The Pilgrim's Progress has been translated into more tongues than any book except the Bible. As a matter of fact, Protestant missionaries commonly translated it as the first thing after the Bible. It is argued that The Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the most extraordinary major work of English literature. Bunyan was an itinerant Baptist preacher. He had a limited education and was constantly in trouble with the authorities for preaching without a license. As mentioned, Bunyan wrote the work during the decade he spent in jail for his preaching activities and with it produced the most astonishingly popular and influential work, second only to the King James Version of the Bible in the Protestant world. And the popularity of the work, reached all sections of the population. In fact, Bunyan's text was, for almost three hundred years, an integral part of the daily life of working class Protestant families throughout the world.
The following notes will provide you with some basic helps in reading the Pilgrim’s Progress. Remember it is an allegory. Simply put: Allegory is the reading of documents on several levels.
The verse that the church used to justify this method of interpretation is 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The early church took this to mean that interpretation of the Bible should be symbolic as well as literal. By dismissing the spiritual sense as a pious fantasy, modern critics have missed the profundity of this verse, and hence of the tradition of spiritual exegesis. The below four points express what the Church has always believed about the Bible. Namely:
- The Bible records God's action in history (the letter), and it is the task of the interpreter to discern the relation between what is written there and what has come about (and will come about) because of what happened.
- The three latter senses show how this is best done, by relating the text to what we believe (allegory),
- to how we are to live (the moral sense),
- and to what we hope for (the anagogical sense)."
So in The Pilgrims Progress we have:
- Literal - journey from the City of Destruction to Celestial City despite great perils.
- Allegorical - the progress of any Christian from Baptism through trials to heaven.
- Moral - courage, trust, effort - to have these there characteristics.
- Anagogic - God’s providence and care for us. Worthiness of goal - to get to city.
As you walked through the wilderness of this world take Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress with you!