I did not have a Scofield Reference Bible growing up. Apparently, my church was very neglectful in getting me my copy when I was baptized. Over the years, as I’ve read analysis of dispensationalism, I’ve heard about the Scofield and its use, but never had one to which I might refer. I remedied that this past week with the purchase of my very own Scofield Study Bible – bound in genuine Duradera leather! My intention was to dig into the nitty-gritty of Rapture theology so as to present it fairly in church this week. My goodness! I’m used to study Bibles with a great deal of notes providing historical context, translation and textual alternatives, and cross-references to other passages. Nothing could have prepared me for this.
The Scofield Bible is a Bible for fans of books and movies like The DaVinci Code or National Treasure. Well, maybe fans who think they are documentaries. For every verse in the Scofield, there are notes. Not unusual for a Bible, but these are unusual for their singular focus: prophecy. There are notes for every verse, sometimes two or three. That is, a single verse is chopped up into even smaller phrases or individual words and each is given its own notes. And each note consists of multiple cross-referenced verses or portions of verses thought to be a prophecy. The verse one is reading might be an answer to a question asked 1500 years earlier, or the fulfillment of a hinted future event. Or it could be a prophecy itself with its own rabbit trail of fulfillment in future verses. Sometimes, that prophecy is marked as unfulfilled, leaving the reader to determine what extra-biblical event is described. The overall effect is a whirlwind of page-flipping to get the real message of the text. It’s an odd way to read a book.
As a practical matter, I’m not sure how one might approach this methodology critically. The textual relationships are so convoluted that it seems impossible to unravel them all, which leaves any critique susceptible to the unknown. That is, there is always something you don’t know and can’t know, some new claim that is simply, currently, unfulfilled. Worse, every claim relies so heavily on the assumptions the system is supposed to support. One must believe that there are dispensations and that there will be a Rapture and that it will play out in a particular way in order for any particular claim to make any sense at all.
Worse, I think, is that this way of reading the Bible dismisses the grand literary accomplishment of it all. The stories themselves only matter for the puzzle pieces they offer. The voices of the authors are erased. And worst of all, the story of which we are a part, the story that we continue to write, is irrelevant. The only story that matters is the one written for those with the right decoder ring. They are not participants, but seekers of signs. It is an impoverishment of the great wisdom that God has gifted us and the agency we have to live into the life of God.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how we might read Scripture in a way that invites us into the story of God and who that God might be in different ways of reading.
Grace & Peace,