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The authority of the Bible

Authentic Christianity trusts in the authority of the scriptures

The other day I read some promotional material from a growing and exciting church.  Their material was designed to draw more people into their fellowship by assuring the reader that they were not like the churches of old.  They stated that the Bible is not the Word of God, is not self-interpreting, isn’t a science book, isn’t an answer/rule book, and isn’t infallible or reliable.  It is startling to me to read this.  Not that I did not know there were churches out there that believed this, but that they put this out there so bluntly as a promotion for why someone should go to their church.  If that was not bad enough, they went on to state what they do believe it is.  They state that the Bible is a product of community, a library of texts, multi-vocal, a human response to God, and living and dynamic.  It would take me too long to address all of the reasons why those two veins of thinking are wrong.  While I do agree that the Bible is not a science book, I do believe the science I see there.  The rest of the statements need to be challenged.  I believe that the Word of God is a word directly from God in written form and it was inerrant in its transmission and writing.  It is also authoritative, sufficient, and infallible.  I will address most of these statements below.

I am concerned that some well-intentioned Christians and churches are beginning to drift away from the teaching and authority of scripture.  In order to address some of my concerns I am posting some work that I did several years ago.  The reason I wrote then is the same reason I write now: I want to encourage believers to be more committed to the authority of scripture.

Two Foundational Passages for Understanding the Authority of Scripture

The first section of chapter two deals with two important passages on the inspiration of Scriptures, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, and 2 Peter 1:19-21.  These two passages will be presented as foundational for an understanding of the authority of Scripture.  Both of these passages identify God as the source of scriptural authority. They also identify the process by which God communicated to humans, as well as Scripture’s benefit to them.

 

I.                2 Timothy 3:15-17

And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. esv

 

The Context of 2 Timothy 3:15-17

2 Timothy contains Paul’s last words to Timothy, a young man with whom he was very close.  Paul knew that his life was near its end, and he is ready to be offered up.  Paul’s concern for Timothy is that he would continue ministering effectively, even in the midst of difficult times in the church.  However, this is the second recorded letter Paul wrote to him.  The first time he wrote Timothy, he urged him to maintain the dignity of the gospel in a church that was being inundated by certain troublesome people, some of whom were attempting to bring division in the church through endless and meaningless discussions, and others who were challenging the doctrine of salvation and sanctification.  By the time Paul wrote his second letter, Timothy had done what Paul had told him to do, but it had made little difference with the most difficult people in that church.  Their false teachings had morphed to a different set of issues from the time 1 Timothy was written, since the major doctrinal problem addressed in 2 Timothy displays the idea that they were teaching there was no resurrection.   Paul knew that this teaching, as well as other useless discussions, had caused problems in the church and he tells Timothy that more difficult times are coming to the world around him and to the church.  This was indeed a time of intensifying hardship and persecution for Christians through the persecution of the Roman Empire.  What was worse, however, was that the church was being infiltrated and divided by false teachers and leaders who were willing to harm the unity of the church.   In chapter 2, Paul told Timothy to be consistent, persistent, and gracious with these people in the hope that one day they would see their need to reconcile with Timothy and with God.  Paul believed that they would remain instruments of the devil until they did so.  They were known by their character, as these people would be primarily focused on themselves.  In fact, their love for themselves was the evidence that helped Timothy know who they were (2 Timothy 3:1-9).

In the second half of the chapter, Paul tells Timothy to stay rooted in Scripture by following both his example and that of those who were also committed to it. The other examples mentioned are Timothy’s mother and grandmother who had taught him the words of Scripture, or what Paul calls the “sacred Scriptures” in 3:15.  Finally Paul teaches Timothy to stand strong for the gospel by knowing the Word of God.  These are words from God, or God-breathed words.  They are given by God and are profitable for Christian living and service to God.

