One problem with trying to understand the Bible is that its writers thought about the universe in much different terms than we do. This point comes out quite clearly in a couple of passages in The Future of Christianity, a modernist religious critique of conservative Christian beliefs. Here's the author's description of what we can call the biblical cosmology, although it wasn't unique to what became the books of the Bible:
The biblical view represented most clearly in the creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a is that of a flat earth, covered by a dome to which the sun, the moon, and the stars are attached. The waters of heaven are above that dome or firmament. In fact, it is the opening of the windows of that dome that results in the falling of rain or snow upon the earth below.
Beneath the earth are the waters upon which the earth rests and the underworld, basically a tunnel through which the sun travels on its nightly journey from the west, where it sets, to return to the east in time for the next sunrise. The heavens are beyond the dome of the sky and serve as the permanent abode of God and his angels.
This biblical cosmology raises some interesting questions for modern believers.
Some Bible Passages
First, knowing the biblical cosmology helps make sense of many bible passages. For example, Genesis 1 becomes more comprehensible (try reading the NET Bible version), especially knowing that the Hebrew word translated as "firmament" is sometimes rendered as "dome." So now we know what it's talking about, although we know there isn't really a dome up there.
When Gen. 7:11 says "the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened," it's clear where the writer of Genesis 7:11 thought the water was coming from. That understanding carries clear through the Old Testament: in Malachi 3:10 KJV it says, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will now open up the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it." The passage makes more sense now, except we know there aren't windows in the dome through which rain falls. There isn't even a dome.
The New Testament reflects the same biblical cosmology. Take the description of the baptismal vision of Jesus: "... Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him" (Mark 1:9-10 KJV). "Heavens" in that verse can also be rendered "sky." It's that dome of the sky again, and when it splits apart God and His angels stand revealed. So now the passage makes more sense. Still, no dome, no sky that can be ripped.
And here's from Revelation: "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places" (Rev. 6:13-14). The writer imagined stars falling to earth, just like that plummeting light fixture in The Truman Show, and the heavens, that dome of the sky again, rolling up like a scroll.
Some Mormon Passages
I'm not sure how Bible Christians deal with this disconnect between biblical cosmology and modern cosmology, but it's less of a problem for Mormons. First, we have D&C 77, which makes it clear that much of the imagery used by the writer of Revelation is just imagery. So the four beasts in Rev. 4:6 are "figurative expressions" that describe "heaven, the paradise of God, the happiness of man, and of beasts, and of creeping things, and of the fowls of the air ... (v. 2). Likewise, the eyes and wings of the beasts are "a representation of light and knowledge" and "a representation of power, to move, to act, etc." (v. 4). It's nice the D&C explicitly rejects hyperliteralism and approves a metaphorical reading of untenable passages.
Next, we have a different religious cosmology. In general, I'm not a big fan of Book of Abraham astronomy, but in light of the biblical cosmology reviewed earlier in this post, Abraham 3 takes on a rather more expansive reading. Abraham has God addressing him as follows: "[B]ehold I will show you all these [stars]. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof" (Abr. 3:12). That sounds a lot bigger than the dome of the sky. There are about two hundred billion stars in just our own Milky Way galaxy — more than would fit on any dome. Hard to even imagine that many stars, but "I could not see the end thereof" points in the right direction.
Finally, there is the first chapter of Moses, one of the more enigmatic passages of Mormon scripture. In what is presented as a prologue to the Genesis creation account, God tells Moses, "For mine own purpose have I made these things. ... And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose ..." (Moses 1:31, 33). Shortly thereafter, we encounter this rather stunning passage:
And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. (Moses 1:37-38)
Even more than the passage in Abraham, these verses in Moses clearly envision the sort of universe we have in mind today, one that is huge beyond description, simply beyond any human scale. Astronomers estimate there are a hundred billion galaxies. With billions of stars each. Cannot be numbered, indeed.