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C. I. Scofield by William E. Cox

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Dispensationalism

The father of dispensationalism, Darby, as well as his teachings, probably would be unheard of today were it not for his devoted follower, Scofield. The writer became increasingly aware of this fact as he did research for this book. Darby’s books are gathering dust on the shelves of the comparatively few libraries stocking them. Information concerning him is scarce indeed.

Darby was a prolific writer, and also spent much time lecturing in different countries. Scofield came to know him and became enamored by his teachings. These two men had at least two things in common – both had practiced law, and both had untiring energy in advancing their beliefs. Scofield wrote many books, founded what is now called the Philadelphia College of the Bible, and, in 1909, published his Scofield Reference Bible. All these efforts inculcated the Plymouth Brethren teachings learned from Darby.

Cyrus Ingerson Scofield lived from August 19, 1843, until July 24, 1921. He was born in Michigan, but his family soon moved to Tennessee. While serving as a private in the Confederate Army, during the Civil War, he was decorated. Upon being discharged from the Army he took up law. He also entered politics and was appointed U. S. Attorney to Kansas by President Grant. During this period of his life he became a heavy drinker.

Scofield was converted in 1879, and three years later was ordained a Congregational minister. With no formal theological training he wrote his reference Bible. Except for this work, it is doubtful whether this man’s name would be remembered any more than would Darby’s. Taking the King James Bible and adding his own Notes to it, he assured himself a place in the memory of all who read that version of the Bible. This was in violation of the policy of all well known Bible societies, whose rules have been: ‘Without Note or Comment.’ Certainly Scofield was ignoring John the Revelator’s warning about adding or taking from his prophecy (Rev 22:19), for he did not hesitate to pry apart John’s verses and intersperse his own ideas between the sentences of John. This he did throughout the Bible, and, in the minds of many unwary people, Scofield’s ideas are equated with the Word of God itself.

Had Scofield put his Notes in separate books rather than inserting them inside the Bible itself, there seems to be little doubt that his books would have joined those of Darby’s in gathering dust and not being reprinted. The best evidence of this fact lies in the great dearth of information about the man himself in our libraries today, while his reference Bible is a household word. Only his being associated with Paul and Peter, through his audacity in placing his personal ideas on the same sacred pages as theirs, has kept his name alive. And in the minds of some of Scofield’s devoted followers, to differ from him is tantamount to differing from Paul or Peter! The following quotation bears mute testimony:

One young minister I know, pastor of a large church, has been driven almost frantic by constant persecution day in and day out. He is an able, orthodox preacher with a distinctly prophetic note in his teaching. Because he does not preach dispensationalism, his congregation will acknowledge no good in him. He has repeatedly been driven to the point of resigning and taking another church, but feels it his duty to save this church for the Christian faith (W. D. Chamberlain, The Church Faces the Isms, pp.106,107).

The Scofield Bible has done good at points where it has dealt with the cardinal doctrines of historic Christianity. Scofield was a conservative Bible believer, and brought his Notes into existence at a time when the Bible was being attacked on many sides by the so-called higher critics and other liberal theologians. Scofield’s defense of the major doctrines of the Bible called forth a renewed interest in Bible study at a time when such a challenge was sorely needed. Followers of Scofield also manifest a respect for the authority of Scripture that is sorely lacking in many Christian circles today.

It must be stated, however, that the Scofield Bible contains many teachings which are at variance with historic teachings of the Christian church. Many have questioned whether the good done by this man is not overshadowed by these new and dangerous theories.

An advanced Bible student might read the Scofield Reference Bible critically and get some good points from it, and at the same time avoid its erroneous doctrines. However, in the hands of a novice or young convert, this can be a dangerous book. Not least among these dangers is the superior attitude it implants in the minds of its readers. No doctrine of the Bible presents the least problem to these Bible ‘experts.’ Nor do they need any further study – all they need is contained in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible.

…These good people do not lack faith and zeal, but they sadly lack knowledge; and the tragedy of the situation lies just here, that this is the very thing they think they have obtained from the Scofield Bible! They are apt to say in their hearts, and not infrequently with their lips: ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers – because I have a Scofield Bible’ (Albertus Pieters, A Candid Examination of the Scofield Bible, p.5).
From a position of entire ignorance of the Scriptures to a position of oracular religious certainty – especially respecting eschatological matters – for some people requires from three to six months with a Scofield Bible (T. T. Shields, The Gospel Witness for April 7, 1932).

I readily recognize that the Scofield Bible is very popular with novices, that is, those newly come to the faith, and also with many of longer Christian experience who are but superficial students of Scripture. Ready made clothes are everywhere popular with people of average size … On the same principle, ready made religious ideas will always’be popular, especially with those indisposed to the exertion of fitting their religious conceptions to an ever increasing scriptural knowledge. That common human disposition very largely explains the popularity of the Scofield Bible (ibid.).

In the field of Systematic Theology he is good, for there he utilizes the fruits of the standard Protestant and Calvinistic thinking; but in general Bible knowledge he makes many mistakes, and in his eschatology he goes far astray from anything the church has ever believed. Undoubtedly this oracular and authoritative manner has been effective, but it is not to be excused for that reason. It seems like a harsh judgment, but in the interest of truth it must be uttered: Dr. Scofield in this was acting the part of an intellectual charlatan, a fraud who pretends to knowledge which he does not possess; like a quack doctor, who is ready with a confident diagnosis in many cases where a competent physician is unable to decide (Pieters, op. cit.).

Scofield’s worst critics are men who have come out of his camp, and who remain true to the Bible as the infallible Word of God. A list of these men would include such outstanding men as Mauro, Gordon, G. Campbell Morgan, and Harry Rimmer. Paul B. Fischer, himself a graduate of Wheaton, wrote a pamphlet entitled Ultra Dispensationalism is Modernism. Fischer attacks dispensationalism as being a twin to liberalism on two points: (1) the deity of Christ, and (2) the disunity of the Bible.

In 1954 a committee of nine men headed by E. Schuyler English was formed to revise the Scofield Bible. They hope to finish their work by 1963.

A great need exists for the followers of C. I. Scofield to consider objectively the fact that so many earnest, conservative students of the Bible have left his school of theological thought. These sincere Christians need to become concerned over the divisions caused among conservative men of God by the footnotes and other personal insertions Dr. Scofield added to the King James Version of the Holy Bible. It would be well for these folk to realize that any sincere man, including Scofield, can be sincerely wrong.

It is well to keep in mind, too, that we conservatives are not divided over the Bible; we are divided, rather, over the personal explanations which a man took the liberty of inserting alongside the inspired writings of the Bible. The gist of the entire controversy at this point, it seems to me, lies in the fact that many of Scofield’s most devoted disciples equate his Notes with the inspired words of the writers of the New Testament. The difficulty arises when they attempt to force this equation upon the minds and hearts of others.

We will continue to have tensions until this man is recognized as an extracanonical writer and his ideas are brought into the theological arena, where his good points may be accepted gratefully while his mistaken ideas may be discarded without fear of reprisal.

Having once been a devoted disciple of Scofield, this writer knows the difficulty of becoming objective after years of being subjective to, and captivated by, his great legal mind.

Scofield was, no doubt, an outstanding man. He was, however, only a man; and neither he nor his footnotes were infallible.