Because of these two core beliefs, nearly every Christian denomination adamantly claims that they teach for doctrine only what the Bible says. However, the reason why there are so many different denominations is because each one understands the Bible differently from all the others. When confronted by a church who claims to follow the Bible but who doesn't agree with their belief, one church will often accuse the other of "interpreting" God's word rather than following what the Bible actually says.
It is common for them to quote the words of Peter when he said, "knowing this first that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 2:1). Since they believe that God wrote the Bible they therefore conclude that it is by comparing one scripture with another that the Bible clarifies itself. In this way each church feels they are not making any "private interpretation" of the scriptures but are following God's own interpretation of His word.
On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not rely solely on what is written in the Bible as their source of divine revelation. In addition to the Bible they also depend on other books of scripture as well as following the words of living prophets and apostles. Furthermore, they believe that the Bible has translation errors in it. As a result of these beliefs, many Christians tend to accuse the LDS Church of disregarding the words of God and substituting them with their own man-made interpretation.
But this argument of Protestantism rests upon the validity of their main core beliefs about the Bible. If these beliefs are true then it would seem that "Mormonism" is founded on a false premise. However, by the same reasoning, if any of their core beliefs are not correct then it must likewise be said that Protestantism is based on a false premise.
Perhaps we can test the validity of the Protestant belief concerning what the Bible teaches by looking at the subject of the earth's creation.
According to the commonly accepted theory of most scientists, the universe was created from a large explosion nearly 15 billion years ago and that the earth was formed from the cooling of hot galactic gases long after the stars had formed. However, many Christian preachers argue that can't be correct because the Bible clearly states that it took only six days to create everything from nothing. Therefore, Christians argue that science must be wrong because God's word is always right. Thus, for them, it is the Bible alone that becomes their standard for determining the truth about creation.
Even so, among many Christian scholars there is an argument over what God's definition is of "a day?" Some say that since there was no such thing as a literal 24-hour day before the world was created, this would strongly indicate that the "day" spoken of in Genesis cannot be based on the earth's rotation on its axis, but rather must be based on God's reckoning of time which is that one day to Him equals a thousand years to us (2 Peter 3:8). There are others who say that the Hebrew word "youm" can also be translated as meaning a general, undefined period of time. Therefore they say that the account in Genesis could be understood as meaning that God created the heavens and the earth in six creative periods of time. However, most Christian churches teach that since the word "youm" as used in Genesis is the same word used throughout the Bible to mean a 24-hour day, this shows that we are to understand that God made the earth in six literal earth days, with the morning and the evening being one day.
However, this is not the only conflict traditional Christians have with science if we are to believe the biblical account of creation. In this account it tells us that "God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven." (1:6-8).
The Hebrew word which we translate as "firmament" is "raqiya" which means "the vault or dome of heaven." This word also conveys the idea of something that is considered to be solid and flat. (Strong's Concordance). Furthermore, this word is derived from the Hebrew word "raqa" which means "to beat out, stamp, or stretch" meaning something that has been shaped by beating, stamping, or stretching it. In Job 37:18, we see this concept expressed in the question that Elihu asks of God: "Hast thou with him spread out [iraqa] the sky which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?" What this verse of scripture tells us is that the Bible teaches that the sky is a strong solid object that has been forged and shaped by God, like a craftsman would, which He then spread out over the earth. This same idea of God being a craftsman is expressed in Psalms 19:1 which reads, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork (i.e. workmanship)."
This scripture in Genesis also tells us that God called the firmament "heaven" (from the Hebrew word "shamayim" which means the sky, the atmosphere, or the abode of the stars - i.e, outer space or the universe). In fact the Bible verifies that "shamayim" can mean "outer space" when it records that God told Abraham "And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, [shamayim]" (Genesis 26:4, see also Exodus 32:13; 1 Chronicles 21:16). Thus, what the Bible teaches is that the stars reside in heaven (shamayim), which we refer to as outer space or the universe.
Just as the firmament was "spread out", and the word "firmament" is the same as "the heavens," it therefore makes sense for Isaiah to say, "It is he… that stretcheth out the heavens [.shamayim] (i.e., the universe) as a curtain and spreadeth them out like a tent to dwell in" (40:22). Thus we see that the Bible clearly teaches that the firmament or the universe was stretched or spread out over the earth like you would do with a curtain or a tent.
As we continue to read the creation story as recorded in the Bible, we learn that the earth began as a large glob of water. Then God separated the water into two parts using a solid dome called the firmament (sky, atmosphere, outer space). If this is so, then what the Bible's account of creation is telling us is that in the beginning of the earth's creation this body of water was divided into two parts, with one part below the sky and the other part being above all the stars in the universe.
