I have a source (author) that says the word "keep" in Acts 15:5 should be defined as "to guard" or "to put a fence around" to which the logic of defining the term as such is based on the context. I have looked at this term in the Strong’s and in a Greek Analytical Lexicon. I am not convinced by my two resources that I agree with the author's viewpoint. I am unsure at best. I am hoping someone here with a Greek language skill set can help me figure this out. How, within the context of the conversation, would I define the term “keep?” Does it mean to place a fence around?

A Portion of the author's view is that the Pharisees are insisting the new converts be circumcised and they would have been pushing the converts to be observant of the "fence around the law" hence the interpretation or definition of the word keep.

Acts 15:5 (KJV) 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to KEEP the law of Moses.

Anyone responding, please, kindly provide a resource to support your understanding if possible.

  • I thought this might be a misguided etymological question but after looking into it it turns out not to be at all obvious. Thanks for posting the question.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 29, 2017 at 21:44
  • On second thought, this appears to be some kind of etymological fallacy.
    – Ruminator
    Aug 29, 2017 at 23:40
  • It's not a far fetched question and I'm not looking for an answer based in the English. The underlying Greek word for "keep" has a root which can infact mean "to guard" but that doesn't mean it's a fitting definition when context is considered. Which is why I asked for somebody with Greek language skills to help me find a conclusion sufficient to confirm what the major author I am following has to say about this topic. I am searching for verification of his conclusion.
    – user6053
    Aug 30, 2017 at 1:42
  • does the author point to any examples where "guard" fits better in relation to laws and such than does "observe"? The short answer to your question is that it doesn't "mean to put a fence around". It could conceivably be used that way but the more important question is whether anyone actually uses the word that way. If I said "keep looking up" would you think you should put looking up in a fence? No, of course not. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy
    – Ruminator
    Aug 30, 2017 at 1:56
  • I am not looking for an answer constructed from English etymology. I could have done that already. I would like someone who understands Biblical Greek well enough to review this topic. Speculating from the English side is not going to provide a sufficient answer.
    – user6053
    Aug 30, 2017 at 10:42

1 Answer 1


The Greek word is τηρέω (tēréō). It appears 75 times in the New Testament and 37 times in the Greek Septuagint.

It can mean "guard" or "watch" as your friend suggests. It is found in this sense, for example, in Matthew 27:54 -

Ὁ δὲ ἑκατόνταρχος καὶ οἱ μετʼ αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν, ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γενόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα λέγοντες· ἀληθῶς Θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος.

Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

Another examples of this usage is in Matthew 28:4.

The word can also mean "keep", which is similar to "guard" when one understands "keep" as meaning to hold back or withhold:

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· πᾶς ἄνθρωπος πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησι, καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσι, τότε τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι.

And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

When tēréō is used in conjunction with the Law or the commandments, however, it really does mean "keep" in terms of follow and not "guard" or "watch" passively. In 1 John 2:3, for example, we read:

καὶ ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν λαμβάνομεν παρʼ αὐτοῦ, ὅτι τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν καὶ τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ποιοῦμεν.

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

We find also examples of this in the Septuagint:

1 Kingdoms 15:11 (1 Samuel 15:11)

Παρακέκλημαι ὅτι ἐβασίλευσα τὸν Σαουλ εἰς βασιλέα, ὅτι ἀπέστρεψεν ἀπὸ ὄπισθέν μου καὶ τοὺς λόγους μου οὐκ ἐτήρησεν. καὶ ἠθύμησεν Σαμουηλ καὶ ἐβόησεν πρὸς κύριον ὅλην τὴν νύκτα.

I have repented that I have made Saul to be king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not kept my word. And Samuel was grieved, and cried to the Lord all night.

Tobit 14:9

σὺ δὲ τήρησον τὸν νόμον καὶ τὰ προστάγματα καὶ γίνου φιλελεήμων καὶ δίκαιος, ἵνα σοι καλῶς ἦ

But keep thou the law and the commandments, and shew thyself merciful and just, that it may go well with thee.

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