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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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KEEPING.—The English verb ‘keep,’ with its equivalents ‘watch,’ ‘beware of,’ ‘preserve,’ ‘observe,’ is a translation of several Gr. words: τηρέω (and its compounds διατηρέω. συντηρέω), φυλάσσω (and its compound διαφυλάσσω), ποιέω, ἔχω (and its compounds κατέχω, συνέχω), κρατέω, ἄγω.

The most important of these words are τηρέω and φυλάσσω with their respective compounds, and for a discussion of the difference in meaning between them the reader is referred to Grimm-Thayer’s Gr. Lex., and Westcott’s St. John (note on John 8:51).

1. Two common usages of the word have to be noticed first. (a) It is=exercise watchful care. The participle translation in Authorized Version ‘the keepers’ (Matthew 28:4) is a part of the same verb (τηρέω) as is rendered ‘watch’ in Matthew 27:36 ‘and they sat and watched him there’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ), and in Matthew 27:54 ‘The centurion and they that were with him watching … feared exceedingly’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ). It is a compound of that verb, too (συντηρέω), which is used to describe the action of putting ‘new wine into new bottles’—‘both are preserved,’ i.e. properly cared for (Matthew 9:17). And the same compound occurs again in the passage in Mk. (Mark 6:20), where it is said that Herod ‘observed’ (Authorized Version ) John, or ‘kept’ him ‘safe’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ). (b) It is=guard, the direct implication being that this action is necessary in view of possible assaults. For instance, ‘There were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch (φυλάσσοντες φυλακάς) by night over their flocks’ (Luke 2:8); ‘It is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 guard) thee’ (Luke 4:10, where the verb used is διαφυλάσσω). Other instances of the same usage of the word are to be found in Luke 8:29; Luke 11:21; Luke 12:15.

2. Retain may be taken as another general synonym for ‘keep’ as it is used in the Gospels. For example, at the marriage in Cana the ruler of the feast is reported as having said to the bridegroom, ‘Thou hast kept (τηρέω) the good wine until now’ (John 2:10).

Retention (κατέχω) is described as a stage in the process whereby ‘an honest and good heart’ brings to the fulfilment of fruitfulness the experience of ‘hearing the word’ (Luke 8:15). It is opposed to ‘hearing with joy, but having no root,’ and to ‘hearing and going on one’s way, and being choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life.’

But, apart from Mark 9:10, where the disciples are said to have ‘kept (κρατέω) the saying’ which Jesus spoke to them on their way down from the Mount of Transfiguration [Luke says, Luke 9:36, they ‘held their peace’ (ἑσίγησαν) about the things they had seen on the Mount], the two most striking contexts in which the word is used with this meaning are found in Luke’s Gospel. When the shepherds made known concerning the saying which had been spoken to them about the child in Bethlehem, ‘all that heard it wondered.… But Mary kept (συνετήρει) all these sayings (or things), pordering them in her heart’ (Luke 2:18 f.). She kept them to herself, and did not allow the impression of them to dissipate in mere astonishment. ‘The wonder of the many was a transient emotion; this recollecting and brooding of Mary was an abiding habit’ (Bruce, Expos. Gr. Test.). Again, referring to what took place on the occasion of the visit to Jerusalem, the narrative goes on to say that Jesus went down with His parents ‘and came to Nazareth; and he was subject unto them; and his mother kept (διετήρει) all these sayings (or things) in her heart’ (Luke 2:51). She kept them continually and carefully. They were never absent from her consciousness. They were always the subject of her thought. Motherhood, in all its pathos and beauty, in all its self-forgetfulness, and devoted intentness, and jealous vigilance, is revealed in these simple words—‘His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.’

3. Two further usages of the word may be grouped together here. (a) In certain contexts it means to celebrate. For example, we read that Herod ‘exercised a watchful care’ over the Baptist, ‘but when his birthday was kept’ (ἄγω, Authorized Version ), he was found off his guard (Matthew 14:6). Again, the verb used to describe the celebration of the Passover (Matthew 26:18) is ‘keep’ (ποιέω—a most appropriate term to use in connexion with an ordinance which largely consisted in representing ancient events by means of symbolic actions). Once more, in the report given in John’s Gospel of the anointing by Mary in Bethany, we read that Jesus said of Mary’s action, ‘Suffer her to keep (τηρέω) it against the day of my burying’ (John 12:7 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 )—the meaning of ‘keep it’ evidently being to ‘celebrate this as a rite.’ (b) In several contexts it means generally to observe or conform to. For instance, we read that when the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples walked not according to the tradition of the elders, but ate their bread with defiled hands, He replied, ‘Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep (τηρέω) your tradition’ (Mark 7:9). Again, the conclusion to which some of the Pharisees are reported to have come with regard to our Lord’s action in healing a man blind from his birth on the Sabbath, was, ‘This man is not from God, because he keepeth (τηρέω) not the Sabbath’ (John 9:16).

4. But ‘keep’ has the more precise meanings of: (a) believe, in such passages as ‘Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep (φυλάσσω) it’ (Luke 11:28), ant ‘If any man hear my sayings, and keep (φυλάσσω) them not. I judge him not’ (John 12:47); and (b) obey, in such passages as that in which the rich young ruler is reported as having said with reference to the commandments cited by Jesus, ‘All these things have I kept (φυλάσσω) from my youth up’ (Matthew 19:20 Authorized Version , cf. Mark 10:20, Luke 18:21), and that in which Jesus is reported as having taxed the Jews with failure to ‘keep’ (Authorized Version ) or ‘do’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ; ποιέω) the Law of Moses (John 7:19).

