Biography of John Bunyan

John Bunyan was born in 1628 in Elstow, Bedfordshire, England to a poor brazier. He received little formal education. However, he did know how to read and write, and eventually chose a career as a tinker (someone who mends pots and kettles). At sixteen, he joined the parliamentary army and was stationed for three years at Newport Pagnell.

1650 was a momentous year for Bunyan. He got married, witnessed the birth of his first child (of six), and began to undergo a religious conversion. His first daughter, Mary, was blind, and her condition seems to have lead Bunyan to re-evaluate his life. He was haunted by his sins and found solace in the two books that his wife brought in her dowry, Dent’s Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven and Bayly’s Practice of Piety. John Bunyan decided to embrace a new religious way of life. By 1655, he was preaching in the Bedford church of St. John’s, and gained popularity quickly. In 1659, following the death of his first wife, Bunyan married a woman named Elizabeth.

Bunyan's first book, Some Gospel Truths, was published in 1656, not long after his preaching career began. By 1660, the tide of religious tolerance in England had turned, and Bunyan was arrested and jailed for preaching without a license. Thus began a period of intense productivity for Bunyan, for as Richard Greaves observes, “his greatest works were either written in the Bedford Jail or composed with that experience in mind” (18). Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, modeled after St. Augustine’s Confessions, was published in 1666, while he was still imprisoned. His imprisonment was, in fact, rather lenient, and Bunyan was often allowed to leave prison to attend church or visit his family. Most importantly, he was allowed to write.

Nevertheless, his wife lobbied tirelessly for his release, but Bunyan remained in jail until 1672. Scholars believe he began writing The Pilgrim’s Progress around 1668.

After hid release from prison, Bunyan became the pastor of St. John’s Church in Bedford. His preaching was in high demand so he also travelled quite frequently. In 1678, the first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress was published, followed in 1680 by The Life and Death of Mr. Badman. Another of Bunyan's most famous works, The Holy War, was published in 1682. The second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1684.

Bunyan continued to write serve as the pastor of the Bedford Church until his sudden death in 1688.

Study Guides on Works by John Bunyan