Genesis next tells us that it was from the waters below the sky that God caused the dry land to appear. The fact that the dry land was created from water is verified in 2 Peter 3:5 which reads, "they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" (NIV,emphasis added). Psalms 24:1-2 also tells us, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness of it, the world and they who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the currents and the rivers." (Amplified Bible). Therefore, what the Bible tells us is that the earth itself was created from water.
More than that, Genesis tells us in verse 8 that "God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so." If we take this verse literally, that means the dry land suddenly appeared from out of the water, then the rest of the water was gathered together in one place and the dry land was in another place. If this is an accurate translation that means the Bible teaches that originally there wasn't any land under the water. Notice that the Bible does not say that in the beginning water covered the planet, and at God's command the water receded, thereby exposing the land. It specifically states that in the beginning God separated the waters in two by use of outer space. If there was land inside the waters below the sky that means there also has to be land inside the waters above the universe. Also, the Bible clearly tells us that the earth was "founded upon the seas and established upon the floods (currents and rivers)."
Also, if the earth's dry land stands out of the water and is in the water, and its foundation is the seas and it has been established upon the floods that can only mean that there is water below the earth. Thus, from a careful study of what the Bible tells us about the creation of the earth we learn that the dry land rests on a foundation of water and that God shaped a solid dome or vault called the firmament or universe which He then stretched over the earth.
As further evidence that the "firmament" or "heaven" is a solid dome the Bible tells us that the sky has windows in it and it is when God opens these windows that the water that is above the firmament then falls to the earth as rain. Notice what the Bible teaches: "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the foundation of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened" (Genesis 7:11). According to what the Bible tells us, the rain that flooded the earth in the days of Noah came from "the great deep and the widows of heaven" when they were opened. And why did it finally stop raining? The Bible tells us, "and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained" (Genesis 8:2). We find this same idea of heaven having windows expressed in 2 Kings 7:2,19; Isaiah 24:18-19; Jeremiah 51:15-16; and Malachi 3:10.
The Bible then tells us that the apostle John saw an event in the future when "the stars in the sky fell to the earth, like figs shaken down by a gale; the sky vanished, as a scroll is rolled up...they called out to the mountains and the crags, Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne" (Revelation 6:13-16). First of all, notice that this verse talks about the sky vanishing "as a scroll is rolled up," again reinforcing the idea that the universe is composed of some sort of material that can be stretched out and rolled up at God's will.
However, more importantly, notice that this verse says that the sky can be shaken like a tree thereby causing the stars to fall "to the earth… like figs shaken down by a gale." First of all, the only way the sky can be shaken is if it is a solid object. But, secondly, we know that it is impossible for even one star to fall from the sky and land on the earth, let alone all "the stars." The only way "stars" could fall from the sky as the Bible describes is if we picture them as small shiny objects that hang from the solid dome called heaven which covers the top part of the earth. And, indeed, anciently, that is how the common man thought of these lights in the sky.
The ancient Egyptians worshiped the sky goddess, Nut (pronounced New-et). In their hieroglyphic drawings, she is represented as being arched over the earth, with only her toes and fingers touching the ground and from her body hung the stars. According to Egyptian mythology, they believed that every morning Nut ate the stars and that's why they were not visible during the day. As unbelievable as this may seem to us, it comes close to the description that the Bible gives of the sky.
But the Bible tells us that the stars aren't the only things in the heavens. It was Jesus who told us, "Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne " (Matthew 5:34, emphasis added). Furthermore, the Bible tells us that God's throne is in the height of heaven (Job 22:12). The Contemporary English Bible (CEV) translates this verse as "God lives in the heavens above the highest stars where he sees everything" (emphasis added). There are numerous other places in the Old Testament that declares that God lives in "shemayim." (1 Kings 8:3; Nehemiah 9:27; Job 22:12; etc.). When speaking of God, Psalm 104:3, 13 tells us, "You are the one who stretches out the heavens like a tent, Who lays the beams of the upper room of His abode in the waters [above the firmament],... He waters the mountains from his upper rooms" (Amplified Bible)." Most modern Bibles translate Job 22:14 as "He walks on the vault of the heavens." The CEV translates it as "He walks around heaven's dome high above the earth."
The Bible clearly and specifically tells us that God's lives in an upper room that is made out of "beams" and is located on the waters that are above the domed firmament. It also declares that God walks on the "vault of the heavens" "above the highest stars," indicating again that the sky is a solid physical object. And it further confirms the other scriptures which say that the heavens were "stretched out like a tent." More than this, the Bible tells us that it is from these upper rooms where God makes "his abode in the waters" above the firmament that He sends down rain to water the mountains.
