Question: "What is the Scofield Reference Bible?"

Answer: The Scofield Reference Bible is an influential study Bible with notes written by Cyrus I. Scofield, a Civil War veteran, U.S. state attorney, Kansas legislator, and Congregational preacher. The Scofield Reference Bible was the first of its kind—an annotated Bible designed to aid the reader in understanding the text. The Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909, was immensely popular among conservative Protestants in the twentieth century and is still in print today and available in eight languages. Today it is called the Scofield Study Bible.

Scofield’s purpose in writing the Scofield Reference Bible was to help new readers of Scripture understand what the text was saying. Scofield included a summary of the whole Bible, wrote a simple introduction to each book, and traced key subjects through the Bible with cross references. Paragraph headings were introduced as well. In 1917 the Scofield Reference Bible was revised; the publisher, Oxford University Press, sold it as the New and Improved Edition. The updates in the Scofield Reference Bible included an essay, “A Panoramic View of the Bible”; and a chronology based on the works of James Ussher: dates were added to the center column of each page, and the introduction to each book was expanded to include the dating of events.

Scofield died in 1921, but the Scofield Reference Bible lived on. In 1967 an eight-member committee revised the notes, updating some archaic wording and adding about 700 new footnotes and 15,000 cross references. The 1967 edition is now called the New Scofield Study Bible (or the Scofield Study Bible III). The 1917 edition is referred to as the Old Scofield Study Bible. The New Scofield Study Bible is available in four versions: the KJV, the NKJV, the NIV, and the NASB.

Scofield intended his notes in the Scofield Reference Bible to be informative, not polemic or controversial. He wanted to explain the text rather than provide commentary on it. In the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible, Scofield included a preface that listed eleven distinctive features of his work. Among those features were 1) “a chain of references . . . for each important Biblical concept, starting from its first appearance in the Biblical story and continuing to each important link in succession until a final summary is reached”; 2) “Helps . . . covering such things as weights and measures, dates, explanations of names, and the like”; 3) “Analytical summaries of the whole teaching of Scripture on that subject, thus guarding the reader against hasty generalizations from a few passages or proof texts”; 4) Twenty-seven “great words of Scripture . . . defined in simple, non-technical terms” (“Introduction to the First Edition,” 1909, p. iii).

The Scofield Reference Bible is also noted for its dispensational approach, its promotion of the gap theory, and its non-allegorical interpretation of prophecy. Scofield defined a dispensation as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God” (note on Genesis 1:28). Taken together, the dispensations exhibit “the majestic, progressive order of the divine dealings of God with humanity, ‘the increasing purpose’ which runs through and links together the ages, from the beginning of the life of man to the end in eternity” (from the Introduction).

The Scofield Reference Bible is consistently Christological in its emphasis. The notes present Jesus Christ as the theme of the whole revelation of God: the Old Testament is the Preparation for Christ; the Gospels are the Manifestation of Christ; the book of Acts is the Propagation of Christ; the Epistles are the Explanation of Christ; and the Apocalypse is the Consummation of Christ.

The Scofield Reference Bible contains much valuable information for the student of Scripture who wants a dispensational, pre-millennial perspective. The Scofield Reference Bible represents an eloquent attempt to present the Bible as a unified revelation of God: “No particular portion of Scripture is to be intelligently comprehended apart from some conception of its place in the whole” (from the Introduction).