 

The Source of Scripture Is God

Scriptures have authority because they are written words that come from God.  As we look at 2 Timothy 3:16 we will see this stated clearly when it says “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”   The word Scripture comes from the Greek word graphē.  This Greek word is not difficult to translate.  It simply means “writing.”  Verse 16 could be translated “all writings” instead of “all Scripture,” but if it was translated that way it would lack the special recognition given to it by the author and the context.  Most translators give the word special attention and translate it “Scripture.”  Verse 15 states that Timothy had been taught the sacred Scriptures which pointed him to salvation.  The word “sacred” comes from the Greek word hiera, which is often translated as “holy.”  It pertains “to being appropriate for the expression of worship and reverence—‘holy.’”[1]  It has to do with the things that “touch nothing profane.”[2]  This verse, taken together with verses 16 and 17, gives the word “writing” a powerful meaning, not only because they are “holy” words, but because they are also words given by God.  These holy written words have the power of God for salvation and sanctification because they are from God.  Frame says that “It is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form.”[3]  He goes on to say “it was written Scripture (γραφή, G1210) that Paul said was ‘God-breathed’ (2 Tim. 3:16). Similarly, it is Paul’s writings that are ‘a command of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 14:37) and that could be classified with ‘the other scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:16).”[4]

That brings us to the second important word in this context: theopneustos, which is often translated as “inspiration.”  “Inspiration,” however, is an unfortunate translation for a word that literally means “God-breathed.”  The English word “inspiration” is a word that has a wide range of meanings: that can refer to anything from being motivated to do something to being a direct message from God.  The vague and imprecise nature of this English word diminishes the real meaning of the Greek word it attempts to translate.   It is very important to know what theopneustos means since 2 Timothy 3:15-17 is the only passage in Scripture that uses it.  The King James translation says that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.”   The New American Standard Bible translates it in a similar way as “All Scripture is inspired by God.”  The English Standard is a preferential since it is contains the full meaning of the word, as it says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” because the word theopneustos is a compound word that should be literally translated as “God-breathed.”  The word theos means “God,” and pneustos refers to breath.  Hence, these writings come from God’s breath.  This brings a picture to mind of a person exhaling air in order to speak words.  The sound of the words come when the wind passes through the vocal chords and enters the mouth where the mouth and lips form the words necessary for communication.  The difference here is that God is not speaking in a voice to be heard.  In the context of 2 Timothy 3:16, the words are not audibly spoken, but written as God breathes them out.  The “writings” in this context are the very Word of God.  They are written words that bring salvation, continued sanctification, and mature service.  Salvation is found in verse 15, and sanctification is found in verses 16 and 17.  They include doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so that a godly person could have all that he needs for righteous living and service.  The NIV does a good job of translating this verse.  It says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

John Frame states:

What Paul says here is that the Scripture is breathed out, not created.  What can that mean?  Well, to breathe out words is simply to speak them.  Paul is saying that the OT words are the speech of God, his personal utterances. …  But the Word that is written on these media is divine.  It is the personal word of God himself.  So “breathed out by God” means “spoken by God.[5]

 

He continues to state his case more forcefully by saying that “The pneu of theopneustos connotes both God’s breath and God’s Spirit,”[6] and further notes that “the linguistic model of the Trinity, that the Father is the speaker, the Son the Word, and the Spirit the breath that conveys the word to its hearers.”[7]

Everything God has said in written form carries His authority.  It gives good doctrine, builds people up, rebukes them, instructs them in righteous living, and equips them to do good works.

 

The Process of Communicating the Word of God to Humanity

The word translated “Scripture” in verse 15 is likely referring to the Old Testament, since that is what Timothy would have had as a young child.  These writings of the Old Testament were spoken of as God’s Word long before the time of Paul or Timothy.  The larger context of verses 15-17 likely includes not only the Old Testament, but also applies to writings that were being written during Timothy’s lifetime.  Frame affirms this when he states that “Paul is saying that the OT words are the speech of God, his personal utterances.”[8]  The process used by God to give these “utterances” or “Scriptures” is that He breathed them out in the form of words written down by men.  This process utilized the writers’ personality, emotions, culture, and intelligence level to communicate to them exactly what God wanted to say.  Ryrie says:

My own definition of biblical inspiration is that it is God’s superintendence of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs. Several features of the definition are worth emphasizing: (1) God superintended but did not dictate the material. (2) He used human authors and their own individual styles. (3) Nevertheless, the product was, in its original manuscripts, without error.[9]

 

Grudem defines inspiration as:

A term referring to the fact that the words of Scripture are spoken by God. Because of the weak sense of this word in ordinary usage, this text prefers the term “God-breathed” to indicate that the words of Scripture are spoken by God.[10]

 

Both of these definitions capture the intensity of the meaning of the word theopneustos.   Frame makes the statement that “God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.”[11]