But the significant passages in this connexion are those which (with the exception of Matthew 19:17; Matthew 28:20) occur in the Fourth Gospel, and in which the verb to ‘keep’ (τηρέω in every instance) is associated with the terms λόγος (sing, or plur. ‘word’ or ‘words’) and ἑντολαί (plur. ‘commandments’). (i.) Westcott points out (note to John 8:51) that the phrase ‘keeping Christ’s word’ (or ‘words’) refers to ‘the observance of the whole revelation in its organic completeness.’ The opposite of ‘to keep’ in this connexion is ‘to disregard or disbelieve.’ He who ‘keeps’ Christ’s ‘word’ (or ‘words’) is he who first attends to it, and lets the wonder and significance of the message it conveys sink into his mind, and who then appropriates and makes his own by faith the revelation it brings. To pay no heed to Christ’s ‘word’ (or ‘words’), to be at no pains to think out the purport of His appearance in history, and of the tidings of salvation He proclaimed; or, the meaning and worth of the gospel having in some measure been realized, to set it aside, to neglect it, to occupy one’s self seriously with other things only—that is the attitude to Himself which Christ describes when He speaks of a man not ‘keeping His word.’ To ‘keep’ Christ’s word, in short, is to take Christ at His word—to believe in Him (cf. John 8:51-52; John 14:23-24; John 15:20; John 17:6). The word of Christ is the word of the Father (John 14:24, John 17:6), and it is the word which the disciples are to proclaim (John 15:20). (ii.) The phrase ‘keeping Christ’s commandments’ refers to ‘the observance of definite precepts’ (Westcott, ib.). The opposite of ‘to keep’ in this connexion is clearly ‘to disobey.’ He that ‘keeps Christ’s commandments’ is he who recognizes their supremacy over his will, and seeks to regulate his inward and his outward life by them. To slight the obligations which Christ imposes, to look upon the principles of conduct which He enjoins on men as subject to qualification and as mere alternatives to other possible and perhaps more congenial maxims, or, their authority being acknowledged, to limit one’s conformity to them to an external and superficial obedience, an obedience that is only a travesty of active Christian discipleship—that is the attitude to Christ which is described when it has to be said of a man that he ‘keeps not’ His commandments. ‘To keep Christ’s commandments’ is to own Him as the sole sovereign of one’s life, and to bring one’s whole self—mind and will and heart—into captivity to the obedience of Christ (cf. John 14:15; John 14:21, John 15:10).

Love for Christ is described by Him as being the condition that ensures both belief in His word or words (John 14:23-24), and obedience to His commandments (John 14:15); and obedience to His commandments, on the other hand (John 14:21), is described by Him as being the evidence that bears witness to the reality of that love. Further, to believing in His word He attaches two promises. ‘If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him’ (John 14:23), and ‘If a man keep my word, he shall never see death’ (John 8:51)—a combination of passages which shows what ‘death’ involves. Similarly with obedience to His commandments Christ connects this promise, ‘If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I … abide in my Father’s love’ (John 15:10); and with the love to Him that is borne witness to by obedience to His commandments, this other: ‘He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him’ (John 14:21).

Finally, Christ describes Himself as standing in this twofold relation to the Father, viz. of ‘keeping his word,’ and ‘keeping his commandments’; ‘I know him, and keep his word’ (John 8:55); ‘I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love’ (John 15:10).

5. The last usage of the word ‘keep’ refers to the Divine care of men, and occurs in our Lord’s Intercessory Prayer (17). (a) John 15:11 lets us see one aspect of the meaning of this ‘keeping’: ‘Holy Father, keep (τηρέω) them [i.e. ‘those whom thou hast given me’ (John 15:9)] in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.’ This was the work which Christ had wrought for the disciples while He was with them. He had kept (τηρέω) them in the Father’s name, and guarded (φυλάσσω) them (John 15:12). In these two phrases—the former of which suggests positive communication of truth and solicitude that the recipients might not be dispossessed of it, and the latter protection against the assaults of temptation—the ‘educative care’ which Christ spent on the disciples is summed up (see Expos. Gr. Test. ad loc.). And now that He is to be ‘no more in the world,’ He prays the Father to keep them in the name of Himself as Father. ‘To be kept in the name’ means not only ‘to be kept in the knowledge,’ but ‘to be kept in the experience’—there being other modes or relation and sensibility to God on man’s part besides that of knowledge. That the disciples’ faith in God as Father might be characterized by assurance, is the burden of Christ’s prayer (see Westcott, ad loc., on the title ‘Holy Father’). (b) John 15:15 shows us another aspect of the meaning of the Divine ‘keeping’: ‘I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from (Gr. ‘out of’) the evil’ (Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘evil one’). Whether ‘evil’ should be interpreted as masculine or neuter need not be discussed here. The point to notice is that the experience, and the only experience, of Divine ‘keeping’ which Christ by His example encourages men to pray for and anticipate, consists not in immunity from adversity, injuries, suffering, sorrow, and death, but in maintenance in a condition of certitude with regard to the Father’s love and of perseverance in the path and practice of goodness—freedom from evil. The man who does not lend himself and the man who does lend himself to this keeping are described in John 12:25 : ‘He that loveth his life loseth it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep (φυλάσσω) it unto life eternal’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ).

Literature.—Moulton-Geden, Concord. to Gr. Test.; Grimm-Thayer, Gr. Lex.; Westcott, Com. on John; Expos. Gr. Test. and works referred to there.

A. B. Macaulay.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Keeping'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​k/keeping.html. 1906-1918.
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