An earlier post showed how the younger word trail has taken over meanings once associated with path. Similarly, the younger road is now used to refer to what was once covered by way. Comparing the King James Version (KJV) with contemporary translations of the Bible indicates how the use of the two words has changed over the past 400 years.
The KJV uses road only once in the entire Bible, in the coastal king Achish’s question to David “Whither have ye made a road to day?” David is at the time a military hero-turned-fugitive in conflict with Israel’s king Saul. Achish has allowed David and his “600 men” to stay in his territory. David’s army supports itself in ISIS-like fashion by attacking towns to the south of both Achish’s and Saul’s territories, “leaving neither man nor woman alive, and taking away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel.” King Achish is asking David not about road construction but about where he went to raid others. David’s answer: “Against towns in Saul’s territory.” His massacres have left no witnesses to say the contrary and Achish can think David “hath made his people Israel utterly to abhor him; therefore he shall be my servant for ever.”
Road was first used in English to refer to the “act of riding horseback” or “a journey on horseback”. It later referred to the “act of riding with hostile intent” and then to acts of hostile intent whether or not with horses—raids. The metonymic association of riding and the place of riding gave rise to the sense that we know today: an “ordinary line of communication used by persons passing between different places, usually one wide enough to admit of the passage of vehicles as well as of horses or travellers on foot” (OED).
Road was just beginning to be used in this sense in King James’ time; much more common was the use of way:
King James Version: the way to Shure; rough ways; way of the sea
Modern translations: the road to Shur; rough roads; road to/by the sea
In King James’ time, way matched well with the biblical Hebrew derek, Greek hodos, and Latin via. All could refer to a “stretch of land, trodden solid and therefore used as a road.” All could be used to refer to what would be labeled a path, trail, street or road today. They could also be used in the sense of travel or journey or, even more generally, when referring to life’s journey, conduct, behavior, or custom.
Today, however, the use of way to refer to a material road or road-like structure is rare, apart from names of streets such as “London Way” that might lead to Ye Olde Towne Shoppe. Way is mostly used in the abstract senses of “direction,” “manner of proceeding” or “means”. So while Milky Way well translated Latin’s via lactea in Chaucer’s time (“See yonder, lo, the Galaxye, Which men clepeth [call] the Milky Wey”), Milky Road would today better express what the poet Ovid said the gods traveled over to arrive at the palace of the mighty Thunderer.
In the Gospel of John, it is the Greek hodos that leads to the supreme deity’s palace. Jesus says he is going there and expresses confidence that his followers know the hodos. Thomas says, “We don’t know where you’re going. So how can we know the hodos?” Jesus replies “I am the hodos—and the truth and the life.” Most versions follow the KJV in translating hodos by way here. I was brought up to think this meant “the means by which you get to heaven” (the cross, the resurrection, etc.), without questioning why this futuristic notion would be mixed in with the non-temporal references to truth and life. I rarely if ever associated the image of a road with this saying. Rather than being encouraged to think of how “truth” and “life” relate to a part of everyday experience—a road, I was taught to understand this text as an abstract claim in keeping with a dogma. The Message is the only translation I know of that keeps the image:
Jesus said, "…You already know the road I’m taking."
Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going.
How do you expect us to know the road?”
Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life.
But even The Message bows to tradition when translating one of the first names for the new religion described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles: “the hodos.” Immediately preceding and following the use of this name are two key events that most modern translations rightly depict as occurring on a road. An Ethiopian traveling from Jerusalem back to his homeland is met on the hodos/road by a Jesus follower, hears “the good news” and continues on--or in--his hodos rejoicing. The scene immediately switches to a Saul who is tracking down people of The Hodos/the Road. (Most if not all translations keep the King James “Way” even if they used “road” in the other contexts.) But heading toward Damascus, he is blinded by “a light from heaven.” A Jesus follower takes Paul in and explains about Jesus “the one appearing to you on/in the hodos/road.”
The road is the way. The road, the journey on the road—sometimes a path, sometimes a trail, sometimes a street, sometimes a paved road—is where one encounters the Divine.
 Koehler & Baugartner. The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.
Trails we follow,