 

The benefit of having the Word of God

The point has been made in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 that God gave mankind a message in written form that carries His authority.  This authority is powerful to the end that it informs the believer with doctrine and prepares him for practical Christian living.  Verse 15 lists the first benefit as “salvation.”  Verses 16b and 17 state the other benefits by saying that they are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The first benefit of having the authoritative word of God is that it brings salvation.  Timothy was taught the Old Testament as a child.  Griffin states that “Paul’s use of the term was a reference to the Old Testament writings. He was not suggesting that a part of Timothy’s childhood instruction involved the New Testament.”[12]  The Old Testament contains information that pointed Timothy to Christ. The verse says that Timothy was taught the “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (ESV). To become “wise for salvation” means that what was read in the Old Testament was enough to awaken a person’s understanding to his need of a Savior.  The word means “to cause a person to have wisdom and understanding—‘to cause to understand, to cause to be wise, to make wise’”[13], or “make wise, teach, instruct.”[14] Griffin, again, states that “the phrase ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’ shows how the Scriptures make individuals wise. They enlighten them to the necessity for faith in Jesus Christ.”[15]

Another benefit of having the authority of God in Scriptures is that it is profitable or useful for knowing the teachings that need to be known about God and about how to please Him.  To be profitable means that a benefit can be had from the God-breathed message of God.  The benefits listed here are spiritual in nature.  The first benefit is that Scripture gives all the teachings that a person needs to know concerning what to believe and how that belief will determine the practice of one’s life.

It is also good for rebuking a person who is in need of it.  It means “to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing—‘to rebuke, to reproach, rebuke, reproach’”[16], or “reproof.”[17]  The Word of God is useful in telling a person he is wrong and by giving the proof from Scripture why what was done or thought is wrong.

A person who is told he is wrong based on Scriptures has begun to be corrected.  He is told what is right and how to get back on track using the Scriptures.  Correction should bring a person back to the side of Scripture.

The Word of God is also profitable for instruction in holy living.  Griffin says “it describes a system of discipline in Scripture that leads to a holy life-style.”[18]  The Bible, then, is the guidance given from God for living in a holy fashion.  To live holy is “the act of doing what God requires—‘righteousness, doing what God requires, doing what is right,’”[19] or “uprightness.”[20] The Christian has information in the Bible, God’s word, to live right according to God’s standards.

The result of being taught, rebuked, and corrected is growth and maturity in living and in serving God.  The ESV translates it this way: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

 

II.             2 Peter 1:19-21

The second important passage that is foundational in supporting the authority of Scripture is 2 Peter 1:19-21.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

 

 

The Context of 2 Peter 1:19-21

The context of 2 Peter 1:3-21 clues the reader in to the fact that Peter wrote during difficult times.   He felt a sense of urgency because he was near the time of his death (2 Peter 1:14, 15).   His concerns involved immorality affecting the church, an attitude of disrespect toward angels, and refusal to adhere to sound doctrine which involved a denial of the second coming of Christ.  Not only did the false teachers err in their belief and practice, but they also recruited other weak-minded and ignorant people to join them in their efforts. Peter answered these problems by giving a message from God that there would come a day of accounting at the coming of the “Day of the Lord” (2 Peter 2-3).

 

The Source of Scripture Is God

Peter had seen the transfiguration.  It was a great event that involved the glory of Jesus and the audible voice of God.  It was a confirming event for Peter and those who were there.  Peter speaks of it as a great revelation but goes on to say that there is a revelation that is better: Scripture.  Speaking of Scripture, he calls it a “prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19).   The “prophetic word” is made up of written words from God.  The phrase refers primarily to the Old Testament since that was the common reference of the phrase at the time, but it also refers to the Scriptures that were being written and circulated during Peter’s lifetime.  The word “prophecy” speaks of “divinely inspired utterances”,[21] or “the writings of the prophets.”[22]  Any words that have been written by the inspiration of God would be words that carry the full authority of God.  In fact, these prophetic words, or Scripture, are a “word more fully confirmed.”  The words written are better than the words that Peter heard on the Mount of Transfiguration.   Peter was assured through his experience that God had spoken to him and given him a glimpse of the coming kingdom.  This was a clear manifestation from God, but as memories fade with time and death so also would that experience.  Peter knew that soon there would be little left to share with others if all that was passed down was his testimony of the words he heard.  The written word is more powerful than Peter’s experience.

