Scofield Study Bible
-partly from an audio address by L.S. Chafer (founder of Dallas Seminary) to students and faculty in the late 1940's
Millions have benefited from the Scofield Study Bible. Its notes have led them into an understanding of scripture which eluded many. This blog will be a look at how the founder of Dallas Seminary viewed Mr. Scofield's work.
Dr. Scofield lived in Dallas and ministered for many years in the area, from which he wrote his Correspondence courses. From these came the inspiration for that which became the Scofield Study Bible notes. The desire was to have the "helps" on the very pages of the Bible where needed most. To complete this project he went to Switzerland with his secretary and family for two years, in which time the Lord provided wonderfully for the expenses, helping confirm to him that this was the will of God.
Chafer himself said of the notes that "the Scofield Bible is one of God's most precious gifts to the church in these last days."
Upon his return to the states, the question became where to get it published. A friend suggested the Oxford University Press, at which Scofield hesitated knowing their conservative position, not having printed anything related to a Bible except the AV and English RV. As he presented his manuscript to them, it is important to note that there were 21 deans at Oxford, who had to unanimously decide if Oxford Press would print it or not.
The common (false) criticism is/was that there is no scholarship behind the Scofield Bible, and these 21 men were decidedly not lacking scholarship nor conservatism, so this was a large step for these men to consider. After consideration they came together for a vote, at which 3 of the 21 were out of the country. Of the remainder, acceptance of the notes for publication were unanimous except for one dissenter whose objection was that their custom & tradition was that they didn't publish such things. Seeing he was alone he joined the rest and making it unanimous. They broke with tradition and decided to publish it. A century later millions of Scofield Bibles have been published worldwide in many languages including French, Portugese, Spanish, German, Russian, Swahili, Italian, with others being requested and in progress. Today his notes are in the public domain.
Upon acceptance of printing, financing was the next barrier. God raised up many faithful men who provided the funds, and their generosity allowed the publication to proceed.
Immediate reaction to the Scofield Study Bible was mixed. Yet Chafer would later ask his seminary students repeatedly to appreciate what it represented, saying "I want you to defend it...it is my privilege as a personal committment to Dr. Scofield to defend his work and carry on its testimony...don't ever be a critic of a thing so wonderful as the Scofield Bible."
He would go on to state that obviously there were places he might change a definition here and there, but refused to be a critic. He deemed it such a great blessing to the church, and told frequently how many lives have been changed and helped thereby.
Chafer was with Scofield when the first copies came to him off the press, having received an advance shipment of 12 volumes, at a conference in Florida. In a hotel room the box was opened, and Scofield inscribed the first one to Chafer as a gift. Turning to him, Scofield said "Lewis, I am detached from that, I don't know where it came from, it didn't come from me." This was his way of stating that he felt it was the work of someone other than himself, in humility.
Chafer said Scofield was the greatest Christian he ever knew, being so balanced in his thinking and teaching, and called him the incomparable teacher of that generation. He was troubled by those who felt there was no scholarship behind the Scofield Bible. In the title pages, the co-editors were listed and they were men of ability and scholarship. In truth such arguments were without merit.
Objections to the Scofield Bible include the charge of antinomianism. This was because it was deemed to reject the moral law of the Old Testament (Law of Moses) as the standard of living for believers today. This is a true charge, that believers are not under the law principle, but that conversation is outside the scope of this article. Its premillennial views also made believers hope in a coming Christ rather than in a victorious church in the present age, and this was deemed to be "bad for society". Whether the doctrine of a church triumphant is scriptural in this present age, is easily disproved from the New Testament itself.
Much of these were and remain today under the category of ad hominem attacks, especially those done towards Scofield's character, whose early life was not exemplary, yet once converted he grew in grace, and God used him mightily.
Others would state that a particular section of the notes (that were perhaps poorly worded) suggested there were two ways of salvation being taught, law in the Old Testament and grace in the New. This would prove baseless when answered in many ways, because many of the progenitors of this argument would be found to have favorite theologians of their own using such language that could be similarly misconstrued. The 1967 revision would address this technicality and clarify matters. Yet the false charge is still propagated. Opponents stick to their guns even when shown otherwise. This is nothing new in theological banter.
Yet millions love and appreciate this Study Bible, and why is that? Because no other Bible provides the clarity and consistency of comments that help the reader to understand God's revelation to humans in the broadest sense. It also takes the most literal, consistent approach to Bible study, called today the literal, grammatical, historical approach. Dispensationalism is the modern term for this method to bible interpretation, and Scofield's name often comes up in such converstations, as his notes are a standard for dispensational thinking.
How it was/is helpful to the student, is that this Study Bible was the first since the Geneva Bible to have helpful notes alongside the text instead of in a separate volume(s). Its cross reference system allowed the student to trace doctrines and ideas throughout scripture. Each book of the Bible had an introduction. Summarized doctrines and helpful definitions, along with excellent indexes were a boon to its usefulness. Many a reader, when studying scripture and finding difficulty tying things together, found in the Scofield notes a most helpful unity of the Bible, and to them the word of God came alive in power and sense. This testimony alone is reason to thank God for an imperfect, yet very helpful gift to the church, as Chafer himself insisted it was.
It was published first in 1909 and then revised by Scofield in 1917. A later revision came in 1967 with small changes to the AV text, to replace archaic words. There have been further revisions but the gist of the Scofield Bible has fortunately been kept intact for the present generation's benefit.
In recent years there has been an unfortunate explosion in popular "Study Bibles" of mostly inferior quality, that take away from the original goal of Scofield which was to reveal the truths of God in the text of the Bible as God revealed them, and to guide the reader that direction. Such modern study Bibles seem a distraction from the text instead of engaging the reader into the text, and cast a real concern upon the value of using "study bibles" in general today. Many of the modern versions of study bibles are more topical, human centric, and these are regrettable developments. Notable among the few helpful exceptions to this trend is Ryrie's Study Bible.
Recommendation: If you can get a Scofield Study Bible (NKJV or KJV), do so. It will help you spiritually to grasp the scriptures. Get the 1917 version of course, and then the 1967 if you can. More modern is the Scofield Study Bible III (NKJV).
Eventually the student will no longer refer much to those notes (and that is the goal), but will have been helped in the best way possible, --- meaning helped in getting into the text of scripture, grasping its coherent wholeness while rightly dividing the differences therein. Christ will be magnified and the reader blessed. We agree with Chafer's assessment.
Just a tool, yes, but one of the greatest gifts to the body of Christ of its genre.