Walking: The Foundational Biblical Image for Spiritual Life

The most common image for the spiritual life in the Bible, both OT and NT, is related to “walking” and “way” metaphors which are rooted in the shepherding and wandering narratives of the Hebrew Bible, which in turn impact the entirety of Scripture.

Just as דרך (derekh) is the most common noun in the Hebrew Bible to be used “as a metaphor for life, so הלך (halakh) is the verb most frequently employed to describe the act or process of living” (NIDOTTE, 989); to be exact: 285 times out of 1550 occurrences of הלך in the Hebrew Bible. The shepherding and wandering narratives have been generally undervalued for understanding this foundational Biblical metaphor in the Christian life.

This paper will argue that the semantic range of the root הלך (halakh), when used with certain constituents, conveyed a sense of ‘walking’ (as opposed to its primary sense of ‘going,’ not unlike the relationship between περιπατέω and πορεύομαι in the LXX and NT), but without necessarily implying a destination; and that this sense of the verb, when applied to an understanding of life according to God’s law and holiness, intimates that what was important was the nature and relational aspect of the walking, more than the arrival at a destination.

Through linguistic analysis, it will be shown that הלך and דרך conveys the manner of the motion verb (as opposed to the destination) and this is conveyed in New Testament as well, with a preference for περιπατέω rather than πορεύομαι, thus better reflecting the Hebraic conceptual metaphor of הלך (halakh). This shift in usage was likely influenced by the era’s increasing emphasis on praxis (vis a vis location and lineage) for the formation of Jewish identity and arguably by the Pharisaic context of Paul and John.

Such results have significant implications for better understanding for Biblical Theology, Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity including a deeper appreciation and understanding of the “walking” of the early Jesus movement, best known in the first-century as “the Way.”

4 thoughts on “Walking: The Foundational Biblical Image for Spiritual Life”

  1. Strong proposal and a
    Strong proposal and a fascinating topic. I wonder if it might fit better in the categories he mentioned in Biblical Theology, Ancient Judaism? Do we know if he submitted it to those sections? Interestingly he didn’t mention the contribution to SF.

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  2. thoughtful
    should be accepted somewhere — a good biblical/linguistic study on walking metaphor. Possbily helpful here — good for biblical studies etc. We may have more developed papers to choose from.

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