The Bible Without Comment
By William E. Cox
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar (Prov. 30:5,6).
Most Protestants, certainly all evangelicals, accept the Scriptures as an all sufficient guide in matters of practice and doctrine. It is at this point, in fact, that Protestants differ most from the Roman Catholic religion. Whereas Protestants accept only the Scriptures as authoritative, the Roman Catholic Church accepts the Scriptures plus tradition.
It is also axiomatic that Protestants have always refused to have any extra canonical writings inserted in the Bible itself. They consider the canon as having closed the revealed Scriptures. John, in the Revelation (22:18,19), was inspired to speak with authority and finality when he said dire consequences would attend any additions to or subtractions from the inspired text.
Although many Protestant groups gain much help from extrabiblical writings, such as the Didache, Apostles Creed, etc., these have never been permitted by evangelicals to be equated with sacred Scriptures; and they would never be permitted insertion within the Word of God. Roman Catholics have drawn much criticism from evangelicals because of their presumption in adding apocryphal writings to canonized Scriptures. The Jews have been thought equally presumptions in equating their Talmud with the Word of God.
One of the paramount contributions of the Protestant Reformation was the return to the Scriptures as the Christian's final earthly authority. The Reformers rebelled against all extra-biblical teachings as binding upon Christians. Many Protestants have even expressed regret that the name of King James was associated with the Protestant translation, even though this has never been looked on as a part of the Bible itself. The Protestant philosophy has always been - as stated by such outstanding translators as the British and Foreign Bible Society and the American Bible Society - 'Without Note or Comment.'
Knowing all the above to be true, the writer had a startling dream recently. He dreamed that Harry Emerson Fosdick had gathered up all of his own private notes which he had jotted down while studying the Bible, and had sent these notes to a publisher with instructions to incorporate them into a printing of the Holy Bible. Fosdick had carefully instructed the publisher as to where each of these private notes was to be inserted. Some of them were to appear as footnotes, some as marginal references, some as chapter headings, and in some cases Fosdick had even pried apart some verses of Scriptures in order to insert his own interpretation between them. And when this 'Bible' came off the press, according to the dream, it did not carry the title Holy Bible, but was called the Fosdick Reference Bible.
Needless to say, the publication of the Fosdick Reference Bible caused a furor in nearly all Protestant circles. The Fundamentalist Paper, Knife of the Spirit, carried an editorial under the following caption: 'Liberal Minister Tampers With Word of God.' The editor went on to point out how we were to be guardians of the faith once delivered to the saints, how that God would remove from the Book of Life the name of any person who added to or took from the inspired text. He further elucidated our great Protestant heritage, pointing up the fact that it was through bloodshed the Reformers won back our New Testament heritage, which had been transgressed by Catholic and Jew alike. He called upon all those who love the Lord to raise their voices in protest against this great apostasy.
An incredible dream? Indeed. Yet, how similar is the dream to the actual happening during the early part of the twentieth century. Many who cherish the Bible as the infallible Word of God go all out to perpetuate the teachings of the Scofield Reference Bible. Does the fact that Scofield was conservative in his theology change the picture when his name is substituted in the dream for that of Harry Emerson Fosdick? Was Scofield exempt from the scriptural warning in Revelation 22:18,19? Here is a man, whose ideas probably otherwise would be virtually unknown today, who has made himself a legend and guaranteed himself a hearing by inserting his private opinions within the Bible itself, thereby causing them to be read as a part of the Word of God. Many know the Scofield Bible, in fact, better than they know the Holy Bible!
Scofield's footnotes and his systematized schemes of hermeneutics have been memorized by many as religiously as have verses of the Bible. It is not at all uncommon to hear devout men recite these footnotes prefaced by the words, 'The Bible says...' Many a pastor has lost all influence with members of his congregation and has been branded a liberal for no other reason than failure to concur in all the footnotes of Dr. Scofield. Even many ministers use the teachings of Scofield as tests of orthodoxy! Charles G. Trumbull, late editor of the Sunday School Times, spoke of the Scofield Bible in the following terms, in his book, The Life Story of C.I. Scofield: 'God-planned, God-guided, God-energized work' (p.114).
Albertus Pieters has this to say concerning the Scofield Bible, in his pamphlet entitled, A Candid Examination of the Scofield Bible:
Through its influence there have arisen here and there 'tabernacles' and 'undenominational churches,' composed of people no longer at home in the established orthodox denominations, because they do not get there the sort of teachings they find in the Scofield Bible. In many other churches, where this development has not yet reached the point of separation, the presence of Sunday-school teachers and others who consider themselves illuminated by the Scofield Bible beyond their pastors, form a troublesome element. Periodicals like the 'Sunday School Times' and the 'Moody Bible Institute Monthly' frequently refer to it, and always with an air of having spoken the final word, if they can quote a passage from it to support their views (pp.4,5).