It is an amazing assessment of the validity of holy Scripture that Peter declares it to be more dependable than a voice from heaven heard with the natural ear. By implication, here is a rebuke for those teachers who went far beyond Scripture, constructing cunningly devised mystical theories.[23]

 

The written word is the way God chose to preserve His message to mankind.  This written message is worthy of reading and taking to heart.  Peter tells his readers they would do well to pay attention to it.  His experiences would fade but God’s word would not.

Peter then takes the time to liken the written word to a light in a dark place that is needed until the sun comes up.  Peter says it this way: “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).  This is a clear indication from Peter that being committed to Scripture is the way to stay rooted in the truth until Jesus comes again.  It is how a minister of God stays rooted in faith and practice.  It is a word from God.  It maintains His full authority.

 

The Process of Communicating the Word of God to Humanit

Following confirmation of God’s authority in His written word we see in the next two verses the process God used to communicate His message to mankind.  God’s authoritative message to mankind comes in the form of writing and is empowered and moved along by God;  Scripture did not come about because of men who decided they wanted to write them based on their understanding of what they knew or what they discerned from the times.  David Wheaton says that “these prophecies were not the result of human speculative thinking (as the myths of v 16 were) but of God’s revelation by his Spirit.”[24]  The source is God, and the meaning is from God.  That is to say that the words of Scripture are not merely words, but words that originated with God.  The passage says that men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit of God wrote down the words of Scripture.  There is no other explanation as to how God moved these men.  He did it supernaturally.

 

The Benefit of Having God’s Word

The benefit of having God’s word is found in the context of the verses that have been looked at.  Peter begins his epistle with the encouragement that God has given believers information that they can utilize in avoiding the insincerity and immaturity of the false teachers.  Believers are to be like Jesus in “glory and excellence” (3).  This can be done through the information God has given in His word (3).   It is there that believers have been granted great promises of spiritual blessings on earth and in the life that is to come in the eternal kingdom.  To partake of this knowledge of God is to be “partakers of his divine nature” which is the opposite of partaking of immorality and poor doctrine (4).  It is important, then, that every believer take advantage of knowing God better.  Every believer has the opportunity for growth by adding to what he knows about God.  This effort, which is empowered by the Word, has a cumulative effect for believers.  As they add to their knowledge of God, they are adding virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (5-7).  This growth enables believers not to be overcome with immorality and false teaching (8).   Whoever lacks these things will not be cognitive of their standing with God (9).  Following this process ensures believers success by keeping them from falling spiritually and granting them a rich entrance into the kingdom (10-11).

Following this, Peter gives a personal message that adds a sense of urgency.  He is nearing the time of his death and desires for the believers to take heed to what God had directed him to write (12-15).  He compares that writing to his experience of being a witness to the coming kingdom and to the voice of God at the transfiguration.  The Gospels record that Peter, James, and John were with Christ and got to see the greatness of the coming kingdom at this event (Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:28-36).   It was indeed a great event and had authority for those who saw it and testified of it (16-18).  Even though being at the transfiguration was a great and confirming event demonstrating the power and glory of God to Peter, the benefit is inferior to having the Word of God.

 

Old and New Testament Inspiration in These Two Passages

2 Timothy 3:15-17 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 are both largely referring to the Old Testament when they speak of the Scriptures.  The words that Timothy was taught as a young boy were likely the words of the Old Testament and they were sufficient to lead Timothy to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15).  The words of 2 Peter 1:19-21 also point to the Old Testament when they point out that men in the past were moved in the past to write down words from God.  Though this is the case, the truth of what is said in both passages applies to the New Testament as well as the Old.  If the writers of the Old Testament had an authoritative word from God, the words of the New Testament carried the same weight since they were also words that originated with God and not man.  Grudem says that “everything that belonged in the category ‘Scripture’ had the character of being ‘God-breathed’: its words were God’s very words.”[25]

Peter and Paul both indicate their awareness that Scriptures (New Testament) were still being written.  Peter identified Paul’s writings as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16 when he mentions that “our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”  Grudem says of these verses that

Peter shows not only an awareness of the existence of written epistles from Paul, but also a clear willingness to classify “all of his [Paul’s] epistles” with “the other scriptures.” This is an indication that very early in the history of the church all of Paul’s epistles were considered to be God’s written words in the same sense as the Old Testament texts were.[26]

 

Paul speaks of the writings of Luke as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 when he quotes Luke 10:7.  He calls Luke’s words “Scripture” when he says For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’” and, “’The laborer deserves his wages.’”

