Interpreting non-literal language
Non-literal language. We have left this important canon of exegesis until a somewhat late stage, because maturity of judgment is called for in the applying of the same. There is a considerable amount of non-literal language in the Word of God and it is very necessary that the expositor should recognize the same. Great harm has been done through failure to do so, and not a few serious errors have been taught as the result of regarding what was figurative as literal. Generally speaking, the words of Scripture are to he understood in their plain and simple meaning; yea, their natural and obvious signification is always to be retained unless some evident and necessary reason requires otherwise; as, for example, when Christ bids us pluck out a right eye and cut off a right hand if the same causes us to sin, or when He charged the scribes and Pharisees with “devouring widows’ houses” (Matthew 23:14), for manifestly such language is not to be taken at its face value. But there are many other instances which are not nearly so apparent as those, as when Christ said “by chance there came down a certain priest that way” (Luke 10:31), meaning that he took that direction without any particular purpose or special design—for a literal understanding of those words would deny the orderings of Providence.
Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures