917. Since then millions of copies of it have been sold around the world. A new revision, called The New Scofield Reference Bible, was published in 1967 and has proven to be popular itself, but some Christians still prefer the original edition.
Several features made the Scofield Reference Bible such a hit. First, it provided commentary notes — Scofield called them “helps” — to aid the reader in understanding what he or she was reading. These “helps” included word definitions, doctrinal summaries, etc. While this type of feature is quite common in Bibles today, it definitely was not in the early 1900s. Second, the Scofield Bible featured a cross-referencing system that enabled the reader to trace certain Biblical topics throughout the pages of scripture. Like following the links of a chain, the reader could turn to passage after passage and find out what each passage had to say about the same topic. Third, the work also included Archbishop James Ussher’s system of dating the years of Biblical history.
Still, as important as these features were, what created the most buzz about the Scofield Reference Bible was its inclusion of two controversial teachings. First, Scofield was an advocate of the “gap theory” interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2. This theory holds that the earth of Genesis 1:1 was as God originally intended, complete with a pre-Adamic race, but that something happened — i.e. the fall of Satan — that ruined that earth and left it as the decimated wasteland described in Genesis 1:2. According to Scofield, this ruined earth existed in its wrecked state for untold eons of times, perhaps many millions of years, before God went to work reconstructing it. Consequently, the Scofield Reference Bible taught that the days of the creation week as recorded in Genesis 1:3-31 are not so much the days of “creation” as they are the days of “recreation” or “restoration.”
The second controversial teaching the Scofield Reference Bible promoted was “dispensationalism.” According to this teaching, while God always remains the same, He chooses to work in different ways in human history to accomplish His plans. Scofield called the various eras of these differing ways “dispensations” and listed seven such eras: the dispensation of Innocence (Genesis 1:1-3:7); the dispensation of Conscience/Moral Responsiblity (Genesis 3:8-8:22); the dispensation of Human Government (Genesis 9:1-11:32); the dispensation of Promise (Genesis 12:1-Exodus 19:25); the dispensation of Law (Exodus 20:1-Acts 2:4); the dispensation of Grace/The Church (Acts 2:4-Revelation 20:3); and the dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).
It was Scofield’s “dispensationalism” that prolifically introduced the evangelical world to the ideas that God isn’t finished with the nation of Israel and that one day Jesus will visibly return to walk this earth again and establish His millennial reign wherein He will reign over the earth for 1,000 years from His throne in Jerusalem. The latter teaching is known as premillennialism. Also, as part of Scofield’s whole approach to prophecy, his reference Bible included J.N. Darby’s teaching concerning the pre-tribulation Rapture of the church.
Nowadays, teachings such as dispensationalism, the premillennial return of Jesus, and the pre-tribulation Rapture of the church are commonplace, having been made well known by noted Bible teachers such as Harry Ironside, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, J. Vernon McGee, Tim Lahaye, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, Jimmy Deyoung, and a whole host of others. But make no mistake, it was the Scofield Reference Bible that established that entire line of interpretation as solid and reputable and set the stage for such best-selling books as Hal Lindsay’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and the entire Left Behind series.
I myself teach the dispensational/premillennial/pre-tribulation Rapture line of interpretation, and while I agree with many others that C.I. Scofield’s “gap theory” take on Genesis chapter 1 isn’t correct, I can still appreciate the man’s work and how it changed the landscape of American theology. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Scofield Reference Bible invented the modern-day “study Bible” and in so doing paved the way for the vast assortment of such Bibles that are on the market today. So, if you have any kind of study Bible on your shelf, you owe a debt of gratitude to C.I. Scofield. Needless to say, he poured countless hours of work and study into producing his Bible, and just as needless to say, God rewarded his efforts in monumental ways the waves of which continue to roll today.