A conservative evangelical is open to using the majority of commonly accepted mainstream translations of the Bible. They’re even willing to create and use new versions, if they think it’ll help spread the word of God. They want the Bible to be concise, easy to read, and relevant, the Bible’s just information, translating it into a different dialect, or changing the font or moving redundant verses to the footnotes doesn’t mean the message changes. They view an obsessed allegience to one particular translation as something approaching idolatry.
In fact, in the world of evangelicals, treating your actual physical Bible too carefully and respectfully is akin to idolatry. Sure, it can have a nice fabric cover or something, maybe your name embossed on the front, but you're not supposed to treat the paper itself as if it's any more important than your other favorite books. You shouldn't use it to prop up a table leg, but you don't have to kiss it if it falls on the ground, or make sure it isn't being covered by other books. People I went to church with even used highlighters on the pages of their Bibles.
A fundamentalist refuses to have anything to do with any translations that aren’t the version commissioned by King James . I used to think this was a joke, but it isn’t. It absolutely must be the King James. There are even hardline sects that insist the version must be the one produced in 1611. Churches and colleges split over this.
KJV1611 has become sloganized in fundyland. It appears on license plates, bumper stickers, email signatures, web addresses, and so on. They believe that the KJV is the superior, Divinely Inspired English Translation even though we’re capable of producing translations now that are as good, or maybe even better. Fundamentalists will not touch them. They have a particular hateon for the New International Version, or “NIV”, which is popular with old school conservative evangelicals. The average evangelical is probably unaware of the true extent of hatred fundamentalists have for this translation. I was raised among NIV users who often brought other versions into church. A lot of people in my church used the NIV because the church gave those out for free, and we had a lot of "bus kids". Nobody was particularly married to that translation otherwise.
I never realized how much it mattered to some sects until I became interested in
Apparently, even changing the spelling of Biblical terms and words from 16th century British English to American English when you're not even directly quoting is frowned upon in some fundy circles.
It doesn’t sound like something worth fighting over to anyone else, but the puddle that separates NIV users from KJV fans might as well be a lake to fundamentalists. It’s yet another way fundies seem stuck in a previous era, everyone else moved on from the NIV years ago. While fundamentalists are still clinging to their KJV 1611 Authorized with the black leather cover and wide margins, evangelicals are reading The Message on their IPads.
A conservative evangelical believes that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible in their own way. Whether other people will react well to your interpretation, that’s up in the air, there are some topics you’re only allowed to pretend to debate, but you are allowed to disagree in general. You may question the rules and debate them if you have a solid, reasonable argument in your favor, or frankly, even if you don’t. You can think anything you want, no one can stop you, even if they think they can, no one else is the boss of your beliefs. No one.
Some are literalists, sure, but even then it’s more about concepts, rather than insisting that all the actual words all be exactly the same all the time. Evangelicals are more interested in the idea that somewhere out there, there is a collection of objective Bible facts that really happened, that can be arranged in a specific order to explain how everything works. That does not necessarily have to be found in a specific version of the Bible, they just need it to be out there somewhere for eventual discovery. But they like to be able to point to something, however obscure, in the Bible that justifies their theories of a One True Version.
Evangelicals are the sort of people who love to point out that the Three Wise Men (The Three Kings) didn’t visit Jesus until he was a toddler or that Peter was married and had kids, while often simultaneously missing the point of the stories. It may, actually, matter that Peter had a family, but it doesn’t matter all that much when the Three Kings showed up. The point is that Jesus was recognized as “the king of kings”, and also maybe something about his message being for everyone, not just Jews.
My parents were watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” and my father remarked that the production was “getting some things wrong”. What things?, I wondered in my head. Was it like the Russell Crowe “Robin Hood” where, regardless of the facts, it simply seemed to miss the point of Robin Hood? Or was this about something else only they would notice and nitpick? Because in my opinion, Superstar pretty much seems to understand the point of Jesus. So it must have been another thing, right?
To evangelicals, the Facts are very important, and they criticize older types of Christianity for allegedly not being as concerned with the facts. Most of their “facts” honestly do make sense as educated guesses, but that’s not something we may ever actually know, it’s a narrative, not an investigative report.
Other, older types of Christianity usually believe that it’s the lessons the stories teach that are important, not whether or not they really happened. They wrote the stories, after all and designed them to convey specific messages that evangelicals may not understand out of context. A story designed to remind people of the role kings played in the Christian worldview might go right over the heads of evangelicals, who tend to be “small r” republicans. Especially in the largely kingless Americas.
Evangelicals try though, no one is as well versed in the Christian Bible. Sort of. It’s just that so much of what their scholarship entails consists of third or fourth hand resources which they firmly insist are the best sources. They knock themselves out trying to find the answers to questions that were sorted out hundreds of years ago by the sort of people they don't think of as "real" Christians with anything to teach them.
Fundamentalists don’t really do real scholarship. A fundamentalist believes that there is absolutely only one way to read and interpret the Bible and when your pastor wants your opinion, he’ll give it to you. They are extremely literal minded in their Biblical views, taking the evangelical insistence that there’s One True Objective Biblical Narrative to extremes.
Conservative evangelicals may argue for "intelligent design" or the idea that the six "days" mentioned in Genesis are really thousands of years a piece and may be very, very confused about the various ages our world went through as it was developing. Fundamentalists insist that the world really is only seven thousand years old, created in six literal days.
Fundamentalists do not like Biblical scholarship because it is compromising on the face value meaning of the text. It all has to be true, or none of it is, questioning that indicates shaky faith, it's "moral relativism". For people who spend so much time memorizing verses and taking the Bible literally, fundamentalists don't read it all that closely.
The basis for Biblical literalism comes from human psychology, we all want simple answers that don't change and come from one source. Especially in uncertain times and places. It also comes from church leaders who want to set themselves up as the arbitrators of truth, in order to control their people. It also comes from a misunderstanding of certain Bible verses.
"In the beginning was the Word" says John 1:1. This is not about literal written words, it's a reference to Jesus existing as a function/aspect of God before being born as a human.
Fundamentalist churches usually have the world “Bible” in their name. If not, then their sign out front will proudly announce that they’re a “Bible believing church”. Because, you see, other churches don’t believe in the Bible. Because they argue that there’s such things as “genres” of Bible story, and that some of the stories are more important than others and that some things are meant as metaphors or meant a different thing in historical and linguistic context, and that the book was assembled by a committee of flawed humans. And also that maybe other types of Christians can have Bibles that are a little different but no less valid.