John’s Fantastic Revelation

 

John’s teaching on the fruits of regeneration and on sin

 

The Book of 1 John provides much important Biblical teaching on sin and the fruits of being born-again or becoming a new creation in Christ. Read 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 1 John 5:18. These verses establish the wonderful Biblical truth that people who are born again will usually evidence this by:

 

         having  a life which exhibits a significant level of obedience to the commands of God they know. (This level of obedience will not be perfect, but will be significant when compared to their pre-conversion lifestyle.)

         not committing known sin, either in a continuous sense every moment of every day or constantly in a repeated sense year after year.

 

We are not saved and born again on the basis of a significant level of obedience to God’s known will or victory over known sin. Romans 3:20-4:8, 9:30-10:13, Galatians 3:6-22, Ephesians 2:1-9 and Titus 3:4-7 prove this. But 1 John 2:28-3:24 and 5:18 do teach these two above-mentioned things are the marvellous fruits or results of regeneration. [1]

But the Holy Spirit also led John to balance out the above wonderful revelation by teaching about humans sinning prior to and after conversion to Christ. 1 John 1:10 reveals all humans have sinned in the past: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

1 John 1:8 demonstrates all believers have sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In the original Greek, the expression “we have” is in the present tense. The present tense here shows all believers have sin in them in an ongoing sense in their earthly lives. One interpretation of 1 John 1:8 argues that the word “sin” in this verse refers only to the sin element or sin principle within humans which can produce individual sinful purposes and actions but does not include the latter. Another interpretation of 1 John 1:8 claims “sin” refers to this sin principle in believers but also includes resulting sinful purposes and actions.

If the first alternative above is correct, this would mean the present tense of “we have” in this verse could be taken in a continuous sense. But if the second view is correct, then “we have” cannot be taken in a continuous sense in relation to resulting sinful purposes and actions. Otherwise this would mean John was saying believers are continuously committing sins in their purposes and actions every moment of every day. The latter conclusion would be contrary to what John says in 1 John 2:29, 3:6-10 and 5:18. We will study these latter verses later.

1 John 2:1-2 states: “…And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 reveals if believers sin, Jesus Christ acts as a legal advocate to God the Father for them on the basis of His death being a propitiation. A propitiation is something which removes the righteous anger of God against sinners and their sin. 1 John 3:2 stresses we will be only made perfectly like Jesus Christ at His Second Coming: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

 

Important background information about Greek action words

 

To fully understand the teaching in this section, you need to know what the present tense refers to in the Koine Greek used in the New Testament. First, note that what are called tenses in the Koine Greek primarily relate to the nature of an action and only secondarily, if at all, to time. The exception to this is the future tense which obviously always relates to future time. [2] Some present-day Greek experts argue that Greek tenses do not relate to time at all. [3] Others say Greek tenses do relate to time but only as a secondary minor characteristic.

Secondly, observe the present tense can be defined as an action which is in progress. Most actions which are in progress occur in the present time. But note there are many examples in the New Testament of present tense actions or actions in progress, which do not relate to the present time.

In Greek, the present tense can refer to the past, the future, a mixing of the past and the present, and a crossing of all time periods. The words “they enter” in Mark 1:21, “they came” and “carried” in Mark 2:3, “walked” in John 1:36 and “found” in John 1:41, 1:43 and 1:45 are translated as past tense in English but are present tense in Greek. The words “I cast out” and “perform” in Luke 11:32 are in the present tense in Greek but refer to both today and tomorrow in context.

Also, the words “I shall be perfected” in Luke 11:32 are in the present tense in Greek even though it relates to three days into the future. In Luke 13:33, the word “journey” is present tense, even though in context it refers to today, tomorrow and the following day. The expressions “is thrown” in Luke 12:28, “as they went on their journey” (which is actually only the word “journeying” in Greek) in Acts 10:9, “he wanted” in Acts 22:30 and “were going” and “to inquire” in Acts 23:20 are all qualified by the words “tomorrow” or “the next day”. This means they all refer to the future. But note each of these action words in Greek is in the present tense.

