This is an awesome discussion so far. I just wanted to add a couple of things. The first is that I’m not entirely sure the idea of Sola Scriptura is being understood correctly. I’m not aware of such an abandonment of Sola Scriptura by Martin Luther or any of the reformers, however I will research into that some more. The main focus of my statement here is that the reformers did not believe in such a way as to say that Scripture is all you need, and that is it, no explanation. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura was the the doctrine that the Scriptures alone have the authority of God. That is to say that if we come to a point of contention on a tradition or idea of men, then it can, and indeed must, be settled with sacred Scripture. Jesus talked about this in Mark 7:6-9 when talking to the Pharisees, “And He said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandments of God and hold to the tradition of men.’ And He said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandments of God in order to establish your tradition!’” The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not to say that it is the only thing we should ever look at or learn from, but that it is, and always should be, our final authority on all things. It is the word of God(2 Timothy 16-17), and we should bring anything that we are unsure about, whether a tradition, a disagreement, or confusion to the Scripture alone as the final authority in all things. This is what the reformers believed and I’m not aware of them ever abandoning that doctrine. Many people, including myself, still hold to Sola Scriptura today and it serves very well, in addition the other four solas of course.
Next, on the Bible being easy to understand. This is such a difficult idea to discuss because, on one hand, yes it is easy to understand when we read the context and understand the time and meaning of its writing. However, apart from the Holy Spirit, no it’s not easy to understand. We see in 1 Corinthians 2:11-16 that Paul described this, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
The words of sacred Scripture are not taught by human wisdom, but by the Holy Spirit. Only those who have the Holy Spirit are going to be able to discern the truths of Scripture as we see in this passage, “they are spiritually discerned.”
What good do the words of Scripture do someone who has not been indwelt with the Holy Spirit? It will all be foolishness to those who are still perishing in sin. Just we are told in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
The things of the Spirit of God are not acceptable or truly understandable to the “natural man” or those who are perishing in sin. These things are discerned fully and truthfully only by the wisdom imparted from the Holy Spirit. We must first be indewelt with Him before we can understand the truths in Scripture. Apart from Him it is all foolishness.
So, is the Bible simple to understand? I would say that if you have the Spirit, then yes and also no. To reduce Scripture in any way to something that we can just simply glance over, and then have the fullness of it sorted in our minds would be untrue. We should rather look at Scripture as if every word was it’s own separate gold mine. That if we would only dig into every verse and meditate on it, and mine it out for all it can give us, we would find a wealth of knowledge that we will never be able to reach the depths of in our lives. What did Jesus do when He preached? He taught the lessons of Scripture, what did Paul do when He preached? Taught the lessons of Scripture. Peter? Same. John? Same. We see the theme here. Even Jesus Christ kept bringing people back to the Scriptures. When He was asked questions by the Pharisees, what was one of the responses from Him? “Have you not read?”(Matthew 19:4, Matthew 12:3). He pointed them to the Scripture.
There is such a wealth of knowledge in the Scriptures that we will never be able to fully master the depths of it. But it is sufficient, authoritative, by the grace of the Holy Spirit it is understandable, and it is breathed out by God. I would never call any of it simple, because just when we get to the simple meanings of Scripture, then we see the vein of precious truth that can be mined out from under that and applied to our lives. We must dig, we must search, we must think, we must swing the pick into the pages of Scripture and break through to the deeper meanings that apply to our lives.
By the grace of God, He didn’t just try to give it all to us in baby terms. He set forth His word in such a way that any immature Christian, through the Holy Spirit, might grasp the truth on the surface, and as they grow and mature, that they might see the wealth of knowledge still to be dug out beneath the surface.
How do we learn? When we pursue the truth, and seek the knowledge we desire. Only those who truly desire the truth and depth of the Scriptures that is there will seek it out. What did Christ say to us? Not “I have given it all to you.” But rather, “Ask and it will be given to you; Seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened.” There is effort necessary on our part. We must pursue the truth and seek it out for ourselves. That is the only way we truly learn and grow, and only those who truly desire to learn and grow in it will pursue it. All to the glory of God alone.
I think I have said enough, and I hope I haven’t confused everything. This is a great discussion and thank you Joshua for starting it. God bless.