In the history of evangelical Protestant thought in America, few publications have been more influential, or more seminal, than The Scofield Reference Bible (first published in 1909, and thoroughly revised by the original author for publication in 1917). The Rev. Dr. C. I . Scofield labored for years to produce this annotated and cross-referenced edition of the King James Version Bible, in order to explicate for interested Christian believers an approach to understanding the deeper meaning of the Scriptures.
The “Dispensational” interpretation that the Scofield Bible presents – the doctrine that the relations between God and human beings have undergone changes through time, from the “Dispensation of Innocence” that characterized the life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the “Kingdom Age” that will begin with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth – has been of immense significance. Millions of Christians in the United States have derived their understanding of their faith from this approach to the Bible. It has formed the basis of Biblical instruction in places such as Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, as well as the Philadelphia College of Bible, where Dr. Scofield taught in his final years.
This branch of Christian thought has also found expression in popular publications such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series of futuristic novels.
No student of the history of Christianity in America can afford to neglect the importance of the Scofield Bible. But its influence has ranged far beyond the confines of conservative evangelical thought.
Before Dr. Scofield produced his Bible, the usual ways in which the Christian Bible was presented were either an unadorned text or a text with marginal references from one part of Scripture to another (“cross references”). Dr. Scofield added two elements that greatly expanded the options for biblical exposition. The first was a system of “chain references,” following great Biblical themes such as “Grace” through the Biblical text, linking them verse by verse and adding an explicatory note at a particularly important place. The second was a thorough set of introductions to each biblical book and page-by-page explanatory notes that helped the reader along with information at the exact place where it was most needed: while reading the text itself.
This format has been followed by increasing numbers of Bible publishers, who have expanded the “study Bible” format to reach many readers outside the orbit of the Scofield Bible itself. It has become one of the most prevalent and familiar forms in which Bibles are published today, used not only in churches or religious study groups, but in secular classrooms and by general readers of varying religious persuasion, or of no religion at all.
Featured image credit: Vitrail de la cathédrale américaine de la Sainte-Trinité de Paris, by GO69. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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