1 John 3:8 says in part “…for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” The phrase “has sinned” here are in the present tense in Greek, but refers to both the past and the continuous present. Matthew 18:10 uses the present tense of “see” in Greek when it says “their angels always see the face of My Father”. The use of the word “always” here shows the present tense of the word “see” refers to all times, not just the present.

Some New Testament Greek scholars say these numerous exceptions show we need to be careful about limiting present tense Greek action words to the present time. Other New Testament Greek scholars argue that Greek verbs refer primarily to the nature of actions, whether they are single undivided wholes or events in progress or are related to a state or condition of something. They say Greek verbs have little if anything to do with time. The latter scholars argue that the times related to actions in Greek are found by studying the surrounding contexts and meanings of the action words themselves. They suggest the times can rarely, if ever, be determined solely from their tense. These scholars argue that the Latin and English concepts of tense or time in relation to action words have been wrongly applied to the Koine Greek used in the New Testament. There is much debate about such matters at present. But such debate reveals the importance of being exceptionally careful when discussing the tenses of Greek verbs.

Thirdly, note an action in the present tense in Koine Greek can be in:

 

         a continuous sense. This means the action is ongoing and has no time gaps between its beginning and ending (assuming it has an ending). An example of this is found in Matthew 25:8. In Greek, the action “are going out” is in the present tense. The words “are going out” refer to the continuous action of the flames flickering smaller and smaller. There are no time gaps within the occurrence of this action. Other present tense actions which must be taken in a continuous sense are some of those which are combined with the word “always”. Examples of these are “you have” in Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7, “do” in John 8:29, “hear” in John 11:42, “carrying” in 2 Corinthians 4:10 and “having” in 2 Corinthians 9:8.

         a repeated sense. This means the action reoccurs, but has some time gaps between its reoccurrences. Note how frequently the action is repeated will only be able to be determined from the surrounding context of words and sentences in which the action is located and from the exact nature of the action itself.

An action can be constantly repeated with a few small time gaps in between. For example, a receptionist of a large company can answer the telephone in a constantly repeated sense. The person does this by answering hundreds of individual calls a day with a short break for lunch and rests in between each call.

Or someone can repeat an action infrequently. For example, at home, I may answer the phone twice a day on average. Luke 18:12 contains an action word in the repeated sense: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess.” In Greek, the expression “I fast” is in the present tense. In the context, the Pharisee says he fasts twice a week. So this obviously is a repeated action. It is not a continuous action because it has time gaps between its repeated occurrences. In Luke 17:4, the action word “saying” is in the present tense. In context, the saying is done seven times on the one day, so it is a repeated action with time gaps in between. Matthew 4:17 states: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.” In Greek, the action words “to preach” and “to say” in the above verse are in the present tense. In the context, these two action words seem to suit a repeated sense.

         a durative sense. This means the action begins in the past and is either continuous or repeated in the present time. An example of this occurs in 1 John 3:8 when it says: “for the devil has sinned since the beginning”. Satan began to sin a long time ago and has continuously or repeatedly sinned since then. In English, I have here described Satan’s action of sinning continuously or repeatedly from the beginning as past tense. But in Koine Greek in 1 John 3:8, John uses a present tense to describe the same thing. In English, it does not make sense to use a present tense to describe such an action. But in Greek, the present tense is suitable because it describes the nature of the action – one in progress – and only secondarily, if at all, the time of the action.

