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1628-1688. Puritan writer and preacher. Born at Elstow, near Bedford, into a poor home, he probably acquired his grasp of the English language from reading the Bible. As a youth he was involved in the Civil War on the Roundhead side. In 1649 he married, and his wife brought him Dent's Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and Bayly's* Practice of Piety. In 1653 he joined Pastor Gifford's Independent church at Bedford. A year or two later he began to preach with no little success, except with the magistrate who remanded him in custody for refusing to undertake not to preach. His imprisonment lasted intermittently from 1660 to 1672, but it enabled him to produce his masterpiece Pilgrim's Progress and other writings, including some verse. After 1672 he spent most of his time in preaching and evangelism in the Bedford area.
The Bedford tinker's fame rests chiefly on three works: Pilgrim's Progress (1678, 1684), The Holy War (1682), and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). He proved to be a master of simple, homely English style, narrative, and allegory. The first- named book especially was, with Foxe's* Martyrs, read in virtually every Victorian home, and remains a best seller for children and adults alike. Theologically Bunyan was a Puritan in that he held a Calvinist view of grace, but he was a separatist in his views of baptism and the church. He has been much studied by literary experts, and has gathered round his name a number of biographies, chiefly of a devotional nature. The standard biography is still, however, J. Brown's: His Life, Times and Work (1885; rev. F.M. Harrison, 1928).
For a major study of Bunyan's theology, see R. Greaves, John Bunyan (2 vols., 1969). A complete edition of Bunyan's works is currently in preparation.