Different students apply different rules of interpretation to their understanding of scripture. Some see much of the Bible as symbolic and allegorical, while others view the Bible more as historical, defining either past or future events in language which can be understood literally.
Interestingly the ethical teachings of Jesus are often relegated to a non-literal category largely because they seem so counter intuitive. Without a doubt what Jesus taught about righteous behavior is mind boggling. Most everything that we might assume and embrace based on human wisdom is challenged by the words of Jesus. Little in His actions or instructions would indicate that He expected mankind to continue down the same road that Old Testament Israel had followed in their pursuit of righteousness, namely obedience to rules and requirements.
Whereas the Law tended to differentiate between men in accordance with their performance, Jesus pointedly stated that all men were equal based on performance. Whereas the Law elevated some over the rest, anointing them as instructors and overseers, Jesus said that it would not be so among His followers. Whereas the Judaic law system was external and physical in its operation, Jesus called His followers attention to a new internal and invisible reality. The old law called the Jews to acts of segregation and discrimination, but Jesus mingled freely with publicans, sinners, and even non-Jews. Perhaps most remarkably, Jesus taught an approach to righteousness which required self sacrifice, humility, and extreme benevolence, which extended even to ones enemies. Hurtful human behavior was not to be opposed in the old ways through violence and ostracism. This particular idea is still largely dismissed by those claiming Jesus as their example because it seems just a little too naïve and unreal.
In effect, the church has made the ethics of Jesus decidedly less than literal in its mode of interpretation. Those ethics have been reduced to either some far future goal or merely a kind of desirable but totally unattainable fantasy, one completely contrary to human nature. Extreme love is certainly contrary to human thinking, the kind of thinking promoted by self interest, but its dismissal as unrealistic and impractical effectively equate Jesus’ teachings to some sort of fainthearted illusion.
Ironically, many of those claiming Jesus are among the most likely to take up arms, demand a retributive justice system, and demonstrate confrontational stridency in dealing with those they perceive as morally and religiously inferior. All of these are distinct characteristics of the old Jewish system which Christ superseded. In this respect these people closely mirror many of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the group consistently condemned by Jesus. If there is no reason to take the ethical lessons of Jesus as literal moral directions, I see little significance to an insistence on a literal interpretation of anything in the Bible.