The action “is preached” (N.A.S.B.) or “has been preached” (N.K.J.V.) in Luke 16:16 is in the present tense in Greek. But in context, it refers to an action which began in the past and was continuing to occur in the then-present.

         a single action sense. This means the action only occurs once in the specific context. There is debate among experts in New Testament Greek about whether the present tense can ever refer to single actions. But the New Testament does seem to contain some instances of present tense singular actions. An example of this is the expression “I thank” in John 11:41. Also note we only die once as a single action. The Greek words “let him be put to death” in Matthew 15:4 and “to die” in Luke 7:2 are both in the present tense. Also the eight usages of the word “says” in John 21:15-17 are in the present tense even though they each refer to single actions. Many other usages of the word “says” in the original Greek New Testament are in the present tense.

We can only take the present tense of an action in Koine Greek to be in a single action sense if the words and sentences surrounding the action word and the nature of the action word support doing this.

 

In some cases in the Koine Greek used in the New Testament, the context of words and sentences, which surround the present tense action word, do not give any indication as to whether the action is continuous, repeated, durative or singular. In these cases, we cannot really say which of these four alternatives is correct.

Also in some cases, it is very difficult to be certain whether the Biblical author was describing the action as continuous or constantly repeated or infrequently repeated or some other in-between shade of repetition. This is even though the surrounding context and/or nature of the verb proves the author was not describing the action as a single occurrence. In such cases, it is more likely Bible teachers will dispute among themselves about the exact nature of the action. You should remember these things when reading my following comments on 1 John 2:29, 3:6, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10, 5:16, 5:18, 3 John 11, Matthew 7:21-23, 1 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 and Galatians 5:21.

 

My approach in the following

 

In my following comments on 1 John 2:28, 3:6, 3:7, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10, 5:18, 3 John 11, Matthew 7:21, Romans 6:1-2, 1 Corinthians 5:1 and Galatians 5:21, I have not taken the present tense action words about doing righteousness or doing right or not sinning in a single action sense. This is because James 3:2 teaches that Christians sin after conversion. It would be wrong to interpret the present tense verbs in 1 John 3:6, 3:8 and so on, in a single action sense. This is because doing this would result in these verses meaning that believers can never possibly sin even once after conversion. James 3:2, 1 John 1:9 and 2:1-2 prove that such a conclusion is wrong. We must do what Jesus Christ did in Matthew 4:7. He interpreted one Bible passage – Psalm 91:11-12 – in agreement with another relevant Bible verse – Deuteronomy 6:16.

Also note as stated previously, in the latter part of 1 John 3:8, John uses a present tense action word in relation to the Devil sinning from the beginning. Such an action is obviously not a single occurrence. Therefore, this adds weight to the claim that in the surrounding verses –1 John 3:6, the earlier part of 3:8, 3:9 and 3:10, he is also referring to other types of ongoing actions.

Actually there are more contextual reasons for taking the present tense action words in relation to sinning and doing right in 1 John 2:28, 3:6, 3:7, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10 and 5:18 in a continuous or repeated sense than there is for taking the present tense of “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18 in a continuous sense. Many Pentecostals, Charismatics and Evangelicals glibly say that the Ephesians 5:18 command “be filled with the Holy Spirit” should be taken in a continuous sense. They say this without having any idea why this may be right. Those with some knowledge of Greek grammar argue that present tenses must be taken in a continuous or repeated sense in Greek. But a stated before, this is not always true.

Also, note in its context, Ephesians 5:18 compares being filled with the Holy Spirit with being drunk with wine: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” But note people can be drunk with wine just once. They do not need to be drunk continuously or repeatedly. Also, there is nothing in the verses surrounding Ephesians 5:18 which suggest “be filled” must be taken in a continuous or repeated sense. I believe “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18 should be taken in a continuous or repeated sense. But there are more contextual reasons for taking the present tense verbs about sinning and doing right in 1 John 2:28, 3:6, 3:7, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10 and 5:18 in a continuous or repeated sense than there are for taking “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18 in either of these senses.

