Statesboro, GA, USA
The reason the passage you cited shouldn't (and I do distinquish this from 'can't'), is that it disregards a much larger framework of the teaching of Christ. Jesus did not teach that God doesn't judge, or that God doesn't punish, or that God should not be feared. But he did not teach that it is man's place (and particularly a Christian's place) to impose punishment. In fact there is an incident in the Gospels where his disciples wanted to "call down fire from Heaven" upon an impudent and implacable town by which they weren't treated well. Jesus sharply rebuked them for this response and said "You do not know what spirit you are of".
Therefore, if the prescriptive interpretation chaffs irreconcilably with the larger framework of Christ's own words, his own corpus of instruction to those who would be his followers, then there remains only one good interpretive option, namely that the scripture you quoted is referring to the Judgment and punishment of God of wicked men who incorrigibly refuse to repent. Brad, I could marshal New Testament scripture after scripture in support of what I'm saying to counter those who ask "Shall we gather the tares up? (to be burned)".
The whole of Christ's teaching is a deference to the Judgment of God, giving mercy, and laying aside human wrath. The fact that scriptures can be divorced from their larger context, can be thought of as a test. Who are we that can take the words, even of the most holy, and do that which is unholy, often against conscience, and never in complete ignorance of the right. And still, the truth remains, that for those who love Christ, there is a desire to study and to understand the whole, that I believe will lead them closer to the spirit rather than the isolated letter.
If you don't understand this, then you can't say that one man's interpretation of anything can better or worse than another's. And I've never felt that this was your approach, at all.
You ask why I can't be wrong. I'm not saying that I can't. But if this is understood (apart from the quagmire of complete relativism), then so should the inverse be asked ... Why can't I be right? If someone can be far away, why can't they be close? How can the one point be pressed, without conceding the other?
So I'll not argue that I can't be wrong (in the abstract philosophical). What I will do, for those who will listen, is to make an exegetical and experiential case, as to why I'm not. And it's okay to question my answers (I still do). But I think valid questioning can only come from those who've taken the encounter seriously for themselves, who already feel persuaded about a level of coherence in the teaching, take it for granted in spite of some tension, and look carefully and thoughtfully for its best interpretation and application.
It seems that an invitation to exegesis is ever met with a tangential "but anyone can interpret that anyway they want, so why would I want to try?". And the response is "Yes, but I want to ask once you've honestly tried to examine it for yourself (for much more than a moment), do you really believe that they should?" Your questioning thus far, denies that there could be such a thing as interpretive propriety and only asks in terms of naked possibility. Yes of course people can interpret scripture any way they want, but should they?
[This message has been edited by Stephanos (06-02-2011 10:07 AM).]