18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. 19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
I’m having a harder and harder time being a dispensational premillenialist. Take this passage of scripture, for example. It falls between the description of the mark of the beast, and the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Those prophetic elements are generally taken literally by dispensation premillenialists. But what should we make of this passage? Can it be taken literally?
We’re told that God poured out His wrath on the earth, and this is figuratively portrayed as a harvest of grapes being pressed in “the great wine press of the wrath of God”. The Bible specifically says that the blood flowed out 1600 furlongs, and was as deep as a horses bridle.
I’m interested to know what volume of blood this is, and how many human deaths it represents. This will help me get some idea how to interpret the passage.
According to Strong’s, a furlong is 600 feet. That makes 1,600 furlongs about 960,000 feet. There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so we’re talking 180 miles or so. The NAS rounds up to 200 miles, but we’ll stick with 180.
A horse’s bridle is somewhere around five feet high, based on the horses I’ve been around.
There’s no real reason, short of being on a steep incline, that this much liquid would flow in any shape other than a rough circle. The Bible doesn’t tell us otherwise. But when we get to the final answer, we can divide by 2 or 4 if we think the blood flowed in a semicircle or a quarter of a circle. I just want to get within an order of magnitude.
The formula for the volume of a cylinder is pi * radius * radius * height. Here’s the math:
3.14 * 960,000 ft * 960,000 ft * 5 ft = 14,469,120,000,000 cubic feet. 14.5 trillion cubic feet of blood.
One cubic foot is about 7.5 gallons. According to the Google converter, this is 1.08236534 ? 10^14 gallons. Taking it out of scientific notation, that’s 108,236,534,000,000 gallons. 108 trillion gallons.
I googled and found that the human body contains about 6 quarts, or 1.5 gallons, of blood. 108 trillion gallons of blood / 1.5 gallons per person = 72,157,689,333,333 people. 72 trillion people.
If you assume that the blood flowed out from the winepresses in a non-circular shape, you can just divide 72 trillion by the appropriate figure. Let’s assume that the blood flowed, inexplicably, in a wedge of 1/10th of a circle. That’s still 7 trillion folks. Let’s further assume that the blood wasn’t 5 feet deep all the way out. Let’s assume that it decreased steadily all the way out, and cut our final answer in half. Now we’re looking at 3.5 trillion deaths right there.
Taken literally, Revelation 14:17-20 indicates the swift death of at least 3.5 trillion people. A little more googling and it looks like the world’s population is just under 6.5 billion people.
For Revelation 14:17-20 to be literally fulfilled, requires the death of 500 times more people than are alive today. Population growth is a hard thing to predict, but recently we’ve been roughly doubling our population every 50 years. That gives us about 500 years if we maintain this rapid growth rate. A 500 year delay does not mesh well with popular understandings of the end times.
But wait, there’s more! Where will all these people live?
There are roughly 60,000,000 square miles of land on the Earth. Dividing 3.5 trillion by 60 million yields about 60,000 people per square mile. All over the earth. 500 square feet per person. Ten times the population density of Singapore. For every square foot of land on the planet, including Antarctica and the Sahara.
It seems quite unlikely that Revelation 14:17-20 can be taken literally. We have to allegorize or interpret something. We can allegorize the distances given. We can allegorize the blood as something other than the physical human blood of those slain. We can take it to mean simply that a whole lot of people died. But I do not see how we can take it literally. And if we can’t take that literally, we surely aren’t required to take other fantastic passages literally. Let’s be consistent here! We can’t mix our literal and non-literal interpretations simply because we can’t come up with reasonable scenarios for some passages. We must handle God’s word more carefully than that. I think a consistent allegorical interpretation is more reverent than an inconsistently “literal” one.