Understanding The Bible
Cyrus Ingersoll Scofield - Biography


Return to C. I. Scofield

1843 - 1921
(Author: John Hannah 1)

C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) was an American Congregational Presbyterian clergyman, writer, Bible conference speaker, defender of dispensational premillennialism, and editor of the Scofield Reference Bible. He was born on August 19 in Lenawee County, Michigan, the youngest of seven children, to a father that combined farming and lumbering to provide for his family. After his mother died, unable to recover from the birth of her son, his father remarried, so Cyrus was reared by a stepmother. His education, if any, is shrouded in a loss of the records; when he reappears in the historical record it is 1860, he is in Lebanon, Tennessee, in the home of his sister Laura and her husband. Scofield enlisted on May 20, 1861 in the Tennessee Infantry; though a minor, he claimed to be a twenty year old. He fought for the Confederacy on the eastern front at Richmond until he requested release from service in 1862; he claimed to be an alien-having residence in Michigan-and to have falsified his enlistment qualifications.

Scofield next appears in the record in St. Louis in 1865. Another sister, Emeline, had married Sylvester Pappin of a French family prominent in the world's fur market; Pappin was president of the St. Louis Board of Assessors. Scofield found employment in his brother-in-law's work and, advancing among the city's social elite, met Loentine Cerre; they married on September 21, 1866. Sometime later, Scofield, now a lawyer, moved to Atchison, Kansas, where he entered a career in politics and was elected in 1871 as a representative to the lower house of the Kansas legislature. In 1873 he was appointed by President Grant to the office of District Attorney for the District of Kansas; he resigned within six months under suspicion of misuse of his office for personal gain. Loentine gained a legal separation from her husband in 1877; the marriage dissolved, though the divorce did not become legal for several more years (1883). Scofield returned to St. Louis leaving behind his children. He appears to have sunken into a life of thievery and drunkenness, never to practice law again.

Scofield experienced an evangelical conversion in 1879, apparently through the witness of Thomas McPhetters, who was a member of James Hall Brookes's Walnut Street Presbyterian Church. Brookes, claimed Scofield, was his mentor in the faith. Scofield immediately became active in Christian work assisting in the campaign of Moody in St. Louis, 1879-SO and joined the Pilgrim Congregational Church. He was licensed to preach by the St. Louis Association of the Congregational Church shortly thereafter, then organized and pastored the Hyde Park Congregational church in the city. In addition, he worked under the auspices of the YMCA in East St. Louis. Enormous zeal for Christian work characterized his life from his conversion onward.

In 1882 Scofield accepted a call to a mission church of the denomination in Dallas where he was ordained in 1883. The small work grew rapidly; within the decade, the church reached a membership of four hundred from the fourteen when he first arrived; a larger church was erected in 1889. In 1884 he married a member of his congregation, Hettie Van Wark. In 1886 the Congregationalist D. L. Moody held a crusade, through Scofield's invitation, in the city, with Ira B. Sankey. Scofield became the acting missionary superintendent for his denomination in the Southwest (the American Mission Society of Texas and Louisiana). His church rose out of its former mission status to become vibrantly self-supporting. Scofield's sphere of influence increased rapidly. In 1887 he began to appear regularly in the Bible conferences (such as the Northfield and Niagara conferences), recognized for his teaching abilities. He was asked by his denomination to oversee mission work as far west as Colorado. In 1888, he published the immensely popular Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, an explanation of the dispensational, pretribulational, and pre millennial approach to interpreting the Bible. Further, Scofield directed the Southwestern School of the Bible in Dallas and was president of the board of trustees of the denomination's Lake Charles College in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His endeavors as pastor of the First Congregational Church seem to have been amazing, a witness to his enormous energy. In 1890, he founded the Central American Mission, having been inspired by J. Hudson Taylor the previous year at the Niagara Bible Conference. In the same year he started a self-study Bible program, called the Scofield Bible Correspondence Course (much of the material was placed in the Bible he edited). Further, the healthy growth of his church is evident in that two mission churches were started in the city, Grand Avenue Church and Pilgrim Chapel.

