In the writings of the Rishonim, it is not uncommon to see explanations of pesukim or of aggadic concepts using the "celestial spheres" model of the universe. The Rambam in particular uses the idea often in Moreh Nevuchim, and even extensively discusses the subject in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah.

Is it safe to assume (as the Malbim clearly did) that they were working within the science of their time, and just did not know any better; therefore I can disregard any biblical interpretation or such that relies on this scientific theory?

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    Tora is immutable, whereas scientists change their view of things every few hundred years or so, so why trust the scientists? – msh210 Mar 2 '11 at 18:41
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    @msh210, This is a big topic, but in short: There are no "celestial spheres," as the ancients described them. We have no choice but to take that fact into account when understanding both Biblical and Rabbinic statements that seem to assume their existence. There are multiple approaches available that are consistent with Chazal's and later authorities' attitudes toward scientific knowledge and rabbinic epistemology. I do suspect that simply disregarding difficult interpretations is not among them. – Isaac Moses Mar 2 '11 at 19:08
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    @R'IM, I wasn't proposing disregarding the interpretations, but rather proposing disregarding the "there are no 'celestial spheres'" and the "we have no choice but to take that fact into account". Why don't we? – msh210 Mar 2 '11 at 20:57
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    @msh210, I know you weren't proposing to disregard the interpretations; yaavetz was. The empirical evidence as to the present nature of the celestial luminaries is overwhelming, particularly with respect to our Solar System. (For example, if there were celestial spheres, GPS wouldn't work, and R' Yaakov Kamenetsky wouldn't have been able to watch Neil Armstrong on TV, walking on the moon.) Disregarding that evidence is not an available strategy for anyone with any awareness of extraterrestrial human activities and artifacts. – Isaac Moses Mar 2 '11 at 21:16
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    @msh210 But what is considered Tora such that it is immutable? Perhaps our new knowledge informs us that those statements were never Torah. Furthermore, perhaps those statements are not of the kind of Torah which is immutable. The fact that there is such a thing as a Torah which is immutable is by itself completely irrelevant here. – Double AA Oct 2 '13 at 16:37

I was looking to confirm my side comment about R' Yaakov Kamenetsky to msh210 in the comments on the question and found on Hirhurim the following quotation from Emes Le-Ya'akov, which addresses part of your question directly (Emes Le-Ya'akov al Ha-Torah, Gen. 1:1, 5761 revised edition pp. 15-16):

As an aside, we learn from these words of the Ramban [on Gen. 1:1], and in particular from what he concluded in the continuation of his words on verse 8, that everything that exists in the creation in the entire world, including the sun, the moon and all the heavenly hosts, are not called "heavens." The "heavens" are only things that have no physical bodies, such as angels, hayos and the merkavah. However, anything that has a physical body is included in the name "earth" in verse 1...

These words of the Ramban are what carried me when we saw men descending from a space ship on a ladder onto the surface of the moon. I thought to myself: "What would the Rambam, who wrote that the moon has a spiritual form, answer now?" I thought that at that point Kabbalah defeated Philosophy, and comforted myself with the words of the Ramban...

We are forced to say that what the Rambam told us in these chapters [Hilkhos Yesodei Ha-Torah, chs. 1-4] is neither ma'aseh merkavah nor ma'aseh bereishis. Rather, he wrote those four chapters from his deep mind and from his knowledge of secular wisdom, i.e. not from the wisdom of Torah but only from Philosophy... and the Rambam only wrote these as an introduction to the Mishneh Torah while the main part of the book begins with chapter 5...

  • Maimonides wrote that the rabbis were not experts in science and only understood what was presented to them at that time. They knew only knew what was available to them. Guide to the Perplexed, III:14 – Turk Hill Jun 13 '19 at 1:52

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