He was born at Metz, France. His father was from Ghent, but had gone into exile in Lorraine where he was a Protestant pastor. The family then moved to Heidelberg. He studied at Heidelberg under Franciscus Junius, graduating M.A. in 1589; and then for a doctorate in Geneva in 1590, under Theodore Beza.
He became French preacher at Dordrecht in 1591, and later succeeded Franz Gomarus as professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he taught from 1611. Polyander was considered a conciliatory figure, in the aftermath of the affairs at Leiden of Jacobus Arminius and Conrad Vorstius.
He was invited by the States of Holland to revise the Dutch translation of the Bible (the Statenvertaling), and it was he who edited the canons of the synod of Dort (1618–1619). His published works include:
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- Gustave Cohen, Écrivains français en Hollande dans la premiere moitié du 17e siecle (1920), pp. 222–3; archive.org.
- C. C. Barfoot and Richard Todd, The Great Emporium: the Low Countries as a cultural crossroads in the Renaissance and the eighteenth century (1992), p. 90; Google Books.
- Wolfgang Neuber, Cognition and the Book: typologies of formal organisation of knowledge in the printed book of the early modern period (2005), p. 85; Google Books.
- Henk F. K. van Nierop, The Nobility of Holland: from knights to regents, 1500-1650 (1993), p. 15; Google Books.
- "Kirkhoven, Catherine". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- (Dutch) A. J. Lamping (1980), Johannes Polyander, een dienaar van Kerk en Universiteit