What the Bible plainly teaches is that the sky is a solid dome or vault like structure with windows in it that has stars hanging from it that can be shaken loose and fall to the earth. Above this dome is water and it is there that God's throne is located and where he walks around. But what about the earth itself? The Bible tells us, "And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth?" (Isa. 51:13; Zech 12:1).
Once more we see that the heavens were "stretched forth" as you would do with a canvas tent. But we are also told that the earth has a foundation (see 2 Sam. 22:16; Ps. 102:25; 104:5; Prov. 8:29; Isa. 40:21). The Bible gives us more information about this foundation when it asks the question, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundation of the earth declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof" (Job 38:4-6).
The Bible tells us that God stretched forth a line, like a builder would, made the necessary measurements, laid the foundation, and set the cornerstone of the earth in place. The problem with this statement is that a round planet cannot have a "cornerstone" nor can it have a "foundation." However, the Bible also tells us that God "has fixed the earth firm, immovable" (1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 93; Psalm 96:10). Psalm 104:5 tells us "Thou didst fix the earth on its foundation so that it never can be shaken."
If the earth is firm and immovable and cannot be shaken from its position, as the Bible declares, then obviously the earth is standing still which means it must be the lights in the heavens (sun, moon, and stars) that are moving. Furthermore, since the sky is a dome that fits over top of the earth, and the sky contains the entire universe, that clearly implies that the earth is located in the center of the universe.
But then the Bible tells us "for the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he hath set the world upon them" (1 Samuel 2:8). "Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble" (Job 9:6). According to the Bible, the earth rests on pillars. But this isn't all. We also learn that "the pillars of heaven [shamayim] tremble and are astonished at his reproof" (Job 26:11, see also 2 Samuel 22:8). So what the Bible tells us is that both the earth and the sky rest upon and are supported by pillars.
But how can a spherical object be placed on pillars? According to the Bible, the earth is not a sphere, but is a flat surface that has four corners (see Revelation 7:1; Isaiah 11:12). A very common phrase found in the Bible is "the ends of the earth" (see Job 28:24; Psalm 135:7; Isaiah 40:28; Acts 13:47; Romans 10:18). Geometrically speaking, a sphere has no corners or "ends" to it. Therefore, the only conclusion we can reach by taking the Bible at its word is that the earth is flat.
If this is not so, then it becomes extremely hard to explain the scripture which says, "Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great, The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth" (Daniel 4:10,11).
There are a number of things this verse tells us. First, the tree Daniel saw was in the middle (midst) of the earth. A spherically globe doesn't have a middle on its surface, but a flat plane does. Second, the tree reached up to heaven. Although the Bible doesn't tell us specifically how high heaven is, by implication the Bible seems to infer that it reaches up to the stars. Notice that the people who built the tower of Babel thought they could ascend above the stars and get to where God lives. Apparently, they thought it wasn't that far away. And in the vision that Daniel had, he saw a tree that could also reach that height.
The third thing we learn is that this tree was visible "to the end of all the earth." As stated earlier, a sphere doesn't have an "end" or corner to it. But even if we say this is a metaphor indicating that people from every part of the world could see it that still doesn't make sense. No matter how high a tree might grow, if it is located on a globe-like planet, it is impossible, from a physics and geometric standpoint, for people everywhere on the planet to see it, as this story indicates. The only way that can happen is if the earth is flat.
Although this is just a vision that Daniel had, we see this same scenario actually acted out in the days of Jesus. The Bible tells us, "And again, the devil taketh him up into an exceedingly high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them." (Matthew 4:8, emphasis added). The whole point of Satan taking Jesus "up into an exceedingly high mountain" is so that He would actually be able to see far enough to view "all the kingdoms of the world." If the earth is round, instead of flat, this is impossible to do, no matter how high up into the sky a person might go.
So we see that a literal interpretation of the Bible teaches that the earth is flat, with corners and ends to it, that it has a foundation with a cornerstone that is built on water and is supported by pillars. But this isn't all. The Bible also tells us, "the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit" (Numbers 16:30). "I shall bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, with the people of old time, and shall set thee in the low parts of the earth" (Ezek. 26:20). "for they are all delivered unto death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit" (Ezk, 31:14). "I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit" (Ezk. 31:16).
According to the Bible, in the lower part of the earth is a pit where the wicked are cast down and where "hell" is located. The New Testament confirms this when it says, "I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit" (Revelation 9:1).
