Origins of the Scofield Bible

The Scofield Reference Bible has proven to be an immeasurable aid in guiding generations of serious Christians into a greater understanding of God’s Word. Within 30 years of its issuance, Oxford University Press reported that 1,925,000 copies had been published. In our own day, the Scofield Bible remains one of the most popular Reference Study Bibles available.

Who was C. I. Scofield? And how did this Study Bible originate?

Cyrus Ingerson Scofield was born August 19, 1843. During the Civil War he served with distinction as a Confederate soldier, earning the Confederate Cross of Honor. After the war, he studied law in St. Louis, MO, and was later admitted to the Kansas bar.

In 1873, he was appointed the United States Attorney for Kansas by President Grant. He was converted in 1879 through the efforts of a YMCA worker named Thomas McPheeters. Not long after his conversion, he made the acquaintance of James H. Brookes. Brookes helped him in his study of the Bible and introduced him to dispensational teaching.

While serving in a Congregational Church in Dallas, TX, Scofield was a popular speaker and in demand at Bible conferences throughout the country. In 1903, he began to work on the Reference Bible. The idea of a Reference Bible had been growing in his mind for some time; he was already busy writing a Bible study course. In 1902, he had received encouragement in this work from Arno C. Gaebelein, and later from three men who organized the Sea Cliff Bible Conference in Sea Cliff, NY–Alwyn Ball, Jr., John T. Pirie, and Francis E. Fitch. All three of these men fellowshipped at so-called “Brethren assemblies” in the New York City area.

Francis Fitch had a printing establishment that printed the New York Stock Exchange lists, and he acted as publisher of the Scofield Bible Course in its first years.

John Pirie was a partner in Chicago’s large department store, Carson, Pirie, and Scott.

Alwyn Ball, Jr., a successful real estate broker, was a partner in the New York firm of Southhack and Ball.

From 1901 to 1906, Bible conferences were held on Pirie Green, also called “Reservoir Park” because the water tower was located there. John Pirie, who owned the water company, erected a tent for the conferences, which seated 600 people. Later the conference grew to attract 5,000 people. Some early speakers were Richard Hill, John Hill, Arno Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield and William Isaac, in whose home the Sea Cliff assembly began.

At one of these conferences, C. I. Scofield, while walking along the Sea Cliff shoreline with Arno Gaebelein, discussed his desire to produce a reference Bible that would help readers understand the Bible more clearly. To give him time and the facilities for this work, John Pirie and Alwyn Ball financially supported him. Much of the study and final drafts were completed in the home of John Pirie, Greyshingles, in Long Island, NY.

This Bible edition, named the Scofield Reference Bible, was published by the Oxford University Press in 1909, followed by revised editions in 1917 and 1967. This monumental work received worldwide recognition.

The Scofield Reference Bible reflected the dispensational distinctives, prophetic highlights, and New Testament Church truth of those known as “Plymouth Brethren.”

In the first edition in a note explaining the nature of the local church, we read, “A local church is an assembly of professed believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, living for the most part in one locality, who assemble themselves together in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, prayer, testimony, the ministry of the Word, discipline, and the furtherance of the gospel. Such a church exists where two or three are thus gathered. Every such local church has Christ in the midst, is a temple of God, and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When perfected in organization a local church consists of saints, with elders and deacons (Phil. 1:1).”

This appreciation for the “Brethren” was the result of an intimate acquaintance with their writings and an abiding friendship with many of their leading Bible teachers. Mr. Scofield greatly valued the writings of the early Brethren, and had often shared the conference platform with assembly Bible teachers such as Walter Scott, F. C. Jennings, and W. W. Fereday. He fellowshipped between the years 1902-1909 in an assembly in Oxford, England, while researching material for the reference Bible.

One of Scofield’s most valued contributing editors, A. C. Gaebelein, once wrote concerning his appreciation of “Brethren” writers, “I found in Darby’s writings, in the works of William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, F. W. Grant, Bellett and others, soul food I needed. I esteem these men next to the Apostles in their sound and spiritual teaching.”

Mr. Scofield appreciated the editorial help he received from those in assembly fellowship in the United States and Great Britain. The trusted Bible teacher and author, Walter Scott, reviewed many of the notes in the first edition. In the preface of that edition Scofield writes, “The Editor’s acknowledgements are also due to a very wide circle of learned and spiritual brethren in Europe and America to whose labors he is indebted for suggestions of inestimable value…Mr. Walter Scott, the eminent Bible teacher…”

After the issuing of the first edition, Mr. William Isaac, a leading elder and outstanding Bible teacher in the Sea Cliff assembly, expressed concern as to the accuracy of seventeen of Mr. Scofield’s annotations. He graciously submitted them to Mr. Scofield in writing. The second edition of 1917 included the accepted corrections of Mr. Isaac.

When seeking help in the proofreading work of the Reference Bible, Mr. Scofield enlisted the services of one of the best, Miss Emily Farmer. In 1907, Miss Farmer moved from Colchester, England, to the United States and soon distinguished herself as an accurate and able proofreader with the Loizeaux Bros. Publishers in New York, where she remained until 1947. In 1908, she took a short leave from their employ to dedicate time to the Reference Bible. Miss Farmer was used to give editorial assistance in preparing the notes in their final form. She was also greatly used in editing the commentaries of H. A. Ironside. In the foreword of Ironside’s commentary on Isaiah we read these words of praise, “…the excellence of the Scofield Bible today is attributable in no small measure to Miss Farmer’s keen discernment of sound doctrine.”

Scofield visited England twice and spent two years in Switzerland while researching material and seeking technical advice concerning the publication of the Study Bible. One man who would prove to be invaluable in the latter regard was Henry Frowde of London. Frowde fellowshipped all his adult life with those known as “Brethren” and had distinguished himself as an authority in the printing and binding of Bibles.

In 1880, he was appointed Publisher to the Oxford University Press and Clarendon Press. He achieved at Oxford what was once considered impossible–the publication of 1,000,000 New Testaments in one 12-hour period.

While in England, with the encouragement of Alwyn Ball of New York, Mr. Scofield was introduced to Mr. Frowde. After meeting with Frowde, Scofield was advised, “There is only one publishing house which can handle your Reference Bible, and that is the Oxford University Press.” An agreement was reached between Scofield and Oxford University Press, and in January of 1909, the first Reference Bible rolled off the presses.

Since that time, the Scofield Reference Bible has been published in French, Spanish, Swahili, and in numerous other languages. This study help has ably equipped thousands of Christian workers, evangelists, and Sunday school teachers to better understand the Word of God and thereby serve the Lord more effectively.

In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, the Reformed preacher and author James Montgomery Boice writes, “I am delighted to say that the Scofield Bible was a great influence upon my own studies of the Scriptures. Moreover, I have the deepest respect for these Bible teachers. They were steeped in the Bible–far more than most Bible teachers today.”

Only eternity will tell the vast usefulness of this study tool, which has introduced countless numbers into a knowledge of dispensational truth, the prophetic word, and New Testament assembly distinctives.

Arno C. Gaebelein, The History of the Scofield Reference Bible, Living Words Foundation, WA, 1991
Sea Cliff Gospel Chapel 1889-1989, A Century of Proclaiming God’s Word, Sea Cliff, NY, 1989