 

Continuous and constantly repeated sinning

 

1 John 3:9 and 5:18 both teach that it is not normal for those who are truly born-again to practice known sin either continuously or in a constantly repeated sense year after year. 1 John 3:9 states: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him…” The word “does” here is a form of the word “poieo” and is in the present tense in the original Greek. The present tense of “poieo” in 1 John 3:9 must be taken as being in a continuous or constantly repeated sense. Remember “continuous” means an action which has no breaks in between and “constantly repeated” refers to an action which has some breaks in between.

1 John 5:18 says: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.” The expression “does not sin” here is in the present tense in Greek. 1 John 5:18 also teaches born-again believers do not continuously or in a constantly repeated sense commit known sin year after year. The Amplified Version translates the relevant Greek expression in 1 John 5:18 correctly as “does not (deliberately and knowingly) practice committing sin”.

 

Differences between the children of God and children of the Devil

 

1 John 3:8 shows that those who sin either continuously or in a constantly repeated sense day after day, year after year, belong to Satan: “the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” In the original Greek, the word “practices” is in the present tense. Once again, either the continuous or constantly repeated sense of the verb suits the broader context of 1 John.

1 John 3:10 says: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” In the original Greek, the words “does practice” here is in the present tense.

The present tense of “does practice” and “does love” in this verse cannot be interpreted in the continuous sense. Otherwise these action words would be teaching that anyone who does not continuously, every moment of every day, practice righteousness and not perfectly love other people all the time is not a child of God. In other words, this verse would be teaching that it is only those who are in a permanent state of sinless perfection in this earthly life who are children of God. But the latter idea is contrary to Philippians 3:12, James 3:2 and 1 John 1:8.

In 1 John 3:10, the verbs “does practice” and “does love” should be interpreted in something which approximates a frequently repeated sense. 1 John 3:10 teaches that those who do not frequently repeatedly practice righteousness and have real (though obviously imperfect) love for others, by this subjectively show they are not children of God. The frequent repeated sense allows for the fact that as James 3:2 shows, believers do also sin.

1 John 3:10 quoted previously shows that 1 John 3:7-9 is not referring only to a general type of loving of others. It includes this. But it also refers to practicing other known aspects of righteousness revealed in the Scriptures, such as not stealing, not swearing, not committing any form of sexual immorality, praying, attending church meetings and so on. In 1 John 3:11-12, John gives an illustration of what he is talking about when he compares the predominantly evil life of Cain to the righteous, though obviously imperfect life of Abel. Cain’s life centred around envy, disobedience to God, hatred, murder and selfishness (see Genesis 4:2-14). Cain was religious but worldly and self-centred. Cain communicated with God but refused to turn from sin and to surrender to Him.

The New Testament records Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostles spoke often about the importance of fruit in believers’ lives (see Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8, 6:44-45, 2 Corinthians 9:10, Philippians 1:11, Hebrews 12:11 and James 3:18). Note the type of fruit on a tree is not the cause of the tree being the type it is, but instead is a result of the tree being a particular type.[4] Similarly, our good works or right acts do not cause us to be born again. Instead, our good works are a result of our being born-again.

 

One sign we are remaining or continuing in Him

 

1 John 3:6 is another relevant verse: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” In Greek, the word “abide” here is a form of the word “meno” which means “remain, continue”. [5] The words “does not sin” and “sins” here are both in the present tense in the original Greek. The broader context of 1 John, with particular reference to 1 John 1:9 and 2:1, suggests the present tense of “does not sin” and “sins” be taken in either a continuous or constantly repeated sense.

Someone may wrongly suggest that the words “Whoever abides in Him” in 1 John 3:6 refers only to very spiritual believers and not to all born-again Christians. But note all believers are already abiding in Christ, some to a greater degree than others. In John 15:6, Jesus revealed that anyone who does not abide in Him will be thrown into the fires of hell: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” In Greek, John 15:6 uses a form of the word “meno” – the same word used in 1 John 3:6. 1 John 4:13 and 4:15 taken together reveal all believers born of the Holy Spirit abide in God.

