Scofield was born in rural Michigan. He studied law in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he was admitted to the bar in 1869. He was named the United States district attorney for Kansas under the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. However, in his legal career, Scofield began drinking heavily and ran up substantial debts. He was replaced as U.S. attorney and served a brief prison sentence for forgery in 1879.
While in prison, Scofield underwent a religious conversion, and in 1883 he was ordained as a Congregationalist minister in Dallas, Texas. Scofield started a correspondence Bible study course, and from that course he created the work for which he is chiefly remembered, the Scofield Reference Bible, a widely circulated and popular annotated study Bible that first appeared in 1909. This Bible teaches the theology of dispensationalism that was devised in the nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby, and it was largely through the influence of Scofield's notes on the Bible that dispensationalism became influential among fundamentalist Christians in the U.S.A.