Publication of Scofield Reference Bible
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Founder
Cyrus Scofield
Time Period
1909
Description
The Scofield Reference Bible, conceived in the Bible conference movement of the late 19th century by C.I. Scofield, popularized premillennial dispensationalism, a theological development suggesting that the world would inevitably spiral downward into sin and decay prior to the return of Christ. The book was a tremendous success, selling more than two million copies by the end of World War II.

The Scofield Reference Bible had major consequences for American religion, society, and foreign policy. First, it attempted to harmonize modern geological discoveries with the Bible, specifically the first two passages in Genesis. Second, premillennial thinking undergirded Cold War fears that the Soviet Union would attempt to crush the true faith and eventually lead to a literal, nuclear Armageddon. And third, it helped promote the Zionist movement, as dispensationalists believed that God's promises of land to the Jews remained valid in the present.
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Narrative
The Scofield Reference Bible took form as its author, C.I. Scofield, participated in the Bible conference movement of the late 19th century. At conferences like the annual Niagara Bible Conference, speakers would preach on victorious Christian living as well as the subject of biblical prophecy. In particular, these conferences were breeding grounds for premillennial dispensationalism, a theology which had transatlantic roots from earlier in the century, but which began to find an increasing number of adherents through the Bible conferences.

In short, dispensationalists divided up Biblical history into seven different "dispensations," or unique ways in which God dealt with His people. For instance, traditional dispensationalists would say that God saved people differently during the Old Testament dispensations of law, through a combination of faith and human obedience, than in the new dispensation under Christ, when salvation was by faith alone. Whereas Protestant and Catholic theologians alike had emphasized continuity between Old and New Testaments, the dispensationalists saw a gulf between Old Testament Israel and New Testament church.

Premillennialism also flourished at these conferences. In contrast to the then predominant eschatology called postmillennialism -- which stipulated that the kingdom of God and Christian ethics would eventually expand over all the world prior to Christ's return--premillennialists believed that the world would inevitably spiral downward into sin and decay; at society's nadir, Christ would return and set things right. The Scofield Bible taught, and millions believed, that Christ would "Rapture" believers from the earth before the terrible Battle of Armageddon at the end of history (followed by a Millennium of peace and prosperity). Premillennialism encouraged its practitioners to watch for signs of Christ's return, making close study of the Bible vital, especially the biblical prophecies in books like Daniel and Revelation.

At one of these Bible conferences, Scofield's friend Arno Gaebelein encouraged him to create a Reference Bible that would make it easier for laypeople to do inductive Bible study for themselves. Scofield's Reference Bible would have copious footnotes on every page, helping his readers identify the different dispensations and search for prophetical fulfillments. The book was a tremendous success, selling more than two million copies by the end of World War II. It benefitted from the cultural and religious turn that followed the death and devastation wrought by both sides during World War I in the name of God. The social optimism of postmillennialism seemed naive to many Americans once the gunsmoke cleared. Industrial slaughter seemed more in keeping with premillennialist pessimism.

Scofield's popularization of premillennial dispensationalism had consequences for American foreign policy. Premillennial thinking undergirded Cold War fears that the Soviet Union would attempt to crush the true faith and bring about a chain of events leading to a literal, nuclear Armageddon. And unlike other theological traditions which believed that the New Testament church replaced Old Testament Israel as God's chosen people, dispensationalists believed that God's promises of land to the Jews remained valid in the present. Dispensationalists strongly supported the Zionist movement with food donations and even money for guns, seeing the return of the Jews to their historic homeland in 1948 as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

Scofield's notes also popularized the Gap Theory of creation, an idea that attempted to harmonize modern geological discoveries with the Bible by proposing a long, indeterminate period between verses one and two of Genesis chapter one. Thanks to Scofield, the Gap Theory, with its conveniently old earth but young human species, predominated among American evangelicals for the first half of the 20th century before being gradually replaced by young earth creationism.
Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Independent Fundamentalist Family
Independent Fundamentalist Family: Other ARDA Links

Biographies
Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson
Photographs

Scofield Reference Bible, title page- Hathi Trust

Cyrus Scofield portrait- Internet Archive- from In Many Pulpits with Dr. C. I. Scofield

Arno Gaebelein portrait- Wikimedia Commons
Book/Journal Source(s)
Larson, Timothy and David Bebbington and Mark Noll, 2003. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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