 

Believers practice righteousness imperfectly though repeatedly

 

1 John 2:29 reveals everyone born of Him – born-again – practices righteousness: “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” The word “righteousness” is not here used in the sense of being declared righteous by God, but instead is referring to practical living. Such righteousness in daily living is a result of being born again and not a cause or condition for it occurring. Also, 1 John 2:29 does not teach that an exceptionally moral person who does not have faith in Jesus Christ is saved. Righteousness, in the practical sense to which 1 John 2:29 refers, is right thinking, speaking and actions in a real, though obviously imperfect sense. As born-again believers, we will be aiming to have righteous thoughts, despite the many evil thoughts that come into our minds.

1 John 3:7 says: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” This verse confirms that the result or fruit of being righteous is having right thoughts, words and actions. These practical aspects of righteousness are what the New Testament teaches is the normal subjective sign of the righteous Presence of Christ we received when we were born again.

In 1 John 3:7, John warns God’s children of heretics living in his time. These false teachers were deceiving God’s children by saying that a person can be righteous in Christ without afterwards showing the subjective evidence of this, the evidence being imperfect through repeated righteous practical living. The word “subjective” refers to what our minds and physical senses tell us is true. This is in contrast to the word “objective” which means what is real or absolutely true.

As James 3:2 reveals, no believer practices righteousness continuously every moment of every day. Therefore, the verb “practices” or “poieo” in 1 John 3:7 cannot be taken in a continuous sense. In 1 John 3:7, “poieo” should be taken in the frequently repeated sense. In other words, this verse is teaching those who frequently repeatedly practice righteousness, despite their falls into sin, show the fruit of being righteous in Christ.

 

Claiming sinlessness or that sin does not matter

 

One wrong view of the Book of 1 John suggests that what John said in 1 John 1:8 about believers still having sin in an ongoing sense contradicts what he said in 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18 about the normal fruits manifesting in the lives of the same born-again believers. They do not understand that John is dealing with one heretical teaching in 1 John 1:8 and another in 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18.

It is debatable, but a strong possibility, that John is attacking Gnostic heresies in all these verses. The Gnostics were groups who began during or in the century after the time of the Apostles. They tried to blend Christianity with elements of pagan Greek philosophy. Gnostics were usually very ascetic, regarding natural things such as sex in marriage as evil and to be avoided. Or they were very immoral, saying it did not matter what they did with their supposedly evil bodies.

Generally, Gnostics regarded themselves as the highest or spiritual class (or “pneumatikoi” in Greek) who already had salvation, and Christians as a lower class called “psuchikoi” in Greek who need to work for their salvation. They believed all other people were the lowest class – the fleshly or carnal (or “sarkikoi” in Greek) – who were unsaved. [6] The Gnostics abused the New Testament’s usage of similar Greek words found in 1 Corinthians 14:37, Jude 19 and 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 3.

Some Gnostic heretics taught that their possession of “gnosis”, or knowledge of spiritual realities, had resulted in them becoming sinlessly perfect already. Possibly John challenged this error in 1 John 1:8 and 1:10.

Other Gnostics argued that sins such as sexual immorality did not matter because through Christ, they were now enlightened and righteous. These false teachers were claiming to have lived on some imagined super-spiritual level, far above all God’s commandments and laws. They seemed to be saying they were “free” to know God without any resulting desire to obey His love commandments in specific matters such as sex outside marriage. Possibly John attacks such foolish ideas in 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18. In Matthew 7:15-16 Jesus warned of such false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”

Read the following words about the disciples of the Gnostic Marcus who caused trouble to the early church:

“Some of his disciples, too, addicting themselves to the same practices, have deceived many silly women, and defiled them. They proclaim themselves as being ‘perfect’, so that no one can be compared to them with respect to the immensity of their knowledge, nor even were you to mention Paul or Peter, or any other of the apostles. They assert that they themselves know more than all others, and that they alone have imbibed the greatness of the knowledge of that power which is unspeakable. They also maintain that they have attained to a height above all power, and that therefore they are free in every respect to act as they please, having no one to fear in anything. For they affirm, that because of the ‘Redemption’ it has come to pass that they can neither be apprehended, nor even seen by the judge.” [7]

How similar this sounds to some today! People claiming to be more spiritual and to have more revelation than others, believe they are free in Christ to commit various sins. They say that because of Christ's redemption, they will not be judged by God even though they live unrepentant wicked lives.