This is what the Bible tells us about heaven and earth. Obviously, none of this fits with what science has discovered. So who is right - science or the Bible?
Modern-day Christians will contend that such an interpretation of the Bible is completely false. They will argue that the words "vault" or "dome" in describing heaven are merely expressing man's perspective on how the sky appears to us here on earth. But how can that be if it was God who wrote the Bible and not man? They will say that the word "shemayim " can have many different meanings. Therefore, when the Bible says that God lives in "shemayim " it isn't talking about the sky or outer space, but is merely referring to the abode of God. Yet, the logic of this argument is just the opposite of the logic they use for claiming that the earth was created in six 24-hour days.
When it comes to the Bible talking about the "four corners of the earth," or the "ends of the earth" today's Christian commentators say these are merely metaphors or figures of speech and should not be taking literally. This also includes references to "pillars of the earth," the "windows of heaven," and God walking on the firmament above the highest stars.
However, what we find is that in order to make the Bible harmonize with what today's science has proven to be true, these same modern-day Christians who accuse people of teaching false doctrine because they "interpret" the Bible rather than reading it as it is actually written, explain away all of these incorrect scientific statements in the Bible by claiming that they are not meant to be taken literally.
But even if what they say is true, since there is so much written in the Bible about the earth, the stars and the heavens, it would seem that a complete, infallible book, written by the Creator Himself should contain at least some evidence of astronomical truth. Yet, as surprising as it may seem, nowhere in the Bible is there evidence given that the world is a sphere or that we are not the center of the universe, or that the earth rotates around the sun or even on its axis.
Some Christian apologists point to Isaiah 40:22 which reads, "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth" as evidence that the Bible does teach that the world is round. However, such an explanation poses a credibility problem for them. On the one hand they say that we are to take the phrase "circle of the earth" literally to mean that the earth is round while at the same time claiming that we are not to take the term "ends of the earth" literally. But even if we are to take this verse in Isaiah literally, then we also have to take literally that God actually sits upon the round circle of the earth. Also, a circle is not the same as a sphere.
What this demonstrates is that in order for most Christians to maintain their belief in a complete, infallible Bible, they have to violate their basic belief of not interpreting the word of God. But they do worse than that because they selectively pick and choose which verses of scripture they want to take literally and which ones they want to take figuratively. And it is in this way that they can then make the Bible conform to any idea they desire.
Yet, not withstanding all of their valiant efforts to explain away what the Bible says about the creation of the earth and the heavens, they are still faced with an unyielding fact. There is no historical evidence that the ancient Hebrews were more advanced in their understanding of astronomy because of God's revelation than their heathen neighbors. In fact, all the evidence points to the fact that the Israelites believed that God lived in a place above the stars, that the earth was flat, and that it was firmly fixed and immovable in the center of the universe. More than that, for centuries this was the same belief that all Christians held, precisely because that's what they understood God's infallible word to say.
When Galileo presented his theory that the earth rotated around the sun, it was the Christian church who was the most intolerant of his ideas and accused him of teaching heretical doctrine. He was brought before a board of inquiry (known as the Inquisition) and ordered to renounce his theory or be put to death. The reason they so strongly objected to his scientific discover is because they said his ideas contradicted what the Bible taught. Even the great leaders of the Protestant reformation, such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and others, also rejected Galileo's findings because they likewise said it violated what God's infallible word said.
Since then Christians who once were so adamant in declaring that they correctly understood God's word have had to change some of their ideas to conform to what science has discovered. Yet, if it weren't for the overwhelming evidence we've accumulated about astronomy in just the past 300 years, Christians would still be teaching that the world was flat, that God lives above the stars and that we are the immovable center of the universe because that's what they claim the Bible teaches and what the orthodox Christian faith has declared for centuries to be the truth. And they would still be condemning anyone who said differently.
By comparison, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God has not revealed all there is to know about the earth's creation and that He will yet reveal many great and important things. We believe that the Bible does contain errors in it, by design or by accident of those who have translated it. We believe that God still does speak to man through prophets and apostles as He did anciently who are inspired through the same Spirit that inspired the original writers of the Bible. And it is through them that we come to understand the correct meaning of God's word as far as God has revealed it.
Just as in the past, most Christian churches today firmly believe that they are teaching the only correct understanding of the Bible. However, those who say we should rely on the Bible as our sole source of determining truth have put themselves in a quandary. With no other source of divine revelation to go by and having nothing more than their own wisdom for guidance, why should anyone believe that their interpretation of God's word on any other subject is any more correct than those who once believed the Bible taught that the earth is flat?