Literalism as an approach to the Bible has its limits. For most people who claim to practice this approach to the Bible, the limit is really, really badly not wanting the literal meaning of a text to be true. A case in point is Matthew 16:28, which says (NIV):
“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Most people who allegedly espouse literalism really, really badly want Jesus (and Matthew, and the Bible as a whole) never to be wrong about anything. Especially nothing prefaced with the words “I tell you the truth”. And yet, if other versions of this saying can perhaps be interpreted as applying to something else (e.g. the transfiguration, or the Book of Revelation), in the form in which it is found in Matthew’s Gospel, this saying has no other more obvious meaning than that some who were alive when Jesus spoke will see his glorious return. The references to the Son of Man’s throne and/or kingdom elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew make it hard to take Matthew’s version as referring to anything else.So why are these words not taken literally by so-called literalists? The only answer is that they really, really dislike the literal meaning of the words, and therefore the meaning must be something else.
The good news is that, if one wants so-called literalists to eschew the belief that God will delight in torturing people for eternity (to give but one example), all one has to do is persuade them that that belief is really, really abhorrent. And then it will not matter what the plain meaning of this or that passage in the Bible is, taken literally. They will find another possible meaning, just as they do in the case of Matthew 16:28 – not to mention other passages that are already treated in the same way.