 

False interpretations of 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18

 

1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18 have been interpreted in many ways. Here are some false interpretations:

 

         These verses relate only to a small minority of Christians who have entered some deeper spiritual level which most believers will supposedly never experience.

         These verses merely set a standard to which all believers should aim but none achieve. These Scriptures are an ideal which will never be experienced in this life.

         John exaggerated these verses in order to more successfully draw a distinction between the sin-excusing heresy of some of the Gnostics and what God expects of His saved children.

         These verses relate only to the supposedly “worst” sins such as murder and adultery.

         These verses relate only to the born-again spirits of believers and not to their minds, wills, emotions, bodies and daily living.

 

Each of the above views have numerous serious weaknesses.

 

John’s teaching in 3 John 11

 

In 3 John 11, John states: “…He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.” In the original Greek, the expressions “does good” and “does evil” are in the present tense in this verse.

In this verse, “does good” seems to best suit a repeated and not a continuous sense. This is because the continuous sense would imply those who belong to God are in a state of permanent sinless perfection. But this is contrary to Philippians 3:12, James 3:2 and 1 John 1:8.

In 3 John 11, the phrase “does evil” seems to best suit a repeated sense also, as long as “repeated” is defined as “always” or “usually” and not as “sometimes” or “many times”. This is because over the years after their conversion, Christians commit known and unknown sin many times but not always or usually. Unbelievers, however, commit known and unknown sin usually or, in some cases, always.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.              What do 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18 indicate?

2.              What does 1 John 1:10 teach?

3.              Explain what 1 John 1:8 reveals.

4.              What are the four different things which the present tense of verbs or action words can mean in Greek?

5.              Discuss what the first part of 1 John 3:9 shows.

6.              Explain what 1 John 5:18 teaches.

7.              What does 1 John 3:8 reveal?

8.              Discuss what 1 John 3:6 teaches.

9.              Explain what 1 John 2:29 shows.

10.          What does 1 John 3:7 reveal?

11.          What two main heresies was John attacking in 1 John?

12.          List some of the possible false interpretations of 1 John 2:29-3:24 and 5:18.

 


 


[1] It seems likely that the immediate context of 1 John 2:29-3:24 shows 1 John 2:29 and 3:6-10 are referring to deliberate disobediences to God’s known will and not to the broader description of sin. Sin can be described more broadly as those areas of ourselves which do not manifest Jesus’ perfectly holy character. Note 1 John 3:4 defines sin as lawlessness – disobeying God’s laws or commandments. 1 John 3:11-24 relates sin to disobedience to God’s love commandments. (It is true though that earlier in 1 John 1:7-2:2 and 2:12, John seems to be talking about sin in terms of both disobediences to known commands and in the sense of sin in our being.)

[2] But we can argue that the future tense of “will die” in Romans 5:7 and of “shall live” in Matthew 4:4 relates to all time periods and not just the future.

[3] Stanley E. Porter in his “Verbal Aspect of the Greek of the New Testament, with reference to Tense and Mood” (Peter Lang, 1989) is an example of this.

[4] The fruit on a tree can contain seeds which produce new trees. But this present fruit is not the cause of the tree being what type it is.

[5] Bauer, page 503.

[6] Walter Elwell, “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1984, page 446.

[7] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies”, Book 1, Chapter 13:6.

 

 


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