Path, way

A path is a clear track, an unobstructed way. References to paths and ways feature throughout the Bible, sometimes literally, but with much more force when used metaphorically.

The Old Testament

One example, which is both literal and symbolic, is when the Israelites are being led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt during the Exodus. They have to find their way across the desert to the land which God has promised them, their Promised Land. Each day God sends a pillar of cloud ‘to guide them on their way' (Exodus 13:21) and a pillar of fire each night so that they may stay on the right path. See Big ideas: Promised Land, Diaspora, Zionism; Moses; Passover.

Many of the Psalms refer to receiving the spiritual guidance of God as being led on the right path; in Psalms 16:1-11 the writer rejoices that God ‘make(s) known to me the path of life', and Psalms 27:11 asks, ‘Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path.'

The New Testament

In the New Testament, John the Baptist is seen as preparing the way for the Messiah. John quoted about himself the words of Isaiah:

 ‘A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”' (Isaiah 40:3)

See Big ideas: Messiah, Christ, Jesus.

When Jesus was asked by his disciple Thomas how to reach God, Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me' (John 14:6). However, Jesus also pointed out to his disciples that the way would be hard, and would involve suffering, telling them that, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34).

Pilgrims and pilgrimage: the image of a path in literature

Pilgrim's ProgressThose who travel on journeys of faith to holy places are called pilgrims; pilgrimages are undertaken by many people of various religions. The idea of a spiritual journey, and the image of a path, especially of one leading to goodness or to a desired end, is frequently found in literature.

One of the best known examples is the allegory of a journey in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, where the hero, Christian, sets out on a dangerous journey to find the kingdom of God.

Equally, the novel Jane Eyre may also be read as a spiritual journey. Jane travels from place to place, starting, just like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, at a gate. There she cries out, just as Christian did, ‘What shall I do?' The answer was to set out on a path to greater spiritual knowledge and understanding.

Related topics

Big ideas: Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Promised Land, Diaspora, Zionism; Moses; Passover; Messiah, Christ, Jesus.

Other cultural ideas

Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress

Brontë's Jane Eyre

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