In 1895, Scofield accepted an invitation from D. L. Moody (who held a second campaign in Dallas that year) to the Trinitarian Congregational Church of Northfield, Massachusetts, leaving in Dallas a church that had reached a membership of over eight hundred. In addition to pastoral duties, Scofield presided over the Northfield Bible Training School (he served as president from 1900-1903), which Moody had established in 1890, and regularly attended the major Bible conferences. He witnessed the growing rift in the grand Niagara Bible Conference as the premillenarian assembly became divided over pre- and posttribulationalism, Scofield and A. C. Gaebelein favoring the former, with West and Cameron the latter. Though not the only issue in the demise of Niagara in 1899, it was a major factor. As a result, A. C. Gaebelein, Scofield. John T. Pirie and Alwyn Ball established the Sea Cliff Bible Conference on Long Island. At the conference in 1902, the idea of editing a reference Bible was first discussed, according to Gaebelein; it is there that the basic outline of the work was formulated, with Pine's financial support.

Increasing preoccupation with editing the notes for the Reference Bible and the desire to be in a less hectic environment enticed Scofield to consider a return to his former pastorate in Dallas, where the promised assistant would allow for intense work on the new project. He returned in 1903 through 1909; however, work on the Bible took him away from Dallas after 1905. He apparently finished the initial draft of the notes in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1907, and edited them at his summer home in New Hampshire and in New York City in 1908. The Bible was published by Oxford University Press in 1909 and again with revisions in 1917. Scofield continued as pastor of the Dallas church, but appears to have been present only for periodic annual meetings. In 1908 the church withdrew from the Lone Star Association of the Congregational Church citing the rise of liberalism as the ground. In 1910, Scofield left the denomination also joining the Paris (Texas) Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, USA (a strongly premillen-arian presbytery where Judge Scott was a firm financial supporter of Scofield's). Formally resigning from the church in 1909, he was granted the status of pastor emeritus from 1910-21. In 1923, the church was named in his honor, the Scofield Memorial Church during Chafer's pastorate.

After the publication of the Reference Bible in 1909. Scofield became evermore popular in the evangelical world. From his residence near New York City, he established the New York School of the Bible, which was more of a coordinating center than a school. From that office the Bible correspondence course was sent out and graded and Bible conferences and institutes were organized throughout the country. Scofield was asked by Oxford University Press to prepare another edition of the Bible, the Tercentenary Edition of 1911, later to revise the 1909 Reference Bible for republication in 1917. In 1914, Scofield, with William Pettingill and Chafer, established the Philadelphia School of the Bible; Scofield served as its president, though Pettingill oversaw the school's daily operations until failing health necessitated his resignation in 1918. In 1915, Scofield and several residents of Douglaston organized the Community Church; Scofield agreed to do the regular preaching. He continued to write extensively for Charles Trumbull's Sunday School Times. Notices of Scofield’s declining health became a recurrent theme in the publications of the Central American Bulletin, the mission's journal after 1910; he resigned from the executive council of the mission in 1919. He died at his Douglaston residence on July, 24 1921; Hettie died there in 1923.

The contribution of C. I. Scofield to the development of the evangelical fundamentalist movement in the twentieth century has been enormous, particularly as it relates to premillennial dispensationalism. This can readily be demonstrated in several ways.

1. Scofield was profoundly influential in the development of the Bible conference movement (It must be understood that the appeal of this movement was to a popular audience, not the learned scholarly community. The vast majority of the voluminous literary output of this movement aimed at the nonprofessional). He was a regular speaker at the Niagara conferences in the l880s and 1890s, as well as the Northfield conferences after 1887. Possessing the communicative skills to clearly and effectively teach the Bible, Scofield was significant in the ongoing of these conferences, as well as the important Sea Cliff conferences. Out of these conferences, a network developed of friendships with such leaders as Gaebelein, Brooks, lames Martin Gray, W. H. Griffith Thomas, Chafer, and numerous others who cooperated in a wide variety of evangelical enterprises from conferences to missionary agencies to Bible institutes. Scofield influenced a younger generation of leaders, such as Chafer, to carry forth the Bible conference tradition.

2. Scofield was a major influence in the institutionalization of the Bible conference movement through educational institutions and missionary agencies. He was centrally prominent in the creation of several schools, beginning with the Southwestern School of the Bible during his first Dallas pastorate, then presiding over the Northfield Bible Training School, founding the New York School of the Bible, and, finally, establishing the Philadelphia School of the Bible (Philadelphia College of Bible, now Philadelphia Biblical University). In the field of missionary endeavor, he founded the Central American Mission and presided over its direction for nearly thirty years.

