A general social census that has been taking place in America since 1984 indicates that ~40% of American Christians favor a literal interpretation of Scripture. This literal view is defined as:
"the interpretation of Scripture as literal, with the exception of sections of text that are clearly intended to be allegorical, poetic, or figurative." - CompellingTruth.org
And, in the "tags" function of this Stack literalism is defined as:
A hermeneutical approach in which the Bible is understood as accurate historical narrative throughout, with the exception of parts clearly stated not to be so.
A study conducted at Baylor University, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and reported on in Forbes magazine makes the following statement:
People who look at religion tend to associate literalism with evangelicals,” says Kent. “What we found is that if we break out each of these religious groups – Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics – we found that you have literalists in each of these categories. There's more of a relationship between literalism and close personal attachment to God than there is to denomination.
I am unsure if the findings of these (or similar) studies remain true when the net is cast wider than America but the question that follows is directed towards those, of whatever denomination, who hold that, unless there is clear reason presented in the text, Scriptural passages must be taken literally. Consider the following passages:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. - Revelation 21:1-2
And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. - Revelation 21:15-16
The website sizes.com has this definition for the length of a "stadion":
Various ancient Greek units of length, in concept the standard length of the furrow made in plowing with a team of oxen, = 600 podos, the size varying with the size of the pous.
The website goes on to offer a range of lengths (based on the size of the ancient pous) from 177.4 - 199.8 meters. If we take the smallest number and extrapolate we end up with a city which is 2,128,800 meters (2128 km) in all three dimensions.
This city, if literal, will cover an area of slightly over 4.5 million sq km and contain a volume of 9.6 billion cubic km. This city would be a million sq km larger than India, more than half the size of the continental United States, and half the size of the entire Middle East.
If the New Jerusalem comes down centered on the location of the current Jerusalem it's borders will roughly be:
- to the North - the southern coast of the Black Sea
- to the south - the Egypt/Sudan border
- to the east - the Tigris River
- to the west - the Egypt/Libya border up through the Mediterranean sea to the Greece/Bulgaria border just west of Kavala
In the third dimension, the height of the city will be 2, 128 km as well. This puts the top of the city well outside of the outer limits of the inner atmosphere (600 km) and into near space. The top of the city will reside just about at the delineation between low-earth and medium-earth orbits.
Do biblical literalists really understand the dimensions of this city literally and, if they take them in a non-literal fashion, what makes them "clearly stated not to be so"?