Who is this man who has had such a great influence upon the theological thinking of our generation? Biographical material concerning him is sparse indeed. From available material one can learn that Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921) was educated in Tennessee, served valiantly under General Robert E. Lee, became a successful lawyer, was converted to the Christian faith in the year 1879, three years later - without any formal theological training - was ordained to the ministry by the Congregational denomination, and began to wield a mighty influence through his writings, which culminated in the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909.
The phenomenon of the wide influence of Scofield is heightened when one discovers that his teachings were taken almost in toto from John Nelson Darby. Darby was the outstanding leader among the Plymouth Brethren about 1830, and his 'rediscovered truths' differed radically from the cardinal teachings of historic Christianity as held by the church fathers and Reformers.
1. Perhaps the major difference between Scofield and Darby on the one hand, and the historic Christian theologian on the other, relates to their teaching concerning the Christian church. Historic Christian teaching is that national Israel was a type of the church and, since the first advent, has been superseded by the church. Scofield and Darby teach that, while Israel was indeed a type of the church, there has never been an antitype, or fulfillment, of the type (nor was there ever meant to be, according to Scofield). This is probably the only type in the Scofield system without a fulfillment! He teaches that the church is a parenthesis, i.e., something God is doing only while his work with national Israel has been postponed. When Jesus returns at the second coming, the church will be taken to heaven, and then God will return to the more important work with his 'earthly people,' Israel. God has two bodies (or peoples) a heavenly body (the church) and an earthly body (Israel) (S.R.B. p. 989).
2. Another cardinal difference lies in the doctrine of the kingdom. Historically, the Christian teaching has been that there is one kingdom made up of all believers from both the Old Testament period and the New. This kingdom is a present reality, but will be consumated, or perfected, only upon the second coming of Jesus, Scofield teaches that there are two kingdoms; he distinguishes between 'kingdom of heaven' and 'kingdom of God' in spite of the fact that the two are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament. The kingdom which most Christians believe exists today has not yet begun, according to Scofield, and cannot begin until the second coming of our Lord to earth. Whereas most Christians believe the Bible teaches a present kingdom, which is spiritual in nature and includes both Jew and Gentile believers in Christ, Scofield finds it to be a future kingdom, which will be mainly political, material, and Jewish in nature (S.R.B., pp. 997, 1343).
3. Following the general resurrection, say most Christians, there will be a final judgment (the sheep-goat judgment), at which time the believers will receive their rewards, and the unsaved will be cast into eternal punishment. Here again, Scofield begs to differ by saying there will be some five different judgments following the return of our Lord, and three of them are separated by a period of 1,000 years (coinciding with the millennium) from the remaining two. Actually, Scofield has seven judgments, but two of them take place in this life (S.R.B., p. 1351).
4. At least one other major difference needs to be mentioned. This has to do with the gospel, or God's good news. While the Christian church has always taught there is but one gospel, through which men are invited to God - and this included the Old Testament period as well as the New; Paul says that the gospel which he preached also had been the means of Abraham's salvation (see Gal 3:8) - Scofield teaches that there are four gospels, each for a different age and purpose, and each having a distinct message (S.R.B., p. 1348).
The fact that these differences involve cardinal doctrines - the correct interpretation of which are necessary to an understanding of the Bible itself - makes it imperative that every student of the Scriptures re-examine the teachings of Scofield in the light of Paul's injunction, What saith the scripture? To do this is not to doubt the honesty or integrity of the late Dr. Scofield. Nor is it to deny that he was a conservative Bible studen1, who did much good for the cause of our Lord. It is merely to admit that C.I. Scofield was also a 'man' like ourselves. Even the great apostle Peter made such a statement concerning himself. The following statement from The Coming League and the Roman Dream, by the late Harry Rimmer, himself an outstanding Bible teacher and evangelist, is ample proof of how even trained ministers can become enamored by the Scofield theories:
For twenty years I also believed and taught that the Roman Empire would be restored in the last days of the age in which we live ... I must confess that in so doing I depended largely upon the ideas and interpretation which I had imbibed from great and godly teachers, in whom I had unlimited confidence. I did not realize that I was teaching interpretation of the text in place of the Word itself, and had never made an exhaustive study of the Scriptures involved in this idea ...
I went over these prophecies again and was finally led to see that my only authority for maintaining that the Roman Empire would be rebuilt was a footnote in my favorite edition of a study Bible. So for twenty years I had taught as a prophecy of God's Word a human conclusion based upon an ambiguous paragraph (pp. 42, 43).
If we are to enjoy the benefits of our new interest in biblical theology, and if God is to have glory from this awakened interest in his Book, then the Book must be unfettered from all opinions of men, and the Holy Spirit must be given free reign to enlighten the hearts of those who study to show themselves approved unto God. We must again become a people of the Book, but that book must be 'The Bible-Without Comment.'