These two passages taken together indicate that during the time of the writing of the New Testament documents there was an awareness that additions were being made to this special category of writings called “scripture,” writings that had the character of being God’s very words. Thus, once we establish that a New Testament writing belongs to the special category “scripture,” then we are correct in applying 2 Timothy 3:16 to that writing as well, and saying that that writing also has the characteristic Paul attributes to “all scripture”: it is “God-breathed,” and all its words are the very words of God. [27]

 

Several other passages support the inspiration of the New Testament.  For instance, Paul states that his writings are actually “a command from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).  Another is 1 Corinthians 7:12, where Paul seems to indicate that some of the things he wrote are directly from Jesus and some are from him.  He distinguished his words from the words of Christ by saying “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord).”   He was saying that what he was writing about was not part of the teachings of Christ.  That did not mean it was not from God.  In fact, he is making an incredible statement about the nature of what he wrote as being authoritative as the words of Christ.  The authority exists in what Paul wrote since they are words from God.  This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 7:25 where he mentions that he gives his “judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”   Grudem says:

He seems to imply here that his considered judgments were able to be placed on the same authoritative level as the words of Jesus. Thus, 1 Corinthians 7:12, “To the rest I say, not the Lord,” is an amazingly strong affirmation of Paul’s own authority: if he did not have any words of Jesus to apply to a situation, he would simply use his own words, for his own words had just as much authority as the words of Jesus![28]

 

Other Scriptures teach that truth would be brought to mind by the work of the Holy Spirit. Through that work, the words of Scripture would have been penned.  John 14:26 and 16:13 confirm this along with other Scriptures (see 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; and Revelation 22:18–19).

 

Concluding remark: Jesus is the truth and the Bible is the truth

The Bible indicates that Jesus is the truth (John 14:1-3), and that He is the word (John 1:1ff).  As such He is the ultimate expression of truth from God.  In other words he is the revelation of the truth of God to man (Hebrews 1:1).  Conservative evangelicals and postmodernists hold to that belief.  The mistake of the postmodernist is to separate the Bible away from Jesus.  They are both God’s revelation.  Jesus gave words of truth to the Apostles who wrote those words down.  That is the truth that was “once for all delivered to the Saints.” (Jude 3)

 

Though it has been a number of years ago that I wrote the above article, I still hold to what I have stated.  I believe that the Bible is a written word from God and as such it was inerrant in its original communication.  It is authoritative over what to believe and how to live.  It sufficiently gives enough content for what to believe doctrinally and how to live practically, and it is infallible in that it will not fail to do what God intends it to do.  While other writings or speech can be helpful to explain and apply the Word, they are secondary to the Word of God and should be verified with scripture as to their truthfulness and effectiveness.

I know this is a lot to read.  If you got this far, congratulations!  Please let me know if you have questions or would like to talk some of this over.

God bless!

Pastor Scott

[1] J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 1:532.

[2] Bauer, Walter, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 372.

[3] W. A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 84.

[4] Ibid., 84–85.

[5] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 125.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 38.

[10] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1245.

[11] Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 3.

[12] T. D. Lea and H. P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 234.

[13] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1:384.

[14] Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 760.

[15] Lea and Griffin, H. P., 1, 2 Timothy, 234.

[16] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1:435.

[17] Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 249.

[18] Lea and Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, 237.

[19] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1:743.

[20] Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 196.

[21] Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, 1:440.

[22] Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 274.

[23] Paine, Stephen W. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament. 1962 (C. F. Pfeiffer & E. F. Harrison, Ed.) (2 Pe 1:19). Chicago: Moody Press, 1459.

 

[24] Wheaton, David H, “2 Peter,” in New Bible commentary: 21st century edition, 4th ed., ed. D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1391.

[25] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 75–76.

[26] Ibid., 76.

[27] Ibid., 76.

[28] Ibid. 76.

By | 2021-02-18T10:50:17+00:00 February 18th, 2021|Pastor Scott Davis|0 Comments

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