In my church we are working through the book of Revelation in a Sunday Night Bible study, which I am teaching. In the course of our lesson last Sunday, we discovered that the words "literal" and "true" are not synonyms. That is, something can be literal and untrue, and something can be true but not literal. For example, the phrase "This is a table" is literal. There is no figurative language, no metaphor, simile, hyperbole, etc. However, if you are pointing at a chair while making that statement, your phrase is untrue. If you are pointing at a table while making that statement, your statement is both literal and true.
On the other hand, something can be true but not literal. I referred to the tape recorder we used to record the lessons. I said, "This recorder is capturing my words." That statement was not literal. My words are not physical objects moving around on their own, and the tape recorder was not tracking them down and trapping them. What was literally happening was that my vocal chords were creating vibrations in the air. Those vibrations were sensed by electronic equipment in the microphone, interpreted and converted to an electronic signal. The signal was then recorded by aligning little magnetic thingys (here my technical knowledge breaks down) on a piece of tape. Later, we could play back the tape, and the magnetic alignment would be sent to the speaker, which would then convert the signal back into air vibrations, which our ears would detect as vibrations on little hairs in our aural canals, then they would convert the vibrations that our brains would interpret first as sound, then as words, then our brain would make sense of the words.
That is literal. Pretty bulky, huh?
On the other hand, the recorder was
capturing my words, in that it could be used to carry the words around and let them out at the appropriate time. The statement was not literal, but it was true. On the other hand, if the recorder had not been turned on, the statement would be unliteral and untrue. Literal isn't always preferable to figurative, since figurative is often quicker, and because it is less bulky, can be more effective.
In terms of the Bible, things can be true but not literal. Take for example God's statement that God carried the people of Israel on Eagles' wings out of Egypt. The people walked out on their own two feet. The statement is not literal. But the statement is true, because it refers to the people being taken out of Egypt by a power not their own (God's intervention to convince Pharaoh to let them go and then protecting the Hebrew's in the desert.
So, literal and true are not synonyms, in fact, literal and true are independent variables, i.e. they are neither dependent on one another nor are they mutually exclusive.