A brief explanation of this blog's purpose and principles can be found here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Since When Did John Bunyan Become Paul Bunyan?

Almost every child grows up trying to impersonate and emulate their childhood hero in some way. For some it is their mom or dad, others have sports heroes, and still others choose comic book heroes (mine was Spiderman). Despite these childhood fantasies that each of us are probably guilty of having, most of us hopefully grow out of these desires and realize that a more applicable desire may be to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or some other contributor to society; John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, apparently had a very different set of heroes and people he wanted to become. Bunyan feared “from his earliest childhood” that he would “offend the Lord” and carried such fear with him as he penned the pages of this best seller (pg x). Maybe it is the religionist in me or maybe even the critic, but I couldn’t help but think that Bunyan was trying to be like Paul of the New Testament, that perhaps he was trying to become an individual we might think of as "Paul" Bunyan.

I could not help but draw similarities between Bunyan and many of the biblical writers, especially Paul, as I read this book. Many similarities exist in Bunyan’s work and even in his personal situation while writing it that would draw this parallel. Bunyan, like Paul, was imprisoned when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. Paul wrote the Books of Collosians, Philimon, Epheisians, and Phillippians while he was imprisoned in Rome; Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress while imprisoned in Bedford jail. With both of these authors writing from prison, it would give the readers, as they suffered through the prison of sin and of this life, something to relate to as they read about their own sinfulness and helplessness.

The preface of the book also states that John Bunyan “was of modest origins… [had] little formal education,” and in his own words he “was the very ring-leader of all the Youth that kept me company, into all manner of vice and ungodliness” (Preface ix). Many of Christ’s disciples were uneducated, including Simon, Andrew, John, and James, who were simple fishermen. It is nearly impossible to miss the connection of a young roughian turned saint-like as Paul did. When Paul Bunyan…I mean John Bunyan… alludes to his unfaithful origins, it is reminiscent of Paul, who not only was a sinner, but also persecuted and helped kill the Christians. Both of these men turned their lives towards Christ and in so doing amassed a following that would read their words over and over again.

Even within his work Bunyan makes statements that lead the reader to view himself as someone called of God to write this book and establish it as another form of the bible. First, Bunyan labels the intro to his book “The Author’s Apology for His BOOK,” putting forth his apologies for any manmade errors that may lie within (pg 5). He then proceeds to explain that “When at the first I took my Pen in hand, Thus for to Write; I did not understand That I at all should make a little Book In such a mode; Nay, I had undertook To make another, which when almost done, Before I was aware, I this begun” (pg 5). He writes phrasing like this through his intro which alludes to the words being written as perhaps not his own, but rather maybe those given to him through inspiration, as the bible was written. Later he even goes as far as to say that “My dark and cloudy words they do but hold The Truth, as Cabinets inclose the Gold” (pg 7). Should an individual’s words really be compared with Gold? I know that I would never claim my words were like Gold unless God told me to say that. As if calling his own words “Gold” isn’t enough, Bunyan goes even further in his self-promotion and aggrandizement. Bunyan refers to Paul as using parables in which “lay hid That Gold” (pg 8). It would take a strong argument to convince me that Bunyan did not purposefully refer to his words as gold, then refer to Paul’s words as gold as well. To complete his own parallelism between his and Paul’s writing, Bunyan claims his own writing as a parable, something that he also claims Paul did in his writing.

“This Book will make a Travailer of thee, If by its Counsel thou wilt ruled be; It will direct thee to the Holy Land” (pg 9). This is the promise offered by Bunyan as you begin to read his book. It appears that this book, most likely not accidentally, is set up by Bunyan to become a book, similar in structure and purpose of the bible, which will guide individuals through life and the spiritual challenges that they will face. It is no wonder The Pilgrim’s Progress became a best seller; who, during times of a religious saturation of society, wouldn’t buy a book that claimed to be written like the bible by a man who so closely resembled the authors of the bible, particularly Paul?


  1. It's a catchy title, I'll give you that. I think though, that it is obvious why Bunyan's (as well as almost every other writer of the day) writing is resemblant to the Bible... that's all that they read. I myself have to go back after writing a paper about a specific text to make sure that I don't sound too much like the author. I think that is one of the many reasons why people say "you are what you read". Bunyan really didn't have a lot of exposure to literature, so it only makes sense to me why his writing should reflect that of Paul (who after wrote at least 13 out of the 27 books in the New Testament).

  2. Seeing those people fighting with swords in business suites reminded me of a commercial that's slightly similar. This could be the modern version of pilgrims progress.