3. Scofield was a persistent contributor to the massive literary production of the evangelical fundamentalist movement, particu1arly the dispensational and premillennial wing of it. What began as regular installments of Bible expositions in The Believer, a publication through the Dallas church in 1890, became the extremely popular Scofield Bible Correspondence Course and Bible leaflets. They sold in the thousands, providing self- study training for many pastors and Christian workers. The Dallas and the New York schools were correspondence centers, not resident schools. Along with the self-study course were numerous other publications that flowed from conference and pulpit addresses. These include such doctrinal works as Plain Papers on the Holy Spirit (1899). No Room in the Inn and Other Interpretations (1913), New Life in Jesus Christ (1915), Where Faith Sees Christ (1916), Dr C. I. Scofield's Question Box (1917) and In Many Pulpits with Dr C. I Scofield (1920); expositional works such as The Epistle to the Galatians (1903); and eschatological works such as The World's Approaching Crisis (1913), Addresses on Prophecy (1914, messages that came out of the prophetic conference held at Moody Bible Institute), Will the Church Pass Through the Tribulation? (1917), What Do the Prophets Say? (1918), and Things Old and New (1922, a compilation by Gaebelein). Two other publications require particular note because of their wide influence in shaping the dispensational premillennial tradition. In 1888, Scofield wrote Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, which attempted in pamphlet form to practically explain the dispensational, pretribulational, premillennial interpretation of the Bible. The hallmark of his literary production was the now-famous Scofield Reference Bible published in 1909 and revised in 1917- The Reference Bible is widely recognized as the most important literary production of the Bible conference/institute movement. Scofield, by editing the text of the Bible with carefully placed notes, articulated the dispensational understanding of Scripture for the lay audience as never before accomplished. Generations of laity and pastors in the dispensational tradition learned the essence of the system from a careful study of the Scofield notes.

4. While Scofield was an advocate of a particular tradition, which he did much to create, he was an orthodox Presbyterian cleric who defended traditional orthodox interpretations of the Christian faith. He correctly commented to his longtime friend and colleague William Pettingill that eschatology, a doctrine that occupied so much of his time and interests, was not nearly so crucial as the central indisputable core of Christian truth that encompasses the doctrines of sin, Christ, and grace in redemption. In this sentiment Scofield stands in the continuum of the historic faith of the church universal. It is difficult to determine if Scofield was a fundamentalist since the movement did not coalesce definitely until the l920s. He did not participate in the formation of the World Christian Fundamental Association in 1918 due to declining health. While it is not likely he would have embraced the more strident forms that fundamentalism later took, since he had quite a noncombative, irenic demeanor, he clearly was the ideological and practical source of many of its distinctive teachings.

5. Scofield had the ability, through his clear expositions of the Bible and personal charm, to inspire subsequent generations to continue the spirit of the Bible conference tradition within evangelical Christianity. The clearest example of his impact, perhaps, can be seen in his influence on Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, tough it was certainly not limited to him. Having met Scofield for the first time at the Northfield Training School in 1901. Chafer was marked for life: "Until that time I had never heard a real Bible teacher.... It was a crisis for me. I was changed for life?" What ensued was the closest relationship in which Scofield became Chafer's father figure. Writing shortly after Scofield's death, Chafer commented, "For twenty years, I have enjoyed the closest heart-fellowship with him, and the incalculable benefit of his personal counsel?" The fruit of that mentoring relationship was the founding of Dallas Seminary as the fulfillment of a dream of Scofield's.

To Noel, Scofield's son, Chafer wrote, "You will be interested to know that the school, for which your father prayed and hoped for so many years for Dallas is going to be located here." Chafer's Systematic Theology (1948) was the culmination of Scofield’s tutelage. The continued attraction of dispensational premillennialism, at least in part, has a root in the ability of leaders like Scofield, and later Chafer, to inspire a devoted following; in this, Scofield had a huge contribution to the movement.

C. I. Scofield Writings available on this site:
1. The Purpose of God in This Age (Part II)
2. The Church Age

 (1) (John Hannah)
(From The Dictionary of Premillenial Theology, edited by Mal Couch.)


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